Saturday, August 16, 2014

Paris-Brest-Paris: T Minus 364 Days . . . and Counting!

I first caught the PBP bug in 2007 during my introductory year of randonneuring. I was swept up in the PBP frenzy, but knew better than to attempt to squirrel away several thousand dollars to make my way to the start in Paris that summer. The next time around, I was sidelined by my 2010 crash on the Endless Mountains 1000K and I have spent the past four years slowly rebuilding my fitness and confidence on the bike to undertake a similar long brevet.

Needless to say, PBP has been on my mind quite a bit on and off over the past seven years. I even went so far as to secure a “PBP 2015” license plate to help me to keep my eye on the prize during my long recovery. While I never imagined hosting a vanity plate, the coincidence of a three-letter-followed-by-four-number license plate pattern in New York State was too much to pass up. This way I can have a vanity plate that only the initiated can interpret. Clever, right? No, my family didn’t think so either. Oh well.

Now that we have rounded the corner and entered the final stretch, I could not be more excited. With less than a year to go, it’s time to plan out how to prepare to not only successfully complete the event, but to do so with a strong foundation so that I can enjoy every minute of it.

Why am I so excited? 1) I love France, 2) I love traveling, 3) I love good coffee, 4) I will have attained a goal I set many years ago and which has seemingly receded into the distance the closer I have gotten, and 5) All that I’ve heard and read about PBP suggests that the event will be as exciting as I found London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) and then some.

When I rode LEL in 2009, I was swept up in the collective enthusiasm of participating in a long, long, long ride with hundreds of other riders from all over the world. Riding in a 1200K brevet with over 5000 other riders from around the globe in the country that invented randonneuring and where citizens have not only an actual familiarity with the event but a reverence for those who ride in it sounds positively supernatural.

As with most large-scale, expensive goals, the planning and preparations will be half the fun. Here are just a few of the steps I anticipate along the way:
  • Rekindle my R-12. Riding at least one 200K each month between now and August will help me build a strong base.
  • Ride a full SR series. While this is a requirement for entry, I am eager to see the 2015 calendar that will be published in early October to find some outstanding and challenging brevets to help me develop optimal fitness while at the same time connecting me with friends and acquaintances also preparing for the big event. 
  • Complete at least two challenging 600Ks in 2015. I would love to ride the Westfield 600K again next year and NJ Rando may well run the Catskill 600K again next year. 
  • Spend a lot of time refining my equipment. I plan to ride all 2015 events (except for the salty winter rides) with my brevet bike set up for PBP to fine-tune my set-up and work out any kinks in my planning.
  • Have fun!
Up next: the Princeton 200K on September 13.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

At Long Last, a 1000K Medal for the Collection.

When I first began participating in brevets in 2007, I was struck by the heft of the well-designed ACP finisher's medals. Since brevets are not races, all who finish events within the prescribed time limits are entitled to a medal to commemorate the achievement. Not only that, to keep event costs down, medals are optional and must be purchased (for a nominal fee) by official finishers after the event results have been certified. This last fact brings endless mirth to my children who routinely ask me whether I've "bought any new medals" after finishing a brevet. The fact that not everyone is entitled to such a medal is lost on them. Oh well.

Medals are generic and available to finishers of brevets of all of the established distances (200K, 300K, 400K, 600K and 1000K) certified by Audax Club Parisien (ACP), the French organization that certifies and regulates randonneuring events around the world. ACP issues a new design series every four years to coincide with the running of Paris-Brest-Paris. As such, since 2007, I have collected awards in three designs. There is also an award that matches each design series, known as the "Super Randonneur," which is available to those who complete a full series of events (200K, 300K, 400K and 600K) within a given season.

The 1000K award is a bit of an outlier. Not formally considered part of a Super Randonnuer series, 1000K events are not even held in all regions that host randonneuring events. I first planned to complete a 1000K brevet in 2010 to prepare for and to receive an early registration slot for PBP 2011. Due to an accident on the NJ 600K, however, I was unable to clip in for the Lap of the Lake (LOL) 1000K in July 2010. Just six weeks later, when I was about two hours into the PA Endless Mountains 1000K, I was hit from behind by a distracted driver. As a result, the 1000K distance has grown to near mythic stature in my recovery plan. It was with great satisfaction, therefore, that I opened the envelope yesterday containing my first 1000K brevet medal. The only visual difference from the medals in this series currently in my collection is the silver color and embossed "1000km" lettering.

The completion of this 1000K in 2014 has provided me with a preregistration slot for Paris-Brest-Paris on April 26, 2015, which is a few days shy of my 50th birthday and one week before those who completed a 600K as their greatest distance in 2014 are able to register. While I'm not concerned about PBP selling out early, it is nice to be at the front of the line. Registration for PBP will also be a wonderful birthday gift to commemorate my first half century. The 1000K medal represents more than just an early preregistration slot to me, though. It is symbolic of my return to long distance brevets after a debilitating accident. I can assure you that it will not be the last 1000K medal in my collection, but it may be the most cherished.

Up next: the Princeton 200K in early September.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The R-12 Reloaded: JB and George Enjoy a Day Along the Hudson

After letting my goal to complete at least one event of 200K or longer each month lapse after achieving my first R-12 Award, I've decided to reinstitute the practice to help me lay down a strong base for next year's edition of PBP. RUSA's R-12 Award provides both a great structure and challenge, especially for time-pressed randonneurs who live in the northern reaches of the US where frigid weather is a fact of life for at least three months of the year. When I first set out to tackle this feat, I established several local "permanent" routes close to home that I could ride on a whim without the hassles involved with traveling to events far afield.

Yesterday, JB and I got together to enjoy one of these routes that I misnamed the Flatlander's Delight (in contrast to my very hilly Catskill Climbfest). The route starts and ends in New Paltz crossing the Hudson over both the Rip Van Winkle and Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridges and takes in the hills and farmland of Columbia Country. One of my favorites, the Flatlander mixes in great views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains with farmland, historic villages and wooded rollers. Over the course of 207K, riders climb about 6500 feet. Not so flat, but not so hilly either.

There are three main control points on the route (in addition to two info controls) that provide the opportunity to refuel and reorient. The Dunkin' Donuts, while nothing fancy, sure is a welcome break at mile 40 and on this edition, JB and I each enjoyed a hot coffee and a muffin before refilling our bottles and applying our first layer of sunscreen.

The next control is not too far down the road and comes after a scenic river crossing, a brief tour through the city of Hudson and a ride through some gorgeous country roads. At the midway point in the ride, things shift from generally flat to quite hilly. To punctuate this transition, there is a simple country deli where I often grab a chicken salad sandwich and a bag of chips. On this day, I followed JB's lead and also grabbed a cold chocolate milk off the shelf, which was remarkably cool and refreshing. 

After a brief, early lunch, JB and I took off to enjoy the choppy, rural roads that come in the second half of this route. Columbia County is quite beautiful with views alternating between farmland and forest. There are quite a few rollers to test your climbing legs on this route and even a few miles of dirt roads to make you feel almost off the grid. On the south-westerly return leg there are even dramatic views of the Catskills range that pop out from between the trees and provide a bearing.

We definitely save the best control for last on this route, though. Taste Budd's Cafe in Red Hook comes at mile 98, which is perfectly timed for a tasty high calorie treat washed down with full-bodied coffee served in a range of styles and temperatures. This time around, I selected a delicious chocolate chip oatmeal cookie and an iced coffee and was not at all disappointed. For the truly decadent, Taste Budd's also stocks a full range of homemade chocolates and fudge.

With most of the ride behind us, JB and I clipped in and made the short trip back to the Hudson. We passed just south of Bard College taking in some lovely roads on our approach to the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge which brings us back to Ulster County and provides (on clear days) an outstanding view of the full Caskill Mountain range. On this day, though, we were racing a storm home, so the hazy, overcast skies obscured the view and added an ominous feel to the day. We knew full well that afternoon thunderstorms were a likely component of this ride and luckily made it across the bridge before anything too dramatic arrived. We could see the dark grey skies off in the distance, but only felt a few drops as we made the crossing. The skies opened up just enough once we reentered Ulster County to encourage us to stop to adjust our clothing, but we were very fortunate to skirt the heart of the thunderstorm which stayed mercifully off to our south and east as we made the final push to New Paltz.

One of the enjoyable yet slightly challenging aspects of this route for me is that it passes within three miles of my house and takes in some of my daily training roads. This was especially challenging on this particular day since I was left without a car in the morning and rode 13 miles to the start. Since I was not too keen on riding that same 13 miles home after a long and hilly day in the saddle, I texted my daughter who was happy to meet me at the finish with only the bribe of an ice cream cone.

Up next: the Princeton 200K in early September.