Sunday, February 22, 2009

No Miracles

In the days before each of my major rides, I tend to believe in miracles. I believe that this time, I will be able to keep my legs fresh and the breathing relaxed for the whole distance. I believe that consequently, I will easily finish with some stronger riders this time, at least an hour or more better than what I should expect based on previous experiences. This belief in miracles gets shaken the first time I get dropped on a climb, or at the latest around mile 50 - 60 when I am going through a low for some physiological reason. And it gets shattered for good during the last hours of the ride when I have to come up with all kinds of rationalizations to "explain" that it doesn't matter whether I finish half an hour earlier or later, and that I will be quite satisfied with just finishing comfortably and in good condition.

This scheme got played out again at the San Francisco "Russian River 300k" brevet, this past Saturday.

We were over 70 at the 6am start, including several out-of-state participants like Andrea from Colorado and a big delegation from the Seattle International Randonneurs. I like to assume that they all came for our sunny and dry California weather (ha!). However, the forecast indicated a good chance of showers, and so I decided to wear my trademark plastic bags around the shoes. They kept the feet perfectly dry, all day long - but then again, it didn't rain either. It was even sunny in the morning. I credited the good surprise to the magic of my plastic bags.

And so we rolled out over Golden Gate in good spirits, happy to leave the more populated areas of lower Marin County soon behind and to enjoy riding in the bucolic scenery around the Nicasio reservoir

(Photos borrowed from here - thanks, Brian!)

We smiled at happy cows while keeping the Cheese Factory in mind. It was a dream. Two or three more hills, and we reached the traditional Petaluma Safeway control at mile 50. Even though I had lost sight of several riders I would have liked to stay with (what can I say?), I still found myself in good company, didn't waste much time and was on my way towards the lunch stop in Healdsburg, mile 82. 

My legs reminded me soon that I had to go through my "low", now; and I explained this to a gentleman named Scott when he passed me, begging him to let me ride for a while at his rear wheel. He understood my predicament and pulled me along quite graciously - until I suddenly perked up again: I had noticed on my bike computer that I was well past mile 60, and that the low was supposed to be over by now. By virtue of the stop lights around the Santa Rosa area, we connected with two other riders who were not only strong but also ambitious and apparently didn't mind pulling us into Healdsburg at record pace (for me). I felt mighty proud seeing there the stronger riders I would have liked to stay with on the road, had pictures taken to prove I was there with them at the same time, and in silent exuberance started extrapolating my average speed onto the remaining distance, oblivious to the fact that this would indeed amount to a big miracle. 

I know the road along Russian River out to the coast pretty well by now, and I enjoyed the spring vegetation with unexpected big Mimosa trees and not so unexpected wildflowers, not to mention all the wineries. However, there are some rolling hills along the way, and even though I felt a little stronger than two years ago at the same place when John and I rode there through rain and headwind (and I couldn't even draft him), I was definitely not strong enough to ride with anybody else who passed me. Still an apprentice, after all - and I realized that the miracle is not going to happen yet, this time.

It became much worse on Highway 1, where the wind picked up and was quite unfavorable. I was sincerely grateful when Glenn (who remembered me from last year's Santa Cruz 300 where we finished together) and his friend passed me, and I realized that I could stay with them at least until the next control in Bodega Bay (can you say "Alfred Hitchcock" and "The Birds"?).

I needed to refuel more substantially at the Diekman store and did so without pressure: after some 125 miles, my attitude had switched from "eager" to "relaxed". I didn't even notice right away that the wind had changed its attitude as well during my break; it slowed down and even seemed to forget about being unfavorable. Together with my replenished energy stores, this helped me pursue my next goal - to arrive at the Marshall control (mile 146) before the store closed at 5:30pm, such as to avoid having to mail a postcard. It was not a miracle, but nevertheless a small personal triumph to make it with 15 minutes to spare. Two years ago, under the most horrible conditions I had ever experienced on a bicycle, I arrived there about two hours later! 

The remaining question was: will I be able to finish in 15 hours? I might have a fighting chance if there were not the many stop signs and stop lights on the last 15 miles, if I was willing to push myself really hard, and if I would find companions who could pull me along without dropping me on the climbs - too many ifs! In addition, while listening to my body, I understood that the "training effect" was going to be real already, no matter what; pushing myself harder would only increase the required recovery time over the next days. (You see the rationalizing?)
I still met other riders: a group of four or five passed me - so quickly, no chance! And I passed Scott who had been far ahead, but now seemed to be in "slugging it out" mode, on a newly assembled bike that didn't fit right and caused trouble. So, I decided to stay modest, to enjoy the views from Sausalito over the bay onto the lights of San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge, and to roll into the finish control while making it appear easy. Results are here

Two noteworthy random mechanicals: The left brake lever started getting loose during the last 50 miles, without any good reason. It was solid tight for nearly 10000 miles and never budged, and now it barely hung on by the brake cable under the handlebar tape. What the ...? It didn't compromise finishing and even remained safe; I still could brake, but not rest the left hand on the hood any more. And then, when I moved the bike from the finish control to the car in the parking lot, the plastic rear fender broke off, somewhere in the middle where I had removed an original rivet which left a small hole: too many vibrations for the weakened spot. Oh well - I won't need fenders this coming Saturday in Death Valley!

By the way, just so you know: I believe I will be really at ease in this upcoming Double Century. I believe I will be able to power back from Shoshone to Furnace Creek in a personal best while keeping the legs fresh, and finish off the last 50 miles out and back to Stovepipe Wells in well under 3 1/2 hours. I believe I will impress myself and everybody else ...

1 comment:

  1. Comme Vélocio, tu es un grand optimiste Joseph!
    Bravo pour ce premier 300...
    Une pensée pour mes amis les SIR... Amitiés