Saturday, September 12, 2009

Only a 200

San Francisco Randonneurs "Russian River" 200k brevet, September 12, 2009

First and foremost, about the title: apologies to any reader who feels that riding 30 or 50 or 100 miles is a huge achievement - it is (as long as you are not thoroughly used to the distance). I honestly don't mean to belittle 200 km = 125 miles either; after all, it happened this year at the end of June to myself that I couldn't finish one of those (as mentioned in the first paragraph here). And to begin with, it also depends on how hard you ride, of course; the distance itself doesn't tell the whole story. - On the other hand, I had a dream several years ago (when I still dreamed about brevet riding, instead of actually doing it) where the 200 km distance appeared as really short (compared to, say, a 1200 km randonnée). And since I progressed in my apprenticeship over the last years and already accumulated a nice collection of brevets this year (one 200, five 300s, one 400, three 600s, and a 1200), I understand why a place like this (scroll down to the cyclist) suggests I consider a 200 a "little baby ride."

The truth is (and now I am spilling the beans, if you haven't heard it yet - which would be a surprise to me): I am preparing myself for the Endless Mountains 1240 and I better do something to get stronger and faster. And so, I designated this 200 km brevet as "serious training," meaning I intended to ride it as hard as possible. Not necessarily with the best possible finishing time; I might "blow up" somewhere along the way and waste much more time while recovering than what I gained while riding hard. Also, I didn't intend to keep the control stops as short as possible by all means. Just put some real load on the legs and lungs and the cardiovascular system, and hope for the best. Because it's "only a 200" (ha!), there is not much to lose.

I rode this route last year already, and I love it. It's not extremely hard, but certainly not easy either. The accumulated elevation gain of nearly 7500 ft doesn't include many long climbs, but rather a great number of little kickers which break the rhythm and encourage to push harder than reasonable - just what I need in preparation for the EM1240.

On Friday evening, I checked the weather forecast: perfect! But about an hour before my wake-up alarm, I was awakened by heavy drops falling on the roof - and by violent lightning. At the last minute, I decided to bring my rain jacket along ...

During the 60-mile drive to the start, I kept looking into spectacular lightning strokes ahead, except through the San Francisco area which was shrouded in thick fog with roads all wet from intermittent rain. The start in San Rafael was dry, but the clouds sure were threatening, and the RBA Rob Hawks warned about predicted dry lightning. I decided to start with my rain jacket ...

The first sustained climb after about five miles gave me an opportunity to put my plans for this ride in practice. Randonneur friends who saw me take off into no man's land between the faster and slower halves of the participants later told me how they quipped "Joseph is riding hard today because it's only a 200" (so, that's where the title of this post comes from, then?). No matter what, I was most surprised myself that I managed to catch up to Mark E. and to stay with him for about 80 miles. It was obvious to me that he is much stronger than I; so, just staying at his rear wheel and keeping up with him on the climbs was a big boost in self-confidence for me. The only problem was that sometimes he started talking to me while climbing, and I couldn't respond because I was out of breath - but that was to be expected. We didn't manage to catch anyone of the faster riders ahead (except at the Valley Ford control where they waited out the worst of the rain - with headwind! - because they were not prepared for the bad weather like myself. And the friends behind only caught up when we stayed for more than ten minutes at a control; but we always left before them.

Towards the lunch stop at the Duncan Mills control (above the General Store, with a dog inspecting our bikes - what is it that makes bicycles so intriguing for dogs?), the roads finally dried up and we could even see a spot of blue sky. The blue sky wouldn't last out to the coast and along the coast, as could be predicted; but at least, the roads stayed dry and the temperatures, while still cool, allowed me to continue without the rain jacket.

I continued to try to match Mark's accelerations across the rollers on Hwy 1 towards Bodega Bay; but when the first cramps shot up in the calves and thighs, I understood it was "Game Over!" On arriving in Bodega Bay, I was so "cooked" that I missed the Diekman's Store control by absentmindedness - Mark had to call after me to make me stop. I needed a longer recovery stop there than Mark, and I convinced him that it didn't make sense to wait for me.

This picture from Diekman's Store in Bodega Bay,
as well as the one below from the Marshall Store,
is from last year's edition - this year, the sky remained all gray there.
However, check out Jim G's photos here - they give a good impression of the day.

I continued for a while in "recovery ride mode", and the recovery worked all the better now that we enjoyed the tailwind corresponding to what we had as headwind in the morning. Nothing like a good tailwind to further boost self-confidence through the illusion of being much stronger than I really am! And so I arrived at the Marshall Store control again before the faster guys and gals had left, and before my friends behind had caught up with me - they arrived just a couple of minutes later. Now I was back in the business of making this brevet into a serious training proposition for me, and I tried to figure out how fast I could possibly be on the last 30 miles to the finish. One hour and 54 minutes later I had the answer, and was quite happy with it (total time 9h30, including some generous stops).

Of course, the tailwind helped - but I still had to climb ...!

I checked in at the finish control in the parking lot (where it was even sunny!), took advantage of some goodies provided, and did my favorite socializing spiel.

The legs got stiff quickly, but that's what I had been aiming at since the morning - this ride should make me stronger!
We'll see ...

Fittingly (regarding the first paragraph above), here is a quote from today's post on 449 km:

"The San Francisco Randonneurs will be holding their first Populaire event. Details can be found here

Quite a number of riders don't jump feet first into doing 200km (and longer) rides, but instead build up with a series of shorter rides. The Populaire event is meant to offer a shorter distance ride with all the aspects of a brevet, including brevet cards, controls, mass starts, time limits and the usual reliance on rider self sufficiency for route finding and dealing with pitfalls a rider might face out on the road, such as flat tires and having food and water enough to reach the next control.

As mentioned, this will be SFR's first time holding this event. We expect to learn a lot and use that knowledge for the next time we hold this event in 2010. If you read this and are interested in participating or supporting this event, please send mail to Thanks for reading."

Unfortunately, I won't be able to be there myself - I'll still be in the woods of Pennsylvania on that day (10/3).

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