Building Up to Brevet Distances

Like a lot of randonneurs, Felkerino and I have developed a method that serves us well in our preparation and training for brevets. I see our approach as one that works for people who have other activities vying for their time and attention (be it job, family, or other pursuits) and for those who have already developed a solid base level of fitness.

Felkerino and I are not racing our way through brevets. Our goals generally include the following: enjoy the ride as it happens and not just grind it out; finish well within the time limits; complete a brevet without any lasting pain or injury; and feel as strong as we can throughout the experience. Our way is not overly prescriptive, but it requires diligence, and some planning.

Early miles outside Bristow
Early miles on a spring 200K
The Initial Build-Up: Time, Terrain, and Weather

There are three aspects we try to balance when building up to the century and beyond. The first is time on the bike, the second is terrain, and the third is preparing for weather. Not all rides are created equal– a ride through the gnarly bumps of the Catoctins during the early spring is not the same deal as the late-September Seagull Century on the Eastern Shore of Marland.

When I first began riding long, I primarily focused on the overall distance. By meeting a specific mileage goal, I built my confidence.

From there, I began to seek out hillier routes to prove that I could complete the distance and also cover it over an undulating course.

This is a similar formula we follow today– build the base for distance and add in hillier terrain as we progress. If you happen to live in hilly terrain with quiet roads around you, you’re already winning in my mind.

Matt, Bill, Felkerino, and Andrea on the 300K
Matt, Bill, Felkerino, and Andrea on the 300K

The third part of our randonneuring ride buildup is preparing for weather. Wind, rain, and temperature fluctuations all play a big role in randonneuring. By increasing our mileage during the colder months, we adapt our bodies to less forgiving temperatures and reacquaint ourselves with appropriate layering.

We don’t want to wear so much that we end up sweating up, but don’t want to spend the whole day with throbbing fingers and toes, either. Cold weather also rewards constant forward movement. By staying on the bike for sustained periods we avoid cooling down and having to warm up our bodies and deal with cold foreheads, hands, and toes after restarting. Obviously, our preparation for weather changes with the seasons and temperature fluctuations throughout the year.

Currently, I try to keep my base at a place where I can easily walk out the door for a rolling, but not nonstop hilly, 75 miles in my riding off-season of October through December and not feel wrecked by the end of the ride. Maybe I feel it some in my legs, but it’s not a big deal to walk or ride it off the next day.

Felkerino and I build our base mileage between January and February so that a century becomes “just another ride.” To give you a sense of one of our off-season ride favorites, here’s a link to our recent ride from D.C. to Sugarloaf Mountain. As you can see from the profile, there are plenty of flattish parts, with rollers mixed in, especially the further out we ride from the District.

During the month of January, we don’t worry about overall weekly mileage too much. I run, we both commute, and we make sure to do longer weekend rides when we can.

As February approaches, we like our average bicycling mileage to hover around 150 miles per week, with about 50 miles coming from weekday commute/transportation rides and the weekend rides making up the rest.

D.C. Randonneurs brevets tend to be decently hilly, in that short hop out of the saddle grinding kind of way, rather than a miles-long gentle grade that takes hours to complete. Your body really need to be conditioned to climb them or you’ll end up with complete rubber for legs at the end of a brevet (though this can happen on a long ride anyway).

Carol and David 600K brevet

Back-to-Backs and Time in the Saddle

As the brevets near, say around March, Felkerino and I will head out for back-to-back centuries and on another weekend maybe we’ll plan a ride that’s around 150 miles to prepare us for longer days ahead. During these rides, we exercise more discipline by taking fewer breaks, and acclimate ourselves mentally and physically to longer periods in the saddle.

Ideally, we’d like to ride about 50 miles or so before we take a break. Practically speaking, this almost never happens, so we end up taking short stops at around 25- and 75-miles, and a longer “sitdown” stop for food and refueling at 50 miles.

During a brevet, the clock keeps ticking and there will be consequences for stopping. That consequence may come in the form of riding longer in the dark, being on the course longer, and generally becoming more tired from your effort. It’s important to be deliberate about when and how long you spend time off the bike during a brevet.

Riders at the 400K Brevet Start (Photo by Felkerino)
Riders at the 400K Brevet Start (Photo by Felkerino)

Over time, I have worked on my breathing so I can manage a hard climbing effort better. In the days when I was first starting out, my breathing would get away from me and I’d start to pant and freak out.

Essentially, I worked on my breathing through regular attendance at spin class over the course of a year or so. I used a heart rate monitor to gauge my effort throughout a 45-50 minute class so I could see what a hard effort looked like as it related to heart rate.

I gained a good sense of my limits and, from there, began to work on doing hard efforts without going into the red zone (i.e., “I’m going to pass out” zone). Weekends were an opportunity to apply what I had learned in the safe space of a spin class on the road. Use of a heart rate monitor was key to understanding and managing my level of effort.

Now when I’m on the bike not only do I try to manage my effort on the uphills, I try to actively recover on downhill sections. This allows me to use my body’s energy more efficiently. We will push the pedals up to a certain acceleration, but beyond that I use my time to relax and recover for the next section.

During the off-season I’ll also work strength training into my routine when I can (although I’ve been bad about this over the last year or so), and make earnest attempts to sleep close to 8 hours per night. Sleep is a randonneur’s friend, although you wouldn’t know it from some of the distances we ride.

Randonneur lifestyle. 2014 Warrenton 300K brevet


Nutrition is another consideration for long rides, both in preparation for as well as during and after an event. What foods work well for you on the bike? What foods can you pack with you so you do not have to rely on external sources for food?

Packing certain types of food tends to work well for rides that happen earlier in the year when temperatures don’t rise to the point of baking one’s food, and for rides that are around 300K or less. I like to pack hummus or almond butter sandwiches with me during brevets. They digest easily and provide good fuel for my rides. Beyond that, I don’t feel I can rely completely on my own food because I find it becomes impractical to carry that much with me.

My nutrition is consistently a weaker area of my randonneuring preparation and it also changes over time. Some foods that worked like rocket fuel in years past stopped working (e.g., turkey sandwiches!) and upset my stomach so I have had to recognize that and adapt to my body’s changing needs.

Nutrition after the ride is important, too. I used to eat whatever sounded good or whatever impulse moved me, but that generally led me to making poor refined sugar-filled eating choices.

I’m trying to prepare better nutritionally for a ride’s aftermath. That is tough because thinking about what one is going to eat after an event doesn’t seem as critical as the ride itself. Yet, after a ride is over, one’s body is often tired and it’s easy to make poor nutrition choices. (I rode a long way. Pass me the ice cream!)

During the week before the ride, I also try to eat a little more mindfully than normal, and cut the alcohol and junk out of my diet. Maybe it’s a placebo effect, but I think it helps.

Randonneurs doin' what randonneurs do... on the Frederick 400K
Randonneurs doin’ what randonneurs do… on the Frederick 400K
Figuring Out Your Bike and Gear

The ramp-up to the brevets is an ideal time to tweak the fit of our bike and try out any new gizmos. What bags will you carry? Where are you going to put your cue sheet? How is the Garmin going to work, if you use one? What lights will you use? How long do those lights last?

What gear will you bring to deal with the temperature swings that are typical of a long ride? What about rain? Do you need a hydration system? Where will you store your brevet card during the ride? Do you have reflective gear? How will you make sure you can see the cue sheet in the dark? All of this and more must to be figured and tested well before starting a ride.

Civil War Tour 200K, Jeff M. and Bernd K.
Civil War Tour 200K, Jeff M. and Bernd K.
Relaxation and Mental Preparation

Finally, I prepare myself mentally, especially during the week before a brevet. I try to get plenty of sleep so I won’t feel robbed of sleep during the event. It’s mental gamesmanship, but it makes me feel good about dedicating so much time to riding that cuts into my sleep time.

I use the days leading up to an event to relax and focus on the ride ahead. I lay out my clothes and think about how the ride will go and how I’m going to approach it. In fact, I actually keep lists of gear I used from one year to the next so that I can dress and prepare by memory, and not by feel.

The temperature and weather at 4 a.m. is likely going to be different from what you experience at 4 p.m. What do you need to be comfortable and not overdressed or burdened by your wardrobe choices? I think some people would say that Felkerino and I carry a lot of crap on rides. We would say some people travel too light. What constitutes comfortable and unburdened is left for you to define.

Andrea and Jerry-200K

Another element I find essential for brevet preparation is committing mentally to success. Sure, there are always unknowns that no one can account before they clip in at the start, and tackling a new distance can be intimidating. But the event is the time to showcase the results of the miles, hills, and overall conditioning you have put into the sport. When an brevet rolls around, you want all of your energy to be going into the pedals, and not into worry about things you no longer have any control over.

When I clip in for a brevet, I never ask myself if Felkerino and I will finish this ride. I only allow thoughts of success to enter my mind. We trained. We prepared. We are ready.

I’m sure there are parts I did not include, but hopefully others will chime in with their knowledge. Also, please do ask if you have any questions. Overall, I think this is a good starting point for beginning to pursue longer rides so what are you waiting for? Let’s go!

Why Write About Bicycling

As I was padding around the Mall on a meditative lunch run, I pondered what keeps me writing about time spent on my bicycle.

I reflected on how I ride to experience the many sensations that cycling evokes, not just the physical, but those in my mind as well. Often my writing is an attempt to meld the two together on paper.

In other instances I’m feebly trying to articulate my feelings in hopes of understanding myself a little better. Given how long it took me to write that last sentence, I’m realizing how difficult this can be.

Writing about bicycling is how I capture fleeting, yet personally significant, moments from my life’s narrative in order to give them more permanence.

Last year around this time, I interviewed the people behind some of my favorite bikey blogs and asked them a similar question. Why write about bicycling?

As you might imagine, while everyone shared a passion and interest in cycling, their answers varied. People blogged as a creative outlet and because they liked the process of writing. Some saw their blog as a tool for self-discovery.

Others wrote to highlight a particular geographic area or to inform readers about a certain ride or route. For some, writing a bicycling-themed blog became a way to share experiences and connect with others who also liked to ride.

Re-reading these interviews stokes the flames of my desire to write. Due to other activities in my life right now (one of them being winter), I have not been writing as frequently about my bicycling activities.

I’ve also been going through a time where I’m more interested in reading other people’s writing so I’m just letting that happen. It’s great, actually.

When the time is right, I’ll write more about my riding narrative again. In the meantime, if you have any bike-centric blog recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

Also, if you write about bikes, tell me– why do you choose to write about bicycling?

2015 Question Marks

January– a cold month prone to dreary days and shades of brown on all sides– is generally an optimal time for me to hang out inside and ponder big ideas for the year ahead.

Usually at least two or three appealing active undertakings grab me and won’t let me go. Last year those big doings were our two-week Colorado tour, the Appalachian Adventure 1000K, and my bike tour-marathon combination in Harpers Ferry.

A year falls into place under the umbrella of these bigger scale activities, and free time is dedicated to condition the body and mind so events might be enjoyed and not endured.

I like shaping years this way. Felkerino and I share a few common goals that we work toward together. Big activities give me long-term structure, and I have concrete milestones to anticipate and hopefully achieve.

Running at sunset

This year is starting out strangely for me, as I’m not seeing anything significant calling my heart and legs. I hope to ride the brevets, but I’m on the fence about PBP. I’d like to complete at least two marathons this year, but what else is out there? I don’t know.

I’ve jotted down a bike tour, but as to where it will take place? I’m not sure. I’m not setting any mileage goals, but plan to ride and run regularly and continue my commitment to active transportation.

Small goals occupy my mind, many of which have little to do with riding or running– eat healthy, prepare my own lunches, reduce sugar and alcohol consumption, return to regular strength training, and fully engage in my work.

These are not small goals, exactly, but rather the type that require more rigorous daily attention. They have a more general purpose of improvement to my overall health and well-being.

As I muddled through this post I had an “Aha!” moment. Maybe I don’t have to have grand bicycling or running goals for 2015. Who cares? They can be question marks for now, while I attend to the smaller-scale activities that demand my attention.

Felkerino and I will figure out PBP in the next month or so. We love being outside on our bikes and always manage to find places and time to bike tour. Running is my meditation. I will continue to do it, whether or not I write down a specific goal about it.

Question marks are okay. Question marks mean I’m taking my time. I’m open to possibility.

Friday Coffee Club Turns Three

Today we celebrated three years since that first tweet from Felkerino introducing Friday Coffee Club, a weekly D.C. meetup of commuting cyclists around the area.

FCC turns 3-Lisa Ed

Three full years, and we’re still meeting and enjoying morning beverages together. I don’t want to overanalyze the reasons why people continue to come to Friday Coffee Club, but I’ll throw a few thoughts onto the page.

No confusion. Friday Coffee Club is every week, same time, same place.

FCC Kirstin

FCC 3rd anniv

People invite their friends to go on a bike ride that ends at Friday Coffee Club.

Pete and Ed

You can exchange notes with other commuters without a 140-character limit.

FCC Outside edition

Bicycle window shopping.

Bike inspection FCC

An opportunity to stop and see friends you might only otherwise cross in passing.

B and Ted

Friday Coffee Club boasts the shortest group ride ever– the weekly rollout through the White House Plaza.

FCC rollout

There’s coffee, and latte art if you’re lucky. Swing’s has been good to us.

FCC latte art

Oh, and of course, many photo ops.

FCC Peter-Swings

Here’s to another great year of a.m. fellowship at Friday Coffee Club. Thank you, BikeDC.

Bikes Are Not Family Members, But…

After a month spent in delightful lollygag mode, Felkerino and I pumped up the tires on the Co-Motion Java tandem for our first century ride of 2015.

As I rode along looking alternately at Felkerino’s backside and a somewhat snotty top tube resulting from my runny nose, I was wholly grateful for the hours and miles together on our beautiful, sturdy, and maybe somewhat dirty, tandem.

One of my favorite parts of our day was riding beyond the edges of Poolesville, Maryland, into more rural countryside. The wind snapped at us over the open landscape and through leafless trees. Chill bit into my feet.

Normally, I don’t like those sensations, but on this sunny winter day they invigorated me. It felt so good to be riding our tandem together after a month of rest.

We reached the entrance of Sugarloaf Mountain and began our two-mile rise to its summit. Sugarloaf is a mostly gentle (by East Coast standards) switchback climb, and at this time of year the bare trees give you a good lens on the winding path behind you.

The cold made the area fairly quiet and we enjoyed a contemplative rise to the top. Love for my riding partner welled inside me, and I leaned forward and whispered, “I love you, bike.”

Bikes are not people, I know, but this tandem has sure found its way into my heart. With a tandem, Felkerino and I sit snugly, one in front of the other. All movement is synchronized, and when Felkerino and I ride in tune it reminds me of playing in an orchestra that has melded every note, sound, crescendo, and pause together. It’s a blissful feeling.

Obligatory Cow Photo with Felkerino and tandem

When our previous tandem– a custom-sized Co-Motion Speedster– developed a crack, I cried, and didn’t understand why the loss of a bike had affected me so. But it was the first tandem I’d ever ridden that was sized just for us, and we’d had memorable times with it, including our 2011 PBP jaunt.

As nice as that bike was, our Co-Motion Java is even better. It was built to tour and made to climb. It fits me as well as the Speedster did. Co-Motion designed it to specifically fit our two bodies, and over a long ride it continues to painlessly support us.

Our Java climbs so agreeably and doesn’t mind if you add extra weight to it. It’s happy to carry your extra jacket, or those items you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home.

The Co-Motion is an eye-catching steed, and through it we’ve enjoyed many a nice conversation with people we might otherwise never have met.

Cheesy though it may seem, this bike is like a family member to me. I never gave it a name, I just call it what Co-Motion branded it, but our bike is more than a thing we own. It’s an essential element of Felkerino’s and my approach to seeing and feeling the world. Our Co-Motion Java tandem is our partner in intimate exploration.

Lifestyle Changes in Small Packages: Brown Bag Lunch

In 2013, I read David A. Kessler’s somewhat horrifying yet engrossing book The End of Overeating, in which he provides an inside look at how the food industry perpetually entices us to shove the ideal mix of sugar, fat, salt, and who knows what else down our throats.

After being shown how I was being taken for a ride by companies that say they prepare “food,” but want us to be loyal patrons of junk, I committed to making changes in my diet. I bought fewer prepared foods, read food labels more consistently, and ate more fruits and vegetables.

Doing these things helped me try out cooking a little more and expand my palate. I’m still not a good cook, but purchasing food in a purer state increased my awareness of the hidden ingredients in packaged foods and even restaurant fare.

And yet, I would not bring my lunch to work. For the past 20 years, I have been an idly aspiring, largely unsuccessful brown bagger. Instead, I have spent most lunch hours wandering downtown like a mangy coyote in search of the elusive and healthy five dollar meal. I still haven’t figured out if it exists in D.C. Continue reading Lifestyle Changes in Small Packages: Brown Bag Lunch

Coffeeneuring Housekeeping: Patches

This note is specifically for the Coffeeneuring Class of 2014.

All patches were mailed on December 30, both to those living in the U.S. as well as the International Cadre of Coffeeneurs.

What I’m saying is everyone should have received the patches they ordered/earned (unless you are a D.C.-based person, in which case I should have already spoken with you to figure something out).

If you did not receive a patch and believe you should have, please let me know, either through the Contact form or via my “gersemalina” gmail.

Hope everyone’s 2015 is off to a good start. Back soon with another blog post from the recesses of my mind.

PBP 2015: To Go or Not to Go?

The turning of the calendar to 2015 also means the arrival of a “PBP year.” Paris-Brest-Paris, the most heralded, historic, and international of all grand randonnees now peeps its head around the corner and beckons to us randonneurs, a mere eight months away.

I thought that deciding on a return trip to PBP would take little internal debate. I would set my sights on it, no matter what. Yet, as of this writing, I feel mixed. Like the self-help books taught me, I drafted a list of pros and cons to aid my decision-making. Continue reading PBP 2015: To Go or Not to Go?


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