Experience: a Randonneur’s Frenemy
This weekend, Felkerino and I rode our first official brevet of 2015, the D.C. Randonneurs 300K out of Frederick, Maryland. I was feeling pretty lackluster about the whole thing, but the forecast indicated spectacular conditions, leaving us no excuses to skip out on a ride in the countryside with rando buddies.
My lack of winter cycling miles really has gotten into my head. As spring has popped all over the place, my urge to ride has returned, but too late for any brevet build-up.
The lapse in riding discipline means Felkerino and I are using the brevets to ride ourselves into brevet shape. I’m not sure what kind of sense there is to this method, but there you go. It makes brevets a little more mentally intimidating and physically difficult, but after yesterday’s 300K I’ve made some peace with that.
Even lacking ship-shape fitness, I knew from experience that Felkerino and I would finish, barring any major mechanical. After more than ten years of randonneuring together, I have finally found confidence in our abilities to pedal through a ride. There is also a familiarity with how these rides usually go, both when we are well-conditioned and when we’re gritting it out with rubbery legs.
The Frederick 300K course is front-loaded with climbing, and includes three significant climbs: through Catoctin Mountain State Park, a beast of a steep rise over Big Flat (not flat, NOT FLAT!), and a gentle but steady climb back over South Mountain. The final 60 or so miles of the 188-mile course are generally flat to rolling.
Not surprisingly, the climbs hurt, especially the segment over Big Flat. My knees yelled at me, which they seldom do on shorter brevet rides, and my recovery after the effort took longer than normal.
As we descended the other side of Big Flat to our second control at mile 71, my ego reminded me of how we had gone over that ascent in previous years. Less pain, more seated climbing, slightly faster. With more winter hills and miles, that climb would have had less lasting impact on my legs.
One of the key elements to randonneuring is accepting that time is always moving forward. We ride out into morning darkness. Oranges and yellows begin to rim the horizon, and eventually sunshine peeks over the mountains (if you’re lucky!). The sun gradually swoops up and over us as we ride.
As the sun glides through the sky, we urge ourselves forward to make the most of the daytime hours. Given that Felkerino’s and my lack of riding meant that we were moving a mile per hour or so slower than usual, we silently agreed to brief refueling stops throughout.
I carried extra pocket food, including a couple of sandwiches, to eliminate reliance on convenience store food. Sometimes eating junk from stores is a fun indulgence, but other times it leads to post-consumption regrets. [Insert post-convenient-store-consumption anecdotes here.]
Years of riding together have taught us that as long as we eat and drink properly, we’re fairly hardy. Our legs will eventually recover from hard climbing efforts and as the terrain lets up, we can move steadily. Based on our previous times on the Frederick 300K, I was hopeful we could complete our jaunt before the sun disappeared.
Conditions for this ride were extremely favorable, and reminded me that it is much easier to make progress when the sun shines all day and the temperatures are warm. You can just ride more energetically when weather goes your way.
Over the last year I’ve begun to see experience as a dear randonneur frenemy. It reassures me that Felkerino and I have a grasp on the tips and tricks of efficiency, nutrition, and how time passes on a ride.
But experience also conjures memories of the ways that off-season riding and improved cycling fitness pay dividends when it’s time to show and go on a brevet. It dispassionately warns of the physical discomfort you will likely endure if the requisite miles aren’t already in your legs.
We rode much of the day solo and eventually intersected with Patty, Dylan, and Roger in the last 40 or so miles. Their easy conversation increased my enjoyment of the day. I smiled and took a few photos.
We then grouped up with Paul D., Dieter, and Carol for the final twenty or so miles and again, time flew by in lively conversation. My body’s minor aches disappeared. Covering the distance of a brevet is always an accomplishment, but it is the social aspect– the opportunity to connect with new people and old rando buddies– that keeps me connected to the rando game.
At 7:05 p.m., we were done for the day, with sun still in the sky. My frenemy, experience, came through for us. I rewarded myself with a slice of pizza and control room conversation, and on the drive home, began anticipating the next brevet. Experience tells me I better bring my climbing legs.
Thanks to Mike for organizing, to the volunteers who helped, and to everybody who rode with us! Full set of pics from the day here.