Want a successful 400K ride experience? Bring your 400K face to the ride and no other. After over a decade of randonneuring, some lessons have begun to sink in, and I’m finally figuring out what a good 400K face looks like.
My 400K face is one that begins a ride full of a week of good sleep. According to a reliable source – my mom – I have always been very into sleep. This lifelong affection for sleep has often created tension with my randonneuring ambitions. I imagine the best randonneurs are people who don’t think of sleep as one of their favorite hobbies. But I personally believe that sleep is right up there with riding a bike in terms of how wonderful it can be.
To prepare for this weekend’s uncivilized 4 a.m. start (full route here), I banked as much sleep as I could from Monday through Thursday. Sleep, work, maybe hit a yoga class or the grocery store, eat dinner, read four paragraphs of my latest book (or one sentence), nod off, sleep sleep sleep, wake up, go to work, repeat.
This sleep program seemed indulgent, but when the alarm rang at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, I ripped up the randonneuring retirement speech I had planned to give during the ride announcements, stoicly put on my 400K face and reflectives, and gathered with all the other randonneurs in the parking lot for the day’s ride.
The 400K face means also considering optimal temperature regulation. Over the years, I’ve learned what works best thanks to year round commuting as much as randonneuring. As the clock struck 4 a.m. (did I mention how uncivilized that is?), our group rolled out into a cool morning that dipped from low 40s into the high thirties, and along with it, the feeling in my toes. Feel you later, toes!
I knew temps were likely to drop as we left town, and I had been calculated about my choices. I considered the draft I’d get off of Felkerino, layered with a light jacket and knee warmers, and left the booties at home knowing that I didn’t want to fill up the space in our Carradice with something I’d only wear a couple of hours. My toes didn’t warm up again until mile 75, but I firmed up my 400K face and accepted the choice I had made.
The trade-off for the cold toes start was an eerily quiet departure into fog-laden rural roads outside of Frederick, Maryland, around Brunswick, and into Virginia (Lovettsville and Bluemont area). We dipped in and out of dense fog pockets, but the golden hue of the waxing moon would pop through the moisture as we rose up and over the morning hills and cast its light across the sky and over trees.
We rode up enough to leave the fog behind, and as the first light of day filled the sky, we could spy the silvery threads of clouds blanketing the nearby farmland.
It was a sweet reward for our early start. I wish I could have taken a photo of it for you, but when you have your 400K face on you don’t have much time for such frivolity. Maybe next time you can join us. Four o’clock on the nose, don’t be late, you’ll love it.
A 400K face also requires math and mental hijinks. Felkerino wrote about our ride, and mentioned how the 400K breaks down into three segments. Visualizing the ride as multiple rides in one has helped me mentally manage brevets as long as 253 miles.
I saw the ride in segments, too, although not quite the same as Felkerino’s. Chop into the first 53 miles to get the total under 200. Ride to the stop in Hancock, Maryland, in order to be over 100 miles for the day. Make the halfway point so it’s “only” 200K left. Pedal up the final big climbs after Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, to mile 200 so it’s a mere 50 miles to go. Surely you’ve ridden 50 miles before?
Then there’s the whole food thing. You have to feed your 400K face appropriately! I tried to hydrate well during the week leading up to the 400K, and made sure to have a satisfying meal the evening before clipping in.
It’s critical to have food within easy access during the ride, and the back pocket café has not been cutting it. Bags are tricky for stokers because it’s not like you can just put a Berthoud bag on your handlebars and start snacking away. There’s a whole person right in front of you.
This year I purchased a Randi Jo Fabrications bartender bag and Felkerino suggested I try an Oveja Negra top tube bag. These have been ideal for stowing bananas as well as PB&J (or almond butter & J) sandwiches that I chew on during rides. I find sandwiches far more appealing than energy bars, and they don’t take much time to prepare the night before a ride. And I’m not fishing around awkwardly in my back pocket trying to grab whatever I’ve stashed there.
Not all the eating occurs on the bike though. Another aspect of the ride I look forward to is eating off the bike. It’s good to feed your 400K face when you’re not pedaling, too. For this ride, we prepared to stop at mile 75 (a sitdown indulgence of espresso and ham and cheese croissants), mile 112 (cheese sandwiches at Sheetz), mile 164 (another cheese sandwich from Sheetz), with our last stop coming at mile 212 (a V-8, Lifesavers, and only 40 miles to go!).
This combo of on-bike off-bike eating worked well for me. Felkerino and I took 2.5 hours off the bike for the entire ride and I felt purposeful throughout but never rushed. A 400K face always has a look of purpose, except when you’re sitting on a curb dining with your fellow rando-buddies or mulling the options of the perfect candy to buy at the 7-11. Then you can dilly dally just a bit. Don’t eat too much candy, though. That will destroy your 400K face. And your 400K stomach.
When you don your 400K face you are also a friend to all. Randonneurs have to stick together, but hopefully not annoy the crap out of each other. Keep your 400K faces close, but not too close. Chat with your fellow riders, but also allow for quiet times, too. Or perhaps you ride just ahead or behind each other so you each can go the right speed for you. Or perhaps enjoy a contemplative moment – or say a contemplative century.
Felkerino and I had a great time on this ride and I’m happy to see that everyone who started the 400K finished it. We must have all brought our 400K faces.
Thanks to D.C. Randonneurs for putting together this brevet. As Felkerino wrote, the 400K is a big undertaking for ride organizers, since people are finishing all through the night so organizers don’t get much sleep, either. Special thanks to Georgi for organizing, and to Andrea, Shab, and Greg for volunteering.