It’s easy to make summer ride plans in winter, a time of possibility for lots of us. The year stretches out ahead like an open road, just waiting to be ridden. It’s another matter to follow through on one’s winter ambitions.
After riding Paris-Brest-Paris in 2011, I realized that life has to make a space for 1000K and 1200K rides. While a 1200K is around 90 hours of commitment, the path to the starting line is much more.
I was pleased with Felkerino’s and my leadup to the Coulee Challenge 1200K this summer. I know everyone’s preparation for these kinds of events varies, but here are some of the factors that worked for us.
1. Know What You’re Getting Into
Through Facebook and Strava, specifically rando-buddy Dan Diehn, I noticed that the Minnesota and Driftless Randonneurs were in the planning phases for a 1200K. Last year, a group pre-rode the course and Felkerino and I eagerly checked out Dan’s Strava tracks to see what the route looked like in terms of terrain, overall climbing, and mileage.
The final Coulee Challenge route was not identical, but reflected enough similarities that we knew early on what we were getting into, or at least as much as we could glean from the data we saw.
2. Make a Plan
We completed a Super Randonneur series with the D.C. Randonneurs, but with a 600K that wrapped up in May we had until August to stay in 1200K shape.
Believe it or not, Felkerino and I have other things going on in addition to riding our bikes (I know, right?) so that meant sketching out the weekends until the August ride to maintain and even build our physical conditioning. While I log about 80 miles a week commuting, obviously that is not enough training benefit for a ride like a 1200K.
We sat down and developed a riding plan that steadily built our summer weekend mileage, culminating with a challenging 600K permanent in the thorny hills of Pennsylvania. At the time, I thought that this was overkill, but during the ride I realized that our 600K was just what we needed to build our confidence, and our endurance for multiple days of gnawing through steeps.
For those interested, here is what our plan looked like (not counting a few weekend rolling rides of around 40 miles here and there). (Elevation is according to my Garmin, as Strava noted overall elevation quite a bit higher, and all distances below are round trip):
May 12/13: D.C. Randonneurs Shenandoah 600K (20,158 ft. elevation gain)
June 9: D.C. to Shepherdstown, WV: 161 miles (7,959 ft. elevation gain)
June 17: D.C. to Poolesville, MD: 71 miles (2,635 ft. elevation gain)
June 23: Abandoned Turnpike Almost 300K: 177 miles (11,591 ft. elevation gain)
June 29-July 1: 6/29 Cumberland to Pittsburgh via roads: 165 miles (6,476 ft. elevation gain). 6/30 Rest Day to be tourists. 7/1 Pittsburgh to Connellsville via GAP: 64 miles (531 ft. elevation gain). 7/2 Connelville to Cumberland via GAP: 92 miles (2369 ft. elevation gain).
July 14-15: Kit ‘n Kish 600K (21,318 ft. elevation gain)
August 13-16: Coulee Challenge 1200K (29,265 ft. elevation gain)
In sum, we planned well and were physically ready. Fortunately, weather did not play a major factor during this event, except for some midday summer heat each day which we expected to experience. Also, the Coule Challenge 1200K was extremely well organized, and that allowed us to concentrate primarily on riding, eating, and sleeping.
3. Practice with a Card
Felkerino and I are not big into the paperwork rides, and generally only carry cards for the brevets. However, it was helpful to take on our final training ride – the Kit ‘n Kish 600K – as an actual timed permanent, as it forced us to keep moving and stay within control windows. We also imitated the same overnight restart we would on the Coulee Challenge 1200K. (Our goal on 1200Ks is to arrive at the overnight, eat, and sleep four hours before launching the next day.) In sum, the Kit ‘n Kish 600K was a good dress rehearsal for the Coulee 1200K.
4. Keep it Fresh
One of my favorite parts of this year’s 1200K preparation was the time spent in areas we have not explored much. Generally, Felkerino and I have done more local’ish riding around Virginia and into West Virginia during the summer months.
This year, we headed north and ended up seeing more of what parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland had to offer. It was great fun, kept the riding fresh, and felt as though we packed in some concentrated mini-tours in addition to our main event 1200K tour.
5. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Since the evening before a ride I generally flop around and doze in spurts, and during the event itself I’m guaranteed short sleep each night (at around four hours), this year I began to focus on sleep in the week leading up to an event.
That meant trying my best for eight hours of sleep the week of a rando ride. It felt good to log a few extra zzz’s and psychologically, it made giving up sleep for a brevet easier to swallow.
6. Ride the Bike You’re Gonna Ride
In the last couple of years, Felkerino and I have used our beautiful Spectrum tandem as our main randonneuring bike. However, since we had to ship our bike to the ride start we decided to ride our decidedly heavier, but S&S coupled, Co-Motion Java tandem. We spent all summer riding the Co-Motion Java so that we could adjust the fit of the bike as well as make sure that everything was in good working order.
Even then, we ended up with a crunchy rear bearing during the 1200K. It gave us a momentary scare, until Ian S. of Seattle Randonneurs diagnosed it and said it was not a show stopper. Other than that, though, all ran smoothly on the bike and the summer miles tuning it in paid off.
7. Dial Everything In
In addition to figuring out the bike, we spent our summer riding days figuring out our gear, nutrition, and clothing and shoes. We set up the generator light and dug out the summer reflective vests.
I found my stomach is more sensitive during the summer and ate a ton of bananas, V-8 juice, and hard-boiled eggs during rides. We both used Camelbaks since the bottles are hard to reach on the tandem and I don’t like having to stop frequently to refill them, anyway.
I only had two pairs of cycling shorts and picked up a couple more before the 1200K so that I wouldn’t have to wash my shorts in the sink at night. It helped for us to think through these various aspects and prepare accordingly.
One area that I would work on next go round is to add core work and more strength straining to the preparation. I continued to go to yoga a few times per week and that was definitely helpful, particularly to my upper back and shoulders, as those have been problem areas in the past. However, I did not make the extra time to focus on my back and core. Near the end of our four days of riding the 1200K, my lower back had started to talk to me. A lesson for the next long ride.
8. Let Other Things Go
Because the 1200K was our summer focus, other parts of life were put on minimum maintenance or hold. We still went to our jobs of course, and did the regular weekday things like grocery shopping and laundry, but most weekends were focused on riding and not much else.
For the short term that was fine, and we definitely had the miles we needed in our legs to take on the Coulee Challenge. Now that the 1200K has come and gone, I’m excited to reestablish a bike-life balance that includes other activities that I like to do.
9. Stick to the Plan, But Don’t Be Excessively Rigid
Even though our 1200K prep benefitted from sketching out a plan and to letting other things go for the short term, we were not militant about our approach. We allowed some flex in our planning to move a ride from one weekend to the next, if needed. We played a few weekends by ear, and rode from home as far as we felt like going (and stopping for coffee en route).
During our Abandoned Turnpike Almost 300K, we lopped off 15 miles and two significant climbs when we realized that our ride was taking way longer than we planned or wanted. We still ended up with a hilly-a%$ ride that offered significant training benefit.
I’ve written about this before, but never discount its importance. You must believe that you can and will finish. I never want to show up to something saying I’ll just see how it goes and maybe I will make it, who knows.
Felkerino and I put in the summer work and we arrived in Minnesota ready to ride 1200K. We did not know exactly how the miles would unfold for us, but from the moment we left the parking lot we were both committed to finishing.
Belief doesn’t mean continuing if an unmanageable situation manifests (like a show-stopping mechanical or nature serves up something you can’t handle), but it means starting out with the belief that you can do it.
This intangible has gotten me further down the road than I maybe deserved to go. I’m not particularly athletic or fast, and I don’t have any superpowers when it comes to endurance. But I believe that if Felkerino and I ride ourselves into some semblance of shape and follow the basics I laid out above, we will get there.
We are stronger than we think. Challenges like a 1200K are good reminders of that.
What did I miss? Let me know in the comments, and as always, thank you for reading!