D.C. Randonneurs Shenandoah 600K: Out of My Comfort Zone

After last year’s 600K, where I showed up physically ready but mentally underprepared, I spent much of this year’s series of brevets assembling my 600K face. As I said in 2018, you can’t shove your 400K and 200K faces together and expect a 600K to go well. Every distance needs its own face.

I burned a lot of brain cells plotting how 2019 would be different, better than last year, and I adopted the new old approach of going beyond my comfort zone. Yes, a new old approach.

Early miles on Fort Valley Road

When I rode my first Super Randonneur series in 2005, each brevet took me outside the familiar. I didn’t know what to expect, how my body would hold up, or if I could even ride that far. Each ride was a test.

Over the years, I’ve come to understand these distances and am confident that I can complete them. This year Felkerino and I tackled a 600K together for the thirteenth time. I don’t say that to brag, but rather to say that the distance is not new and in this regard it is within my comfort zone.

De’Anna on Edinburg Gap

Yet I have never found a 600K to be comfortable. I have to wake up earlier than I want (in case that isn’t clear enough by my highlighting it in every ride report). Felkerino and I usually ride past my regular bedtime (supposedly because randonneuring is fun or something).

I might have to ride in heat or inclement weather. My quads, back, or some other area will start yelling at me. I might bonk at some point, but not feel hungry, or I get sick of eating. Often, multiple discomforts manifest at once.

Anni and De’Anna into the chop

In essence, the 600K is a familiar distance interspersed with comfortable moments interrupted by agitations and aches over 35-plus hours of riding, and usually includes at least an hour or so where I’d rather be napping like a kitty cat under a sunbeam.

Somehow I latched onto the idea that because a 600K distance was familiar then it should also be comfortable, and then I’d spend the next 35 hours frustrated that I let myself down again by not easily drilling out a 600K distance.

But a 600K will never be easy for me because it will always be – in certain ways – outside my comfort zone.

Nicolas on a rise

After dissecting the mistakes in my thinking and recognizing the dichotomy of a ride existing both within and outside my comfort zone, I felt like I had stumbled on something revelatory – even though both sides of this coin have been in front of my face for several years now. But without my 600K face I couldn’t see it and thus I wasn’t fully assessing my 600K experiences.

This year I altered my 600K preparation, building it around going out of my comfort zone. As the weekend forecast declined from sunny to cloudy and cool with rain, instead of dreading the days ahead I concluded that it was good training for an event ride like Paris-Brest-Paris where the weather could be anything and you just ride your bike in it. I threw my rain jacket in my bag and gave myself a pep talk that at least we wouldn’t overheat.

Anni

Ten riders lined up for the D.C. Randonneurs Shenandoah 600K. Roger, the ride organizer, quietly sent us off saying “You better get started, you have a long way to go.”

We rode through the dark hours of the morning, the sky turned pink for 10 minutes, and then it was clouds all day and all night and all the next day. While I had anticipated gloomy skies, the clouds gently blanketed over the Blue Ridge surprised me with their beauty.

The mild temperatures meant we could pedal as we pleased and not worry about overheating and my body felt good digging into the ride. Rain came and went throughout the first day, but it never amounted to downpours, and was just enough to encourage us to constantly keep moving.

Showers visited us more in earnest on the final 130 miles back to the start, and everybody but me threw on their jackets for parts of Day 2. While I can’t see forward very well when on the back of the tandem, I gain additional protection from the elements (rain, cold, wind, and bugs) thanks to Felkerino’s ready draft, and I stayed nice and comfy in a jersey and occasional arm warmers for most of the ride.

Even though the field of riders was small, seven of us rode much of the first day in each other’s orbit, and a group of about six leap-frogged throughout the second day. This unexpected fellowship inspired Felkerino and me to pedal in high spirits, content to be part of the loose group rolling down the road. The cooler temps and lively pace led to taking in more of the course in daylight than we ever have. It’s quite pretty, who knew?!

As is generally the case, my legs were heavy on the second day and the many rollers we covered really socked it to my quads, feet, and lower back. Felkerino and I diligently stuck with the rises, accepted the difficulty of the day, and used the lure of the finish to propel us along.

Gary and the loose cows

Pedal pedal pedal, ouch quads, sheesh this headwind and rain, ergh this saddle, oop a flat, dang you fix those flats in a flash Felkerino, ugh another convenience store stop, YES I WILL HAVE A SNICKERS ICE CREAM BAR, and finally – finally – the glorious finish at the Middletown, Virginia, Econo Lodge.

Team photo at the McDonald’s in Bridgewater

Roger was there to document our final pedal strokes and we ate pizza and signed paperwork to celebrate the completion of our Super Randonneur series. We now have our golden tickets to Paris-Brest-Paris and that feels awesome.

During one of the convenience store chats earlier on in the ride, our group discussed the route. Several of us agreed that the nature of a loop course, versus a course where you overnight in the same place you began, has its merits.

On a single loop, you don’t have the option to not start the second day, as you would on a figure eight or double loop route. You must get yourself back to where you began somehow, might as well get on your bike and ride it in. A loop doesn’t allow you to succumb to comfort.

Another year on Trissels (love this view and the name of this road)

Felkerino said a loop makes him feel like you go a long way and then you come back to where you started. One of our riding buddies had a good laugh about that statement. I suppose brevets could be seen as anticlimactic or even nonsensical in this regard, but I’d say that’s part of the appeal for a randonneur like me.

Felkerino’s 600K face on VA42

Throughout our finite adventure, we never forayed too far from the familiar. I accepted the physical discomforts that arose, knowing they would only persist for a set number of miles. This year, I was ready both mentally and physically.

Despite riding this distance more than a dozen times, I still explored outside my comfort zone. In the process I finally found my 600K face. And right now there’s a big satisfied smile on that face.

Details: 375 miles, 21,000 feet of climbing, Overall time: 34:50, Ride with GPS here.

Felkerino put together a fine report of our ride experience so check it. He captured it well and goes into detail about our brevet bike and gear for this year. I also have some photos of our ride on my flickr page.

Many thanks to Roger Hillas and Paul Donaldson for pre-riding, organizing, and being there for us at the overnight and the finish. Thanks so much to everybody we rode with who helped make this such a great 600K experience. Congrats to the riders who took on this challenge and are now on their way to PBP or whatever big ride is next!

2 replies

  1. Wow. I am so — just, wow. I don’t even have words. I know these aren’t new for either of you, but I am so glad that you found your “face” for this particular brevet. I often wonder how one would prepare for these sorts of distances, and while I do understand that preparation/training is necessary, I think there is an acceptance that there is going to be a level of discomfort or pain pedaling that long (and with so much climbing — ack… that climbing!!!!). High fives, fist bumps, thumbs up to you both and wishing you the best as you prepare for the upcoming PBP! Congrats!!! 🙂

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  2. The comfort zone discussion is interesting. For me personally, on any brevet there comes a moment when I realise fully that no matter what happens next (flats, pains, bonks, etc.) I’m going to finish the ride within time limits. It might come 100K from the finish, or 20K from the finish. This is when I get back into my comfort zone. I just try to hang in there before that, knowing the moment will come =)

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