“Tired is not an emergency” reads the note on my D.C. Randonneurs cue sheet. “But please do let us know if you abandon.”
Unlike club centuries or event rides, randonneuring rides offer minimal support. Nobody carries your stuff around, nobody feeds you along the ride (although you might score some pizza at the end), and nobody picks you up if you are unable to finish. Riders depend on their ability to anticipate, prepare, and persevere.
A long ride with no support intimidated me. My longest ride ever was 100 miles – an event ride with a sag wagon and stocked rest stops along the way. It comforted me that – if I couldn’t go the whole way – somebody could come along and pick me up.
I didn’t know what lay beyond the century, but wanted to find out. I started riding more often and through hilly terrain outside the D.C. metro area. My Midwest limbs adapted to climbs. I rode in rain, snow showers, and headwind. I learned the cycle of the body warming up on frigid days – the achey throbs of the hands as they adjusted to the temperatures and the feet that warmed up some but remain somewhat frozen even wrapped in booties. I learned to never leave home without a rain jacket.
Those rides toughened me up in ways I didn’t realize until the spring brevets arrived. I had developed my physical endurance to be competent at brevet distances. I was prepared. My gear choices were refined. I figured out my food and drinking needs. A full day of riding that bled into evening hours was not a mental hurdle anymore. No supported rest stops required, no sag needed.
Even with over 15 years of long-distance riding, and confidence that I have the physical strength and experience to navigate a brevet, I still have times where my legs pedal forward, but my mind goes south. I dwell on the negative elements around me, my physical niggles, my desires for a nicer day. I grow impatient about finishing. Tired begins to feel like an emergency.
These low moments happen frequently enough that I’ve come to expect them. They’re just not written on the cue sheet so sometimes they catch me off guard. When they appear, I’ve figured out to pause and regroup. I ask Felkerino to pull over. I often eat something, and assess the situation.
My body may be fatigued from the miles. The weather might be rainy or cold, and the idea of continuing is daunting. I want to be done right then, not miles down the road.
But if I am not hurt, the bike is not broken, conditions are decent, and only the mind is a barrier to my progress, I keep going. One pedal stroke after the other, one cue to the next. Repeat. Tired is not an emergency.
Occasionally, ride circumstances overwhelm us and we must adapt. The road is unexpectedly blocked, and there is no easy detour. We figure out an alternate route to progress. It often involves extra miles and takes more time, but we stay in motion.
Other times the ride pushes back on us and we have to stop. Sleep deprivation forces us to find a spot to close our eyes in order to continue safely. Sometimes the weather takes an extreme turn. Flash flooding make riding unsafe. A squall forces us to take cover (hopefully there’s a post office or a barn nearby). The day’s heat is so severe it endangers our progress. We find shade and shelter, rest, and wait it out.
Not every ride can be sunny in the 70s. That would be too easy. Sometimes we’re tested by a ride that clobbers us with more than we could ever anticipate. If it’s purely mental discomfort, I can regroup and keep going. Tired is not an emergency.
But if it’s a factor outside my control that won’t allow us to safely ride on, I have to know when to stop. I dislike changes to plan, and making the call to stop the bike is something that’s very difficult for me. I want to push through, no matter what.
I hate the idea of timing out or not finishing. I see it as personal failure.
Determination and perseverance make me a good randonneur. But sometimes my fixation on finishing can lead to errors in judgment. Sometimes the best choice is to stop.
Felkerino and I are privileged to ride our bikes all day (and night), and lucky to have the physical strength to do what we do. If the mind doesn’t agree, we take a break and shake it out.
If the road ahead isn’t clear, we have a team meeting, adjust the plan, and pause until it is. Riding time may get away from us, but we have to look out for each other and make the right call for the team.
We must adapt. The finish line waits. Once conditions improve, we get back on our bike and keep going.