Monday, May 20, 2013

Second Brevet At Last

My second 200K brevet went through some of the loveliest of the Texas countryside

I began this blog one year and one day ago in response to completing my first brevet on May 5, 2012. Since then, I have been struggling to repeat that accomplishment, and last Saturday, one year and thirteen days later, I did. Each of my two brevets was the shortest distance a brevet can be, 200 kilometers (200K). Completing one or even two of these  is not really much of an accomplishment, many people just start riding monthly 200K brevets as their training ride, and then quickly move on to the Super Randonneur series, consisting of a 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K brevets and then on to 1200K randonnées, but not me. My first 200K was a brute force slog which left me so exhausted that it took me a full year to prepare for another, a journey I have shared on this blog. What were my hopes for this second brevet and how did it go? My dream for this second brevet contained the following elements:
  • My first brevet was completed in 12 hours, comfortably within the 13.5 hour time limit. However, a fast rider can complete a 200K brevet in 8 hours. I hoped to complete my second brevet in 10 hours.
  • My first brevet, I dropped off the back of the group within the first couple of miles, leaving me to ride 120 miles almost all by myself. This time, I wanted to ride with the group, or at least the slower part of the group, for the entire ride.
  • My first brevet was completed in agony. I wanted my second brevet to be a pain-free, joyful experience. (I did say this was a dream.)

Four of the seven riders who were at the second control. The couple in front with the matching "Texas Stampede Randonnée" jerseys rode the titanium tandem in the right side of the photograph. The next rider over, sitting, rode the recumbent. The last rider to the left, kneeling, was my companion on the 200K route.

To my eye, this year's brevet was lightly attended. Like last year, 200K and 300K brevets were being run on the same day. Six people showed up for the 300K brevet, and only two of us for the 200K brevet. The ride organizer, who was riding a 137K (permanent?), started the ride with us but turned around just before the second control. I didn't count the riders from last year, but looking back at the photo my wife took at the start, I count eleven riders and I know others started later. This is not a huge difference in attendance  but a difference nonetheless. I wondered if the running of the Texas Stampede 1200K randonnée two weeks earlier might have left some riders feeling like they had done their ride for May? Because this randonnée is only run every two years, this was not an issue last year. Sadly, we had one of the earliest possible DNFs (did not finish) as one rider realized he was missing his wallet right after signing in for the ride but before we even started, and as a result he decided to forgo the ride in favor of locating the missing wallet, so that left five for the 300K and two for the 200K.

Unlike Tour de France riders, randonneurs are allowed to use any human powered vehicle, and thus recumbent bikes are perfectly legal and enthusiastically welcomed.

In an earlier post, I commented that some of my cycling buddies have been urging me to upgrade to a carbon fiber frame. I recalled then that there didn't seem to be many carbon fiber frames at my first brevet and promised to do a count at my second. Out of nine starters, there was one carbon fiber frame, (the person who DNFed). Of the remainder, there were two tandems, one recumbent, and three single bikes. One tandem was steel, the other titanium. I didn't think to ask what metal the frame of the recumbent was constructed from, the fact that it was a recumbent seemed to trump that somehow. Of the remaining three bikes, two had steel frames, one titanium. My tentative conclusion at this point is that carbon fiber frames are unusual among randonneurs, that we use steel at the low end and titanium at the high. This fits with my memory from last year.

The route of my 200K brevet. (Click picture for a larger version.) The brown squares with the letter "i" in them mark the location of the controls. The 200K riders and 300K riders rode together to the control in the bottom left corner of the picture.

I was pleased that the route this year was different from last year. Like most people, I appreciate variety. The first and last controls, the start and the finish, were at the La Quinta Inn in Brookshire, same as last year. Unlike last year when we rode almost due north to Washington on Brazos, this year the 300K riders rode almost due west, and those of us on the 200K parted ways after the second control at 45 miles in Columbus and headed 18 miles north to Fayetteville. The first 45 miles was a twisty little maze of passages, all different. No complaints about that, by structuring the route this way, we got to ride on some beautiful little Texas roads with very little traffic. However, that did provide extra motivation to stay with the group to the first control so that I didn't get lost, a task I was able to comfortably accomplish. Although the group rode a little bit faster than I might have on my own, it was delightful to have company. Chatting along the way really makes the miles pass quickly. This bunch didn't seem to be much into drafting1, but I was not so proud; there is nothing better than drafting behind a tandem. The couple on the yellow tandem had noticed my "Raulston Strokers" jersey2, and we were well into a delightful conversation about what that meant and the Modesto Roadmen when we got to the second control. There was much sadness all around when we realized that here we parted ways, and we promised to find an opportunity to ride together again real soon.

The couple riding this yellow tandem and I were having a wonderful conversation on the road

The ride to the first control made it very obvious that my partner on the 200K was a much stronger rider than I was. As we were getting ready to depart the second control, I made it clear to him that he did not need to stay with me, that he should ride at his own pace and I would stay on his wheel as long as I could and then finish on my own. However, he chose to ride together, side by side, to the third control at the half way point. We raced along over the rolling hills due to a truly bracing tail wind which delighted my partner but terrified me as I thought about the ride back. By the time we got to the charming general store in the charming town of Fayetteville, my pace was starting to lag, and because he had to be home by mid-afternoon, we said our good-byes, he took off and I completed the second half of the brevet on my own. (I did see him again at the fourth control in Columbus. He was just leaving after having taken a food break as I rode up.) One advantage of riding on my own is that I was able to stop and take a couple of pictures of the delightful wildflowers. Texas can be a truly beautiful state.

Jerry's General Store, the control at the half way point, is a typical storefront in the attractive town of Fayetteville.
My companion on the 200K can been seen at the bottom left of the photo.

By the time I got to the penultimate control in Columbus, I was thoroughly exhausted from the rolling hills, the 90 degree temperature, and most significantly, the truly brutal headwinds. The Columbus controls (out and back) were at a Shell station with a mini-mart, so I took an approximately 20 minute break, refilled my water bottles with gatorade, and ate a bag of potato chips (mostly for the salt) and drank a coke (for the sugar and caffeine.) It is well known that cycling and food digestion do not go well together, and so to allow all that junk food to digest and to regain some strength, I rode the next hour at a deliberately slow pace. The middle hour and half, I picked the pace back up to my normal, comfortable riding speed, and for the last hour, the smell of the finish in my nose, I actually pushed the pace.

Besides the predominant yellow, daisy-like wildflowers shown in the picture at the top of the post, there were many other colors of wildflowers as well. Shown here are some purplish-red variants on the yellow flowers. There were also a lot of large, white flowers, a fair number of intense purple ones, and many others scattered here and there.

So how did I do?
  • Last year, I rode 200K in 12 hours. My ambitious goal for this year was to complete it in 10 hours. I ended up completing it in 11 hours.
  • Last year, I rode almost all 200K by myself. My goal for this year was to find a group to ride with the whole way, a goal that was a bit at odds with the light attendance at this ride. I ended up riding the first half of my 200K with a "group" (albeit a group of two for the last of that) but rode the second half by myself.
  • Last year, the last 26 miles of my brevet were pure agony. It took all of my willpower (and the absence of any alternative) to complete it. My unrealistic goal for this year was to ride the entire 200K in complete comfort. There were high points and low points for this year's ride, but none of the low points were as low as last year's, and I managed to finish with enough reserves to push my pace at the end. I definitely want to do better than this in the future, this is still more pain than I enjoy, but things are definitely moving in the right direction.
So, all and all, I declare this year's brevet a success. I confess to significant misgivings before the start. Would this be my last brevet, I wondered? By the end, I was certain that I would very much like to continue brevet riding.

A clock tower in Fayetteville

In future posts, I will discuss specifically how I feel like my training choices and equipment modifications impacted this ride.

No MAF test results this week. I will discuss the future posting of MAF tests when I discuss the impact of my training on this year's brevet.


1) Under most circumstances, the major factor limiting how fast one can ride on a bicycle is wind resistance. Even on a completely still day, one is overcoming a "headwind" equal to the speed one is riding. If two riders are riding together, one behind another, the second rider experiences significantly less wind resistance. I have read that this energy savings can be as high as 40%. Deliberately riding behind another rider to gain this advantage is known as "drafting". Normally, a group of riders will take turns riding in front in order to share the work and achieve a much higher overall speed than would be otherwise possible.

2) The bike club I belonged to in High School was named the Modesto Roadmen. The city of Modesto was created by a land developer by the name of Raulston. The first town fathers wanted to name the city after him, but he declined for reasons of modesty. As a result, the town fathers, whose native language was Spanish, named the town with the Spanish word for modest, "Modesto". Some of the older members of the Modesto Roadmen, as we reached the snarky nadir of our adolescence, starting calling ourselves the Raulston Stokers, Raulston in reference to the town creater, Strokers as a double entendre meaning either the stroking of one's legs as one pedals the bicycle or the other meaning being the one would expect from teenage boys. (Please forgive us, we were teenagers.) In my later years, this became a family story. In 2010, when we did a cycling vacation with our two sons in Maine, our older son showed up with custom jerseys for my wife and I, hers relating to her profession, mine being the incarnation of a fictional "Raulston Strokers" jersey.

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