Saturday, June 2, 2012

My First Brevet

On May 5, I rode my first brevet with the Houston Randonneurs.  I am the kind of person who researches everything to death, so for the previous year I had been reading every blog, every FAQ, everything I could find about the sport of randonneuring.  I might have just as well have read the "Randonneurs USA Members' Handbook" that RUSA provides to their members.  In any case, there is no way to really know what something is like until you do it.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I felt like randonneuring was something that matched my style of riding and my limited experience to date confirms that impression.  I had previously tried a more conventional cycling club in Houston.  The folks were terrific; they were welcoming, friendly, and helpful.  When I found myself in a group faster than I could manage, they slowed down and made sure I had a good time.  Still, they enjoyed fast, 40 mile rides rather than slow, 100+ mile rides and I was the only person there not on a carbon frame.  When I showed up at the start of my first brevet, I found quite a variety of bicycles.  My Surly Crosscheck was quite typical and there were plenty of other steel frames. Although I could not keep up with the fast group (or with any group, for that matter), that was fine, nobody cared.  I had my queue sheet which told me where to ride and it was assumed that I could take care of myself.

The start was a La Quinta Inn in Brookshire, Texas and the instructions were to park in their parking lot, but to "Leave space for the guests", so I wasn't sure what to expect.  Would this be some kind of stealth activity?  Not to worry, the staff at the La Quinta could not have been more welcoming, Houston Randonneurs were set up in one of their public rooms, everything was above board, and we had access to the public facilities of the La Quinta.  Everything was an interesting mixture of formal and casual.  The rules of Randonneuring as I had studied them were followed to the letter, but in the context of a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere.  I signed in for the 200K ride (there was also a 300K leaving from the same site at the same time), got my brevet card, and waited for the official 7 am start.  As I hung out, other riders came over to chat and introduce themselves.  There was a contingent of riders from Lone Star Randonneurs, a club from Dallas, about 250 miles up the road, and the odd rider from farther away.  In total, there were about a dozen riders equally divided between the two rides.  A few minutes before 7, the organizer gave us last minute updates, and we were off.

Start of the Houston Randonneurs 200K and 300K Brevets

One thing I learned during training is that the best way for me to ruin a ride is to start off too fast.  I do my best rides when I start out very slow for the first 5 to 10 miles and then gradually move my pace up to a comfortable cruising speed.  When I looked around at the start, it was clear that I was older, pudgier, and less fit than most of the other riders. So, when everyone else took off at 17 mph I was the first one off the back and rode at my own pace and so ended up doing most of the ride by myself.

The rules of a brevet is that there are controls along the way where you have to have your brevet card signed.  This ride had a total of 5 controls, one each at the start and finish at the La Quinta, one more at the half way point (62 miles) and one each going out and coming back at 26 miles from the start/finish.  The first signature was provided by the organizer when we registered for the ride.  The 26 mile controls both going out and coming back were "open controls", we were free to have our cards signed at any business establishment in the town of Bellville.  I was feeling pretty good at the 26 mile control, not tired at all and no pain.  I picked a convenience store to have my card signed.  I had read that it was good manners to buy something at these kinds of controls, so I purchased a container of Gatoraide to top off my water bottles and a small package of Fig Newtons.  The clerk in the store was a bit mystified by my brevet card, but was happy to sign it.  I wasn't quite sure what to do with my bike while I was in the store.  Because I was riding off the back by myself, I didn't get to see what the other riders did, so I locked it outside the store.  Carrying a Kryptonite lock certainly added to the weight I was carrying, so I look forward to finding out if others have a better solution.  The control at the the half way point was once again staffed by the ride organizer and his wife.  I filled my water bottles, ate a small package of crackers they provided, chatted probably longer than I should have, and headed back.  By that time, I had passed one rider who arrived at the control after me and left before I did.  I was still feeling OK, but was starting to feel some pain at contact points (hands and shoulders) and it was getting pretty hot.  There were stiff tailwinds going out so we were looking at a much more difficult ride back, plus it was continuing to get hotter.  Although I slowed down significantly, I was riding along pretty well for the next 20 miles. I stopped at a gas station convenience store to replenish my water bottles and where I caught up with a second rider.  He was suffering from the heat and had brought his bike into the store and was sitting on the floor.  I don't know if that is how this group deals with bicycles, but if so, it made me a tad uncomfortable, it didn't seem polite to the store or other customers.  We left that stop together, but I ended up going faster than he wanted to.  The ride at that point continued very hot and I got increasingly tired but managed to maintain a slow but steady pace to the next to the last control 26 miles from the finish.  After getting my card signed, refilling my water bottles, resting a bit and eating, I called my wife to let her know when to expect me and ground out the last 26 miles.  These were extremely painful and my pace became erratic.  By the end, I was seriously wondering what madness caused me to do this and question if I ever wanted to do one of these again.  I arrived at the end after 11 hours 54 minutes, comfortably within the 13.5 hour time limit.

Map of the 200K Brevet
The control at the end was interesting.  My brevet card was signed by the desk clerk at the La Quinta, I then signed it and filled out my part, and dropped it into a coffee can left for that purpose at the front desk.  This is another example of how this ride followed the rules to the letter, but did so in a way that minimized the effort of organizing the ride.  The result is that, with limited resources, Houston Randonneurs is able to offer an impressive number of brevets.

In retrospect, how do I feel about my preparation?  From the beginning I knew that trying to do this ride with the time I had to train was a stretch.  The training guides  all said that my training was a week or two short, and this is in addition to the fact that these guides are written for the 40 and below rider, not a 60+ year old.  These guides increase mileage at 10% a week to avoid over training and include a "taper" at the end (a reduction in training) so you don't go into the ride exhausted.  I created a modified plan that had some 20% mileage increases at the beginning to make the rest of the schedule work, and hoped for the best.  During training, I felt that I approached the edge of over training, but managed to barely avoid it.  My taper at the end seemed to work well; I really feel like I peaked nicely for the ride.  That said, this ride took everything I had and so my training was definitely as minimal as it could have been.  Besides getting fit, I used my training rides to test ideas about clothing, equipment, etc., and I was satisfied with most of my decisions about what to wear and bring.  I probably carried too much, but since a lot of it was "just in case" items (tools, spare parts), that is a little hard to say.  I found it difficult to eat, but never felt like I was bonking, so that was also probably marginal but acceptable.  Where I really felt the pain was in the weeks after the ride, something I plan to discuss in a future post.

In conclusion, Randonneuring was everything I hoped it would be, my body, less so.  I would definitely like to thank the Houston Randonneurs for organizing such a wonderful ride and making me feel welcome.  The ride went through some of the prettiest parts of Texas, and with a few notable exceptions, was over wonderfully quiet country roads.  I didn't take a camera because, for my first ride, I wanted to focus entirely on finishing, but that is something I hope to correct on future rides.  And yes, there will be future rides, but perhaps not until after a significant time for recovery, some longer term training, and after the end of the brutal Texas Summer.

1 comment: