Monday, June 2, 2014

All the Way: 300K Brevet (5/31/14)

Town Line
Event: Boston 300K
Route: Bedford North through Ayer, Athol and Orange out to Northfield and then back around the Quabbin and through Sterling, Lancaster and Concord
Distance: 196 miles (225,) day
Goal Time: 17:00:00 (but anything under 20:00: would be fine)
Actual Time: 17:40:00

At mile 130 of the ride, after taking the left onto Rte 122, the next cue said: "6.9 Left onto West at blinking yellow light."  That meant just 7 miles on Rte 122.  Originally that seemed fine but I really was not ready for it.  7 miles of unrelenting gentle climb.  There had been steep hills earlier (I'm looking at you Cushing Street, Ashburnham). But this one didn't lend itself to my style of climbing: out of the saddle rocking back and forth.  No, this was sit down and go 8 mph for the next 52 minutes.

By the time I got up to the blinking yellow light, I felt like Gatsby glaring at Daisy Buchanan's single dock light.  (As an aside, typing this I just realized that the GREEN light was symbolic.  Did Gatsby think Green means Go with her?  A red light would have been totally different).  Anyways, the YELLOW light was as if Daisy Buchanan was declaring Caveat Emptor for the rest of the ride.  You might think this will be great but just you wait...

Some 145 miles and 14 hours earlier, I was sitting up in bed freaked out about the ride to come.  My last attempt at a 300k came in 2011 and could be best described at abject failure.  I failed in nearly every facet of randonneuring: Fitness, Training, Pacing, Nutrition, Mental Ability and Equipment. As my palms sweated and I just tried to wrap my head around attempting it again.  Fortunately it wasn't 3 weeks after I ran a marathon again....

I got myself out of bed and made it into the kitchen for coffee, cereal and pop-tarts.  My bag was packed; I said good bye to Urvi and bounded out the door for my bike.  I headed up Mass ave and toward Lexington/Bedford.  At 5 AM on a Saturday there was nobody on the roads.  I was able to test out my legs and fitness by throwing in some sprints.   After the dreaded "Did Not Finish" in 2011, I promised myself I would not attempt a 300k again until I thought I was more than ready.  I know it's a strain on others to put on this ride already and dropping out just causes more problems. So even at this late stage I was prepared to drop to 200k or DNS if I had to.  But, with the sprints I felt good; felt confident about the day to come.



After a security check and safety talk, I got my brevet card.  The ride started, but I made one last trip to the bathroom for a late start.  To solve my normal pacing problems (riding too damn fast, such as the CRW Century two weeks ago), I developed a strategy which I called the "Take It Easy" Strategy.  I kept telling myself: "Take it Easy, Take it Easy; don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy."  Too bad I hate the Eagles, Man:



"Take it easy" meant to not sprint nor try to race with people who were going faster than my plan (13-14 mph moving pace).  Also, if I was going downhill and either gaining speed or going over 20 mph, don't pedal. Instead I used them as fantastic portions to gain ground without trying. I figured the longer I could maintain easy riding the better I would be.  Randonnuering is not a race and my goal was to finish.

On this first section where I was using my Take It Easy strategy, I met up with another rider who was doing his first brevet and was doing the 200k option today.  While I had done more brevets than he, he was the far more experienced rider.  We generally agreed that the 300k would be totally different than the 200k.  "I figure it's like a Century you get lost on," he said.  The 300k is definitely a different animal than the Century or 200k: much like a marathon isn't just a half marathon twice.

I don't know if they were intolerant or naive before 1810

The first contrôle was the Dunkin Donuts in Harvard, MA.  My bathroom break and my pace had put me near the very end of the ride.  While I was still within the defined time, I was only 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  But I was committed to keeping an easy pace that would pay off in the end.  (There is a story about a Testudine and a Lepus that comes to mind.)  



After about 1/2 of a medium Dunkin French Vanilla Black, I headed out onwards.  After a brief sojourn incorrectly into Ayer, I made my way back en route through Devens and into towns I only know in theory (Fitchburg, Ashby, Ashburnham).  It was during this section that I engaged the second part of my strategy: Eat salty and sweet foods.  Nutrition is often overlooked by non endurance athletes.  In fact, a friend of mine went to a clinic for running coaches.  There, in discussions led by college track and x-country coaches, all they could talk about during the ultramarathon portions of the classes was training paces.  My friend was far more concerned with teaching nutrition, for training and race day.  But, even college level coaches didn't realize how important that is once you get to such distances.  Between Slim Jims* and Cliff Bars I was able to maintain a balance between sweet and salty.

The absolute steepest and most physically challenging climb of the day was on this stretch.  Cushing Street starts at the gate of Cushing Academy (not to be confused with the now closed Cardinal Cushing Academy). And like Leg 3 of the Lake Winnipesaukee Relay is just silly.  I passed three people on the hill, two of whom were probably doing the smarter action and walking up it.  I rolled into the second contrôle, Tweedo's Market, about 30 minutes behind my schedule but gaining ground on the contrôle time from the first one.

I grabbed one of the turkey on pita sandwiches out of my bag; texted Urvi with an update and ran through the cue sheet to remember my notes.  52 miles in for the ride (66 for the day) and neither fatigue nor hunger were a factor yet.  Nutrition, pacing and fitness were up to snuff.

Doane's Falls
The next section could probably be counted as the best part of the entire ride.  We took a right into the Tully Lake Reservation.  I heard the specific rush of waterfalls and you know me and waterfalls: I had to stop. After a little walk of 50 yards or so, I got a great view of Doane's Falls.  Nice bit of respite on a day of long riding.  The beauty - and steep hills - continued in the Tully Lake Reservation.  On one of the steep downhills, I reached my new Personal Best for top speed on a bike - 42.7 mph!

As we left Tully Lake and Athol (moving into Orange, MA), the route takes you onto Tully Road.  It is a long lonely stretch of beauty.  The long slow climbs were time to think and reconsider.  I realized how much better shape I was in than 2011.  Closing in on 100 miles for the day and my training and fitness were not suffering.  In 2011, I was the victim of trying to do too many things at once.  On successive weekends I tried: National Marathon, Boston Brevet 200K, Fox Trot 10 mile trail race and the Brevet 300K.  Being the same period as a marathon, I wasn't properly trained for the long rides.  (and, at 250 lbs, I probably wasn't properly trained for the marathon either.)  After my failure to get better at the marathon and terrible performance in the Fox Trot, I probably wasn't mentally ready for a 300K either (but more on that later).

The fact is my fitness level was so low before because I hadn't had time to recover from a marathon, which you need time.  Also, I didn't have the cycling miles under my legs.  Like a half marathon or century ride, you can fake it on a 200K; you cannot once it gets longer.  As I climbed into Northfield for the third contrôle, I was confident in my fitness and in my training so that even with 125 miles left on the day, I knew I would finish.

Highland BBQ, pulled pork!
Fit and trained or not, I was quite happy to see Highland BBQ.  I was looking forward to some sliced brisket but had to "settle" for a big pulled pork sandwich!

I ran into Matt with whom I had ridden the 200K in 2010, before my bike had major issues:  The chain got caught between the first and second chain ring and I was forced to spend 45 minutes at a bike shop in Milford, NH.  Today I was all smiles.  I had caught up now with several people and we left from the BBQ place in a group of four riding the next 20 miles largely together (I did lose them on an uphill).  My pacing strategy was working.  I wasn't exhausted and was still churning along comfortably.  We pulled into the fourth contrôle with over 107 miles done.

Sanjay riding into a Western Mass town whose name I forgot

In his great work, Ethics, Baruch Spinoza argues: "The human mind has no knowledge of the body, and does not know it to exist, save through the ideas of the modifications whereby the body is affected." According to this mental toughness shouldn't be connected to the body what-so-ever.  But it is.  Later Spinoza says: "The human mind perceives not only the modifications of the body, but also the ideas of such modifications."  

When that modification is exhaustion due to not being properly trained or not properly tapering leading up to a large event, it is harder to have "mental toughness."  Now, I'm not discussing the "mental toughness" that sports writers yammer about (which always involves some otherworldly athlete having a slightly bad day and the writer blaming his "mental toughness" not the obvious statistical certainty that in 100 basketball games, one of them even the best player in the world will only score 7 points.)  No, I'm discussing a mental toughness to want to go on despite the fact that you physically don't want to.  In every endurance event there will be a moment where quitting seems like the best option.  Most of the time - especially when physically prepared - this is fleeting.  

As I rode slowly up the 6.9 miles on Rte 122, this feeling of quitting come over me again.  I was still a little wet from the rain; my back was muddy and disgusting from a general day in the saddle and from a specific dirt road; and, this long steady uphill was making me question the decision made 13 hours earlier to ride the 300k instead of the 200k.  But, I remember what an ultra runner told me before the Pineland Farms 50k: "Don't make any decisions while going uphill."  Eventually I saw the flashing light.  I knew I would make it to the top of the hill, to the next contrôle, only 0.6 miles after the light and to the finish line only 55 miles after that.

Dirt Road right after the rain
I was a full hour and a half behind my plan when I left the fifth contrôle (which was an adorable gazebo in the Petersham Town Square that I stupidly didn't take a picture of).  But, I wasn't worried. What I did think about was that it would be dark in 2 hours.  I figured if I could get as close to the suburbs as possible in the next two hours, I could make it through without worrying about darkness.  

Emily described the next 15 miles as "three kickers" worth of hills.  These hills definitely slowed down my progress; however, my "take it Easy" strategy came to full fruition here.  I gunned it!  Up and down hills, over dales and what not...

And that's when the C.H.U.D.s came at me: 


It did get fully dark before I expected. It was 8:45 when I got into Sterling Town Center (contrôle for the Little Lamb 100K) and this wasn't the suburbs.  I think of it as a streetlight doppler effect.  The number of street lights per mile diminishes (like the number of Ethiopian restaurants per mile) as you get further from a subway station.   So, Sterling MA had virtually zero.  I went through the town center and a rider who had been at the side wondering what to do latched onto me.  I forget his name, but we were a team for a while. It was the first 300k for both of us.  And both of us had not done well as far as equipment.  He had a very bright front lamp, so he was leaps and bounds better than me.  But we had problems reading the cue sheets as white lights off our flashes would create a glare in the plastic.  Neither of us were ready to ride through the dark exurb streets at night.

Then, I got flat!  man.  With about 18 miles left, in some residential section of Harvard or Maynard somewhere, I was trying to change the tire by the light of a flood light in front of a house.  Then like a story from Genesis, lights appear on the road, approaching us.  6 guys with bright headlights, CO2 canisters and general experience/knowhow.  Two of them were Steve and Chuck with whom I had ridden the 2011 200K.  They helped me fix the flat and let the two newbies join their crew.  After briefly getting separated (I took a wrong turn, or rather didn't turn), I got back with them with my MDI Marathon jacket and just rode in the middle of their pack.  They had the course on the GPS and bright lights so they didn't have to stop at every turn and look at the cue sheet.

Crossing the Connecticut River: Sunderland, MA
Riding into the end we got to Concord Center - 5 miles from the finish.  I realized it was really going to happen. I was going to get to Hanscom; I was going to finish.  I would get a big picture of the eight of us. We would sit down and get sodas before heading home, joke about how much of an idiot I was and grade my night equipment to an F!  But in Concord Center we were pulled over by one of the ride volunteers...

There had been a plane crash at Hanscom.  The airport was closed.  Jake, the race director(?) (I don't know the term, but if it was a 5k that'd be his title), was on the last road with his zip car as the finish.  They were only allowing riders into the airport two at a time to go get their cars and even then, the troopers were telling the riders to just load up the bikes and get out, don't even change shoes.

Philadelphia Inquirer owner, Lewis Katz, and friends had come to Concord to celebrate the launch of an educational non-profit run by Doris Kearns Goodwin's son.  After the party they had boarded a private plane and to head back to NJ/Philly.  The plane had crashed immediately after takeoff.  None of this did I know at the time. Yet, we knew a crash was a crash and survivors were unlikely.

So, in an odd silence we all merely separated.  Physical triumphs became unimportant almost immediately. The enormity of the ride and the crash wouldn't hit me until the next day.  I rode home through the streets of Lexington, Arlington and Cambridge quickly as they have streetlights (and Ethiopian restaurants).  I was anxious to see Urvi and celebrate a bit.

* - little aside on Slim Jims (and any product you want to ride with), test the opening ability BEFORE the ride.  These Slim Jims  I purchased were so tightly packed in shrink wrap that getting them out of their stupid package a) probably spent as many calories as eating them and b) It gets dangerous trying rip it open at 20 mph

** - Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.

No comments:

Post a Comment