Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tip #5 - First 300 km tips

A 300 km is the first real stepping stone into ultra riding for most riders - it is the longest ride they have started.  It involves riding in darkness at least a bit, and it is long enough that most people have time to bonk and recover for the first time.   Or at least bonk and endure.

  • Riding collectively is different than group riding.
  • RUSA rules on lights and reflective gear are herd knowledge about staying alive.
  • In the dark, randonneurs typically slow down and ride together. 
  • Experience riding through a bonk or some pain.
  • Riding for 15 hours is a week worth of work-outs - taper!
  • Pre-inspect your bike - tires, brakes, etc.
  • RBAs do what they do to help riders succeed.
  • There is no SAG.


- Riding collectively is different than group riding. 
  • Randonneurs often do ride in groups.  With some exceptions, they don't worry about group integrity.  People come, people go.  Everyone has things to deal with on their own timeline.   Practices change a bit after dark. 
  • Keeping another rider in sight is a form of group riding.  To keep someone in sight without going crazy, you have to really suppress the "cheetah sighting the gazelle" syndrome - automatically wanting to catch.
  • It's amazing when you ride between two controls and never see a soul. Then at the next control, you overlap with a group of rider that are literally just minutes before and after you on the road.

-  RUSA rules on lights and reflective gear are herd knowledge about staying alive. 
  • You can either view the RUSA rules on reflective gear as bothersome, or you can view them as the herd knowledge about staying alive in low light situations.  Don't cut corners:  Stay alive.
  • Tail lights should be on solid red as a courtesy to other other riders.  Blinking lights make it difficult for riders behind you to see.
  • Your tail-lights should not be aimed where other riders eyes normally are if you are riding in a group.
  • Blinking tail-lights are illegal in France.
  • I generally ride with 3 or 4 tail lights.  One is an emergency backup.
  • Redundancy is good in lighting!

-  In the dark, randonneurs typically slow down and ride together. 
  • Randonneurs typically start riding together after dark for increased safety.  I do so less than most.  In Eastern PA there is a group that builds as the last riders are swept up on the road. 
  • People that meet at the last control before darkness often start riding together.  It is a courtesy to have the conversation if people want to ride together or not.  Our last leg on the Kitten and Puppies 300 km utilizes several busy highways - including Rt 51.  Do band together for safety on Rt 51.  
  • Most randonneurs put on reflective gear and night wear at the last control before dark.  I like to wait until sunset - it keeps me from overheating - and gives me a reason to stop.  Any low light situation any time of day - have your lights on and reflective gear on.

- Experience riding through a bonk or some pain.
  • 300k is long enough that people riding it for the first time are likely to bonk at some point.  Except in randonneuring, most cyclists stop when they bonk.  Learning to ride through a bonk is a new experience for most.  Eat, take it easy, and you will recover.
  • Ditto you may well have some pain and get an hour or so to wonder about the wonders of modern medicine as you wait for Aleve or similar to take effect.
  • I need to take a longer break every 100 miles or so.

- Riding for 15 hours is a week worth of work-outs - taper.
    • Even if you are on a high volume workout plan, you likely aren't exercising more than 15 hours per week.  A 300 km or longer is literally a week of workouts in a day.  And if you are new to it, you exercise every muscle you have as find creative ways to keep going despite some muscles being exhausted.  If you've never ridden this distance, the best thing you can do is to give your body a rest for a week before and let it fully heal and recharge. 

    - Pre-inspect your bike - tires, brakes, batteries, etc.
    • Make sure your tires are solid and don't have foreign objects embedded in them.  Make sure you have sufficient brake pads, especially if the day is going to be very wet.  Make sure you have working batteries in your lights

    - RBAs do what they do to help riders succeed.
      • It took me a while to learn this.  Yes, RBAs enforce the rules to ensure the integrity of what we do.   However, being a successful RBA is about helping people succeed rather than fail.  RBAs are looking to enforce the rules in ways people succeed.
      • If you forget to document a control, don't panic.  One approach is to always get a receipt from all controls with name and date/time.  Another is to have several witnesses that saw you at the control.
      • Everyone is cheering for you to succeed.  And the slower you are, experienced riders know you have it tougher and respect you for it

      - There is no SAG.
      • We run with minimal volunteers.  We don't schedule SAG.  Your RBA rides events, so it you wait for me, you will have to wait a long time.  Arrange for your own SAG if needed except in extraordinary circumstances.

        About Jim's first 300 km:
        Dave Lampe pieced this together from my comments: my first 300 km was rather epic, in a "crap happens" sort of way.  My first 300 km was in DC.  It was two weeks after my first 200 km, and I hadn't fully recovered yet.  I had steel fenders, and tire rub blew out a sidewall (Fortunately I was very anal at the time on doing what people on randon said, and was carrying a spare tire).  It was a hot day and I wilted.  I arrived at a control at 4 PM.  Not only was there a gallon jug of water on the picnic table (the universal randonneuring sign the water is available to share), but there was suntan lotion - Most other riders had been there many hours before - early enough that the sun mattered.  Then a rider rode up and said:  "I'm usually the last rider on the road - what is your name, so I can report I saw you?"  After sunset, I was reading the cuesheet with a headlamp for a first time.  I learned you don't have peripheral vision with a headlamp  and I rode off the road into a fortunately soft grass covered ditch.  But I did get a second wind after dark.  Not only did I catch that last rider on the road, but a women.  At that time I had no desire to go to PBP (my goal had been Boston-Montreal Boston - but there never was another BMB).  The women was riding at my level; she had a goal of PBP.  She was just taking it one step at a time.  I rode after dark with her.  She helped inspire me to want to do PBP.

        This is a continuing list of tips in what I explain what works for me.  What I did may or may not apply to you.  However, it should inform your decisions of what can work for you.  I am writing this series because one of Pittsburgh's riders asked me to do it

        Tuesday, March 10, 2015

        Tip #4 - First 200 km Tips

         Welcome to randonneuring.  More than anything, a 200 km is about learning that 100 miles (a century) is not a magic number.  You can go any distance you want.

        More than my other tips, I'll be quoting dogmatic randonneuring tips in this post.


        • Pace yourself. 
        • Be responsible for your own navigation.
        • Eat regularly.
        • Carry the equipment you need in the 300 km, 400 km, and 600 km.  Make sure it survives 200 km.
        • The slower you are, the faster you should control through if you want to see other riders.
        • Keep moving.
        • Keep time in the bank.


        - Pace yourself. 
        • Experienced randonneurs ride at the same pace at 4 AM as they do at 10 PM.  Or for a 200 km, at 7 AM and 5 PM.
        • I've learned that if we over-extend my heart early (zone 4 - over 150 bpm) for the first 2-3 hours of a ride, my average heart-rate declines for the rest of the day and I never recover an upside in heart rate.  If I stay in zone 3 early on, I can hit all heart zones as needed most of the day.
        • The ride out Rt 51 to the first control is nominally flat, but we climb onto the plateau after that.  Don't over-extend on the flat.
        • Don't pedal downhill.  Recover.  Even when you don't need recovery.  That's what anciens do.

        - Be responsible for your own navigation.
        • Even if your plan A is to keep someone actually navigating in sight, keep track of turns yourself with your cue sheet and cyclo-computer.  
        • If you can't see the cue sheet at all times, that is a problem.  Fix it.
        • Losing your cue sheet is a problem.  I did that on my first 200 km.  Mount it where it doesn't get lost.  Carrying a spare cue sheet is prudent.
        • A GPS can help relieve stress, but don't always believe it.  Use to help advise at turns.
        • Be safe, but often you can walk around bridges closed for work.
        • Do team up with other riders.  However, if you want an experienced randonneur to stay with you, explicitly ask.  We are used to everyone being self-accountable.  It is especially ok to ask another rider for help if you are impaired or having navigation or equipment difficulties. 

        - Eat regularly.

        • I eat breakfast before starting out.  Generally 2 or 3 hours before leaving.  For a 4 AM departure, I may eat main breakfast before going to bed.
        • I  normally carry two water bottles for sports drinks and a camelbak for water.  That normally gets me between controls spaced 50 miles apart in typical weather (typical grand randonnee conditions).
        • It's hard for me to leave the house without enough food on me and my bike for 50-100 miles.
        • Do eat what you take on the bike.  It took me several years to eat what I started out with.
        • On the Kittens and Puppies 200 km, if I've been dropped on Rt 51, I might skip refueling at the first control, to get out in front of the other riders.  I carry enough to do that.
        • If you feel like you can't go on, stop and eat something.
        • If I have something that hurts, I may take Aleve.  It  takes about an hour to take effect on me.  
        • I find that taking electrolytes really help me keep my strength up and avoid cramps.  The bigger you are, the more likely you are a fan of electrolytes.

        - Carry the equipment you need in the 300 km and 400 km.

        • Mount your lights and make sure they stay on.  At least one frame mounted headlight and one frame mounted taillight. Redundancy is highly encouraged.
        • Ditto on fenders.
        • Most randonneurs ride with their ankle reflectors on even in daytime.  It also helps tag us on the road to each other.
        • If you have generator lights, run with them on in daylight to be better seen.  It is generally worth it to keep a taillight on all day too (Planet Bike blinkies run 3 days on two AA's).
        • Have enough tubes and ways to inflate them.  Perhaps a tire, depending how much you trust your tires.  Enough tools to make small adjustments.  If yo don't carry a chain tool, carry a spare link.  I've broken chains twice on randonneurs (I didn't have a chain tool either time - Stef bailed me out one time).

        - The slower you are, the faster you should control through if you want to see other riders.

        • I've always played the game of turtle and hare. I've been the turtle.  Often in my career I've overlapped hares on the road by controlling through faster.
        • Note to hares:  Don't get anxious when you see a turtle leaving before you.  It is a social thing to do.
        • I like there-and-back routes because all riders get to see other riders on the road.  Even when I was the last rider on the road, it raised my spirits to see other riders on the ride as we crossed paths. 
        • One reason to try not to be last is that there is someone behind you that can help you if needed.  That day I controlled through at Al's Corner after being dropped on Rt 51 was a day I broke my chain.  Stef was behind me with the biggest multi-tool ever.

        - Keep moving.
        • It's amazing how far you go if you just don't stop.
        • It you looking for a reason to stop, find something else to do.  Whether a nature break or adjust something, that helps to pace the stop.  Do things you can't do moving.
        • It is ok to walk.  If I feel I can't climb anymore, I'll sometimes get off the bike and walk for the distance of say two telephone poles for a break.  Admittedly, I watch my mirror so people don't see me.  However, it is within the rules to walk.  I once walked the last 3 miles or so of a brevet (up a mountain), when I had a chainring bolt loosen and jam. 

          - Keep time in the bank.
          • I always try to leave controls at least an hour before control time.

          -  Other comments
          • No one is accountable for anyone else, but everybody should look after everybody else.  Note where people are on the road before you and after you.  When you cross paths with another randonneur on the road, short conversations about typical rando topics are typical.  They help people check on each other. 
          • Don't feel bad about imposing on strangers for help.  I've walked into car repair shops 80 miles from home, told the rando story, and borrowed tools for repairs
          • Tell the truth about how you feel if it the topic comes up.  Don't whine.  But it is ok to express how you really feel.  
          • An old rando rule of thumb if something will heal within two weeks, don't let it worry you.
          • Most things heal within several weeks.  If you hit an exception, know it.  But most ways you can hurt yourself on an ultra do heal.  
          About Jim's first 200 km
          My first 200 km was in Ohio, with a motel start.  I arrived the night before, and saw the casual camaraderie during check-in.  Outbound we hit a bridge out, so we had to pass bikes down and up a 3+ ft concrete embankment and and cross a stream.  I carried my cue sheet in a jersey pocket and lost it - so I had to borrow one.  Close to the turn-around point, we had a heavy and cold downpour.  I remember a female ride talking about the value of carrying a dry set of riding clothes - I typically have carried a spare jersey and shorts since that ride.I finished the ride.

          This is a continuing list of tips in what I explain what works for me.  What I did may or may not apply to you.  However, it should inform your decisions of what can work for you.  I am writing this series because one of Pittsburgh's riders asked me to do it