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

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