Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tip #8 - First Grand RandonnéeTips

You've reached the grand tamale as you prepare for a grand randonnée.  Congratulations! Welcome to the club!  You’ve survived ACP qualifiers in good form and are ready for more.  You need to pay attention to detail, but make riding grand randonnées about the experience.  I’ve provided tips in the first 8 posts.  In this one, I focus on illustrative stories.

My illustriative stories come from the 9 grand randonnées I've completed.  To review them, see here:

If brevets are more about survival than fun for you, complete your first grand randonnée close to home.  
Research what you are signing up for.
Think about the experience you are going for.  You’ll have a better chance of doing it.
Arrive early enough to have dinner with or meet other riders.  
Understand the leg distances, particularly at night when everything is closed.
Choose your own battles. Unless someone dares you.
A few tips repeated:
    • For extreme weather, remember feet, hands, and head.  Legs too.
    • Check out your equipment before you get on your bike.
    • Have modest but actionable redundancies

A day will come when you promise yourself never to do it again


If brevets are more about survival than fun, complete your first grand randonnée close to home.  
My first year of randonneuring in 2007 was mostly about suffering.   What I learned about randonneuring I learned by suffering.  I suffered modestly on the 300 km.  I suffered a lot on the 400 km.  I suffered on the 600 km.  Then I went to Paris.  PBP was an amazing sufferfest for me.  My equipment wasn't quite dialed in. My fitness wasn't dialed in.  It was the most painful thing I ever did.  While it was a memorable experience, it would have been a better one if I learned how to avoid or survive suffering closer to home and less expensively.  Check out North American options first.

Research what you are signing up for.
When PBP added the sign-up preference for people that rode a 1000 km or longer the year before PBP, I started riding a 1000 km the year before PBP.  In 2014 that was DC's Appalachian Adventure 1000km.  I assumed this lead mid-Atlantic club would do the sensible thing, and have a pleasant little 1000 km to let people get their cards punched.  Instead, they took pride in having the most difficult 1000 km on the East Coast, and perhaps the country.  It did draw well from across the country. It wasn't the 1000 km I was looking for.  I rode it anyway.

Think about the experience you are going for.  You’ll have a better chance of doing it.
Do you want to have a little test out of the eyes of the world, or do you want a memorable life experience into the national or international order of randonneurs?  Do you want the challenge of endless climbing, or are largely flat courses just dandy?  The US and the world have enough grand randonnees that you have options to pick from,  While you may pick just by calendar, you have more options.

Arrive early enough to have dinner with or meet other riders.  
Popular US grand randonees may have 60 riders registered.  Less popular ones may have a handful.  Most of the time, there is some social aspect to people arriving, assembling bikes, and either a reception or going out to dinner together.  Getting to know people a bit makes it all a little less intimidating.  Other than when you realize the person you are having dinner with does 10 grand randonnée a year.  Or have been doing it for 30 years. 

Understand the leg distances, particularly at night when everything is closed.
Since grand randonnees are longer, leg distances between controls can be longer than shorter brevets.  Sometimes there are services along a route between controls.  Sometimes not.  Especially at night.  Be comfortable that you can ride 60 miles or longer between  controls with what you have on your bike as needed.  Not just on the first day, but the 3rd day and your body is totally wasted and at a low point.

A few tips repeated:

For extreme weather, remember feet, hands, and head.  Legs too.  
Shoe covers, gloves, and hats are really light.  Personally, I always cover my legs before my torso.

Check out your equipment before you get on your bike.
Paris Brest Paris 2011 is likely the high point of my randonneuring career.  I was fit and experienced.  I sat around all afternoon for the start, and waited at the starting line for hours.  Then when I started and at a round-about perhap 3-5 miles in, I felt my front tire rolling off the rim from a flat.  I stopped to replace the flat, losing my starting group.  I did find a French bystander several miles down the road with a floor pump in his car to get the new tube fully inflated.  I did meet a great slow moving group of English people that invited me to slow down and party with them for 4 days.  I did enjoy slowly overtaking members of my starting group.  And within an hour or so, the next starting group overtook me and I could sit in a bit as these faster groups overtook me.  So having that flat did add some color to my ride.  Still, if I had just checked the tire before starting, I could have had an uneventful start.

Choose your own battles. Unless someone dares you.
Randoneuring culture is suffer or finish at all cost. Still, I encourage you to pick your own battles.
In 2008 I wanted to finish a 1000 km. I forget why, but probably for an R5000. I suffered heat
exhaustion on day one and didn't recover. I rode out of time at 600 km, but I did self extricate
myself by riding tot the second sleep control the next day. I could have kept riding, but I didn't
see the point of having any volunteers worry about me as I rode outside time. I DNF'ed, and
completed a 1000 km in Ohio 3 weeks later. Know your own goals.

Have modest but actionable redundancies
While I grossly overpack drop bags, I have used a lot of redundant items (or suffered when I didn't).  My main lack of backup was on Endless Mountains in 2009.  I turned my headlight on in Pennslyvania work zone on a descent, and perhaps blew out a capacitor.  It would variably for the next 2 days.  I had to be careful to ride with others after that.  On my first 300 km in 2007 before I had equipment sorted out, I ruined a tire from rubbing a badly mounted steel fender.  Fortunately I was carrying a spare tire then.  In 2011 at PBP my headlamp failed from rain on the first day.  I had a spare in my drop bag.  In 2007 PBP in a nasty rain I had trouble seeing the road with my pre-LED headlight.  I had a spare headlight on my handlebars that I could swivel to the right to see bushes on the side of the road.  Both PBP 2007 and Endless Mountains 2009 were historically cold and rainy.  If I didn't carry extra cloths and have generous extra clothes in drop bags, I wouldn't have made it.  On Endless Mountains in 2009 on the second day (starting at perhaps 1 AM), worrying a bit about weight, left behind my pannier and shoe covers among other things.  I suffered a night of cold, soggy feet, and promised myself to never ride ever again without shoe covers.  They weigh next to nothing.  Ditto on a bataclava and gloves that don't lose insulation when wet.

A day will come when you promise yourself never to do it again
In 2015 I signed up for the Sunshine 1200 km as my consolation prize for not going to PBP.  The pre-riders a week before reported a fabulous ride.  All we had to do was ride 15 mph like them, and it was a piece of cake. I wasn't quite in shape, and I did a 400 km the week before that I didn't fully recover from.  Riding out of Key West, we had pretty fierce headwinds the first 80 miles.  Concurrently, the temperature ratcheted up to "oven" with a Florida dose of humidity.  I had little power, and couldn't keep up with other riders even when they were doodling along.  At the second sleep control, I made a heart-felt promise never to ride another one.   As I review my ride history for this post, I see that was entirely rational.

Now in 2018, I’ve signed up for the 2018 Blueridge to the Bay 1200 km,  We'll see how it goes.  Maybe, maybe not.  In any event choose your battles.  Do what is important to you, for your own reasons.

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

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Jim's Grand Randonée Log

I've been asked to extend my Tips series to include a "First Grand Randonée" blog.  To gain context for that next blog, I wrote this retrospective on my grand randonées to date.

I’ve start 9 grand randonnée and completed 8 as of this writing.
  1. 2007 Paris Brest Paris 1240 km
  2. 2008 Endless Mountains 1000 km (E PA) – DNF
  3. 2008 Ohio 1000 km (OH)
  4. 2009 Endless Mountains 1240 km (E PA)
  5. 2010 Natchez Trace 1000 km  (TN)
  6. 2011 Pars Brest Paris 1240 km 
  7. 2012 Allegheny Highlands 1000 km  (W PA) 
  8. 2014 Appalachian Adventure 1000 km  (DC)
  9. 2015 Sunshine 1200 km FL)
In 2015 during Sunshine 1200 km I made a heart-felt promise never to right another one. Now in 2018, I’ve signed up for the 2018 Blueridge to the Bay 1200 km

What I was riding for
Proudest or best memory
Most important lesson learned
Sufferfest memories
PBP 1240 km
To become an ancien
I’m an ancien!
Just keep moving.  Don’t pack light
Hardest thing I did in my life.  Legs totally ripped apart in a way never before or after.  50F and rainy 1st 2 days. Last 2 days were hell on wheels.  Mildly psychotic last day from sleep deprivation.
Endless Mountains 1000 km (DNF)
Eastern PA
Punch my card on home turf. Except I didn’t.  Completing my R5000.
Dinner before the start with the other riders.  Though I got nervous when Crista was nervous about the route
Never pass up an RBA or volunteer with water.  They know something you don’t
Heat exhaustion at 90 miles after passing RBA with water then went dry .  Rode another 1 ½ days without recovering.
Ohio 1000 km
Columbus PA
Show I learned my lesson 3 weeks earlier at Endless Mountains.  Got my R5000.
3 weeks after DNFing in PA, completed a 1000 km.  Self-supported out of a motel room.
The simplicity of a base camp figure-8 grand-randonnée.  The RBA/organizer hit a dog and went to the hospital on day 1.  It didn’t matter:  I self-supported out of a single motel room
The mechanics of my right foot broke down on day 3.  Removed an insert as my feet swelled (lost my 2nd big toenail in 2 years).  The difference in leg lengths was brutal on rest of body.
Endless Mountains 1240 km
Eastern PA
Punch my card on home turf after DNFing year before in 1000 km.
Completed a grand-randonnée on home turf!  Last rider to complete within time limit
Training and fitness matter.  Preparation matters.  Do more though.
I was prepared for 2 days of cold rain.  My body broke down on days 3 and 4. 
Natchez Trace 1000 km
Nashville TN
A milestone on my R5000.
Rode a grand-randonnée without my body breaking down (much)!
Natchez Trace is really dull – trees, trees, trees.  Then more trees (a very long and narrow national park with nothing commercial visible from the road.  Filled water bottles from a lot taps in national park restrooms
Mostly survived.  After finishing, the sole of my right foot was almost too numb to drive – I couldn’t feel the gas pedal as I drove to the after party.
PBP 1240 km
Ride it with style
I’m a randonneuring stud.  78-ish hours
Training and fitness matter.  Preparation matters.  I’ve arrived!
A good 3 days, then arrived at 3rd sleep control at noon – skipped it.  A mistake.  Suffered last day.
Allegheny Highlands 1000 km
Pittsburgh PA
I was RBA and this was in my region.
Don’t assume route designers know what they are doing. 
If you offer a grand randonnée, make it ACP, so people can get  medal.
Great route for 2 days.  Then with 800 km in our legs, we rode the return of the 400 km from Erie. Brutal.
Appalachian Adventure 1000km
Checking off my 1000 km box in case I registered for PBP in 2015.
Completing it, despite it being stupidly hard
Know what you are signing up for. I thought our lead regional club would offer a sensible 1000 km in a pre-PBP year.  Instead, they offered a sufferfest
I endured OK.  But was annoyed by it.
Sunshine 1200 km
A local substitute for PBP 2015.
Riding through unexpected heat and surviving!
I don't need to do this again.
I suffered the heat.  I wasn’t prepared for the distance.  I promised myself I would never ride a 1200 km again.