Sunday, September 30, 2012

Grabbing a tiger by the tail

The arguing voices grew more heated. One voice pleading just let go and slow down. The other screamed quit bitching and hang on. The simmering argument reached a boil. Sad part is, both voices were in my head. With the voices as a backdrop, I ride on.

Rando Joe, AKA Mellow Yellow, leads our group of four on a fast ride of the 128 mile Princeton-Belmar-Princeton Permanent in New Jersey. Fresh off his recent record setting ride in which he soloed his fixed gear bike across the width of New Jersey, Joe rides a constant, unrelenting, pace. Joe likes to lead. He volunteered to pull our group around the course. We agreed. So the three of us do an informal paceline rotation in his draft.

The ride arose rather suddenly and unexpectedly. Randonneurs can earn an award, called the R12, by completing a qualifying ride, at least 200k long, each month for one year. My streak began with my first brevet. I needed a September 200K to keep the streak alive.   The irony of this situation is that I have ridden more rides this year than any of the two prior years - but September seemed to just slip away. This is the last weekend of the month.

In the last few days, after a few emails, we had a group ready to ride. One potential problem though, Paul needed to be done in 9 hours and 30 minutes because he had plans for his anniversary. My fastest time on this course was over 10 hours. Added to that, since the 1200k I rode three weeks ago, I was only on a bike a couple of times on very slow, very short, very easy rides. Joe F. the fourth in our group, also expressed some concerns about the timing. Rando Joe sent the email that settled it. He would lead the ride and get Paul back in time. We could either hang on and ride a new personal best or get dropped and solo in. I was OK with that. I can ride solo.

The morning light revealed a cool cloudy day. Temperatures hover around sixty. Thick clouds threaten rain. Good condition for a fast ride. We take to the course and promptly get up to speed. 

If Randonneuring were easy, I doubt most Randonneurs would do it. 46 miles to the first control. In and out in minutes. Back on pace. We go through 100k in less than 4 hours. The second control comes at 76 miles. In and out in minutes. Back on course. Our line stays tight for the most part with minimal distances between rear wheels and front wheels. Flags blow in the shifting winds. In the small square of my mirror, I see lines of effort in the faces of my companions. I can feel strain in my own face. Conversation is minimal.

Having ridden this route before, I know there are no real climbs, just occasional rollers. The level course gives me hope. Gravity will not be the deciding factor. The laws of physics can work in my favor - remain an object in motion - overcome inertia. Just. Hang. On.

 Lines from the Marge Piercy poem "To be of Use" come to mind  . . 


I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.


I struggle to harness myself to the task - to do what has to be done, again and again.

A controle comes at 96 miles. Joe tells us the pace we need to maintain to make it in. I tell him that if he sets the pace I will ride it.

My legs betray me just after 100 miles. A slight rise, just an overpass crossing the highway, causes the simmering burn in my legs to boil over into failure and cramps. I punish my legs for their weakness by trying harder. The gap grows between me and the group. Joe soft pedals until I catch up and, back on level ground, he pulls me back to rejoin Paul and Joe F. I ride in their draft and recover.

The controle at mile 121 is an ATM. From there, 7 miles to the finish. To stop the cramping, I eat salt, swig apple cider vinegar and wash it down with gulps of water. Our pace has exceeded the original time goal - so there is a new goal : 8 hours 30 minutes. I am not convinced I can make it. My fastest time on the course is over 10 hours. My fastest 200k time is over 9 hours. The group leaves a minute or so before me. I can see them but I cannot bridge the gap. 

I ride the last 7 miles alone against the clock. On the flats and declines, I exceed the necessary pace. On any rise, I fall below it. I have no idea whether it will all average out, but I have come too far to let the tiger go now.  I will see this thing through. 

The final controle is a Dunkin Donuts. The quiet strip mall does not have a finish line, digital clock or waiting crowd. But the guys are watching as I roll in. I pull up, dismount and check the time - 8:29. We go inside to eat and talk and then go our separate ways - another ride completed.

So that is what it feels like to set a personal best.

16 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Bob, one day I may be able to keep up with you.

      Delete
  2. The regular controle at mile 121 is where I blow any remaining possibility of a personal best.

    Congratulations. That's a great accomplishment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The group opted for the quick stop. Had we gone to the regular Pizza place all bets probably would have been off for me.

      Delete
  3. Well done, especially right off a 1200. Enjoy the fall!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks George. It certainly made the difference to be with that group.

      Delete
  4. Hmmm... 8.5 hours for a 200K. That works out to 52.7 hours for the _other_ PBP.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL. That is just the kind of math that gets a person in waaay over their head.

      Delete
  5. Wow coming off of the big 1200, very impressive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What was really impressive was to see Joe ride the course on his fixie and lead the whole way. I was just happy to hang on.

      Delete
  6. Just so you know, that's a PR for Joe too, fixed or geared. He's had a fast, strong season.

    Congratulations on such a successful brevet campaign. Enjoy the off-season.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did not realize Joe was on a PR pace as well! Holy cow, - just goes to show that not knowing what you've gotten yourself into can sometimes be a good thing.

      Yes it has been a quite a season both as an observer and a rider. And yes, I am looking forward to an off-season of leisurely rides and fall/winter cross training.

      Delete
  7. Great job! That long distance work and hill work paid off. You might also trace the quick time to adequate rest. Very inspiring.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. You make good points. Having trained for and completed the 1200k sure did make this 200K seem short, and flat, by comparison. I also think the group effort was a major factor. If I had soloed this route the outcome would have been very different.

      Delete