The back story:
My streak of 200k or longer rides died in November. That was the first month to go by without my riding one since I rode my very first 200k in April 2010. Fifty-five months of consistency ended quietly, without drama, succumbing to inertia and a lingering lack of motivation.
December was passing too, easily slipping past in the flow of year end parties, arrangements, wrapping up at work. 100K rides kept me in the loop, but the 200K is the benchmark of this sport and it was getting farther away while the distance was growing more daunting.
Last week, we rode the holiday ride. A moderate 100K preceded by breakfast and followed by a great lunch. Yet the last of those miles had me doubting my fitness and marveling at the loss of my endurance. Could it all have slipped away so quickly?
I haven't been idle. Since September, I have been lifting consistently following the Starting Strength program. It is a basic strength training program consisting of intense heavy lifting with no endurance component. In that sense, it may be the polar opposite of randonneuring. However, it is not about "body building." It is about building fundamental, functional strength. The program is working. Over the past 12 weeks, the strength gains have been noticeable and significant. I am stronger in ways I had forgotten and being stronger is trans formative. It adds a dimension to one's physical life that must be experienced to be appreciated. But I digress. This is a post about riding.
The last miles of the Holiday 100K found me falling off the back of the pack and fighting modest climbs. Discouraging to say the least.
Less than a week later, Chris N. invited me to join her and Joe K. on a 200k. At first, I declined, I should get back on track without slowing them down. Then, after looking at the forecast which called for a warm winter day, I decided to ride.
On the morning of the ride, I prepared myself to get dropped. Chris and Joe are both "K hounds" having amassed over 10,000K in RUSA events this year. They have been riding consistently and strongly. I, on the hand, did another round of heavy squats the day before and felt it in every step down the flights from my bedroom. Joe and Chris would likely ride a brisk pace, I would be happy to just check the box and get the ride done. In the car ride to the start, I rehearsed my "you go ahead without me" speech.
And then I got to the start. Chris and Joe exude a calmness of being that overwhelm and diminish my concerns. My tentative comments about my lack of fitness are absorbed and deflected with easy words and simple acknowledgment. The simplicity of their actions speak to me. Here stand two people with whom I have ridden thousands of kilometers over the last four years. Here stand two of my friends. There is nothing to fear. We are Randonneurs. This is what we do.
We ride into the brisk cold of December morning in a tight line. As the day warms, the pace quickens. Chris and Joe dance on the pedals of their fixed gear bikes, their legs a constant swirl of motion. I draft off their strength. "The body remembers what the mind forgets." The sun arches across the sky, and still we ride together, devouring long stretches of road under a sunny winter sky.
The ride finished just after dark. We sign the cards, eat, wish each other happy new year and go our separate ways. R1 completed - again.
"Leave the lights on. It might be night time when I get there but I'm on my way home."