Sunday, October 21, 2018

Bridging the gap


In the winter of 2017, I stepped away from long bike rides to get stronger. Following a consistent routine of ever heavier squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, bench pressing, and chin-ups required time to recover. So I set aside long rides in the cold for shorter, intense sessions under the unforgiving steel bar. Each session was a simple pass/fail test of will and growing strength: either I lifted or I failed.


By February 2018, the sessions had paid off. I found myself stronger than I had been in decades. Truth be told, physically, I am far more suited to strength training than Randonneuring. This kind of training may be the polar opposite of the endurance needed for Randonneuring, but I knew that when I took the step back to rebuild and rebalance. Yet, in the process, I had let months pass without my riding a 200K or even a 100K,

But as the days grew longer, I found myself questioning the wisdom of taking that much time off the bike. Before this break, for eight years I had maintained a streak of monthly 200K rides in part because the prospect of starting over to regain that necessary endurance intimidated me. The first go around to build it, to put it mildly, challenged me. Now, I found myself older, stronger, more experienced, but basically having to start again. 
{"I found myself" - what a strange expression. When you think about it, it becomes complex, hard to explain. Who is the  "I"? What is the "myself" that was found?  How did "I" lose "myself" and what is it about that moment of the discovery that leads to the expression "finding yourself? But I digress, let's return to Spring 2018 ...}


The rides of March is a deceptively simple endurance challenge that is virtually shared by participants across the country. Just set a goal to ride either one half hour or one hour a day for the entire month and then persevere until the end of the month. I chose the A Team challenge: an hour a day for 30 days and posted updates in the "Rides of March" Facebook group. By the end of the month, buoyed by the virtual companionship of friends and strangers, I had regained some bike fitness but still another month had passed without a Rando worthy ride.


April meant the Cranbury 200K. As the ride organizer, I was committed to being there and to do doing the pre-ride to check out the course. RBA Joe and I planned to do the pre-ride together. When I mentioned my concern about the lack of training, he responded with a simple understated confidence in my ability. That proved contagious. I found myself trusting his confidence more than my doubt. Mentally, the distance was not the issue, the only question was what would be the physical cost.

When the time came, we rode as if the lapse in riding had receded with the short cold days of winter. The company of a friend, the easy conversations, peaceful silences, and a forgiving course, made the return to Randonneuring just like riding a bike. 


  May offered a choice of 300K rides. I opted for the flat 187 miles of the New Jersey Devil event.  I rode with Katie R. and JB (on a tandem) Paul S. and Wade C. We rode through hours of a heavy rain but I found myself enjoying the ride because of the humor and spirit of the group. 

In May, I reunited with Katie R. and JB (on a tandem) Paul S. and Rick L. to take on an unsupported pre-ride of the Wildwood 400K (250 mile) brevet. 250 miles is always a long way to ride in a day but we started at 4 am and pushed hard to finish by midnight together. 


June was the NJ Randonneurs 600k. This time I would ride alone. I have ridden the hilly first 400K of this route more than anyone because I have DNF'd the pre-ride of the event every time I tried it only to come back and ride the entire route during the event. This time I would only attempt the brevet. The ride fell on the first scorchingly hot weekend of the year and of the 22 riders that started only 15 would finish. I was not one of the finishers. After a full day of heat and hills and humidity, riding another 200K in heat and hot wind was just not something I wanted to suffer through. So I found myself turning back to DNF at the start of the second day with almost no regret but one 600K ride short of a full Super Randonneur series.


An Arrow is a team event. It takes place over 24 hours with all teams starting at different locations, riding separate routes but finishing at the same place and time. The NJ Arrow is also a charitable fundraising event. The proceeds from the event went to Binnacle House an organization that provides care and services to displaced children.

I rode on a team with Kate and Victor, two accomplished ultra distance racers.  Lucky for me, all three of us needed to finish to get credit, so they had additional incentive to not drop me. Once again, we would ride in heavy rain during a night of torrential downpours. I found myself fast enough now to ride in Victor and Kate's draft while Kate shared the late night stories that only Randos get to hear. Victor and Kate pulled a brisk pace and built in a hotel stop during the ride so that we could dry out and get a few hours sleep before finishing. The next day we rode to a feast at the finish but most importantly, got to meet some of the volunteers at Binnacle House.


After completing 4 of the 5 events I'd entered, late August brought the Mac & Cheese 1200K. This would be the third 1200K I attempted since beginning this sport. Riding over 750 miles in less than 4 days is bound to be a memorable event. It would do the ride no justice to attempt to summarize it here, but I will say that I found myself successfully riding the entire event with my friend Chris N. from NJ who is always a steadfast, reliable, riding partner. 


Stuart's 600K was a late season offering in Central New York with about 13,000 feet of climbing. The idea originated with George S. but during a post season planning meeting, the group of riders grew to include Will S., JB, Paul S., Mario C. and me. As luck would have it, the realities of unforeseen life events prevented George and Mario from starting the ride but together, the remaining four of us went forward, through fog, rain, darkness and even a little sunshine.

I struggled a bit on the second day of that ride and found myself mentally reliving the season to find motivation. Phil Liggett, the British color commentator, for the Tour de France often uses the phrase "bridging the gap" to describe a situation where a rider falls off the back of the peleton and his team mates drop back to assist him bridge the gap to catch the main field.

As I looked back, I saw that this season's success had come about with friends who rode with me as I worked hard to bridge the gap. As a result, over the course of the year, over and over again, I found myself on the road, on a bike, in the company of friends.


  1. Sometimes it is good to step away from our main athletic activity and do something different, especially if we have spent years doing the same thing. If nothing else, I think mixing up my activities a bit more will ensure that I do not hate my bike come the spring. I am seriously thinking about returning more to my running roots and balancing my body a bit more with more consistent weight training this off-season especially given my shoulder issues of the last few years. Really wish I could have joined you guys for the 600k as I have never ridden all of that route.

    1. I found that strength training really complements the riding. Truthfully, biking is not a great form of overall exercise. Balancing it with other activities makes for better all around fitness.

  2. Interesting summary of your 2018 riding progress. I've never heard of "bridging the gap" described the way you interpreted it. Back in my racing days almost 40 years ago bridging the gap meant you pedaled hard to leave the peleton to catch the leaders who were "off the front" of the peleton. Congratulations on earning a second RUSA Cup this year. I consider that to be the crown jewel award offered by RUSA. It surprised me that you did no mention it in your summary.

    Sorry I did not say hello to you during the Mac and Cheese event. I had just one opportunity to do so. It was in the early early morning at the third overnight. You were just arriving from a long ride. And I was chomping at the bit to depart on the final leg. You looked tired. So I left you alone. -RUSA# 11633.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, I'm surprised you've never heard of this description of bridging the gap. I was not a bike racer but using "bridging the gap" to mean catching up to those ahead is a fairly common description both in an outside of cycling. (FWIW, e.g., that definition even appears in Wikipedia;s cycling glossary: ).
      As for the RUSA Cup, you are correct. I did earn my second one this year. Thanks for noticing. And Congrats on your 1200 finish. Perhaps we'll get a chance to speak at a future event,