Friday, June 18, 2010

The Long Ride

Speaking to many people over the years about cycling, I have realized that what passes as a long ride can vary quite dramatically. For some, anything longer than say 35 miles requires equal parts insanity and determination. For others, the century is the apex of their distance riding ambition. Then there is the randonneur. This lot will ride 400, 600 and 1200k brevets! Just to make sure the point is made, that’s 248.5, 372.8 and 745.6 miles respectively. 200k (124.3 miles) is introduction and consequentially, the shortest distance for a brevet. I believe it’s safe to assume that for the majority of the general cycling population, a 200k is “long” and covering 400k or more on a bike in the allotted time absolutely requires some insanity as a pre-requisite.

Having completed my first populaire this last weekend, the 100k Bread & Water ride, I have given much thought to the long ride and the spirit of randonneuring. Populaire, by the way, is reserved for randonneur rides under 200k and serve as a super intro to randonneuring. I used to be steeped in the competitive world of cycling where I regularly covered 75 to 100 miles as my weekly “long” ride in a six-day-a-week ride schedule that added up to what a 400k brevet covers in one ride. Well, that was seven years ago. I have long since had a “ride schedule”. In the last calendar year, I have been on my bike only a handful of times with my longest ride being just shy of 13 miles. Inspired by a friend who decided to do a 200k brevet on the Denali Highway cold turkey, i.e. no prior experience of long rides and no regular training schedule on the bike, and successfully finish, I decided to test the legs and my will. Just to make the jump that much more committing, I decided to ride to the ride. I live only five miles from where the ride start was. As if to prove that I knew I was in way over my head, I left the lycra cycling kit at home and instead wore jeans, a hoodie and Converse.

It was interesting showing up to a ride looking like a commuter. I rode in a tight knit group of four. Though each of us is very active in other ways (running, hiking, etc.), we were untrained for a longish bike ride. We just wanted to ride!

We started together and we finished together. This was not a race. We just wanted to finish. It was in this light that I understood cycling as I had not since I was a kid. Instead of obsessing on how fast I could go, I wanted to see how far I could go. There is a lot of psychology involved in pushing your limits. Reflecting back, I realized that I suffered more in dealing with the distance psychologically than physically. Yes my legs hurt and at times they really really hurt, but as long as I could talk myself out of pulling off and calling for a ride I could make it to the next mile, then the next and so on. The last 20 miles were as pleasant as the first. By the time I arrived at the finish with my friends, I realized that the extra five miles home would not be all that bad.

I now have my eyes set on the 7/17/10 Denali Park Road 200k randonnée! Either I have already forgotten how painful it was to add 60 miles to my longest ride in a year or the joy of camaraderie and accomplishing something beyond my current limits makes it all worth it. Am I mad for wanting to double my current highpoint a month from now? Maybe, but the memories of a bike ride in Denali National Park will be worth it!

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