The San Francisco Randonneurs main brevet series consists of 3 monthly rides: the 200 km at the end of January, the 300 km at the end of February, and the 400 km at the end of March. Each of the rides begins at the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge and extends northward into Marin. Each course effectively extends the preceding one further north, the primary exception being that the 200 km route includes an exceptionally scenic loop onto Point Reyes which the other two miss. But there's still substantial course overlap.
Since I did the 200km and 300km brevets and finished both many hours before the time cuts and without serious physical problems it would make sense I'd go on to do the 400km. I'd never ridden that far in a day before and this would have been a chance to extend my previous limits, always a satisfying accomplishment.
But the 200k and 300k didn't go as I'd hoped. In each, I became substantially fatigued half-way through, demoting my riding to something of a "running on fumes death march". When I get passed by a paceline and lack the strength to even hop on the wheel of the trailing rider, that's a problem. And I'm not talking a paceline in a USA Cycling sanctioned road road. I'm talking like 20 mph.
I read ride reports of randonneurs on brevets and they almost always feature two aspects:
- They have a good time throughout the ride.
- They finish feeling strong.
This is the sort of riding I like. And I've done this: I've done a lot of double centuries, and know the feeling well of riding strongly and finishing strongly. But what all of these double centuries have had in common is preparation. You don't just decide to pop out the door and ride 200 miles fast. You've got to train. That means multiple 200+ mile weeks, a good hard 200+ km ride before, and ideally a few weekends of back-to-back 100 milers. This sort of preparation gives some depth to your fitness. You can make a hard effort, get tired, but then recover and go hard again. It's still possible to dig yourself into the ground; pacing is required, but there's less the feeling of walking over thin ice where the smallest mis-step is going to cause you to sink.
This is how I felt in my two initial brevets. I felt like I had no depth. My legs would get tired and from there it was a death march the rest of the way.
In fact, it was worse than lack of preparation. Another problem is I'd been doing a significant amount of running. And when I run, I don't do 5 km jogs: I like running 15 km or more on a regular basis, preferably on hilly trails. These runs take a toll on the legs. It used to be if I did a run I was trashed for the next half-week: any cycling would be on dead legs. Now I've improved and I can ride the day after running. But it still leaves its mark. It's a lot to ask that legs tired from run-training are going to be up to the task of riding 300 km or more.
And similarly, the brevets weren't doing anything for my running. I look at my running log and I see gaping holes around the 200k and 300k brevets. As a result I ran a 25 km trail race two weeks after the 300k brevet and I cramped 20 km in, limping in to finish just out of the top 20%, perhaps my worst trail race result ever.
So I had to decide. Was I going to essentially give up running goals this year and focus on cycling, perhaps doing a short run once per week, or was I going to give up for now on the brevet progression?
Yeah, I probably could have finished the 400k. I have faith in my ability to push myself. But did I want to? Did I want to push myself through hours of slow-pedal pain? And the result would be at least a week of recovery, costing me valuable running fitness.
So it was no Hopland 400k for me. Does that mean no 400k this year? Maybe, but there's others on the local schedule. But my next goal is the 35 km Inside Trail Racing race starting in Huddart Park in Woodside. This is an alternate course to the 50 km race I ran last year, perhaps modified due to equestrian objections to the runners in Wunderlich Park. The brevets have been enough of a detour in my running fitness that I simply don't have the preparation I had last year to run 50 km, and even that had been a stretch. I finished that 50 km race strongly, a highlight if not the highlight of my running experience and my best athletic result for 2014. The last thing I'd want would be to run 30 km then limp the remaining 20 km. I go to trail runs to run. So I signed up for the 35 km distance, which is already a stretch.
So basically my view is I need to pick. Don't try to do too much, but what you do, do well. Obviously I'm not a prime candidate for triathlon, which is designed specifically to spread participants thin.
So then what's my goal? I want to run the 35 km race this weekend but I still want a 50k this year and I'll even let myself think about 50 miles. But if I do allow myself that goal then this will be a running-focused year and not just a running-focused winter-early-spring.
In seeming contradition with my claimed focus on running am at present signed up to ride the Wine Country 200 km on May 2. I'm going up with Cara, who's riding the 100 km course. Key here is the Wine Country century series is non-competitive: nobody except Strava records finishing times: if you want to blow through the gorgeous roads in minimal time, skipping the famous rest stop food in a quest to get back to Santa Rosa as early as possible, be my guest. My big goal will be to enjoy the ride, make a few good efforts on the hills, but to not dig myself into too deep a hole. Hopefully that works out and I'm back running by the next Tuesday.
If I had done the ride I'd be waxing nostalgic over watching Eric "CampyOnly" Norris' excellent video. Instead I watch it with a tinge of regret over not being able to "do it all". Ah, well.