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Randonneur Ride Report: Russian River 300k

Yesterday I finished the longest — and hardest — ride I’ve ever done to date. It felt harder than any track or CX race, century, tour or any other cycling event I’ve ever undertaken in my life. I’m still amazed that I was able to finish and that I’m sitting here the next day, albeit in a bit of a zombiefied state, writing up my ride report.

At 4AM, The Bearded One and I popped out of bed and were actually ready to go at that hour. We arrived to the start on time and checked in with the 110 other riders that were also setting off for the approximately 186-mile adventure. Per RUSA‘s rules, we had to have our clothing and lighting set-up inspected and approved for the 300k as most of us would be arriving after sunset. (I finally got mine dialed in just a few days prior.)

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At 5:45AM, our Regional Brevet Administrator, Rob Hawks, gave his pre-ride speech and delivered the, “Don’t do stupid stuff,” oath to the group:

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Then we were off in a blaze of neon glory. TBO and I jumped in with a faster group early on and made our way through Sausalito, Mill Valley and up Camino Alto in no time.

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After the White’s Grade grind, we jumped into another fast group and were rocketing along Sir Francis Drake at about 20-25 mph. TBO and I broke off to take a bathroom break at Samuel P. Taylor, then continued onwards to Nicasio. An aforementioned “secret control” was stationed at a small parking lot just off to the side of the reservoir, so we checked in with volunteers before heading on to Petaluma.

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CONTROL #2: PETALUMA SAFEWAY (49.6 miles)

We arrived just after 9:30AM and stopped for a quick bite to eat. We had brought a ton of food with us for the day, so I snacked on a ham-and-egg rice ball while TBO bought us some drinks from the store.

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I admired the wide variety of bikes that folks were using on the ride:

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For the Petaluma-Healdsburg leg, we hopped in and out of several groups but settled into one led by a British power couple motoring along on a tandem (and I’d like to thank them for their generosity in leading the ‘tandem train’). They really helped us keep a steady pace on this stretch which went through Santa Rosa.

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CONTROL #3: HEALDSBURG SAFEWAY (50.2 miles)

Lots of folks were kicking back and enjoying a leisurely lunch at this Safeway control.

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I took the liberty of snapping some more bike porn shots during our break.

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The next section of the ride took us through a lovely area of Sonoma wine country that rolls past mile after mile of bucolic vineyards.

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About 70 miles in, I started to feel some fatigue and began to slow down. Several groups passed us and TBO would say, “Let’s jump in!” but I couldn’t muster enough energy to paceline. (That’s the blessing/curse of pacelines; you can save a ton of energy in the pack, but you still have to have enough gas in the tank to maintain the average speed.)

Here’s what I think were my “Rookie Randonneur Mistakes #1 and 2”: going a bit too fast in the morning and cooking myself too early; not accounting for the extra weight of my bike. Up until this point, the furthest I had ridden my CX bike in randonneur mode was about 50 miles. Throughout December and January, I had trained hard on my Ebisu touring bike (which weighs well over 35 lbs.) and so the Point Reyes Lighthouse 200k on my 15-lb. road bike felt surprisingly easy. I also rode the Valley Ford 200k on my road bike and continued most of my most difficult training on my lightest bike. In retrospect, I probably should have just ridden the rando bike more consistently to acclimate to its added weight and not gone off in turbo mode at the get-go. I had also taken a week off the bike due to illness, so I was still recovering from the weird virus that kept me in bed for several days.

And I was suffering from some women-specific issues due to a recurring monthly cycle (you ladies out there that are reading this can empathize) and was feeling some severe discomfort by the time we reached Guerneville. We stopped at the Safeway there so I could take a break and try and rally. I was doubting whether I could finish and was utterly exhausted.

However, TBO urged me on — and here’s some advice to my fellow newbs: it really helps to ride with someone else who can keep you motivated and on the bike. I probably would have abandoned at that point if he hadn’t compelled me to keep pedaling. (Mental Note: I should make sure he’s out of town for my future events so I don’t resort to calling him and asking to pick me up in the middle of nowhere at some ungodly hour.) And he pointed out, “How will you get home?” I’d have to hitchhike or take a bus, which were definitely more unappealing options than staying in the saddle. So we pressed on through the headwinds towards Highway 1.

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And then, there was this:

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There is nothing more rejuvenating than the sight of the ocean on a brilliantly sunny day for a tired soul. And when you throw a tailwind into the mix, it’s just bliss. TBO rode on ahead of me and I drafted off of a kind gentleman to our next control point (we had ridden together earlier to Healdsburg and I marveled that he was riding on platform pedals.)

“I wish the entire ride could be like this,” he said to me as we flew down Highway 1.

“Yes,” I agreed. “Nothing but spectacular ocean views and a never-ending tailwind would be pretty awesome.”

I had asked veteran randonneur Tom Haggerty – this was his seventh 300k – if he minded riding the same brevets over and over again. I love exploring uncharted territory when I’m out on the bike and thus can feel burned out on repetitive routes. Tom said he enjoyed returning every year as there’s always a fresh set of challenges (“Can I ride this faster?”) and varying factors (fitness, weather) that make it unique each time. Plus there’s the camaraderie of new and experienced riders that bring a different dynamic to all of the events. And there are some places in the Bay Area that never grow tiresome to ride — and this part of Highway 1 is certainly one of my beloved favorites.

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CONTROL #4: DIEKMANN’S BAY STORE (110.1 miles)

We sat down for a short food break before TBO sprinted ahead to see if he could hit the Marshall store before closing and get a receipt.

“The worst part is getting started again after a meal,” he said as he stretched and got ready to get back on his bike. “Your body says, ‘You just ate a burger, fries and a beer and now you want to ride 80 more miles? You gotta be kidding me.’”

(Meanwhile, I was amazed by how much I had eaten at this point: two peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches on whole wheat with bananas; two rice balls; two chicken wraps; a tangerine and half a ProBar!)

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I continued on solo, but Bill Monsen, Tom Haggerty and Stephen Haas adopted me along the way just before Valley Ford. (Tom was still soldiering forth on the ride despite a bulging sidewall on his rear tire that kept threatening to explode.) I followed them onto Middle Road, an alternate route to Marshall that bypassed the weekend traffic of Highway 1. It’s a quiet, scenic road that crosses through dairy pastures and has some tough climbs sprinkled in.

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As Bill and I were chugging away, I asked him how he trained for these rides. He spends most of his time on the bike during his daily commute from Richmond to Oakland due to his busy schedule. But when he rode the Paris-Brest-Paris in 2011, he spent 3 months getting in shape and logged more miles in the hills. “The hardest part is not giving up. There’s always one point — or more — during a ride when it just feels tough.”

I’m sure that once you’ve completed a long ride, knowing that you’ve finished in the past helps with the grueling mental and physical aspects of a brevet. After the 130-mile mark, my mind said, “Uh, why are we still on the bike? We should be done by now. We should have been done hours ago!” But there was still one more control on the itinerary, so we forged on in the waning sunlight.

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CONTROL #5: MARSHALL STORE (OR POST OFFICE) (142.9 miles)

TBO had made it just in the nick of time and managed to secure a receipt from the Marshall Store — and heroically, one for me as well – but I decided to mail in an official SF Randonneur postcard as proof of my stop. (A big thanks goes out to the rider that gave me her extra one as I forgot to grab one at the start.)

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And now, it was time to go home. This was the most taxing part of the ride where I summoned every ounce of strength within me to keep pedaling. I was soooooo very done. My legs felt hollow, my shoulders were sore, my butt did not want to be on the saddle anymore and I was emotionally drained. I had reached my existential breaking point and was questioning why I was still on the bike.

“I didn’t think it was going to be this hard,” I said to TBO. “I think I’m done with riding bikes,”

He replied, “After I finished the Solvang Double several years ago, that was my first thought afterwards. ‘I’m done with bikes.’”

But again, here’s where not having an easy means of escape worked to my advantage. I only had one choice: finish. (Or I could just sit on the side of the road and collapse in a heap of tears, but that wouldn’t get me home.) TBO wasn’t tired (he’s a much fitter athlete and going at my pace all day didn’t fatigue him one bit), so he was able to coach me when I started to whimper and whine. He started fantasizing about what to eat for our post-ride meal, while I fixated on all of the climbing that was left.

“Oh man, we still have that climb out of Nicasio…”

“Don’t think about the hills that are left. Just keep pedaling.”

And so pedal I did. I somehow reached a strange, zen-like, auto-pilot mode where I just concentrated on my computer and felt brief blips of relief as the numbers ticked slowly upwards.

But when I saw a road sign that said, “Fairfax – 9 miles”, I thought to myself, “It’s come to this: biking 9 miles now feels like an eternity.”

We stopped at Gestalt to get a sausage and beer and that put a big smile on TBO’s face – “That was the best decision ever,” and it revived me temporarily, too.

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But the climb out of Sausalito nearly did me in. I’ve never crawled along so slowly on the Golden Gate Bridge than last night. I can probably walk faster than I was pedaling yesterday on the home stretch.

We managed to finish at 10:36PM, over 16.5 hours later from when we set out at 6AM. My friends Brian and Ami from the “Homespun Heartthrobs” were also at the finish (Brian had some problems with one of his hubs, unfortunately) but they had a good ride overall despite the mechanical difficulties. Jason Pierce was also there, looking fresh as a daisy even though he was recovering from a mid-afternoon crash and completed his ride at 6:50PM earlier in the evening.

He cheerily congratulated me on my finish and I told him that was the hardest ride of my life. He replied that the 300k was his entry into the world of epic long rides.

“At least you’re not destroyed! You’re still standing and have a smile on your face!”

Inwardly, I thought to myself, “Oh, but I am destroyed. I am a shell of a human being right now.”

I fell asleep on the car ride home and immediately passed out after a long hot shower. TBO went out to get the pizza and beer he had been looking forward to all day and woke me up at midnight with a slice from the restaurant. I ate it half-asleep and wasn’t even sure that it had been a dream until I saw my plate on our bedside table in the morning.

So how I do I feel overall about the ride? Initially, I had mixed feelings about my 300k. I didn’t feel that victorious as I had felt so utterly crushed at the end. I should have reveled in the fact that I did finish and didn’t arrive on a stretcher right at the 2AM cut-off time. But I was demoralized by my performance and was feeling dread about my future events.

“How in the hell am I going to ride the 600k, which is TWICE as long?!? And how do people spend this much time on a bike and actually ENJOY it?”

TBO prefers to ride at a speedier pace and 200-miles is his limit for one day, so he won’t be joining me on any more events. But I guess as one gets faster and figures out how to be more comfortable in one position all day and there’s less pain – it does become more fun. (I’m hoping this is true and veterans, please weigh in on this in the comments!)

And while I’m not one to push myself to the absolute extremes – you’ll never find me training for a RAAM race — I am always open to trying something new. Since moving to the Bay Area, I’ve embarked on all sorts of crazy cycling endeavors that were previously unimaginable to me. So while I didn’t expect this level of pain, perhaps there’s more happiness awaiting for me down the road — even if it’s after a long 40-hour ride. And most importantly, I made a promise to myself to try and complete the whole series. So I’m going to put my trepidations aside and train even harder.

My next ride is the 360k Fleche with my team, “Crampandgoslow” (I hope this doesn’t prove to be a prescient name for our event, but I picked it in honor of my love for Campagnolo; it appears on a jersey I own from Montano Velo, my favorite bike shop in Oakland.) Our captain, Franklyn Wu, designed a route for me and our comrade Joey Lande from Davis to SF. This will be our first ride at the 360k distance and our first Fleche – so wish us lots of luck! I’m glad we can work together as a group which will hopefully keep our morale up as we head to the finish at Crepes on Cole on March 31st.

I’d like to bestow a huge thank you to my dear husband for helping me finish the ride and all of the great folks that let me suck their wheels, kept me company and offered moral support throughout the 300k. You helped me survive and it’s greatly appreciated!

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40 Comments

    • March 10, 2013
    • Reply

    Great report Jenny! So glad you stuck it out and finished. You will feel better tomorrow. 300k was very hard for me, also because I did the workers’ ride and had to do it mostly by myself. I actually abandoned in Nicasio at 7pm (with a whole 6 hours to go!). If I had friends urging me on, I could probably have finished. I so wished I could have joined you on the 300k and redeemed myself, but the 200k scouting from Davis was worthwhile, and I look forward to cracking the Fleche with you and Joey. Are you sure your husband don’t want to join us on the Fleche?

    • Thanks, Franklyn! I look forward to our Fleche, too. This was definitely good training for it and I promise to maintain a positive attitude for 24-hours! :) TBO definitely doesn’t want to do the Fleche; after I told him the distance, his eyes glazed over and he said, “No, 200′s the max for me.”

      • March 12, 2013

      Great write up! You expressed the highs and lows of Saturday well. This was also my 1st 300km and at the end it was best to just keep pedaling and not think about the climbs. Hope to see you on the 400km and 600km!

    • Thanks, Nancy! Congrats on finishing your 1st 300k as well. Will definitely see you the next events and let me know if you’d like to ride together (if you go at a moderate pace, that is. :)

    • March 10, 2013
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    Nice write up Jenny – been to that pain cave by a number of routes. I’ve only done 200K’s, but everyone whose opinion I trust says that 300K is the toughest distance. Start and finish in the dark. Tough to find a good pace, etc. For some reason everyone has a 300K struggle in their storybook, whereas the 400K seems to drop into place.
    You did it! You did it! You did it!
    And good work with the “Just Keep Pedaling, It Will Get Better” mantra.
    Bonne Route!

    • Thanks, Jim! It’s good to know that the 300k is the milestone threshold to cross; I hope the 360k/400k and beyond is ‘easier’! But yeah, somehow I did it – and hey, you should too! :)

    • March 10, 2013
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    Kudos for your elegantly written brevet odyssey. Looking forward to more. Both from the i Pad and the saddle! Spring into Rando-landia!

    • Thanks, Brian! I’m an official resident of Rando-landia like yourself! :)

    • March 11, 2013
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    The good stuff never was easy. Super effort, great job lady :-)

    • ‘Tis true – this definitely was a hard slog but worth it! Thank you! :)

    • March 11, 2013
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    Congrats!

    Ting and I decided a while ago that 50-mile days are about ideal when touring, maybe 60 if there’s a good reason to cover more that day. Doing more doesn’t leaves enough time to do things off-bike otherwise.

    Much respect for completing so many miles, and well under the time cutoff.

    • Thanks, Matthew! Glad I got to have some tasty dinner in my belly the night before. :) See you on your next trip!

    • March 11, 2013
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    Nicely done lady!

    • March 11, 2013
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    Quite the enjoyable and inspirational read!

    • March 11, 2013
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    When I was in a training camp for the Death Ride, before I started riding brevets, I remember a comment from a coach on how to finish long rides – “start out like it’s a marathon and then slow down”. It works for me, which is why you’ll note me dead last in Jim Poppy’s photos on White Hill. But that’s also me chatting to Roland on the ‘bent at Diekmanns so I made up some time. I took longer than you to finish in 2011 after a bout of ankle tendinitis, a full 90 minutes slower than the previous year. But finishing is what counts!

    Actually what really counts is having fun – but it helps to have a masochistic tendency as pain, mental and physical, is inevitable eventually! Mile 130-140 on a 300K or 200mi is always the point when you start to question your sanity. I’m afraid I disagree with the poster about the 400K being easier. The Randonneurs handbook says, rightly IHMO, that this is the distance that most randos fear the most. I’ve taken anywhere from 18-22 hours on a 400K. Last year I made the decision to stay in Petaluma and ride in in the morning and I’m going to do that again this year. If you ride through, be sure to do that final segment in a group as the support will help you get through it. And don’t drive home afterwards. I nearly killed myself on 280 the first time I did the (18hr) ride.

    Finally, the pain never really went away for me. I just found a way to deal with it. Now I ride a recumbent which is better.

    • Thanks for the helpful advice, Mick! I think the ‘marathon’ tip is spot-on and will definitely apply that to my future events. And yeah, it does seem one has to have a higher threshold for pain on these rides…! I’ll see if there’s a group of newbie folks I can ride with as well for the 400k. :)

    • March 11, 2013
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    I love writeups like this – you captured the pain of a long ride so well! My longest ride so far is 206 mi (DMD), which I’ve talked myself into doing again this year, and my longest by time is the Henry Coe HardCOre 100 at almost 24 hours (mountain biking) – for the latter, I echo what Mick says – stay with a group! After about hour 19 I was so tired I was falling asleep on the bike. I felt strong though so I’d “sprint” ahead to the next trail intersection and drop to the ground and sleep for 7-8 mins. I’d love to try a 360K or 400K – going to have to look into these brevets :)

    And they do get easier.. mostly your head stops thinking about how insanely far you have ridden and still have to go and you just pedal to the next milestone..

    • You sound like you’re made of perfect brevet material – go for it! There’s still time to get in on the 400k / 600k action which are coming up in April and May! And I’m glad they do get ‘easier’ over time. :)

    • March 11, 2013
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    Great job finishing and taking such nice photos along the way. I enjoyed getting a chance to ride with a real-life, crime-fighting duo. Keep up the good work on your blog.

    • March 11, 2013
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    Great write-up! This route was the first 300k I did back in 2009, and it took me over an hour longer than it did you, so hats off to you! These longer distances are where you really start to get into the mental aspect of randonneuring. You’ve probably heard the advice before, but a couple of key things are to just focus on riding to the next control, then the next, and so on, and also to remember to keep eating and drinking. I don’t think you have to worry about the eating part but that’s been a big one for me in the past – it’s amazing how my attitude can turn negative when I haven’t been eating enough, and that pushes the cycle of riding slower and getting more and more depressed about it. The Fleche will be great because a) your goal is to take the entire time allotted, and b) you’re guaranteed to have company and support the whole way!

    • Thanks, Roland! I definitely have the eating part down. I think it’s harder for me to turn off the pain and need to figure out how to a) get faster for longer distances and spend less time on the bike b) cope with it better… :) Thanks for organizing the Fleche – I’m really looking forward to it!

    • March 11, 2013
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    Nice work! See you on the 400k, it’ll be my first one too.

    • Thank you! If you’d like to ride together as Team Newbs, let me know! :)

    • March 11, 2013
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    Good job on making it through the crucible.

    To highlight what Roland said, break the distances and times down into manageable pieces. Control to control. Don’t think about the whole distance ridden or to be ridden, especially when one is going through a low period. It is tricky to learn, but it is crucial to not get overwhelmed by the distances or time limits. Stress is more of a ride killer than lack of training, equipment choice, mechanicals, or weather IMHO.

    Moving forward, doing a substantial chunk of night riding with a group during the Fleche will be good practice for the longer rides. I really like the longer rides because people usually group up and support each other through the long dark nights.

    Again good job, you learned a lot on this ride and you should be proud of yourself. Chapeau!

    • Thanks for the advice, Gabe! I knew I was starting to crack when 9 miles felt almost insurmountable, but with more experience that will feel less so I’m sure! And yes, I’m glad I decided to do the Fleche before the 400k; it’ll make me feel more prepared. Thanks again!

  1. Amazing ride! Even more so that you were able to chronicle it with so many pictures.

    • Thanks, Fred! Somehow I did manage to keep taking photos – that’s always an incentive to keep going, too. :)

    • March 12, 2013
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    Well done Jenny! Congratulations on a well earned 300k. Great photos and story.

    • March 12, 2013
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    Great job! Hats off to you and Sean. The SFR 300k was indeed my first “mega” ride. I rode from tip to tail with my friend Aaron Brown Lee. I cramped. I bonked. I was in my 1to1 gearing on 6% grades and wishing I had more. The following year I talked my buddy Bryan Killgore into doing the 300k. It was his hardest and longest ride ever. He didn’t want to look at a bike for a week. He’d look at his bike and ask “Why would you do that to me?!”. The year after, we inducted our friend Sam Larson into the club. He had a bout of hiccups for the last 30 miles. Bryan recalls, as they were climbing out of Nicassio, that Sam said “I’m not [hiccup] emotionally prepared [hiccup] to deal with this [hiccup] right [hic] now [cup].”

    For all 3 of us, it was our absolute hardest ride…no….thing…that we’d ever done. We were tested in so many ways. But it was also the most satisfying ride we’d ever completed. It was a huge landmark. Because a ride this long tells you whether or not this kind of riding is for you. Some people do one, and then back away for good. It already sounds look you’ve got your sights set on bigger things.

    There’s a ton of great advice on this board here. Stuff that took me years to actually embrace. “Start slow, then taper” is good advice for these really long rides. And learn to ride within yourself. I never push more than 85% during a ride so I’m able to finish with gas in the tank. Good mental ammunition for the next longer ride.

    And company is key. The miles fly by when you’ve got some good conversation going. When you start hitting these epic distances (like the Fleche) you’ll have all of these amazing memories and stories that you’ll be able to recant with others for years to come (and believe me, there will be stories!).

    Before long, you’ll be mentoring others into this great sport, Jenny. Walking them through their first brevet. You’ll make a great ambassador :)

    • Haha, that hiccup story is classic! It’s good to know this is the ‘landmark’ ride. Initially after the ride, I was like, “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this…” But I’ve also made the commitment to keep going, so I feel like I’m going to discover more aspects of this that will test me and hopefully allow me to have more fun! I think a steady pace and great company are definitely key aspects and thanks again for your words of support at the finish, even though I was too much of a zombie to appreciate them at the time. :)

    • March 12, 2013
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    Wow, great job! I’m very, very impressed. My bum is sore after a 50 minute spin class, I couldn’t even imagine 16+ hours.

    • March 12, 2013
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    Congratulations, Jenny! It was fun riding with you. You did VERY well.

    I think that you learned a very important lesson on this ride: it is really tempting to ride with a faster group at the start of a brevet. However, if you are riding beyond the pace that you can sustain, you will pay for it at the end. It is also important to make sure that you eat and drink when you need to, even if that means letting a “good group” get away from you.

    The advice about breaking the event down into discrete pieces is spot-on. If the distance between controles is too daunting, then focus on getting to the next town, to the next acceptable bathroom, to the top of the next hill, or some other manageable goal. As you ride more of these events, you will also know what is around the next corner, which I find to be incredibly helpful in terms of pacing and mental well-being. As we discussed, I think that the mental aspects of riding long distances are often tougher than the physical aspects.

    Lastly, as you do longer rides, you learn quickly about what you need to eat and drink to keep going. Making sure that you have enough electrolytes on a long event is really critical. That is why you see so many riders taking out their stashes of potions and pills at the controles.

    I am looking forward to reading about your future exploits and riding with you out there. Courage!

    • Thanks, Bill! It was great riding with you too and hearing your advice first-hand as we pedaled along. :) Thanks again for more wisdom and I look forward to seeing you on future rides!

  2. Nice Job, Jenny! Great photos and Happy Belated Birthday!

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