My RUSA P-4 (August 2013) ride: Making it Tough in Order to Make it Easy

August 11, 2013

On a recent ride with a buddy on a fairly hilly course, he remarked that he was “being lazy” by not gearing down into the hills and instead just muscling up them.  A brief exchange followed in which I differed with him: since staying in a higher gear and standing to climb is harder than gearing down – MY normal MO – you’re actually being the opposite of lazy, I told him.

I instinctually, and without intention, look for “patterns” or “trends” that can be woven together for blog writeups, and I divined a parallel between this moment in this ride and my RUSA ride earlier this morning.  I again rode the Wander to Welda 100-km (62 mile) RUSA route, and in so doing ticked off the fourth month in my pursuit of RUSA’s P-12 award.

The parallel, then:  anyone who has read these pages knows that I’m always doing battle against one or more factors on my longer (say, 50+ mile plus) rides.  If it’s not hydration, it’s fueling.  If it’s not fueling, it’s something else.  However, magically “simple” (a VERY relative phrase) are the rides where all the elements come together for me – through focus and never accident.  I like to, what I refer to as, “slam dunk” a longer ride.  What this refers to is that no 60+ mile bike ride is easy (for me, anyway), but if I pay attention to ALL the fundamentals – proper hydration, sufficient fueling, breathing, building in downtime at rests, stretching properly, bike at least reasonably well maintained, etc – I naturally enough give myself the best chance to make things as “easy” as possible.

The reference to making it tough, then:  Focusing on all these things, for me anyway, is not easy.  One has to be vigilant.  Reading the online blogs of various rando’s, and talking in person with a few of them now, I KNOW it’s not only me – it’s a common “cry of the rando”, to quote kG.  It’s not every ride that you get it perfect, even with practice. One’s humanity and fallibility shows up all often on long bicycle excursions.  Riding long distances (whether that be, for you, 30 miles, 60 miles, 120 miles, or 300 miles) is not simply about sitting on the saddle and riding.  It’s about putting as much of the elements of a successful ride in your favor as possible.  The “tough” part, then, comes in two forms – mental, and physiological.  Mental because it’s difficult to consistently keep all the plates in the air; physiological because – possibly surprising to those who don’t ride as much – after a while it’s just not pleasant to keep reaching for your water bottle, drinking, replacing it.  Keep reaching for food in-ride, chewing it down and swallowing it.  As the miles pile up, all of this stuff becomes less palatable.  Proper breathing, proper pacing, stretching on-bike and at breaks – all of this becomes MORE important, not less, as the ride progresses and yet becomes tougher to do.  Therefore, consistent with the “nothing is easy” mantra of my former manager BL, you can choose to either “make things tough by making things easy”, i.e. lose sight of some elements, which is easier in the short stretches, but in the long run will lead to a tougher ride; or you can make things tough in order to make things easy – keep consistently doing the right things pre-ride and in-ride (and post-ride) in order to make things go as smoothly as possible.

Today’s ride for me was a case of the latter, minus one important ingredient:  I should have brought a banana to eat over a few break stops, as has become my habit on RUSA rides.  I was missing it, not horribly but missing it, later in the ride as my muscles were registering complaints.  A good potassium injection is a magical elixir for a good long bike ride.  I won’t make this oversight again.

No particularly long writeup today, as I’ve done this route now four times in a row and covered most of the terrain-related notes fairly well.  Instead, unusually for me, I grabbed a few pictures which will form a visual log of the journey.

The start time was 6 AM, at the Short Stop gas station about a mile from home.  Rising at 4:15 with the alarm, I had my normal breakfast and veggie drink, packed up my belt bag, did a little final bike cleanup and chain cleaning/reoiling, hit the shower and was out the door.  Buying a bag of Chex mix at the gas station, I saved the receipt and got the card signed (same dude who’s been there the last 3 times, and who wished me a good ride again) at 6 AM and was off.

It’s staying darker later in the morning, of course, so I had the lighting system on for the first few miles.  I also donned a couple new purchases for me – a reflective yellow cycling vest, and reflective yellow ankle bands.  These are actually required of randonneurs to wear if riding pre-sunrise or post-sunset; but it’s just prudent to use them anyway and they’ve become part of my normal bike riding wardrobe now.

Once again I found every single spiderweb along the course, and they were many.  I passed a few turtles on the trail, a few rabbits and a squirrel, although no deer today.  I made good and steady time to Richmond, taking my first break here.  Avoiding the “time warp” that hit me at this trailhead last time, I made quick work through the rest, rinsing off the road grime and spiderwebs, rejiggering water and fuel, and pushing on.  For the first time on this route, I did NOT stop in Garnett, instead feeling good and pressing on to Welda.  I reached the info control at Welda at 8:42 AM, which was a mere 4 minutes slower than my best arrival time thus far (the July 6 ride with Ron A).  At Welda I added a new wrinkle to my rando habits:  after taking care of the info control aspect of the card, rejiggering water and fuel, etc, I set an alarm on my phone for about 7 minutes hence, and laid down with my legs up on a bench to relax.  Setting the alarm keeps you from lounging around longer than you really want to, while at the same time providing the freedom to just allow yourself to relax and get ready for the next stretch.

Back on the road again, I now had a slight tailwind (cross tailwind, from the SE) with me for the return. The stretch back to Garnett was fairly easy, and this time I did take a short stop in Garnett.  Enough to hit up the restroom, water & fuel stuff, and get moving again.  Roughly 24ish miles remaining, and at this point I started counting them down.  I once again stopped in Richmond, where I again, after taking care of all necessary stuff, laid down, setting the alarm for about 9 minutes away.  This was a wonderful break and recharged me for the remainder.  While the final 15 miles were not easy (a 62+ mile ride is still hard work for me), the confidence I’ve developed from past rando rides and, certainly, RAGBRAI, empowered me to just keep enduring, and keep doing the right things – eating, drinking, breathing correctly, watching pacing. Make it tough in order to make it easy.

Passed by the Princeton trailhead without stopping; the remainder was largely downhill both literally and figuratively, and I’d dropped into “let’s just get this thing finished” mode.  The final 8 miles to Ottawa weren’t overly taxing, and once again I rejoiced in finally getting off the gravel part of the trail for the 1 paved mile in town; and then in getting off the trail entirely and seeing the control just ahead.

Locking up the bike and grabbing control card, I went in, grabbed my customary reward / recovery drink of chocolate milk, paid & got the receipt and card signed.  This turned out to be my fastest overall finish time of my thus-far four Wander to Welda rides, albeit by only about 5 minutes.  Threw the chocolate milk in the belt bag, rode over to Subway, got an Italian BMT on Italian herb & cheese bread (my new favorite Subway menu item, this thing is gooood), sat and savored the rewards of another successful RUSA ride even as I began my post-ride recovery.

Four months into the P-12 award streak, and 8 to go.  I’m guessing September and October will be not overly difficult from a weather perspective; probably even November; then, I’m sure I will have some fun times keeping the streak going in December, January and February.  Something to look forward to!

Below, some pictures from today’s ride.

20130811_RUSAP4_001Above: Storm Paris at the starting control, circa 6 AM.

20130811_RUSAP4_002Above:  The aforementioned reflective ankle bands.  Getting my rando style on!

20130811_RUSAP4_003Above: One tree that had fallen across the trail.  This one was passable to the side…

20130811_RUSAP4_004Above: A contented and optimistic looking rider 🙂

20130811_RUSAP4_005Above: ….but THIS one completely covered the trail like a fence.  I had no saw or ax, and it was too heavy to move, so I passed through by climbing through that large gap with the bike and continued on.

20130811_RUSAP4_006Above:  The newborn day.

20130811_RUSAP4_007Above:  A nice vista to the trail’s east a little north of Richmond.

20130811_RUSAP4_00820130811_RUSAP4_009Above:  At my favorite trailhead, Richmond trailhead.  Break #1.  Storm Paris behind me ready to resume.  Feeling good!

20130811_RUSAP4_010Above: The iconic Beachner Grain depot trailside as you enter Richmond.

20130811_RUSAP4_011Above: The lovely stretch of the trail just north of Garnett, entering town. The trail is wide open here with no tree lining for a while, maybe a mile or so. Garnett Lake and park to the east.

20130811_RUSAP4_012Above:  Garnett trailhead.

20130811_RUSAP4_013Above:  Victorious pose or crazed baboon?  Neither, just an overhead shot in the Garnett trailhead restroom on the return trip from Welda.  Feeling goofy and giddy 🙂

20130811_RUSAP4_014Above:  From one of the couple of bridges you cross heading into Garnett (or in this case, out of Garnett, as this was on the return).

20130811_RUSAP4_01520130811_RUSAP4_016Above:  Storm Paris on the bridge, ready to knock out the remaining ~20 miles!

20130811_RUSAP4_017Above:  The reward / recovery drink.  Chocolate milk and Subway sandwich, baby!!

20130811_RUSAP4_018Above:  The before and after.  ~63 miles, 5 hours, 2400+ calories burned, 1 chocolate milk, 4 months into P-12 streak 🙂

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