Advice to New (and Experienced) Randonneurs
How Can I Succeed on the Long Rides?
Let’s start with something that seems perhaps a little off point: For many randonneurs, one of the high points of Paris-Brest-Paris is looking at all the bikes (see Bike Room before PBP (photo by George Winkert). Every one of them is the expression of some randonneur’s “ideal” randonneuring bike — there are many similarities, but every one of them is different in some little (or big) way from any of the others. So it is with advice to randonneurs on how to succeed at randonneuring.
What works best for one randonneur doesn’t work well for others. For that matter, what works perfectly for one randonneur on one ride may work abysmally for them on the next ride. The only way to learn what works best for you, most of the time, is to try it out. That’s what the Super Randonneur series is for — a chance to gradually develop the skills you need to succeed at the Grand Randonees. There are many sources of information about randonneuring–one of the best is the handbook that you get when you become a RUSA member. Buf for a sense of the breadth of experience among successful randonneurs in our own club …
Following is a compendium of advice to new (and experienced) randonneurs collected from the DCR listserve, following an inspired post by our CBA/RBA, Bill Beck.
From Bill Beck:
When I started randonneuring (just a few years ago), I received lots of good advice and tips from veteran riders. Since we are about to start our ACP series, and some new riders will be attempting longer distances for the first time, it seems like a good idea to start a thread in which veteran riders list their one or two favorite tips for surviving (and maybe even thriving!) on long rides. It will be especially interesting to see those tips that don’t usually show up in standard articles on long-distance riding. Although we have many members with more experience than me who I hope will join in, I will start with two of my own:
1) A few hours of sleep can perform miracles! After ~350K of my first 600K, I was thoroughly bonked (see 2 below) and could barely pedal myself to the overnight hotel. I couldn’t really eat, and another 200K seemed impossible. But after 2.5 hours of the deepest sleep of my life, my body had somehow restored the sugar balance, my appetite had returned, and after filling up on calories I was ready to ride! Not fresh as a daisy, mind you, but not bad either. This has happened several times since then, including the first day of PBP. So if you are feeling really bad at the end of the first day of the 600, don’t worry about the second day — just make it to the overnight hotel and get some miracle recovery sleep. Two and a half to three hours is probably enough.
2) One of the biggest challenges for longer distances is taking in enough calories and fluid. For example, I can do a 200K just eating ginger snaps and pretzels from my handlebar bag. But if I try this on 300K and up, I will surely bonk, which is a fairly sudden crash in blood sugar levels, and a corresponding crash in ability to output power. On my very first 300K, I reached 150 miles and felt pretty good (except for a growing headache). By 160 miles, I could barely pedal at 10 mph, and limped in the last 25 miles coasting on even the slightest downhill. Now I know that I have to stop and eat real meals every 60-80 miles or so on the longer rides. But even experienced riders can bonk. The key is to recognize the early signs and eat before it gets bad, because it gets harder to recover the longer you wait to eat. For me, the early signs are a headache and a bad mood. Don’t ignore the early signs and pedal yourself into the ground! Take the time to stop and eat.
2b) One complication: the early signs of dehydration are very similar to the early signs of a calorie bonk. How to tell the difference? If you use a heart rate monitor, you will generally see your heart rate drop as go into a bonk. (When I am in a hard bonk, it is hard to get my rate over 100.) On the other hand, dehydration tends to raise the heart rate, and cause it to stay high for a long time after stopping. For example, when I got dehydrated on a hot summer 200K, my heart rate was a fairly high 155 while climbing a long grade, and when I stopped near the top, it stayed above 150 for several minutes!
If you have learned a few tips or tricks that you think might help a new randonneur, please add your favorite one or two to this thread. If people find them useful, we might eventually consolidate them into a list on the web site.
From Greg Conceracci:
Bill — These are great! FYI, I just did a similar piece for the Baltimore Bicycling Club newsletter. I’m not sure I can add an attachment, so I will paste it below.
Lessons from Beyond the Century
By Greg Conderacci
For many riders, 100 miles is the true test of skill and
endurance – at least that was the case for me, literally for decades.
But last year, I decided to attempt Paris-Brest-Paris, one of the world’s oldest and most famous rides. Its 1200 kilometers
(750 miles) represented a whole new challenge that fundamentally changed the way I thought of distance on a bike. The name of the sport is Randonneuring, which I think is French for “You want to ride
HOW far?” (See: www.rusa.org or www.dcrand.org.)
Although I do a lot of BBC rides, in the last two years I’ve also done
several rides of over 200 miles a day, including two 1200ks, a 1000k,
two 600ks, two 400ks and a 275-mile 24-hour ride.
The big lesson from those rides is that the territory beyond 100 miles is not as scary as you might think. They also taught me many tips and tricks you can use even if you never venture beyond the century. Here they are:
· Eat and drink constantly. On longer rides, your body’sability to take on a steady flow of liquids and calories becomes critical. You
can only absorb so much at a time and dehydrating or “bonking” is
extremely easy. If you run out of gas at 100 miles on a 200-mile ride, you won’t be able to “tough it out” to the end. Carry BOTHa hydropack and bottles so you’ll never go dry. And don’t forget electrolytes – you’ll need salt.
· Conserve glycogen. On shorter rides, you can jam up the hills
and hammer into the wind because the energy stored in your liver will
carry you through. But on longer rides, a lot of anerobic activity just depletes those precious reserves. Wear a heart monitor and don’t
allow your heart rate to get above 80% of your maximum rate. I try to
keep my average heart rate under 65% of my max.
· Manage your rest stops. You can waste a lot of time and stiffen leg muscles by “resting” for too long along the way. Randonneurs will often go 40 to 60 miles between stops. But if it’s
sweltering out and you’re fading, cooling down in a nice air conditioned 7-11 might be just what you need.
· Travel light. Although hearty randonneurs will swear by their
sturdy steel steeds laden with big bags of extra clothes and supplies,
I prefer a titanium or carbon racing bike with just a small bag under
the saddle and a rain jacket in the hyrdopack.
· Pamper your butt. No saddle is really comfortable over 100 miles, but pick something more forgiving than a tiny, hard racing seat. Use lots of “Chamois Butt’r” in your riding shorts. Standup off the seat on downhills to stretch your legs and keep the road shock
to a minimum. Increase tire size to 25c from 20c or 23c to absorb the
· Don’t ride too slow. Creeping along at 10 mph can be really
demoralizing. The pace that works for an 80 mile ride will work just
as well for a 180 mile ride (300k) if you stay out of your “red zone”
of really high heart rates.
· Ride with a buddy who’s at your level. On a long ride,you’re not just riding – you’re living on the bike. Expect energy flows to
wax and wane, just like they would over a normal day. If you have somebody at your side chatting away and lending moral support, it’s
much easier to overcome the rough spots.
· Sleep. Most rides over 400K (about 250 miles) require (at least for me) a sleep break. Although the hard core will ride with no
sleep, I will try to get at least 5 hours a night during the ride and
at least two good nights sleep before.
· It’s easier than you think. Although some ultra longdistance riders are out to test their limits of pain and endurance, it doesn’t
have to be that way. If you can do 100 miles in a day comfortably, you
can do 200. And you can repeat it, day after day, if you sleep enough
each night to recover.
· You can do it if you think you can. This is the corollary to
the last tip. Cycling is a huge mental game and it’s even more so at
an ultra distance. I assure you, I am no Lance Armstrong. I am almost 60 and there are many BBC riders stronger and faster than I. Like anything else, if you can relax and enjoy the ride, you can go the distance.
From Nick Bull:
Great idea, Bill, thanks.
My two pieces of advice:
First, no matter how bad you feel, you’re nearly always best off just staying on the bike, however slowly you have to ride. If you’re bonking, eat and drink and maybe eat some electrolytes, even if the thought of eating makes you feel nauseous and you’re gagging and have to force it down and feel like it’s going to make you throw up. Chances are you”ll keep it down, and in fifteen or twenty minutes you’ll start feeling more energetic. Meanwhile, because you kept going, you’re another three or more miles closer to the end. If you stop, you’ll feel just as bad, probably have the same antipathy to food, but now you’re gradually getting further behind that eight ball, and meanwhile your muscles have tightened up. Exception: You’re so tired you can’t stay awake — better stop and take a little nap. Another exception: You’re causing yourself an injury that is going to take more than two weeks to heal.
Second, and in some respects a corollary of the first — almost always, when I’m starting to feel discouraged and thinking things like “Why am I doing this? This is never going to end. Twenty-five miles to the next control, how can I ever do it? This is a stupid sport. I’m not going to do this anymore….” it means I am bonking but I don’t know it yet. Ignore those thoughts and wait five minutes, and the bonk will come right through with no uncertainty. But if you notice you’re discouraged and eat something right away and then keep riding and be patient, before you know it you’ll be thinking “What a lovely day. Look at those birds. I’m so lucky to be alive on such a beautiful planet. What a great sport. Only ten miles to the control and then …”
I’ve done four SR series, three R-12’s, one 1200K and a second one nearly done — and I still feel like a rookie next to so many DCR randonneurs with such a huge depth of experience!
Nick “Still Learning on Every Brevet” Bull
Jeff Magnuson points out in response to the comment above about:
“Exception: You’re so tired you can’t stay awake — better stop and take a little nap…”
I have found that chewing gum will help keep me awake when riding.
From John Fuoco:
I’ve read some good stuff here. Stuff thats well thought out, well written, and works.
I have three rules for myself on long hard rides.
1) No whining. I mean it. These rides are often incredibly difficult and the last thing I or my riding companions need are negative thoughts and emotions. Though they will surface on their own accord it is senseless to summon them. I am confining this restriction only to topics immediately germaine to the ride. So no going on about how tired I am, how my saddle or back or neck or whatever is sore. No criticizing the route or other riders or how so and so never takes a pull. If I wanna complain about my job or local taxes thats ok but don’t dwell on it. A general attitude of positivity makes the experience much more pleasant and more easily completed.
At this last PBP after wincing all day two in pain from my swollen achilles I confided to my riding buddy that it was injured and hurting. I only mentioned it in case the dang thing tore and I had to stop. I was afraid that might occur and did not want it to come as a total suprise to him if it did. So I mentioned it once.
2) No talking about food unless it is immediately available for consumption. This one is only slightly tongue in cheek. Others have correctly pointed out that bonking occurs when not enough calories are consummed. I think I’ve experienced the corallary to that: bonking can occur from thinking too much about food. I for one confess that my on the bike fare is bland and unappetizing, so my mind naturally drifts off to my favorite pasta and sauce. When that happens I shut my mouth with another gel pack.
3) No stopping unless its required. This one takes a bit of explaination. It applies only to long hard rides, not to centuries or other recreational rides where stopping to rest or smell the roses or check out an interesting whatzit is part of what makes the day. But in the last 100 miles of a 400k when everything is sore and tired and I am trying to minimize the amount of riding I will have to do after it gets dark, the best place for me to be is in the saddle turning the pedals. So I stop at controls and for necessity breaks. Even the latter are suspect. I’ve often fooled myself into believing I had to stop to pee when what I really wanted to do was just stop. Making myself abide by this rule helps get me through those dark times of negative thoughts and feelings of despair. By eating something and waiting for the dark mood to abate, I am still getting down the road if I stay in the saddle. I also eliminate the “I’ll just quit here” fantasy.
I need these three rules for me. All three address a potential weakness. Most randonneurs I know, myself included, have the physical strength to finish tough rides, but maintaining a positive and determined attitude are essential to accomplishing that.
From Roger Hillas:
Bill et al.,
OK, I’l bite.
1. Don’t use the brevets to see how fast you can go for 200, 300, or 400K. Instead, use them to learn how to eat, sleep, and minimize time off the bike.
2. Learn Velocio’s rules.
3. Don’t carry so much! Too many newbies get all wound up with what the blogs say and carry one of everything just for insurance. If you don’t think extra weight matters, here’s a test. Go to the bottom of 35th street in Georgetown, just across from the Key Bridge. Get off your bike, and push it up the sidewalk. It’s more resistance than you might think. Don’t make it worse than it needs to be.
4. Tools and potatoes are heavy. Clothing is light. So carry more clothes than you think you need. If it turns out you do need them (think 400K in 2002-04), you’ll be glad to have them. If you don’t need them, you’ll barely notice you’re carrying then anyway.
5. If the temperature goes over 90 degrees, you need to focus on drinking, not eating. There is a point, and you’ll have to figure out just where it lies for you, where your body says “Skip the food. I want hydration.” Listen. But don’t forget the electrolytes, and beware the menace of hyponatremia.
6. If you’re really cold, and really tired, and really wet, try to find a group of Swedes and draft them for 30 miles or so. That’s what I did the third morning of PBP in 2007. Worked wonders.
7. If your stomach does go bad, get off the sports drink immediately and start drinking fizzy water. If that doesn’t work, drink whatever the nearest Frenchman/woman tell you to drink.
8. Wear an old-fashioned cycling hat under your helmet whenever possible. It will shield your eyes from rain and from the sun. Plus, it will make you look Belgian.
9. Never cycle with bare knees when the temperature is under 70 degrees.
10. Wool is wonderful from 50 degrees to 70 degrees, especially in wet conditions. But below 50, you’ll need to put something windproof over it. And above 70, you’ll want to join the modern world and wear synthetics (or cotton if you prefer, but that is foolish).
From Chris Burkhardt:
Two things to add.
1) Tums is the miracle cure for hot foot, thank you Joel D.
2) When it’s dark and you’re tired, sing “100 bottles of beer on the wall” endlessly. Ask Nick B.
(Note from Nick B.: Singing “100 bottles” makes you have to count backwards, which is apparently just enough of a mental effort to wake your brain up a little bit on each verse. This was very successful for me on BMB (see writeup somewhere on the DCR website). But on PBP, I couldn’t sing because of my pneumonia, and “singing” in your head does not seem to work–probably you just skip over the actual counting because it is too difficult and then you fall asleep.