As I scheduled this latest ride with Spencer, I became mindful of the last time I had the bright idea of keeping the R-12 run going after the 2008-2009 virgin run. Dubbed “Lucky 13”, at the time it stood as an indication that I really needed some time off and distance from … well... distance. I vowed never to try the Knob Noster 200k again, and proceeded to think about restarting the R-12 run a few more times throughout 2009 and 2010, and 2011... until this last, successful, run of 2011-12. Now - somehow - I find it easier to stay into a routine of one-per-month, so while I’m still relaxing on the prospect that I can “start over” at any point now that I’m back at ride #1, the notions of burn-out or stopping the routine exist only as shadows. That’s a good thing -- because it means I’m in a good place, and I am really enjoying my riding.
So, this month, whether we’re calling it #13 or R-12 vol.3 no.1, or just “the July ride”, it wasn’t a chore or a challenge to commit. Date set, as usual, vehicle packed, off to the start line for an early departure - this time on the Princeton Roundabout route. Not unfamiliar territory, and clearly I’m still in a bit of a rut when it comes to rando routes for myself - but, I had a mind to stay close to home, close to familiar surroundings and populations. The forecast showed hot, 104ºF forecast - which would ultimately deliver. It doesn’t take much to get on the wrong side of hydration for me, and the local roads and concentration of c-stores would be appreciated late in the day.
Along for the fun came Gary and Glen, repeat offenders from the June 200km - the three of us ride pretty well together, and I always welcome the good conversation and company. This time out was no different - we tackled the early hills and made our way out to Eudora, squinting through fogged-up glasses in the early morning humidity as the sun began to climb out from behind the trees, all while we chatted away about this and that. For a few hours, the conditions bathed us in comfort - but it wouldn’t last. It has been desperately hot here in the KC-area for several weeks now, and lately we haven’t been out of the triple-digits during the day, and have rarely dipped below 75 at night. The heat has been accompanied by a pretty lengthy drought, as well. As I write this, a chance of thunderstorms brews to the west - and I can’t describe how amazing that will be, should it hold together. Fingers are crossed, for farmers especially; as we rode alongside this farm and that, the lack of rain sat evident on the withered crops.
Our pace matched the weather, to my delight and surprise. The group, either filled with energy from good training or filled with motivational dread to try and outrun the coming heat of the day, set a solid pace over the first 2/3rds of the ride. I don’t imagine we broke any course records, but, for me, the average speed felt faster than I thought I’d have been capable of in the hot conditions.
Since I’m a numbers-guy by trade and spend a large part of my day soaked in spreadsheets and data, extending that into my cycling is almost unavoidable; so, no surprise that it got me thinking about goals in general and past performances. I’m on an upward trend - my first R-12 saw an average speed, over the 12 rides, of 14.7MPH rolling... despite having bright spots where I had averaged 17.0mph on one particular 200k during that run. The message there simply indicates a lack of consistency; for, also in that run sits a low average of 12.9mph. Compared to the high of 17.0, that’s a spread of over 4MPH. Partly, I found it interesting that my highest averages happened upon the Trek 450 when I’d had it built up with Shimano 105 and zippy Mavic Ksyrium wheels. The lower numbers happened on my Kogswell, with fenders, lights, and rack. Since that run, however, the Trek has been retired and the frame/fork hung back over the workbench with pride - but, I have managed to increase my speed on the Kogswell - which shows in the 2nd R-12 run, with an overall average of 15.65MPH, and a range of only 1.7MPH from the highest to lowest marks. Consistency has improved, and rolling speed sits nearly a full MPH above the ‘08 numbers. With the Trek out of the equation, that’s a happy improvement... but I can’t help wondering how the numbers might look with a “faster” bike back in the stable. I have yet to best any 2003 numbers, but this potential 3rd run might be “the one.” That’s with all things being equal; what had changed from ‘08 to ‘12? The fabled bike fit, and a slight drop in body mass, specifically. All in all, steps in the correct direction - healthwise, and in efficiency. Weather and route choices... hard to tell, but - typical for my route rut - I rode the Border Patrol route nearly as much in ‘08 as I had this last year, so it’s potentially safe to say “all else was equal”. To the notion of having a goal, though, even if one doesn’t yet KNOW the goal, it may be a worthy personal challenge to try and raise my 3rd R-12 average speed another full MPH, and try and grab the elusive 17.0mph average again on a few brevets or permanents. That Trek 450 is still in the garage, waiting for parts.... but, maybe it really ISN’T about the bike, and I can keep building speed on the Kogs? We’ll see. Fun to play with numbers and scenarios, however. Okay, enough numerology for this post.
Eudora, KS. came and went with a quick control and restroom break -- this time, chocolate milk on tap, and a banana. In the bottles, Carboplex and Emergen-C powder -- seemed to work well, but, ultimately I think my fizzy GU-Brew tablets perform better in the kind of heat we experienced. That, I’m finally figuring, represents my “perfect bottle” - about 250-300 calories, a tiny bit fizzy with a tiny bit of flavor, and a good electrolyte profile. My problems start (as they would today) when I float between feeling awesome all day, or packing light. It’s never a conscious choice... but I always end up packing light when it comes to food. It’s time to scrap the minimalist BS and simply keep enough fuel on-board for the job at hand. Supplementing with food at controls works, but, deep into each ride, I always end up on the nutritional short end as I slip into deficit while riding. Problem #1, I know I need food - but towards the end of rides, I have trouble eating anything - I eat too slow, and can’t seem to shove enough in - plus, at that point, NOTHING sounds good anymore. Problem #2, I don’t want to carry a lot of stuff (bags of powder) -- the easiest problem to solve is the latter: carry enough for the ride, no matter how much that might be! >400 km?, use the bag service (if offered). Possible mitigation to Problem number 2: save the powder until late in the ride if I don’t want to carry as much of it: eat at the controls while I have the appetite... then mix the drinks later when I start to have trouble motivating myself to ingest anything solid. There are SO many approaches to randonneuring - but, for me - as many times as I’ve tried to disprove it to myself - things work better when I can just mix and drink, especially deep into the ride. It’s time to simply be “ok” with that approach, put nutrition concerns on the “done” shelf again, and get a rack trunk or slightly larger saddle bag to carry what I need. Witnessing Alex’s performance on RAAM, I know it can be done from one bottle .. my only hurdle becomes getting around not having a follow-car.
Ah, plans.... I’m great at theory.... terrible at practice.
The first hints of nutritional shortfalls came on the run between Ottawa and Princeton... always a weirdly difficult section. It’s only 6-7 miles, but it trends uphill slightly on a false flat, and it’s nearly always into a weighty headwind. Combined with the featureless highway shoulder and lack of landmarks, progress comes slow, lathered with tedium. I spent the miles time-trialing up to Glen’s wheel, only to pop and fade backwards ... Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen would echo in my head occasionally, motivational quotes and commentary ripe from this year’s ‘Tour playing in my head as I pedaled. Princeton came, eventually, and the half-way checkpoint... and, “hey, did it just get hotter?”
It had. Even though the local bank thermometer read “only” 85ºF, the rate at which the temperature had begun to increase took center-stage as we three prepped for the long slog to Osawatomie, 17 miles to the east. We’d still have a headwind, and the section remains quite exposed - but, we were ready. Normally a bit of a death-march, the three of us maintained high spirits as we kept a great pace eastbound. A lot of the journey became a heads-down affair, yet, we made decent time and soon began to see indications of the town limits coming back into view. More of the same, off-green, drought-parched fields yielded to houses, and soon we rolled through Osawatomie to the local Casey’s store for another stop and refill of water - something which started to become more and more important. Certainly now the temperature had climbed to near 95, as we hid from the blazing sun on the shady side of the building.
We made our way out of town, refreshed and refilled, for the next leg to Paola, KS along Old KC Road and its steady gradient. The last eastward push would finally see us depart the cross-headwinds to accept a slight acceleration from nature for the final roads pointing north for home. At this point, my tank’s virtual “low fuel light” would pop on - the toils of the day beginning to outrun my caloric intake. As foretold above, this ride would end up no different than any other in recent memory - cramps revealed themselves, reminding me to drink, and general lethargy reminded me I hadn’t eaten anything at Osawatomie. Finally reaching Paola, some snacks, my last baggie of powder introduced into a waiting bottle, and a terrific homemade energy bar from Glen helped set things straight. The trend was the same, throughout the group - however... the heat continuing to build, its effects showing on everyones face.
Paola represented the last control - and that means “it’s in the bag!’ Of course, we still had to pedal the last 35 miles or so. Ugh... all I’d wanted to do was sit -- and with the invitation of park benches set up outside the Philips 66 station, in the shade, sit we did.
As we rolled out of the last control, Gary knew exactly how to get my mind off things - even though I hadn’t made any outward complaints, my state must have been apparent. The ensuing conversation about hot-weather clothing choices and different jersey manufacturers helped the miles out of Paola pass quickly and smoothly, and soon we checked off Hillsdale and continued to Spring Hill without a hiccup. For the first time on such a short ride, and for the first time during the daylight, I’d pulled out the night-time mental arsenal: the MP3 player and the single-ear earbud. The distraction helped me forget about the distance yet to cover, and I matched cadence and tempo to flatten the rollers on Ridgeview as we continued north. A few passing clouds provided some relief from the hot sun, and some random cramps reminded me to keep drinking - stay on top!
We passed the QuikTrip (the one I always forget about) at 135th (Santa Fe) and Ridgeview - a stop I should have, on paper, taken. The next ten miles would prove to be the most difficult of the entire day, possibly the hardest ten miles of my 2012 riding season thus far. Gary proved to be a picture of consistency, his pace and strength identical to 9 hours prior, but that’s a former RAAM-finisher for you...lessons to be learned there, certainly. Glen had indicated at Spring Hill that he hadn’t felt great, but didn’t feel bad enough to stop -- and I just felt like stopping altogether! It hadn’t been my hottest day on the bike, weather-wise, and certainly this hadn’t been the first time the hills on Renner would test the legs -- but it wasn’t the grade as much as the day’s toll being collected, with interest - a princely sum in the moment - as rolling cramps accompanied ANY pitch in the road, no matter the length, no matter my gear choice. I popped more electrolytes and guzzled my remaining water to stave off the twinges. I knew if I stopped, it would be game-over until I could rest... and with only 5 scant miles to go, that was out of the question. A sub-10 hour finish teased, still within reach... but the tanks were dry, and engineering began switching everything over to reserves. As I pedaled through the protest in my muscles I precariously reached for my third water bottle, lashed with a toe-strap to my rear rack. A few attempts loosened the strap enough, and Glen - playing domestique - rolled close and freed the bottle the rest of the way. As I took it up I doused my overheated quads with cool liquid, then drank my fill until the cramps finally subsided. THANKS, GLEN!
We three were fortunate to reach every traffic light along Renner without having to put a foot down (if only briefly for Gary, as he bested us to each light) - a blessing, indeed, as any notion of rest would have thrown my legs back into fits. I’d taken up plenty of water - so I’d thought - since Princeton, but, the lack of nature’s call spoke volumes on my real condition - whatever I’d drunk hadn’t been enough, ultimately, and I had been lucky the worst waited until nearly the last control. The joy of the long downhill on Renner over I-435, and the last control -- quickly inside to the thick air conditioning, card signed and finalized, and more fluids on-board to start the recovery process... Finished!
Despite having kept to my usual hydration formula, I think the added humidity of the day played a big factor during those last, difficult miles near the end of this edition. Thinking back to how I’d started my recently-completed R-12 run, last July on this very route, it had been just as hot, and notes from that ride indicate I had the same cramping issues (though not nearly as bad) in the closing miles, too. Perhaps it’s Renner, perhaps it’s me, perhaps it’s both -- but if I ride the Princeton Roundabout again, I’m giving serious thought to stopping at that QuikTrip on Ridgeview and downing a quart of Gatorade or similar before tackling those last ten, seemingly benign miles back to Shawnee. Previously of the mindset that the QuikTrip lay only 10 miles from the end, my gut tells me to push on... but, if stopping briefly prevents those last few ugly cramps on the hills, why not? The “in-town” nature of this particular route seems to squeeze any hydration reserves I have RIGHT out of me, right in those hills heading through Lenexa, KS., and I’m simply not taking on enough to prevent it. All-in-all, however, with a decent average speed of 16.1 to show for it, I’ll take it with a little pain and discomfort.
Gary and Glen -- as always, a true pleasure... thanks for coming out on this ride!
Stay tuned for August!