Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Terra Incognita De-mystified

It’s in the books, my first brevet and the beginning of what I hope to be an excellent year of athletic pursuit. January 1st I woke early in Arlington Texas and loaded up my now modified commuter bike to head to the start line of the 200K brevet that would kick off the year for me and my new “other team”, the intrepid Lone Star Randonneurs.

The morning started off far more casually that I am used to with my background in triathlon. I was greeted warmly and invited to conversation. There was little preparation necessary and so I spent my nervous energy, which is usually used in setting up transition and shooting off at the start gun, frittering with my bike and checking and double checking the fact that I had some Cliff bars and hammer gels.

I think I heard that there were 39 riders present but I really have no idea. It was a small event but a giant group ride. I had said in an earlier post that I honestly did not know what to expect vis-a-vie difficulty. Brevets are NOT races and nobody earns places. Now read the more obvious writing on the wall if you think to do so.

Here you have a group of people, expensive bikes, and distances to be covered that demand a huge investment in training and time. What you have is a recipe for the challenge driven competitive spirit. I can not speak about brevets longer than 200K but I am telling you, if the distance is 200K or less you have a race in its truest sense.

We headed out at a leisurely pace with everyone else. We stayed together as a group for at least the first 23 or so miles…to the first control (check point). I know this for sure because somewhere around mile 15 we were heading up a curving hill and I took my eyes off the task at hand long enough to ride into the curb and go flying off my bike and rolling into the weeds. I then had the pleasure of trying to regain my place in the pack while EVERYONE (except the very leading edge) asked me if I was ok and commenting on what a fine job I had done at rolling along the ground. Thanks.

I can’t tell you exactly when the pack split apart but I can tell you that I recognized a very significant schism at about mile 40.

Basically we were riding along talking sometimes speeding up, sometimes slowing down but always staying together. I remained up front with no more than three or four people ahead of me at any time. Suddenly there was a recognizable surge to break away off the front. I followed, I assumed everyone followed. The pace slowed and just like before I was riding and talking with no more than a few folks ahead of me. Surge, relax, surge, surge, surge, relax etc…

From a triathlete’s perspective, it was beautiful! Six guys certainly racing but also working together to maintain maximum speed. While triathlon is more a game of pacing and endurance this was more a game of strategy and attrition. You want to maintain the maximum pace that a group can sustain, a group that can help you move along quickly and still be able to rest some. That is until you determine that enough distance has been covered where you can afford to drop to a smaller, harder riding group to keep the pace high but to eliminate competition for a final surge across the finish.

But I digress. We were riding in pace lines and echelons each of us taking turns at pulling. Mile 40 or so, NOBODY was behind me as far as I could see…SURGE I fell off the back and five went ahead then another fell off the back and four went ahead and then another fell off the back and three went ahead.

I eventually caught up to the team captain/leader/organizer Dan, who was the #5 man to fall back, and he said “If we can catch Bob (fictional name) then the three of us can work together and catch the other guys at the next control. If we just speed through that transition we can ride out with them again.” Good. We two pressed the pace and caught Bob; we three pressed the pace again and caught the leading three at the control. We six rode out together…nice and easy…SURGE!

My quads were on fire! Let me put this in perspective. It is winter. As a dutiful triathlete I have been working on my weakness during the winter, running. I have been in training since November 1st for the Rock-n-roll Arizona MARATHON. Not the Arlington Texas BREVET-A-THON. Add to that, my longest rides in “preparation” for this adventure was 112 miles as part of an iron distance triathlon on September 23rd, a 60 mile hillbilly hill adventure through Alabama 3 days before the brevet and 56 miles during the Soma half-iron on October 31st. Whaaaaaaa, right? Ok, I’ll shut up and take my medicine.

SURGE, SURGE, SURGE and at mile 73 I was off the back again and this time for good. The group was on a long rolling straight away heading into the wind. I fell off the back on another one of the uphill surges. There is a specific and pathetic loneliness attendant to being spit off the back of a pace line that is riding into a head wind and this pathetic loneliness was only accentuated by the mocking straightness of the road upon which we were traveling. I longed for the speed and protection of the group as they pulled relentlessly away, growing ever smaller on the horizon. Bitterly I thought, “Now I have to fight the wind alone.” Of course this is what we do all the time as triathletes but this is NOT what we try and do as cyclists. I was a lone monkey on the open Savannah without a tree in sight. Time for an attitude adjustment.

I suppose one benefit to my being a psychologist is that I can employ a wide variety of psychological defense mechanisms at will. In this particular situation I rolled out “reframing”, ego boosting narcissism and unwarranted optimism.

Reframing: instead of “%#@*! now I have to slog through this #@%& cold and wind alone!” I chose “Golly, now I totally have the opportunity to gain the full randonneuring experience of finding my OWN way, using my OWN wits”

Ego boosting narcissism: “These guys are going to think I am a natural after I find my way back to the start all by myself.” And “These guys are going to be impressed by my mental toughness when I finish this cold and windy ride all by myself.”
Unwarranted optimism: “Now the fun REALLY begins. Going it alone out on the Texas countryside, figuring it out, enjoying the scenery…COOL!”

To shorten this long story, I did find my way. I did have a good time. I did finish my first brevet. I will be back. Distance covered 128.83 (I got a wee bit lost at one point). Total time: somewhere around 8.5 hours. Bike computer time: 7 hrs 58 min.

Photos to follow…hopefully.


  1. You are gonna kill the Tri bike portion with this new brevet thingy! Look forward to hearing more!

  2. yeah, you're not giving all the picture here on the preparation part, Mr. Mileage! I think all that time you spend in the saddle has served you well. Sounds like a fun adventure - looking forward to pictures!

  3. You definetly got me interested in doing one of those. They actually have some in my neck of the woods.

  4. Sounds like a fun ride - maybe I need a new bike.

    Good luck this week in the Rock-n-Roll.