I have put off posting about this Brevet for long enough. I guess I should just get it over with. I have put it off because it wasn’t a good experience. It made me once again question my endurance career and the overall point of spending my free time absorbed in getting better and faster. Since then the bad taste in my mouth (figurative and literal) has gone away, and I am back at training. It seems to be just what I do. Prepare, race, suffer, whine, finish the race (event), vow to never again, reflect, justify, look back with perspective, reassess, and then start training for next event. Sometimes I go through this whole process within minutes or hours. Sometimes it takes days. I am sure that this process or something similar is familiar to those that have accomplished anything difficult but with results less than what was desired.
As this was my first event on the schedule for the 2015 season, I was excited to see what I could realize resultant from my winter training. During the winter I saw double digit percentage gains in my FTP twice which was placing me in a form I was excited about. In the 8 weeks prior to the Brevet, I had also followed very precisely a Century Road training plan from Trainer Road. Yes, I know 200km is more than 100 miles, but really those last 20 some odd miles in such an event just happen. It is usually somewhere in the middle where the problems occur (according to my experience). Accordingly, the usual pre-event anxiety was minimal because of my preparation. I was planning on getting through the 220km with an average speed near 27km/h. I was confident I could do this and stay within Heart Rate Zones 1 and 2. As I have yet to purchase a power meter, and thus I would be governing my ride according to what my heart was saying to me.
The Roll Out
The morning of the Brevet, I took the train from Ingolstadt to Treuchtlingen and followed some others off the train to the Sports Club house where the start would be located. There were a few hiccups with that part of the adventure, but I made it to the Club house, and picked up my control card and saw that I was in the 8th and last group to start. At 5 minute intervals this was a bad thing. That meant a full 40 minutes behind the first group, and in order to find a good group with which to travel, I would need to make up the ground in the morning (also bad). However, in my group was an individual that I had ridden with previously and he was a power horse, so I decided to stick his wheel and see what came of it. Just before the beginning of the ride, I met up with my work colleague and laughed about when we would see each other again (he was in group 7).
As soon as our number was called, and our control cards were punched, we were given a few brief instructions and allowed to start. It was a brisk morning, and colder than I had anticipated. It took a while of riding before I warmed up too. This also caused issues with my HR monitor. I have noticed that when it is cold, and I haven’t wet the contact spots, then my HR reads high until I have started to perspire just a bit. Knowing this, the early ride readings in the 160’s didn’t bother me too much. I didn’t feel like I was going that hard either. However, after about 10 kilometers and having created a little bit of perspiration, the HR numbers weren’t dropping like I wanted. So I sucked closer in behind the power horse to see if they would drop. They did, and they got back into the zone I wanted to be in, but at a much slower speed than I had anticipated. Hmmm, something wasn’t right. So I decided to stick with my projected average speed until the first climb, and then make adjustments. My thought was that the HR would eventually even out to where it should be.
The Middle Section
During my last Brevet, I had a hard time reaching the second control station. My brain starts playing tricks on me during this middle part. If I watch my computer and see the Kilometers ticking off, I inevitably start whining about how much is still left to go. I still need to develop a mental block for those mind gnomes that continually yell at me. However, one thing of note was that before I got to the first control station, we rode past the geographic middle point of Bavaria. They have erected a nice tower or mile marker of sorts, so that was fun to see. According to some of the riders, it is considered by the Bavarians to be the belly button of the world. OK, you can have that classification.
Just before the second control station I was noticing that I just didn’t have much strength left in me. It was almost like I could have taken a nap for 3 hours and been just fine. This was not a good idea considering the ever worsening weather, and the 120 some odd kilometers to go. I was also noticing some twinges in my quads, which I knew as the onset of cramping. Crap! Looking back on my HR file later with the knowledge of 162 as my Burn-a-Match point, I counted 11 different matches over the first 90 Kilometers and 8 within the first 2 hours. This just didn’t seem logical to me then nor does it now. With that many matches, you would expect that I was in a race, and I was definitely not racing. Something was up. At the control station, I did what I could to get fat and sugar into my system, but even the sweetest or saltiest of foods tasted like cardboard. I did eat a few packets of mustard as I wanted to stem off the cramps that I knew were coming. Rest and eating seemed to help a little, and I was then on my way again.
I found some comfort in following small groups or single riders during this stretch. Most seemed to know where they were going, and as I was just following my Edge 500, my navigation skills were going to be limited to what I consider the worst feature of the 500 (course/route following). What was interesting with this technique was how often some others were getting lost too. Maybe not lost, but taking the wrong turns. They knew where they were supposed to go, but as bike paths and roads are very abundant here in Germany, you can get from point A to B in many different variations. For the final 20 kilometers before the 3rd control station, I caught the wheel of a 5 bike train that was moving along rather nicely and without the second guessing that was common up to that point. At the third control station, however, after I came out of the restroom, they were gone.
I pushed on solo for a while, and it seemed that most of my strength was coming back to me. The food I was eating seemed to help, and the mustard would take the cramps away for a time. There were a few times where I would stop, and lie down for a spell to let the blood and heart rate settle. Then after a long section of rolling through the Altmuhltal, the course eventually turned to the North, and a climb was in short coming. My legs protested at the sniff of an incline, so I knew I was toast. Just before this I had teamed up with a two guys that were following me mostly because my navigation seemed sure. As I stopped at the bottom of the hill to eat some food and lie down on the side of the road, one of them did the same. I informed him that my legs were shot, and he said his were feeling the same. I told him I had muscle cramping and the Mustard just wasn’t cutting it any more. He asked if I wanted to try some magnesium pills. I had heard and read of the benefits of magnesium, but was skeptical as always. However, at this point, I would have nearly eaten horse manure if you told me it would make the cramps go away. I ate three of those little bitter metallic tasting pills, and almost immediately noticed the pain subsiding. We got back on our bikes and we made it up the hills and carried on.
Hmmm, magnesium huh? OK… However, I did notice that although the cramping had stopped, the lasting effect of the weakened muscles was still present. In other words, this wasn’t a silver bullet in pill form. Maybe so if I take them earlier in the game, but after the cramping had started the muscles seemed to be done.
Dark to the End
Of all things I didn’t want to have to do was ride in the dark on this ride. However, with the late start, the muscle cramping, and the earlier time of the year (before daylight savings) it got dark before we got back. At this point we started using the navigation by committee format. This caused delays, but eventually we say Treuchtlingen in the valley below. We dropped into the valley and made our way across it to the main part of town. We arrived back at the Club house just after 8:30 pm. I was positively sure that I wasn’t going to participate in the 300km Brevet scheduled a few weeks later (I didn’t).
Data Dump and Thoughts
I really enjoy the ARA Nordbayern Brevet series that Karl and Heidi have put together, and would recommend it to anyone that wants to have a good but strenuous time riding their bike in Germany. Karl seems to put as much elevation change into his brevets as possible. That is OK, but for me, it seems to induce muscle cramps. This ride I was able to find some temporary solutions, but I am still going to work on the prevention side of this dilemma rather than the triage. It is the less painful method too. What is still unclear to me is the “Why” of my Heart Rate over the first 30-50 kilometers of the Brevet. It was unrealistically too high. My perceived effort for this same portion was also way too high. It could have been that I was over tired or that the cold temperature was affecting me more than I thought it should. Something was just not right during the first part of the ride. In fact because of the first section of the ride, it made it so that almost no part of the ride ended up being fun to me. That is frustrating. On a good note, I found out that magnesium works for me, and mustard can take the pains away almost immediately, and those are two good takeaways. To end here comes some data and pretty graphs. Thanks for reading.