DC Randonneurs Urbana 200 km Brevet

The Urbana 200 is one of the hardest 200s I've done. The first half of the ride is just constant rollers, with the big climb up MD77 through Catoctin Mountain Park thrown in for fun. And the second half has Townsend / Gapland / Mar-Lu Ridge, albeit in the easier direction. Normally that means a fun day, but since I'm really out of shape this winter after losing my bike commute, it meant worrying about finishing in time.

It was sunny and cold at the start in Urbana, about freezing, but with forecasts predicting 50s later. I wore my full winter ensemble minus the winter boots and winter helmet, since those are too bulky to cram into my Carradice when it warms up. I even brought my shoe covers for the descents.

I started off pretty slow and watched the fast riders sail away. We had a gravel descent through a construction zone about 2 miles in, and I took it very slowly, not wanting a flat tire. George on his fat-tired 650B bike blew by me like a downhill racer, and I was jealous but kept my hands on the brakes. After we got back on pavement, I caught up with him and chatted a bit, but he was too fast for me, as was everyone else in the area, and I was quickly alone. I had no problem getting up any of the hills, but I was climbing a lot of them at 3-5 mph, which meant I was falling way behind.

It took quite a while to get to the 28-mile control in Union Bridge. I had some M&Ms then took off, not wanting to waste any precious time. The next 15 miles weren't bad, but then the eternal climb up MD77 through Catoctin Mountain Park started, and I didn't see another cyclist the whole time. There was a new "bikes can use entire width of road" sign, which was nice but I preferred staying to the right and making it easier for cars to pass. The bright sun seemed to make lots of wind (all of it directly in my face) but no warmth, and I kept all my winter clothes except my rain jacket on for the whole climb. Got to the top what felt like hours later, and slogged to the halfway control in State Line PA in time for a late lunch. There were 4 cyclists there, but two of them were abandoning and John and Lynne on their tandem were not sure they'd finish in time, not so comforting. I was tired enough that, despite the time pressure, I sat down and chatted and ate a hoagie (once you get a mile over the border into PA people talk like they're in Pittsburgh) and some macaroni salad and drank a full 20-oz. HFCS/caffeine Vanilla Coke.

I hoped the lunch would give me a burst of energy, but no such luck. The first few miles after the control saw a bunch of 11-mph riding. I checked my clock and realized that I needed to push harder to avoid missing the cutoff at the next control, so I started pushing into the 13-14 mph range. I got to the KOA camp store with what I thought was 10 minutes to spare, but it turned out my clock was a few minutes slow so I really had a bit less. Oops. But I made it by 4 minutes, which was good enough. At that point I was really sure that I was going to fail to make the time limit, and not sure I'd make it to the end at all, but I took on some more sugar and caffeine and decided to push hard and see what happened. John and Lynne left the control just in front of me, but I thought their pace was too slow to finish in time (turns out their pace was just right and they just made it — congrats guys) so I dropped them and kept going.

Fortunately, the wind was still blowing out of the northwest, so what had been a headwind all morning was now a tailwind (at least some of the time — the route isn't quite straight). And the stretch from 78 miles until 104 miles, while far from flat, featured mostly benign rollers rather than nasty hills. My right knee was getting sore, but I optimistically self-diagnosed it as spring knee (overuse from ramping up intensity too fast) rather than a "real" injury where continuing to pedal would make it worse, and took a couple of Ibuprofin (and drank way more Gatorade than I wanted on the cool day, since dehydration plus Ibuprofin is really bad for you). The normally pleasant ride through Antietam Battlefield was much harder than usual (maybe because we usually go the other direction and the hills are usually in our favor?), and the unavoidable information control was a welcome 1-minute break rather than an annoyance. I got to the 97-mile control in Sharpsburg with half an hour to spare, and felt a lot better about my chance of finishing.

The 8 miles from the control to Townsend Road wasn't too bad, but then the final big climbs and descents of the day had arrived. I'd done this route a bunch of times the other way (which is hard) but only a couple of times this way, which I remembered was easier, but not exactly how much easier. Turned out it was a lot easier — even in my out-of-shape, tired, sore, and stressed state I was able to get up Townsend easily. I visited the port-a-potty in the park at the top, then made really sure I was going down the right way (there are three roads to the top, all of them steep, and going down the wrong one would crush me) before flying down Arnoldstown Road. The next ten miles were mostly downhill, with only a couple of scary steep parts and a whole bunch of straight easy descents. I shamelessly coasted whenever possible and banked the free miles and (slightly) improved average speed. But Mar-Lu Ridge was next.

Luckily, the easy side of Mar-Lu was also easier than I remembered. It's a climb, but I was prepared for a worse one, and made it to the top quickly. The descent is pretty steep (15% at the top and 11% at the bottom, according to the runaway truck signs) and there's a traffic light and busy highway at the bottom, so you want to make very sure your brakes work. I was also worried about getting cold on the way down, but didn't want to stop to put my jacket back on, so I just zipped my jerseys all the way up and tucked my gloves into my sleeves. I dragged my brakes way more than I should have on the 15% part (there's a false summit in the middle so it's safe to fly down the top part and only brake on the bottom part, if you're braver than I am), but made it to the bottom quickly, just missing a green light. There were no cars going my way and I was worried the sensor wouldn't pick up my bike and I'd be stuck waiting forever to cross Route 15, but just as I started looking for gaps between cars wide enough to safely run the light, it changed for me.

I only had 13 miles to go, and all the big climbs were done, but dusk was approaching. So I put on the headlights and reflective vest and stowed the sunglasses and got going. Knowing I was no longer in severe time pressure, I slacked off a bit and took almost an hour to do the next 10 miles. That meant it got dark (defined as needing a light to read a cue sheet) about three miles from the finish. That annoyed me more than it should have, which made me think I might be bonking, so I had a caffeinated Gu packet even though there were only 3 miles to go, just to be extra-super-sure. There were a few annoying hills near the end, but I finished with 22 minutes to spare.

My time was 13:08, versus 10:10 last time I rode this route in 2011. (I was *30* pounds lighter then, and carrying an extra touring bike weight crushes you on the climbs.) It was windier today, but I made some wrong turns that time, which might even out. Anyway, I'm happy I finished, but I have a lot of work to do before the Fleche. The knee is still sore and snow is in the forecast, so I get a couple of days off the bike to recover before it's time to start riding hard.