DC Randonneurs Warrenton 300 km Brevet

After the cold, wet, hilly Paul's Paradise 200k, I was ready for spring and fewer hills.  The Warrenton 300k is relatively flat, and April is warmer than March.  The forecast a few days out had a chance of rain on Saturday, but as the ride got closer the chance of rain went down to zero.  I packed my rain jacket anyway, but was cautiously optimistic.

This year's innovation was adding some gravel sections to the route.  I mostly ride brevets on a road bike with 25mm tires, so gravel doesn't thrill me.  The pre-ride report was that some of the gravel was new and not easy to ride on skinny tires.  I do have a touring bike with 30mm tires, and I would have ridden it if the gravel were mandatory, but there were paved options to bypass the gravel so I decided to skip it so I could ride the lighter bike with better brakes.

So far in April, I'd done a couple of 20-mile rides Wednesdays after work, and a 60-mile ride the previous Saturday.  Not a lot, but, on top of the 2 200-km brevets I did in March, I thought I was approaching a reasonable mileage base for a 300.  My main concern was my left knee, which got sore enough to make me bail out of the fleche last April at around 150 miles.  I hadn't done that distance since, so I couldn't be sure my knee would make it 300k.  But I thought the recent rides were helping it, since it started hurting around 50 miles in March but I made it 60 miles without pain in April.

My weight had been 203 lbs. (dehydrated and glycogen-depleted) on Thursday, but two days of pre-ride carbo loading had it up to 211 (glycogen-stuffed and retaining water).  A bit more than I wanted; next time I'll eat light on Thursday and only eat heavy on Friday.

Our 300s start at 5 a.m.  I live about 45 minutes from Warrenton, so I packed the bike the night before and set the alarm for 3.  I tried, but failed, to get to sleep early, and so only got about 4 hours of sleep.  I threw several caffeinated Gu packets in my bag, just in case I got sleepy during the ride.  I also brought a couple of Clif Bars for calories, my 1L Zefal Magnum bottles since the forecast high was in the 70s and there were some pretty big gaps between stops, and started with Gatorade in the bottles for even more calories.  And had a bowl of cereal for breakfast.

With forecast temperatures ranging from the high 40s to the low 70s, I wore summer shorts and a summer synthetic jersey, arm warmers, light tights, reflective vest, light full gloves, cotton and wool socks, and summer mountain bike shoes.  I packed but did not wear a light balaclava and a rain jacket.  I remembered to apply Lantiseptic but forgot to apply or bring sunscreen.

We got a good turnout for a 300, 52 people.  I arrived early enough that there was no rush for bike inspection or registration.  There was a nice spread of pre-ride carbs, so I had two mini-scones and a homemade cookie.  Operation Do Not Bonk was right on schedule.  I was a bit chilly standing around outside, which is about right to avoid overheating once the pedaling starts.

After the pre-ride speech, we rolled off and I ended up at the front.  The light to turn onto 29 was red, and I didn't remember if the sensor could detect bikes, so I rode over and hit the pedestrian button.  Unfortunately, it only controlled the crosswalk, not the light, so we all ended up running the red when it was safe.  (The best thing about 5 a.m. is that there's no traffic.)  I remained in the lead for the first couple of turns, but eventually someone else blew past me and took over the navigational chores.  The lead rider got confused and tried to turn right a bit early, which caused me to stop to avoid hitting him, and a paceline of about 20 riders blew by on my left.  I tucked into the back of that group, then gradually slipped back over the next 5 miles or so as we went north toward 55 in the dark.  There's a tradeoff between saving energy by drafting and saving energy by not going too fast, and I'm never sure I have it right, but I ended up at the back of the second or third group, which was going fast enough that I didn't feel too lazy and slow enough that I didn't feel too stupid.

I knew there was probably going to be a secret control somewhere on 55, because I manned it last year.  Paul, riding just ahead of me, suddenly sprinted off the front of the group, and I wondered if he knew where it was and was trying to reach it first.  I decided to save energy and not chase him.  Sure enough, the control was there a couple miles later.  And because I was at the back of a big group, I had to wait a couple of minutes to get my card signed.  No big deal.  The control did split up the pack, as riders trickled out alone or in pairs.  So much for the draft.

I rode alone, but within sight of several riders ahead and behind, down 55 to Marshall.  The sun was coming up as we turned south on Free State.  Just over the the bridge over I-66, I was looking for the turn onto Crest Hill, and wasn't sure if I was at the right place because I didn't see a sign and I didn't trust my odometer calibration.  Then two riders behind me yelled and took that turn, so I figured they must know and followed them, and fortunately they were correct.  We had almost 17 miles on Crest Hill, which was really nice.  Still not much traffic, and hilly but not steep.  A group of 5 riders passed me during that stretch, and I rode close to them for a while but eventually let them go, since I wanted to keep my speed down to conserve energy.

We zipped through the village of Flint Hill and then onto Fodderstack, which is hilly and pretty just like Crest Hill.  This went through Little Washington and past the famous Inn.  Unfortunately, the bucolic back roads had to eventually end, and we got dumped onto Route 522.  Only for a mile, though, and it was still pretty early so the traffic wasn't too bad yet.  There was a Shell station, but I decided not to stop since I was making good time and still had plenty of Gatorade left.  That reminded me that I hadn't eaten anything since the start of the ride, so when after we turned onto Rudasill Mill I stopped for a minute to eat a Clif Bar and water some trees and and turn off my taillights and stow my arm warmers (which had been rolled down into the wrist warmer position for a while).  During that brief stop, several riders passed me.

After a few more miles on back roads, we got dumped on 522 again for a bit, then turned onto F.T. Valley (not to be confused with Ft. Valley, which is two valleys to the west) for 10 miles.  This was one of the roads with a gravel bypass that I didn't take, and the traffic wasn't that bad and (I heard later) the gravel was new and hard to ride, so it was a good call.  Still, 10 miles with fast cars isn't so fun, and I was happy to finally turn off onto Etlan Road toward Old Rag.  We got a great morning view of the mountain, and then the big nasty rough sweeping downhill toward Syria.  I'd climbed this hill at least 5 times on the Old Rag 200, but had never gone down it before, and was a bit worried.  It turned out to be not too bad, though I took it a lot slower than the rider ahead of me who shot off into the distance.  And another pack of about 5 riders passed me right before we reached the 65 mile Syria Mercantile control.

I used the bathroom, bought sunscreen and Gatorade and a cookies-and-cream ice cream cup, and had a brief discussion with a couple of riders about whether it was warm enough for shorts yet.  My vote was yes, and I stripped down to summer cycling attire and lathered up with sunblock.  It was the right call, as it kept getting warmer after that and the daily high reached about 82.  I got back on the bike pretty quickly and followed a group of 3 riders through the familiar and very nice Hoover / Hebron Valley section.  My knee started to ache a bit around mile 75, but I didn't want to root around in my bag while moving, or make an extra stop, so I decided to wait until the cue sheet flip at mile 80 to take my Ibuprofin.  When I did, I saw that there was an info control in 4 miles.

The next 15 miles was a nice section with rollers and not too much traffic.  My knee stopped hurting about 8 miles after I took the Ibuprofin, which was nice, and I brought my speed back up a bit and passed George.  (We leapfrogged each other all day.)  I hit the 95-mile halfway point at 11 a.m., so 7 hours, or a 14-hour pace if I didn't slow down (which I figured I probably would).

The cue sheet said there was a Subway and Hardees in Gordonsville at 101 miles.  I thought about it for a few miles and eventually decided I wanted Subway.  But then the Hardees was right there on the route and I couldn't see the Subway, so I decided Hardees would do.  I went in with Chris, and George joined us a minute later.  I had a 6-dollar Thickburger with fries and a Coke Zero.  (I normally get full-sugar soda on long rides, but I forgot.)  Also refilled my bottles with water at their fountain, though they weren't quite empty so I ended up with very diluted Gatorade.  We chatted with a guy who was interested in our bikes, how far we were riding, etc.  Then Chris and I left together.  We were both worried about going the wrong way out of Gordonsville, but we got it right (though I almost missed the turn onto Kloeckner, seeing the sign at the last second).

I couple of miles later, I was riding well behind but within sight of Chris when I saw a gigantic gray dog (Mastiff-Great Dane-Elephant mix?) come out of its yard after him.  Luckily Chris had a head start and the dog stopped chasing him pretty quickly.  Unluckily it was already in the road when I got there.  Gulp.  Luckily it just wanted to say hi, not eat me.  Because I think it was bigger than me.  Immediately afterward, two tiny little yip-yip dogs went charging after Chris, but they were too small to be scary.  I yelled so he would see them and avoid running them over, which he did.  They were also waiting in the road for me, so I zigged left and zagged right and went around with no problems.

I approached the 107-mile info control riding near Chris and George and two other guys.  Chris and George and I stopped but the others blew past.  We yelled but they didn't stop, so we hoped they saw the sign.  (When I caught up with them later at a control, they said they did, so no problem.)  Lunch kicked in and I felt good for a while, which let me pull away from Chris and repass George.  We had another control at 120 miles, and I got a Klondike bar, and more Gatorade.  Roger was also there (he's usually faster than me so I'm always happy to see him in the second half of a ride) and I think he also got ice cream.

I was still feeling good when I noticed that the street sign ahead said Vawter Corner but the cue sheet said Vawler Corner.  Distracted by the typo, I turned right instead of left, and led a following rider (who I didn't even know was there) astray.  Luckily I caught the mistake right away and said "sorry, left turn" and got us back on course.  But I worried that my brain was starting to go.  My knee was hurting again, and it had been 40 miles since my previous Ibuprofin, so I took some more (and chugged a bunch of Gatorade to make really sure I was well-hydrated).  I gradually slowed down over the next 12 miles to Orange.  Orange was an open control, and I felt paralyzed by choice, but eventually decided on the 7-11 rather than a fast food place since I'd just had lunch 30 miles ago.  But, still obsessed with not bonking, I had a Mrs. Fields Klondike ice cream sandwich (way too much cross branding there, but it was good), my third ice cream of the day.  I remembered to get a receipt, and George pulled in while I was refilling my bottles.  We discussed the upcoming gravel section — I decided to stick to pavement and George decided to take the gravel.

That next section was up and over Clark's Mountain, which isn't much of a mountain but isn't flat either.  Then 4 miles on 522, which was awful.  Tiny shoulders and too much fast traffic.  One pickup truck passed me very dangerously, almost colliding head-on with a car coming the other way.  I decided to ride as fast as possible to get off 522 before someone hit me, and got my speed up over 20 on the flats.  But then I saw Bakers Store at mile 147, and figured I could use more Gatorade and a brief rest after the fast riding.  I also got a Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bar (ice cream #4 of the day).  Whatever problems I would have this day, I wouldn't bonk.

Rested up, I waited for a big gap in traffic then sprinted the last mile of 522 (most of it downhill to the Rapidan) and was happy to turn off onto Algonquin Trail.  The next 10 miles on low-traffic back roads were very nice, though I was tired after sprinting.  I caught up to George again right before crossing Route 3, but then needed to stop and take my third Ibuprofin of the day at mile 160.  The familiar roads around Kellys Ford were nice as usual, except for the usual rough patches.  We crossed the Rappahannock at the usual bridge, and then turned left toward Remington on Summerduck.

The road into Remington was kind of low, with standing water in the fields to our right, perfect breeding grounds for bugs.   So I rode through my first disgusting gnat cloud of the year.  Followed quickly by several more.  Luckily I had sunglasses on and my mouth was closed, so I only got gnats all over my arms and legs.  Yuck.  I stopped one last time at the Citgo in Remington at mile 170.  I didn't think I could handle any more ice cream, and I was getting sick of Gatorade, so I got a Vanilla Coke instead.  Mistake.  I guess the carbonation riled up the giant mass of undigested calories that was already there, and my stomach was sour for the rest of the ride.

I wasn't sure if I'd finish before dark, but I figured it would be close, so I turned on my taillights and put on my reflective gear to avoid needing to stop later.  It was still hot.  I left the Citgo, carefully keeping it on my right side to make sure I was going the right way.  But then Route 15 wasn't there, and I realized I'd gone the wrong way.  The Citgo was on a corner so there were two ways to leave and keep it on my right.  Aargh.  Second brevet in a row that I left a stop in the wrong direction.  It cost me 1.5 bonus miles, and some morale.  But, whatever, still only 20 miles to the finish.  My legs were pretty shot and my stomach was still sour, so I rode the last 20 miles very slowly, but didn't make any more wrong turns.

I crossed 15, then a mile later crossed 17, then after a few miles crossed Meetze.  Calista passed me just a few miles from the end, and I tried to keep her in sight as a way of keeping my speed up, but then a car pulled out of a driveway right in front of me on Frytown, and I had to stop to avoid getting run over.  By the time I got going again she was gone and I was back to 10 mph.  The downhill on Duhollow was very fun (I think I descend better when I'm tired because I forget to be scared) and I saw her again, but then lost contact on the uphill part of Walker.  Finally, I turned one driveway too early, into whatever business is right before the Hampton Inn, and their parking lots didn't connect so I had to drag my bike over a couple of curbs and a few feet of grass to make the finish.

I finished at 7:59, for an elapsed time of 14:59.  I actually felt pretty good about my pace for the first 170 miles, then fell apart in the last 20.  No big deal in the context of a 300, but there's a 400 coming in three weeks, and I hope 20 miles of very slow riding doesn't become 80 in the dark.

Other than one insane truck driver, and the slow drag into the finish, it was a fantastic day.  Nice weather makes everything better.

Lessons learned:

  • Ice cream is good, but I can only handle so much of it while pedalling.  Limit to 1 per 100k in the future.
  • I need to carefully get my bearings upon arrival at a control, so I leave in the correct direction.
  • Ibuprofin works better than I remembered.  (I hope that means my knee is better than it was.)