Sunday, March 18, 2012

One Thousand Two Hundred Kilometers

 1200K is a distance dear to the hearts of all randonneurs.  It’s the original distance for the Paris Brest grand brevet; the crown jewel of randonneuring accomplishment.  The first Paris Brest was organized in 1891 and over the intervening 100 plus years other 1200K brevets have been created but Paris Brest Paris (PBP) remains the Indianapolis 500 of randonneuring events, … except that it’s 750 miles and is done on a bike not in a car.  (I couldn’t resist that little dig for the gear heads) 

It takes a lot of planning, preparation, and no small amount of good fortune to complete such an event.  But the real secret ingredient is perseverance. I have completed five of these bad boys (1200k's, only two PBPs) and in every case there came a moment (sometimes multiple moments) when I had to stop and have a little talk with my inner pessimist.  Fortunately, in each case Mr. Hardhead won the day.  Brave, resolute, strong willed; these are all just flattering terms for too stupid to accept the facts of the moment that suggest the logical decision would be to stop.

I am currently reading a book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which has lead to considerable introspection.  It’s a good read, there have been a few interesting discoveries but no eureka moment that has changed my life forever (so far).  This is an excellent reference tome for anyone who wants to know more about why we do what we do, how to recognize the subtle cues that trigger routines, and how we can reinforce or reprogram these routines if so inclined.

The connections between randonneuring and ‘the habits’ book as I have taken to calling it are self evident.   Yesterday, I completed another 1200K!  My non-riding friends are now duly impressed, while my rando pals at this very moment are thinking heresy and readying the pitchforks and torches.  Let me explain:

It was not a 1200k event, ridden in one sitting; I just completed the final installment of my quest for the P-12, a series of 100Km rides once a month for a year. The differences are obvious, but I have discovered similarities that I had not considered when I started in January of 2011.  The habits book has helped me to see some of the less obvious connections. 

Time allowed is the biggest (and most obvious) difference between the two events, but the surprise connection is that (for me) riding 100Km every month takes as much and possibly more discipline than the big bite.  On a 1200K you only have to get out of bed and start the event once, the P-12 requires making that go-no-go decision 12 times.  The 1200K taxes your commitment once or twice, yet for me the P-12 demands that payment at least once a month (sometimes more, I made several false starts this winter).  The good thing about riding these monthly events is that you get small wins for a whole year and as we all know nothing breeds success like success. It’s personal for me because all my friends know I am the model of inconsistency.

There is a similar award in randonneuring, the R-12 which recognizes those hearty stalwarts who complete a 200Km event every month for a year.  I have ridden enough 200Km events to earn this award several times over, but I have been able to string out 12 in a row only once.  That medal in my little shadow box is particularly meaningful to me, not because of the distance, but for the self discipline it represents.

Yesterday morning I really did not feel like getting on the bike in that raw March wind but the power of habit which I had developed during the previous 12 months took over.  There was no 'decision' to make, the decision to ride or not had been made some time ago.  The power of the habit I had developed during the previous months kicked in; the ride was automatic and I was able to focus all my will power on any and every challenge that might pop up in the next 6 hours. 

I do recall thinking for a moment that if I didn’t ‘need’ this ride I wouldn’t have done it.  But was it more about keeping the string alive, or was I responding to a routine that was ingrained into my subconscious?  I don’t really know but I can say I am glad to have it in the books, and I am already scanning my calendar to schedule the April edition.

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