In my line of work, at the end of each project, we have what’s called a “postmortem” meeting. It’s a look back at what worked, what didn’t work, and what could be improved in the future. I decided to do something similar for my first brevet, for the benefit of those who wish to embark on a similar endeavor.
Proper diet and nutrition while riding. This takes some experimentation, as not everybody reacts to food in the same way. My ride food of choice is Grower’s NutriBar in apple cinnamon flavor, which is chewy, moist, and convenient enough to carry – without making me too thirsty like chocolate or peanut butter tends to do. Whatever ride food you carry, make sure you eat small bites of it at regular intervals, so that your gut can do a decent job of digesting it and provide you with enough energy to avoid bonking. My triathlete buddy Ralph’s strategy of eating a bite every 45 minutes and washing it down with water helped immensely.
Insulated bottles. I can’t even imagine how I would last without them. They kept my water cold at the start, and bearable to drink in the later stints.
Wider tires. For these kinds of events, I believe you should run the widest tire you can smoosh into your frame and fork. Wider tires mean more air volume, requiring lower air pressures, and yielding greater comfort. Besides, if you get a puncture, it’s much easier to use a hand pump to inflate a 28 mm tire to 80 psi than it is to inflate a 23 mm tire to 120 psi. I figure if I had even wider slick or file-tread tires available, I would have run them here.
Skin protection. On a very long ride like this, chafing and sun damage are real risks. The latter, you can prevent with sunscreen, reapplied every two or three hours. The former, you can prevent with a number of products: chamois cream, Body Glide, or the poor man’s alternative, petroleum jelly. Before the ride, I applied some on my nether regions before pulling up my shorts, as well as around my brow line to avoid sweat going into my eyes. If you’ll remember, my bag of spares had a small plastic jar of petroleum jelly in it, along with the granola bars. That was there in case I needed to reapply.
Cue cards and a well-calibrated cyclocomputer. In the absence of an expensive Garmin Edge unit, this was my workaround – and it worked brilliantly.
My saddle. I finished with numb nuts and a sore bum, but I doubt I would have finished at all with any other saddle.
Clipless pedals and shoes. I could pour on the power without worrying about twisting my shins or dislocating foot from pedal. I still think that lifting your clipped-in foot to generate pedaling power is bunk, though.
Core fitness and familiarity with my riding position. Cycling is one of the sports that requires good core strength, but doesn’t improve it. A poor core will result in discomfort on the bike, as well as reduced power output, as they are the foundation for the pedaling motion of your legs. I use a very simple workout of three 60-second planks to help strengthen my core. Over the past year, I’ve also adopted a gradually lower riding position, moving my stem downward one spacer at a time as my torso flexibility improved. Over many kilometers, I’ve gotten used to holding this position for long periods of time.
A post-ride massage. Your muscles build up lactic acid due to stress and use; tolerance to it is something you train for when it comes to endurance efforts. No matter how big your muscles’ appetite is for lactic acid, though, you do have to get rid of it as part of your recovery. One effective way of doing so is a hard massage. I didn’t get cramps during the ride, but all the built-up lactate in my glutes and calves – and the associated pain it carries – came rushing out when the masseuse went over them with her hands and fingers. It’s a funny feeling, getting cramped-up muscles after a strenuous endurance activity. After that massage, I was largely back to normal condition within a day and a half. No wonder professional cyclists always get massaged by their soigneurs.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Bringing a power bank. For the 300 km distance and longer, this would probably come in handy. Given how good at endurance my Cat Eye Volt 1200 front light is, though, it was dead weight. My cellphone battery had good endurance too, still retaining half charge after the brevet. I eventually left the power bank behind on the Team David’s Salon support van before the final stint.
My gloves. Normally my thin-padded Pearl Izumi gloves are excellent, but they were overwhelmed by the distance and the road conditions. I developed pressure pain in my left palm due to an inflamed ulnar nerve, and this doesn’t completely go away immediately. Perhaps something with more padding would help prevent this.
Single-layer bar tape. Fizik’s 3mm-thick bar tape is excellent stuff, but the distance and road conditions meant the tape was sending more shock through the handlebars than normal. Sean had double-wrapped bars and they seemed to work for him fine. Hmmmm. Maybe worth a shot for the next brevet.
Swapping cranks too close to the brevet. I had made the 50/34T crank swap two weeks prior, and this meant that the front derailleur now needed to be moved and tuned for the new, larger chainrings. Maybe I should have done the swap earlier, though. The chain catcher allowed a terminal case of chain drop, which cost me around ten minutes, and the derailleur was performing quite a number of ghost front shifts. Had these been adjusted and ridden for at least a month prior, I doubt I would have gotten my mechanical gremlins. Who knows, with the 105 crank’s better top end, maybe it would have improved my result at BGC Cycle Philippines 2015…
My particular pair of clipless pedals. At the finish, my feet hurt a lot. I can only think of the muscles of my feet trying to contort around the raised SPD mechanism of the T780 pedals. Had there been more of a surrounding support platform around the SPD mechanism, perhaps the pain would have been lessened. This sort of design seems more of a Crankbrothers specialty though.
WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED
Average speed. 24.8 km/h overall average is definitely not bad for a first-time brevet run; my initial estimated pace was actually far slower at 20 km/h. I think that could have improved if all of us riders in our grupetto were on road or cross bikes, though. As I know all too well first-hand, folding bikes usually have limited top end, the small wheels making a >30 km/h average speed effort unsustainable on a rider’s cardio. You’d have to equip unusual chainring combinations, such as 56/44T, to improve that…but good luck on the hills.
Group dynamics. Admittedly I wasn’t exactly a paragon of group riding etiquette. While I did pull for the grupetto, for quite a long time I might add, I outdragged them on many occasions, too. Considering this was the first time I rode with my guys, it wasn’t too bad. However, if we improved our group riding behavior and rode more similar machines, perhaps we would have seen improvements in pace and…
Rest periods. We spent an entire hour at the second visit to Cabangan – half of which was spent waiting for others to arrive. Too long, perhaps, for a completion effort aiming to finish at the least possible time. Then again, it bears repeating that the brevet is not a race – as long as we finish within cutoff time, that’s all that matters.
These are lessons I’ll be bringing with me if I’m fortunate enough to join another brevet, or any long-distance ride really.
- The grupetto: Sean Ilaguison, Nelson Malabanan, Rowell Lopez and Adam Pontiñoza of the United Folding Bikers, and our “sixth man” Edison Reyes, for the company along the way. We had an unofficial “seventh man,” Gogie Sinson, as well. A good chunk of the photography I used for these posts was by Sean as well.
- Jeremy Deanon, for the assist when I had terminal chain drop at the last of Masinloc’s rolling hills.
- The men and women of Audax Randonneurs Philippines and Team David’s Salon, headed by Carmela Pearson, for organizing this event and making it all happen.
- The many riders that participated and the camaraderie between all.
- The crew of Mango Valley Hotel 2 for the lodging and assistance.
- The people of Zambales and Pampanga, for generally being gracious with sharing the road with us. Such road courtesy is hard to find in Metro Manila these days.
- My supporters: my fiancee Mav, my cousin Cherrie, and my friends Byron Villegas, Ralph Dabao and Gilbert Serrano.