Why We Run

Bernd Heinrich, Why We Run. Bernd Heinrich had a weird upbringing, became a biologist, and had a serious amateur running career. This book is actually a mashup three books, which could be called: My Weird Life, What Animal Physiology Can Tell Us About the Physiology of Human Running, and How I Set a Long Distance World Record.

All three books are pretty interesting, although I did skip some of the biographical material to get to the physiology and running bits. It's not that Heinrich's life wasn't interesting, it's that he doesn't really explain the most interesting part. He was a little boy in a war zone; it's easy to understand how that would affect one's outlook, and Heinrich explains consequences one might not think of. On the other hand, his successful parents abandoned him for most of his childhood at an orphanage, so they could pursue their careers. This I found frustrating. Most parents could not do this. Why did his parents reach this decision? How did Heinrich feel about this? Considering that the orphanage wasn't a particularly pleasant place, what sort of relationship did he have with his parents as an adult? On this, the author is silent.

The best bits are the running bits, which are well-written and fun, and the physiology bits, which are somewhat scattershot but thought-provoking. The book meanders. I imagine it like sitting by the fire with Heinrich on a cold Vermont evening after a few glasses of wine. It's interesting, but I can't help checking my watch.

So why do we run? Heinrich argues that we're built to run long distances so that we can hunt by running prey to exhaustion. Despite his interest in animal models including migratory birds, Heinrich doesn't consider that being able to cover great distances would be equally useful in foraging and migrating.

Regardless, the idea that humans are built to continuously run distances beyond that of almost all land animals was controversial when this book was published, and less so now. Why We Run is still relevant despite its problems, because its key message is an important idea.


Paris-Brest-Paris - the full report

Here's the full story on my experience at Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). Or at least a fuller story. So much happens in 80+ hours of bicycling like mad, the full story would be unbearably long, like PBP itself, in a way.

In short, PBP is the oldest bike event in the world that is still run, dating from 1891. Run every four years, it is now a timed "event," technically not a race, but everyone gets a time, and there are people who care a great deal about the finishing times. The course is from Paris to Brest, mostly along secondary roads, then back to Paris. Total length is 1230 km. (764 miles.) The course must be completed in 90 hours. Sleeping is allowed, but the clock does not stop for any reason. PBP is considered by many the greatest true amateur bike event in the world, and a stern test of endurance, skill, and determination.

For our trip, we rented an apartment in Paris, a quiet place on an enclosed courtyard, a few minutes' walk from the Arc de Triomphe. I've often wondered what life was like behind the big doors these courtyards have to the street. In this case, life was pleasant and very quiet, a contrast to the vibrant urban scene a few feet away. (At right, the entrance to our courtyard, which has a street address, a bit like a soi in Thailand.)

This meant I took a train to the start. I rode my bike to the train station, down the Champs Élysées. It was great to ride down the street I think of as the finale for the Tour de France. I arrived at the start line about 5:00 PM, by chance ending up in a group of about a dozen Seattle people.

The start of PBP is in waves, beginning at 6:00 PM. We ended up starting at 8:00 PM, and the three hours from when I arrived to the start were actually the hardest, mostly because of the heat. It was about 95 degrees Fahrenheit, with no shade. Friends and family went and got us water, or else we would have used it up and started with no water. (At right: Team Seattle baking in the sun. L-R RBA Mark Thomas, Vincent Muoneke, Dan Jensen in dark hat looking down, Corey Thompson, Andy Speier in green hat.)

At about 7:30, we had our brevet cards processed and we went into the starting chute. There were several speeches. I was next to Narayan Krishnamoorthy, contemplating how long the speeches would last. At long last, the speeches stopped. And then we got a shorter version in English. In fact, the waves had to start 20 minutes apart. A nice jazz band might have been more entertaining, but speeches filled up the time, and the speakers were certainly enthusiastic. Of course, we were eager to be on the road and blow some of the stink off, so it seemed like forever.

Finally, at 8:00, we started. Many riders worry about crowding at the start, but it wasn't near as crowded as the start for STP, for example. I rather enjoyed the start. There were crowds all along, kids sticking their hands out for a side-five, people cheering. "This won't last," I told myself. I was wrong. Except for a few very lonely roads, mostly in the forest, we were cheered pretty much everywhere, day and night. (At right, my view of the starting line.)

They had the roads closed for us for a few kilometers, so as soon as things settled down a little, I started trying to get some work done. The weather report for Paris didn't look good for Monday, so I wanted to bank some miles in good weather. I ended up in a group with some Seattle guys I knew, including Steve DeGroot whom I rode the last day of the Tahuya Hills 600 with, and Ray McFall, whom I also met on that 600. I started pulling a paceline at about 30 km/h. That sounds fast, but conditions were good and I wasn't sure they'd last. Mitch Schoenfeld was right behind me, and pulled the paceline after I peeled off. Wind was light and in fact we had a bit of a tailwind. The weather had cooled to the point where I was comfortable in just shorts and a light jersey. (I didn't add a layer all night.) And no rain. Moderate rain doesn't slow you down much, but even light rain often comes with wind, which in this case would have been a headwind.

I had another reason to hurry: since I had been among the last starters, I had something like 4,000 riders ahead of me. I was worried about lines at controls, and lines for food. I still had my 90 hours to finish, but there is usually a big bolus of riders very close to the time limit the whole ride, and I didn't think I could stay behind them the whole time, so getting out in front of as many of them as possible early seemed like a reasonable risk to take. In retrospect, I'll never know whether it was a good risk to take.

Finally, I wanted to get to the control to change my bike shorts. Three hours sweating in the sun before we even started had left me wanting a fresh pair of bike shorts much sooner than I expected.

Steve had a minor mechanical and fell back without me noticing. (That's pretty normal. Even with a mirror, you spend much more time worrying about what's in front of you in a paceline than what's in back of you.) The paceline shattered when we came to some hills, so after a while it was just Ray and me. Usually there were a few riders around. We'd come up on groups from the previous wave and pass them. Once in a while a fast paceline would come up beind us, probably from the wave after us. Once or twice, we hopped on the back of one of these for a while.

We rode together for a long time, as the sun set on pretty little towns outside Paris, and then on through the night as the country became hillier. At some point, Ray and I got separated, and I rode on by myself.

I reached our first control of Villaines-la-Juhel at 5:00 AM, exactly 9 hours after I started, for an average pace of 24.5 km/h. Lines at the control were minimal. I got back on the road in about 30 minutes, even with a change of shorts.

This first night fit into a pattern. For the whole ride, I felt strongest during the nights, and weakest in the afternoons. I like riding at night, but this is not a pattern I've observed before. Residual jet lag? Side-effect of an evening start? I don't know.

I reached Fougeres, second control, at about 2:00 in the afternoon. I think it was there I saw Drew Buck for the first time. I'd heard of Drew before: for the last few PBPs, he's ridden an antique bicycle, in period costume. This time, he was on a 111 year-old French bicycle. It was a fixie, of course, with large wheels that made the gearing rather tall for the hills we were in. I'm sure it was rather heavy too. Drew was on a fine bicycle, but he was riding a rather different PBP than I was. I told Drew I'd seen his sister at the train station. She was worried about catching the start, since Drew started with the special bikes, 2.5 hours earlier than I did. (Right: Drew Buck's bike. That's my somewhat more modern ride in the background.)

We rolled into Loudeac to a crowd. I'm pretty sure the whole town was there. Shortly after we arrived, the first riders from the 80-hour start came through. The crowd let out a huge cheer. Pandemonium in the control while the race officials got the leaders in and out of the control as fast as possible. I saw Seattle rider Chris Ragsdale, but things were so chaotic that it wasn't clear what was going on and I didn't get a good look at him.

Loudeac was the earliest place I had considered stopping. When I was ready to go, I didn't feel sleepy, it wasn't dark yet, and the weather looked good, so I decided to press on. I had a nice rain jacket in a drop bag in Loudeac, but it didn't seem necessary. I decided to ride on to Saint Nicolas du Pelem, a non-control stop where I could eat and sleep if I wanted. I started out feeling indifferent, but the rolling hills soon put me in an aggressive mood. That, and a guy in a recumbent warning me to slow down because the country ahead was hilly. I'm sure he was just trying to be helpful, but I'm a Seattle boy: hills made me. See you in Saint Nicolas du Pelem if you get there before I leave. (I never saw him again.)

By now, I was seeing groups of 80-hour riders coming the other way, sometimes in large pacelines, sometimes in small groups. I reached Saint Nicolas du Pelem at dusk, hungry. I quickly ate my second dinner. There were beds available, but Carhaix was only 32 km away, and I wasn't really feeling sleepy, and it looked like a nice night.

Pretty much as soon as Saint Nicolas du Pelem was out of sight, a fierce electrical storm blew up. At first it looked like it would stay off to the south, but soon the lightning strikes were closer and I was spattered with rain. It looked like it could get ugly. Fortunately, the bats were out, and bats always lift my spirits, so I tried not to think about how wet I was probably going to be in a few minutes, and pressed on.

There are now many windmills in Western France, and they have red airplane warning lights at night. This stretch of road is memorable to me as lonely, with giant red-eyed cyclopes quite close, swinging their arms in the gloom, as bats flew silently all around. I passed a bike or two, but past Saint Nicolas du Pelem I remember only one person on that road, a man standing alone in the dark, who called out "7 km to Carhaix" in French. Merci. Merci boucoup, l'homme dans l'ombre.

I got to Carhaix just as it started really raining. In fact, I got very lucky. People even 10 minutes behind me had to pull off the road, sometimes with minimal cover, as a full-on thunderstorm soaked the road and anyone on it, while lightning struck frighteningly close.

In Carhaix, I was told there were now no beds in Brest. Not like I particularly wanted to tackle Roc'h Trevezel, the only part of the ride that really deserves the term "mountain pass," in the dark. Furthermore in a downpour with only my emergency rain vest. Furthermore with no sleep. Furthermore during an electrical storm on a road where people have more than occasionally been killed by lightning. But then, to get to Brest, and either have to ditch nap or turn right around and do it again?

Thus began my only experience with PBP organization that was not wholly positive and resembled the stereotype of French bureaucracy. The process of getting a bed in Carhaix, unlike at every other control, seemed to involve a long debate in French among a half dozen volunteers, consultation of both a computer and a paper spreadsheet, and many calculations and incantations on scraps of paper. I am not in the least exaggerating. There were maybe 8 people in line ahead of me, and it took me 40 minutes to reach the front of the line. At which point, there were no beds available. In fact, it transpired that there were dozens of beds available, but no blankets. Most of us had clothing adequate (if not ideal) for a a cold and wet night out of doors. A blanket was really almost a hindrance. Suddenly, the bed assignment process became as efficient as the Paris Metro at rush hour, and I was pleasantly unconscious on an air mattress, sans couverture.

When I woke up 4 hours later, I ran into Steve DeGroot. Steve had been a little behind me, and had been hammered by the storm. He came to a little town, where a cafe was open all night. He got something to eat and dried out a little. The people there offered him a bed in the back, so he slept for a few hours and started out the next morning, meeting up with me in Carhaix about 5 AM on Tuesday. We rode to Brest together. It started out dark and a little foggy. As we got to the peak of Roc'h Trevezel, it became really foggy, to the point where I wondered whether even my big light was enough. I expected the fog to thin once the sun came up, but if anything it got thicker.

We reached the pass in heavy fog. We saw several people asleep (or at least not moving), wrapped in space blankets near the pass. It looked like a miserable if not dangerous way to spend the night. As we descended, the fog thinned enough that we didn't have to ride the brakes the whole way down.

And that was the big Roc, but we still had 30 km yet to ride to get to Breast, and it was coastline, so hardly flat. And by now we had a headwind. Everybody I talked to said the stage into Brest was the hardest.

Brest is a gritty seaport. Refineries and oil and gas tankers seem to be important businesses. Much of the town comprises remarkably tedious buildings in doubtful repair. Still, there is a nice castle, and they're putting a streetcar through town. Plus, I always take a perverse pleasure in filthy industrial districts, so I didn't mind riding through one on the way in to the control.

I saw Drew Buck again at Brest. I think he must have done less sleeping than me. I had made up 2.5 hours on him in the first 400 km, but thereafter our times were similar. Plus, I was always catching up to him after sleeping. Sleep or no, he looked awfully chipper for a guy who had just finished a hilly stage in his single tall gear.

Steve and I ran into Steve Davis. The three of us decided to ride together back to Carhaix and see how it went. We had a pleasant conversation on many things, as I recall.

The ride back to Carhaix was less dire. The route was less steep that way. Also, our headwind was now a tailwind and at the pass it was really blowing. The people coming up the other way looked uniformly miserable. (Except one cheerful fellow, go figure.) Given the time, they were going to have to kick it up to make Brest before the control closed, and now they had to kick it up into the teeth of an awful lot of breeze they probably weren't expecting.

Well, we moved along well enough. From here to almost the end, we were on roads we'd already seen. We were on the way back, a cheerful thought.

Somehow, Steve Davis got ahead, while Steve DeGroot and I thought he was behind. We were worried about him, so we waited about 10 minutes at the bottom of a hill. When no approaching riders reported a crash or mechanical, we decided he must have slipped past us. Back in Carhaix, we saw him, and the mystery was solved.

We had a nice ride back through the hills from Carhaix to Loudeac, getting a look at the country in daylight. I expected the control at Loudeac to be quiet, since the fancy riders were long gone, but was surprised to see the whole town still at the control, still buzzing with excitement. I think I even saw familiar faces. Just like everywhere else, they cheered us wildly, despite us being just another bunch of guys on bikes.

I do not think I will ever get over the enthusiasm of the PBP crowds. Particularly as an American, when people in cars or on the street take any notice of you at all, it's almost always somewhere on the confusion-hostility spectrum. At PBP, cars trapped behind us honked as they passed, and the passengers waved through opened windows and yelled "Bon route!" to us. At PBP, I went from a lynchpin of social confict to a default cultural hero and defender of a grand tradition. Being relentlessly cheered and admired while you ride like mad for what seems like a month does odd things to one's worldview. I can see why people keep coming back to PBP.

By Loudeac, Steve and I had been riding 48 hours on no more than 4 hours of sleep. Naturally, we decided to press on. Tinteniac was 85 km away. That seemed a bit much, but there were beds in Quedillac only 60 km km away, which seemed manageable. We left Loudeac around dark.

Out of Loudeac, we rode with a guy from Japan. He didn't have much English, but seemed to be having a good ride. He eventually fell back on a hill.

It was about this time that my left leg started acting up. I'd noticed a little stiffness, but hadn't thought much of it. Little aches and pains come and go on rides like this. But on the way to Quedillac, it became clear that I was facing a more serious problem. I clearly had an inflamed tendon that was limiting the range of motion of my ankle. If it got much worse, then pedaling would become very complicated.

We made Quedillac, and agreed to stop for 4 hours. I took as much naproxen as I thought I could without it coming back up and keeping me awake. I fell asleep quickly to empty thoughts. The volunteer's touch woke me quickly, and I felt refreshed. My ankle, unfortunately, wasn't much different. More naproxen and we hit the road. At first I was awfully stiff, but felt much better as we got underway. Soon, we were in Tinteniac. I visited the medical tent there. They gave me ice, which probably did nothing, and told me that there was a real doctor in Fougeres, a mere 55 km down the road, who had access to anti-inflammatory cream. That lifted my spirits considerably. (Right: bike at Quedillac. Nice honeymooon. Drew Buck's bike was also here, as I recall.)

All I remember about the 3 hours to Fougeres was concluding that the odds were against me being able to finish. My ankle was generally swollen now, and if trends continued, my options became quite limited. I could pedal one-legged for perhaps 20 km. If it was the last 20 km and I had time, then that would be OK, but I had over 300 km (as long as STP, but much steeper) left to ride. That was too far for me to ride on one leg. If things got even a little worse, then it was over, 60 hours of reasonably good riding and four years of dreams notwithstanding.

At Fougeres, I could barely walk. I hobbled over to the medical tent. The volunteer EMT referred me to the doctor, who conferred with a more senior doctor. (The senior MD looked like 90% of French doctors I've ever met. They must take a class in how to dress and groom so to be immediately identifiable as a French MD.) The senior doctor manipulated my ankle, apparently to be sure it wasn't broken, and said something in French. The other doctor applied anti-inflammatory cream, then she said "well, good luck finishing." Great. Thanks. I'll see about that.

The anti-inflammatory cream seemed to help, so I felt a bit better from Fougeres to Villanes-la-Juhel. I went to the medical tent, but they did not have a doctor, and so could not prescribe anti-inflammatory cream. I fell asleep on the grass for 10 minutes waiting for Steve, then we got some food in a school gymnasium. The building was nothing fancy. Corrugated steel roof and walls. I imagine it is bitterly cold and drafty in winter. Villanes has a lovely castle, but not much money these days, I reckon. I looked at kid's art stuck on the walls, some of it quite good. I wondered what kind of life it was living in an ancient hilltop town in "deep France." Anyway, the crowd was crazy. Like everywhere, the whole town was there, watching us adjust our bikes in the control like fans at a formula one paddock. Nonstop commentary over a loudspeaker. It was literally unreal. (Right: "paddock" at Villanes. This picture doesn't really capture the scale and enthusiasm of the crowds.)

Not getting anti-inflammatory cream in Villanes did not improve my attitude, to say the least, but the country was familiar and pretty, and it was evening, so as usual my mood soon improved. As it got darker, I felt stronger. I'm probably lucky Steve advised not pushing the pace too much, as I surely felt stronger than I really was.

Villanes was the first control on the way out, but on the way back there were 3 more between Villanes and the finish: a secret control, Mortagne-au-Perche, and Dreux. We hit the secret control at 11 pm. Free beer! Tempting, but we passed. We got to Mortagne at about 11:30. A short, fierce climb up to the control. Probably not as steep as it seemed, a sign that we were weaker than we realized.

I went to the medical tent. Again, no doctor, so no anti-inflammatory cream. This is the point where people start getting Shermer's neck, and that seemed to be the stock-in-trade of this facility. I gather they go through a fair number of neck braces here. I ran into one guy with Shermer's neck, but that was not the extent of his problems, he was convinced that someone had sabotaged his bike, and very agitated. He had surrendered his brevet card, which means he had abandoned, and was trying to get his brevet card back so he could continue. I tried to convince him that Shermer's neck was a matter of physics, not of will, but it was like two feverish four-year-olds trying to have a conversation. You say some words, and get different words back. I suggested massage of the front of his neck (sternocleidomastoid and scalenes muscles). He asked what else he could do, and I mentioned that, when all else fails, some people prop up their head with a water bottle attached to their stem.

At Villanes, I concluded that if I was finishing PBP, I was committing to between a few weeks and a few months for my leg to really recover. I decided it was worth it, as long as the situation didn't deteriorate too much. By now, I was used to the idea that a hobble was the best walk I could manage, and I was one bad dismount from the bike away from a DNF. I posted the picture at right on Facebook, with the message, "Pain is temporary, quitting is permanent." I made the posting as a personal commitment to press on, despite the difficulties. Several conversations with doctors convinced me that I wasn't doing permanent damage. Pain was information, nothing more. I would continue until I was unable, simple as that.

At Mortagne, Steve convinced me that 2 hours off my feet would do me good, and he didn't mind some sleep either, as he hadn't had three hours in a row unconscious since the morning before we started. No point resting my leg awake, so I rented a cot, promptly fell asleep, and awoke quickly at around 2:00 AM Wednesday.

While I slept, my ankle had become quite stiff. I couldn't even hobble properly. I got something to eat, and ran into some friends of the guy with Shermer's neck. He had succeeded in retrieving his brevet card, and had gone back out on the course. The whole situation seemed foreboding at best. [Postscript: I got email from this guy indirectly after I got back to Seattle. He did go back on the course. His Shermer's Neck did recur after a few hours, but he propped his head up with a water bottle and was able to finish.]

Stopping had been a disaster, it seemed, since I was just getting worse as time went on. But the air was cold, which was good, since I like the cold.

But my ankle seemed unworkable. I prepared as best I could and got back on the bike, Steven and I headed down a long descent into the night. So far so good, but you don't pedal steep descents.

The one rule for me on this PBP is that everything goes better at night. So for whatever reason, I loved that descent. I loved the old stone walls and the trees. When it came time to pedal, I discovered things were much better than I had realized. I had stiffened up as I slept, but apparently healed some as well. As the night wore on, I felt stronger and stronger. We rode through what seemed like a very remote forest, and some old, quiet towns, finally too late at night after too many days for many people to be out. Except, two boys in the dead of night handing out sugar cubes. And a child who I think snuck downstairs to watch the riders from a window. When I waved, the child waved back wildly. By the last 30 km to Dreux, I felt a fire in the furnace. I got down in the drops, and started pulling pacelines at 25-30 km.

We ran across Drew Buck one last time. I asked how he was feeling, and he said "up against it." He asked how far to Dreux. When I told him 24 km, he didn't seem pleased. (Drew ended up digging deep and finishing with less than half an hour to spare.)

It started getting light as we approached Dreux, our fourth sunrise since we started. At this point, I was beginning to believe I was going to make it. With 10 hours of sleep total, I felt focused and alert. We had 8 hours left to do less than 4 hours of riding. My ankle wasn't getting better, but it didn't seem to be getting worse, either.

Dreux is an old Roman town, with some quite old bits, and some newer development that appears nicely done. It's a small town like those we went through to the West, but there is obviously more money here. The control was a sports center. At Dreux, we met up again with Steve Davis. Mark Thomas, our RBA, was there, as was Andy Speier (who didn't sleep a wink during the whole ride), Joe Platzner, and Corey Thompson, all Seattle boys. We decided to ride to the finish together. (Right: Dreux control.)

We started out on the road. I quickly pulled over to call Aki and tell her my estimated finish time. In my haste and confusion, I called my Paris landlady by mistake, but she seemed not at all distressed, and promised to call Aki and tell her.

The last 65 km is comparatively flat, through pretty forest and a few small towns. It was mid-morning. The sun was out. Conditions were beautiful. My ankle was flexible enough that I could stand on the pedals for the few hills, which were short and mostly in the shade. There were even a few fun downhills to carve through. We passed old (Roman?) roads with straight lines of trees, fields, and forests. And still, of course, groups of people on the side of the road, clapping and cheering like mad.

The suburbs right around St ­Quentin en­ Yvelines are not the prettiest, but there are some nice parks, and besides everything was wrapped in morning sunshine and soon to be done. We finished as a group in 87 hours, 31 minutes, almost 2.5 hours to spare. Not as fast as I'd expected, but a finish is a finish, and under the circumstances, I was very happy. (Right: finishing as a group with friends from Team Seattle. You can see my bike headlight.)

I'd wondered how I'd feel at the end, either overwhelmed with emotion or calm with exaustion? I ended up somewhere in-betweeen, pleased by the good fortune of finishing with friends.

Aki and Sven saw me finish. I didn't know for sure if they'd be there, and there was a big noisy crowd, so I didn't pick them out. But they found me in the control and helped me get everything sorted.

Then I got a glass of wine from the finishers tent. I missed the closing celebration, because it was logistically too much, given my ankle, so I missed the jersey trade and still have my Seattle one. Oh well, I didn't go to Paris to trade jerseys, I went to see if I had an ancien in me. Turns out I did. So there's that.


Follow me at Paris-Brest-Paris

Some of you have asked how to follow me live during Paris-Brest-Paris.

The short answer is, you can follow me on the PBP web site, on this blog, or on Facebook. There is also a live webcam of the start.

If you want to see the route, a rough map of the course can be found here. Scroll down the page for links to detailed maps of each stage, with elevations and so on.

The event starts for me at around 18:00 French time on 21 August. That's 9:00 AM on Sunday, August 21 in Seattle. I will finish between 70 and 90 hours later, probably sometime on Thursday, Seattle time.

I will have a chip on my shoe. Every time I pass a control, my time at that control will be recorded, and you can view the results online here. You will be asked for my frame number, which is 4470

Update: you can follow all of the Seattle riders here.

The first control is the start. They start us in waves of 500 beginning at 18:00 (French time) and lasting for about 2.5 hours. You have 90 hours to finish, based on the time your wave started. I'm not sure how this will be reported on the web site. If they give you my elapsed time, it's simple. If they just give you the time at each control, you have to look at my actual start time and do a little math.

About 9 hours after I start, I should roll into the next control at Villaines-la-Juhel. After that, I should clear a control roughly every 4 to 5 hours until I stop for sleep. Unless there are problems, I'll sleep somewhere between Loudéac and Brest, most likely either Carhaix or Brest. I'll try to blog and put something on Facebook when I stop to sleep, but I may not be able to, so absence of an update just means I'm sleeping and wasn't able to conveniently provide an update.

Wherever I sleep, I should be leaving Brest and on my way back somewhere between the 37 and 47 hour marks. This should be late Monday or early Tuesday, Seattle time.

From Brest back to Paris, my plans are less definite, and depend on how I feel. I plan to stop once or maybe twice on the way back to rest, most likely at Loudéac and/or Villanes-la-Juhel. So once I reach either of these places on the way back, it could easily take me 7 or 8 hours to reach the next control.

There are two more controls on the way back: Mortagne au Perche and Dreux. Mortagne au Perche is only 140 km from the finish, so if I get there with 7 or more hours left, it's looking pretty good. Dreux is a mere 65 km from the finish. If I have 3 hours left at that point, I should be able to do it, assuming I'm not completely spent.

There is a live webcam of the start. Select the "Web TV" menu and then the option "Live." There may also be other live coverage at this address.

Since this is France, there is an official pastry for Paris-Brest-Paris, called the Paris Brest, first made in 1891. Here is a recipe. To the right is a picture of the pastry, which my colleague Natalie brought to work, in celebration of my impending ride.



Yesterday, I put the 10,000th mile on the fast bike. This is the bike Aki gave me for my birthday when it was clear I wasn't going to make it to Cuba any time soon. When I got it, I said I'd put 10,000 miles on it.

It's a Trek Madone 5.2. It's a bit like the hatchet that's been in the family for generations, although it's had 3 new handles and a new head. The seat and seatpost were replaced almost right away. The stem and handlebars got swapped out last year for shorter and narrower. Two of the 3 chainrings are new, and I've worn out a bottom bracket and a few cassettes and chains. The wheels are brand new. I finally gave up on the tweaky bladed-spoke racer-boy wheels and built some wheels that are strong and stiff enough not to need truing every 500 miles. They're slightly heavier, but by surprisingly little.

But it's the same frame, mostly the same geometry, and the same basic bike. I've spent a lot of happy miles on this bike, and it's done for me what I've needed. It's been comfortable, reliable, fast, and nimble. It's a good bike.

Now I want at least 760 more miles out of the ol' girl. How many more after that, I do not reckon. Maybe a lot.



RSVP (Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party) is the last big ride before PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris). I'm supposed to be tapering. Did I? Average heart rate is a reasonably good way to look at it. Here are average heart rates for recent events:

6/11 Flying Wheels: 130
7/28 RAMROD: 131
8/5 RSVP Day 1: 122
8/6 RSVP Day 2: 111

I was supposed to be tapering already by RAMROD. The evidence is that I didn't, although it's really hard to keep your average heart rate down on a hilly course. But on RSVP, I tapered better, particularly on the second day. I still find going easy a lot harder than just going for it.


Block party

Today is Block Party day in Seattle. We had a block party. The guys around the corner had a block party with a fire pit and a band. Down the street by Tony's house, they had a block party with a car show (right).
Heather and Team Dey skirted two other block parties to come to ours. We feel so validated!



With PBP coming up, I said I wasn't going to push it. This is the hardest RAMROD I've done. Sure, the flat tire was a bummer, but the hard part was not pushing it, letting pacelines get away that I knew I could hang on to. (Or at least was prepared to find out if I could hang onto.)

In the end 10:38, finishing almost exactly 100th out of a field of about 800. That's what I said I wanted to do, and that's what I did. So good, right? Right?


Handling debris

I don't blog every nail and screw I pick up in the roadway. I did that for a little while, but it got to be too much.

Now the only road debris I blog is the weird stuff, such as today's catch: a door handle. Specifically, a late 70's/early 80's GMC van interior door handle. (You can google anything now.)

OK fine, I guess the door handle comes loose, and falls out when you open the door to get into your Luv Van. But wouldn't you notice it was missing when you tried to close the door after you got in?


Faster up the south side of Queen Anne

6:48. 12 seconds faster. That may not sound like a lot, but it's hard coming up with each second.

I was feeling a little worked on Sunday, so I took two rest days instead of one. Maybe that's part of it.

32 Days to Paris-Brest-Paris, which means about another week of me obsessing about interval training, and then you won't have to read about it.


Different Intervals

I'm trying to get 2-3 sets of intervals in per week, which means I need to do them mid-week. I could get up really early and do them before work. I could do that. But easier to go out on my lunch break. In this case, my "lunch break" was mid-afternoon, but never mind. After a bit of exploring, I settled on this route up the south side of Queen Anne Hill, which ends not far from my weekend route up the north side of the same hill.

I start at 3rd and Roy, go north a block on 3rd to Valley, then west to Queen Anne Ave. Up Queen Anne Ave. to Prospect St., then spiral up to the top, ending at the water tower.

It's not ideal, because about a third of the route is over 10% grade, which is steeper than I'd like. Also, there's a little bit of downhill where I can't sustain effort. But it's better than anything else I can find right around work, and it's a bit over 100m of climbing in 7 minutes, which is about right.


More Intervals

Compared to June 25, my best time was 12 sec better at 6:25. Max heart rate slightly lower. Recovery startlingly faster, by about a minute. Cadence faster and more consistent.

Intervals are the main training from now until I start to taper at the end of the month. They're simple: ride as hard as possible starting at the bottom of the hill, until there is no hill left. Done right, one has the vague sense of being turned inside-out. Hard work, but over quickly. As the time scale shows, I was done in 35 minutes. Figure 15 minutes to warm up and get out to the hill and another 15 cooling down and getting home, and it's all done in a little over an hour. Tomorrow will be a recovery day, so it works out to less than 4 hours per week. Four hours of hard work are more useful than a month of Sundays riding longer distances at less intensity.


Sven's First Installation Piece

Sven and Aki went to Golden Gardens with TNT (Team Neil-Toomey) and Sven of course came back with beach-laden pockets. He wanted to show me his treasures. "I bet these are worth five dollars," he said.
"Why? Are you trying to sell your treasures to me?"
"No. Well, at least one dollar."
I said the treasures might be worth more if we made something out of them. So we decided to make art. The first thing we came up with was this dried rose hip (?) on a thin piece of wood, above.

Then Sven took over art direction:

Fair enough. But after I left, Sven did some more, as I discovered later. This is his final effort at right. An artistic statement? Or a way of keeping his treasures from being readily scattered?

For me of course, the real treasure was a magic summer hour with Sven.


Speed Work

Queen Anne wind sprints: 6 minutes 37 seconds up 3rd Ave W from a certain telephone pole near Cremona to Howe, right on Howe and a half block west to the highest point on Howe.

I did it thrice. First good, second better, third not good, so done at 3. The graphs are for the second time.

Last bike workout until I leave for DC.


Driven to Run

Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.

Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Two books I borrowed from Aki.

Drive is about what motivates people, but even more, it's about what demotivates people. The best way to demomotivate? Take something a person does for the joy of it, and pay them to do it. Getting paid a salary isn't inherently demotivating, but things like giving people a bonus for reaching a sales target or giving a kid a candy bar for completing a homework assignment are inherently demotivating.

Author Pink emphasizes that the basis of his argument is not philosophical, but scientific: over and over, the data show that most of what organizations do to motivate people has the opposite effect, and that most bonus and compensation schemes are destructively counterproductive. People give less blood when you pay them for it. Test scores fall when you reward good scores. Sales force performance falls in the face of quarterly targets. Over and over and over. Ouch.

Pink concedes that some jobs just aren't very much fun, and are going to be done by people who don't enjoy them very much, but even here, he suggests that such jobs can be less dreary than typical if attention is paid to what people find satisfaction in.

What's the connection to a book on ultramarathon running and minimalist footwear? Born to Run is about these things, but also why people run ultramarathon distances. McDougall makes an interesting point on motivation: when American marathon sponsorship enabled runners to make a living running marathons, the effect on performance was rapid and dramatic: while world marathon times got significantly better, marathon times by Americans actually got worse. McDougall argues that turning marathon running into a job caused the performance drop. Pink would approve.

McDougall's book is about what supports running, both biomechanically and psychologically. He describes people for whom running is an escape, a salvation, a way of life, or all of these. Mostly, running happened to people who saw themselves as more than only a runner: nurse, farmer, surf bum, writer, and so on.

I have a little experience in amateur endurance sports. The rewards are the satisfaction of doing the thing, and maybe a bit of ribbon. Getting paid to do it would be very strange, perhaps like getting paid to smile, or getting paid to pray.

These books describe a world that is different than many people think they live in, and maybe a world different than many people want to live in. It is perhaps comforting to believe that motivating people is just pushing the right buttons. The evidence is that the human psyche is much slipperier than that. But isn't it more noble to be motivated best by a desire to do a thing well, just for its own sake?


Tahuya Hills 600

30 hours 57 minutes. Three minutes faster than my goal, as it happens.

This ride goes nigh well all over northwestern Washington. From Seattle pretty far into Mt. Rainier park, west through Centralia onto the Olympic Peninsula, around Hood Canal to Port Gamble, and finally into Winslow on Bainbridge Island. Whew!

Would I do it again? Yes, I'd do it all again just to ride through the twilight along Hood Canal, as if I and the small group I was riding with were the only people on earth.

As with any ride like this, so many cool things happened. I loaned out tools to people who needed them and got them back. People loaned me things I needed and they got them back. We saw the fans waiting for the U2 concert at 6am. The guy in Seabeck who called us "Marine Tough" without asking us where we were going, because he'd seen our tribe before. Hammering the last 7km to finish in just under 31 hours because we were pretty sure we could so we should try, but only if all seven of us could do it together. And most of all, truly wonderful volunteers, who cared for us as if we were the most important people on earth to them.

Yeah, it was pretty long, but this ride is half as long as PBP. Half. Every time I double the distance, I go about 1.5 kph slower, which suggests a PBP time of about 67 hours. Sweet!

Except, that would mean not sleeping for 67 hours. I don't think I'm going to do that. I think I'm going to get some sleep along the way, probably twice. And I'm not sure the 1.5 kph math holds up anyway. But this 600 was a big confidence booster for PBP. I finished about as fast or faster than a lot of people who are planning to finish PBP and have good reason to believe they can do it.


Today's workout: not much for scenery.

Riding around in circles in a parking lot. Not much scenery, and what there is, you get to see a lot of.

I think I would have trouble doing this every week, but this week it worked out pretty well. I feel like the engine I need is half-built. From a cardiovascular standpoint, I have what I need, which is good, because cardio capacity doesn't change all that fast, so in the 92 days from now to PBP, my cardio will improve, but not drastically. The two areas I'd like to be stronger are in getting the metabolic furnace able to throw more calories out, and to have greater leg power so I can produce higher power for longer without fatique.

Metabolism comes from doing long rides. I have the miles laid out between now and PBP, so the thing I want to work on now is power. Since going faster requires more power, you can work on power with "speed" work. (And I want the power not to increase my maximum speed, but the speed I can sustain for days on end.)

So, warm up and then go as fast as possible for about 20 minutes, say for 2 reps. This is too long to get through it with an anaerobic sprint.

The other complicating factor is that the replacement for my broken middle chainring won't come in until Thursday, so I needed a pretty flat course that would allow me to stay in the big ring.

So, ride out to Husky statium, and do loops around the parking lot. Good enough.

Yep, a pretty flat loop.


The mother of all road debris

OK, not as impressive as the truck that dumped an entire rack of window glass in the street in front of my building, but I didn't pick up any of that --the city and the glass company handled it.

This is pretty impressive compared to the normal bits of metal I remove from the streets. Two nine foot aluminum brackets. They had been in the street probably only a few minutes when I came by, but passing cars were already beating them to bits. By the sound of it, some of those drivers will later find out that they damaged their tires. Eventually, cars would probably have smashed them into something like aluminum ninja stars. Nice. It's actually a felony to not secure your load properly in Washington. The meatheads who let these fall off of their truck are why such laws are necessary.


Baker Lake 400: a little damp

A pretty day riding from Redmond out to Baker Lake on the flanks of Mount Baker, then back to Granite Falls. This isn't the prettiest scene, that would be up in the mountains. But this was a convenient place to stop.

However, while the day ended in Granite Falls, the ride didn't. We still had to get back to Redmond. It started raining. Then raining harder. Then harder still. All together, over an inch of rain between about 8pm and 2am. Total time: 19h 57m. My goal was 20 hours, so I guess that's good.

Oh, and I broke the middle chain ring a few hours into the ride. I could shift through it from the big ring to the little ring, but it took about twice as long as blowing a shift would normally, so impossible in a pace line. Consequently, I spent a lot of time in the big cog and the big ring, not wanting to lose momentum while I shifted up a few cogs, then dropped the chain from the big ring to the middle, then without applying much force shifted from the middle to the small ring. Then shifted up a few more cogs. Then once the hill flattened out a bit, the same thing in reverse. To avoid all that, I ended up standing on the pedals a good deal.

Oh, and I hit a dog in the rain. A big dog. Ran right out in front of us. I hit it behind the shoulder so it might have a cracked rib but at least not a broken shoulder, and the dog ran off, so I think the dog's OK. I was surprised I didn't go down, but I hit the dog dead on and I'd managed to slow down some already, so it all worked out.


Weight Trailing

Lead automobile wheel weight. Removed from Nickerson Street.

Fishermen aren't supposed to fish with lead weights any more. Consumer electronics are increasingly lead-free. Bad for the environment, children's brains, and so on. Not hard to understand.

So why is it still legal to haphazardly smash a blob of lead to the rim of a poorly-made car tire, in the full knowledge that it is likely to come flying off at some point, be pulverized by passing cars, and end up in stormwater, as dust in children's lungs, and so on?

What is the great social benefit from putting these weights on car wheels? AFAIK, basically nothing happens to the car when these weights fall off, and wheels that are slightly above completely crappy can't even have these weights put on them. Why do we tolerate this nonsense?


Must Be Spring

A shiny new spring, removed from Western Ave at Warren. Sven thinks it's part of a bicycle suspension. Maybe.


Cytokine Storm

One consequence of the Rainiest Seattle Spring Ever is that all of the trees pollinated at once, namely Tuesday.

When a doctor describes your current health with the term "Cytokine Storm," you know it's a bad year for allergies.

Tree sex season can't end too soon. Really, get a room y'all.


Debris Field Report

On January 3, I reported spikes in the road at 26th Ave and E. Galer to SDOT. As of this morning, they're still there.

The city puts these spikes into the road to hold down air hoses for traffic studies. They're supposed to pound them down after the traffic study is over. They don't always do that, and based on the number of these I see around town, I think they may not pound them down most of the time. Even when I point them out to SDOT, the crews seem to have trouble finding them. Are they really that hard to see? I don't have any trouble spotting them, and my eyes certainly aren't what they used to be. Maybe SDOT should use nails that are easier to spot, or else keep better track of where they put them. When the crew is pulling up the air hoses, it really should be pretty easy to figure out how many nails they have to pound down.

Look how shiny the heads of these spikes are. Plenty of people have been running over them. This is a designated, signed bike route, and the spikes are about 3' from the curb, where most bikers ride on this street.



First the bike with one speed. Now running without shoes. There is satisfaction in dispensing with an essential, and finding you don't miss it.


Wind Sprints

After the climb up Golden Gardens Drive starts getting easier, it's time to move on to the climb up Queen Anne Hill. Starting at the intersection of 3rd Ave W and W Bertona St., head south up 3rd to Howe. Turn right on Howe, stopping at the high point where the alley crosses Howe. Then catch your breath and do it again. Very slightly over 1 mile, with about 390' of climb. This builds power, and covers performance over a size of climbing pitch one often finds, as well as the length of time one typically spends at the front of a paceline.

The grade is around 7%, and doesn't vary much, except where it flattens out at the end.

I ride as hard as I can, for between 2 and 4 reps. Two is all you really need, so that's all I ever commit to when I start, so I don't hold anything back. If I feel great after 2 I might do one or two more, but I doubt there's much benefit from more than 4 reps.

Two years ago, I started out doing it in 8 minutes in the spring, working down under 7 minutes by late summer. This year, I'm starting out at 6:47. So I'm off to an early start, because I have to be. PBP is only 125 days away. I need to start shifting away from strength and power towards endurance training, but the rando riders finishing ahead of me are stronger than me in the hills. I think I have the materials to accomplish PBP, but there's no point taking any chances.


Another way of looking at seasonal weight

The vertical axis is weight in kg. Horizontal axis is days since New Year. Each line represents weight as measured for one year, beginning January 1 of that year.

The data are incomplete, so the apparent weight gain starting in July is mostly an artifact of not having much late summer data.

This shows that in many years, I put on around 5 kg (~10 lb) over the holidays, then work it off in the spring. In 2010, I started working that weight off unusually late, in April, and I paid for it. This year, I had more physical activity earlier in the year than usual, and I made an effort to watch what I ate. The results show above. My scale's crude estimate of BFI is 13%.


More road debris.

Some sort of metal plates in the bike lane on Nickerson. Not super sharp, but probably sharp enough to get through a sidewall if you hit it right.


A Prayer to Hypoxia

In mountain and slope I seek you
To feel you pervade my body
To make you an offering
Of everything I have

Take the breath from my lips
Take the salt from my pores
Take the fire from my hearth
Take the fuel from my stores

Take all I bring you
They are yours already
I never owned them
I gathered them for you

I will meditate
Each journeyed moment
I will turn the crank
Spin my spoked prayer wheel


Race weight

If your bike weighs less than 10 kg, you probably can't spend your way to a bike that is enough lighter to make much difference. Aerodynamic drag is usually a bigger factor than the mass you are moving anyway. But on a hilly course, weight can make the difference between staying with the pack or getting dropped. Sure, it's not the peloton of Le Tour, but getting dropped still means you'll have to either catch up or find somebody else to paceline with on the next flat bit.

So weight matters. If you can't take it out of the vehicle, then it has to come out of the engine. So far, since the new year, I've dropped my weight by about half my bike weight while adding strength. That was my goal. I have a lot of hills to climb this year.


SIR 200K

SIR 200K in 8h 54min. That's about 1h 45min behind Jan Heine, the fastest finisher, and in the top 20%. I like to finish in the top 10% of ultra-endurance events, but I woke up at 1:00AM feeling kind of nasty, so I'm not dissatisfied.


Become What You Are

"Become What You Are" I learned these words from listening to Juliana Hatfield, not from reading Nietzsche. I think critically about how I ride a bike, because that's the only way to improve. I gather Nietzsche deemed critical thought unhelpful. Well screw him.

Regardless, at 46, I'm a little young to grow out my beard grey and ride a steel horse with a bed roll and a frying pan.

But I've become a randonneur. Somehow this has happened. That's not the only kind of biker I am, but I am this thing now.

I have no idea what Nietzsche meant, but I think I understand what Hatfield was on to.


I rebuild the fast bike

I'm in the middle of my first major surgery on the fast bike.

In the past, I've put on new wheels, replaced the front fork when it got trashed, and put on aero bars. But none of those things really touched the purpose of the bike. Now, I'm taking a Trek Madone, the bike most associated with Lance, and building it up for the least likely thing that it's plausibly suitable for: randonneuring.

That's right: a plastic rando bike. Randonneurs ride steel. (Except the few who spend for titanium.) Randonneurs are required to have fenders, and my Madone doesn't even have the braze-ons to mount conventional fenders. Randonneurs need to carry supplies and spare clothing, sometimes lots of it, and there is basically no way to put a luggage rack on this bike.

So bad idea? Maybe. But I know this bike well. I like the way it fits, and it likes me back. It's been a good ride for 8,000 miles, and I frankly don't think I have time between now and August to build up a new bike from scratch and get it dialed in the way I'd need it. Sure, I rode 100 miles on this bike the morning after I bought it, with a "fit" that was literally by eyeball. But 100 miles isn't very far by rando standards. When you are going to be on a bike all day and all night, you need to be comfortable, and you need to ride and react with the bike as one unit. I'm just not ready to start another relationship like that.

What I've done so far:
- 42cm (2cm narrower) bars (should have done that a long time ago)
- 2cm shorter stem
- aero bars off since the French don't allow them
- Luggage (!) fore and aft
- 26mm tires run at a mere 80psi, replacing 23mm tires at 120psi
- rear fender
- an LED headlight close to what a motorcycle has.
It's a little like an F1 car with a ski rack.

I haven't taped the new bars yet, still tweaking the brake lever position. I need to redo the rear fender and add a front one. I need to redo how the lights are mounted. It's the same bike now, but also very different.


Chilly Hilly

Did the course only once. Chuck Ayers gave me a sharp look when I told him I did it twice last year. Maybe that factored into my thinking. But a bigger factor was that this year, I did CH on a single speed. With 34/16 gearing into 700C x 32, it's a bit stiff up the hills. After 33 miles of that, I was --What's the word? Tired.

Oh, and it was cold this year. Didn't get rained on like later riders, but did get hail and a little snow. A little windy too, as in fight-to-keep-your-bike-up windy.

A nice day, all around.


An embarrassment of debris riches

What are these things? They look like springs. They're steel (magnetic), their ends are sharp, and they were strewn in the bike path on Dexter. I picked up all I could find, but I'm sure I missed some.

I'm pretty sure they're the remains of tire chains. People in Seattle get only sporadic practice in snow and ice, but sometimes it's very slippery and Seattle is a hilly town. So people put on tire chains, but because they don't get practice, they buy lousy tire chains and put them on wrong. The result? Shredded tire chains make a wreck of the paint on a quarter panel, before spilling their guts on the roadway. Since the City takes a mild interest at best in street cleaning, late winter Seattle streets are a debris field of tire chain guts. Cars run over them until they end up where? In the bike lane.

So I and every Seattle biker gets to dodge bits of what look like purpose-built malice because why? Two reasons:
- Lousy tire chains that ought not be legal to sell.
- A city that cleans the streets approximately never, despite the fact that it would make the city money to clean.



More debris, fielded

More debris. In this case, a nasty piece of galvanized flashing or some such. Lots of sharp edges. I rode around it in the bike path for two days, so on the third day, I stopped and picked it up.


Debris Field

In winter, Seattle roads are a debris field. The cause is a combination of winter conditions, stupidity, and the City's antipathy towards street cleaning.

As usual, I try to single-handedly make things better, with mixed results.

So I have a personal rule: the third time I see the same piece of hazardous shite in the roadway, I have to stop and pick it up. (Unless it's a broken bottle, in which case I sweep it out of the path of bikes and pedestrians, and hope for the best. I'm just not willing to pack beer-soaked glass in to work.)

Today's find: some weird metal bracket that seems purpose-built to cause flat tires and pedestrian injury. Nasty