Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When Difficult Becomes Ridonculous

Memorial Day weekend, Audax Atlanta held the second Long Hammer 600K in the mountains of North Georgia. They had a 66.6% DNF rate. Three riders started. One finished.

Sounds kind of like Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. "Two go in ... one comes out." It also reminds me of the 1971 hit "Timothy" by Rupert Holmes, except in that song three guys go into the mine and only two come out ... and they've put on weight.

Now, I've never ridden it, but from what I've heard the Long Hammer 600K is not a death cage battle, which are usually quick and relatively merciful. And I imagine that it would be hard to eat an entire human being on any brevet shorter than a 1200K.

No, the Long Hammer 600K is the perfect example of taking the Incredibly Difficult and adding sufficient pain to it so that it becomes Horribly Ridonculous.

The weekend before, while we were doing the 600K in Kentucky, Jeff Bauer and I were talking about the Long Hammer. Jeff had done it the year before, and said it was pretty difficult. "It's like riding Six Gaps, and then riding a rolling 175 miles, and then riding Six Gaps again," he said.

If Jeff Bauer says that something is tough, you'd better believe it. This is a guy who was half of a two-man RAAM team in 2008, racing over 3,000 miles in just over eight days on a fixed-gear bicycle.

And Jeff said that they were very lucky with the weather the year he did the Long Hammer, in that it was overcast and relatively cool for May. He had such an easy time of it that he did the Tennessee 600K the weekend after, and then the Kentucky 600K the weekend after that.

Like I said, a pretty tough guy.

The only finisher last weekend for the Long Hammer was Steve Phillips, who did the 600K with us the weekend before in Kentucky. Steve rode pretty much straight through, finishing the ride in 34 hours. And he's crazy strong.

Now, as I see it, Andy Akard -- the Georgia Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) -- has three ways to go regarding this 600K route.

Option 1: Do Nothing

It's possible that Andy now has the perfect 600K. If you can finish this 600K alive, you may be eligible for randonneuring canonization, and your name shall be sung around the campfire for years and years. Maybe next time the temperatures will get really warm, so that somebody has to go to the hospital ... or worse.

In a perverse way, this will probably attract more riders. People don't do Six Gaps or the Assault on Mount Mitchell or Death Ride in California or the Leadville 100 because they are easy. You walk around wearing the t-shirt from any of these and people know that you are serious. Word gets around in the randonneuring community about a 600K with a 66% DNF rate, and next year you have 20 certifiably insane cyclists at the starting line.

Option 2: Make It Easier

I have to admit that this sounds like the better idea. I have finished 600Ks, supported a 600K, and DNF'd on a 600K. Finishing was rewarding ... but I don't think I would call it "fun." Supporting was kind of rewarding and kind of fun, but heart-breaking when you had to go pick a rider up and drive him back to the ride start.

DNF'ing, however, was a total bummer. At least in my case -- and it's probably the same with most riders -- you've ridden 200-250 miles, and at that point you can't help but think that all of that pain and suffering was for nothing! Maybe you can learn from it, so that whatever "mistake" it was that kept you from finishing this time does not happen again. Or maybe you can use the memory of this failure to get stronger, ride faster, sleep less ... whatever it requires to get you over the hump next time.

But at the time, taking a DNF on a 600K can be literally soul-crushing. Many randonneurs never try another one -- I didn't for almost two years. So it would be terrible if everybody started trying to make their 600K the hardest one around.

Option 3: Make It Harder

Sure, you've got 26,000 feet of climbing, with some of it stupid steep on barely paved roads with no shade. Yeah, it's out in the middle of nowhere with long stretches between stores, so you can't get water or food, much less ice, or find a place to hide from an afternoon hailstorm.

But have you thought about how much more fun it would be with rabid dogs? And maybe some machine-gun nests?

Or, you could have folks do Bundrick's Revenge back-to-back-to-back. That would be just under 50,000 feet of climbing, including going up Brasstown Bald three times. Since most of the controls are closed at night, the riders would still have to go long stretches without help.

I'd like to meet the person that could do the Bundrick's Revenge Cubed 600K. But not in a dark alley.


  1. Last year I DNF'd on Andy's 600K. Although I would like to think I could complete it if I had paced myself better and avoided bonking after the initial climbing, I don't think I would have made it to the first control on time if I had used that type of pace. The ride support was commendable. The route & experience will be unforgetable.

    I have also DQ'd on 136 mi "200K" for pacing myself for a 200K distance.

    Given a choice, I'd rather DQ and not push my body into a potentially life threatening "bonk experience of a DNF....and have to scrounge a lift back to the start of a ride.

    I'd also like to believe that both a DQ and a DNF is more of an achievement than never trying. "Cherry picking" to find the least challenging rides is a whole separate topic.

    Having multiple local options for 600K experiences is a luxury for Tennessee riders.

  2. John:

    Excellent points. We in Tennessee are also lucky that it's a short drive to St. Louis for their 600K.

  3. We also started the ride with a 1:1 ratio of support to rider thanks to the Dura resort crew. Steve's time riding straight through is a pretty telling statistic......

  4. Y'all did have excellent support. That's the only thing that can make that kind of 600K survivable.

  5. Probably the hardest thing about doing the ride this year was the mental aspect of riding alone and being the only one out there for the most part. Misery likes company. My actual ride time was fairly close to last year, but I definitely spent more time at controls since I didn't have other people to help push the pace. And I got bored a little, so I would visit more. Quite frankly, I just didn't get in a big hurry this year.

    In addition, I added 20 bonus miles because I had my head up my ass, and that also added time trying to figure out where I was. This year I had an easier time of climbing the steep side of Burnt Mountain because I was probably a little stronger and it rained big time during the climb, so I was cooler than last year. That helped big time.

    Would I ever do it again, maybe? So long as there are other people that I could ride with. On the other hand, if my plan is to do RAAM, then I need to just suck it up and do it.

  6. It's funny that you would mention the song Timothy. When the song came out, I did think the lyrics were rather creepy, but I loved the melody and beat. It was performed by The Buoys. Here's a link to an updated live version of the song:

  7. Yeah, how much harder could RAAM be?