The Frederick 300 is a pretty easy route by DC Randonneurs' standards. Only about 10000 feet of climbing spread over 300 km, with most of it in two climbs in the first half of the route, while riders should still be fresh and before it gets hot. It was a very difficult ride in 2010 with 30 mph headwinds, but with normal weather it's pretty easy.
But 300 km is long enough that even an easy ride can be hard if you do it wrong.
I volunteered to help with registration, so I needed to be at the IHOP in Frederick by 4 a.m., an hour ahead of the 5 a.m. start. My GPS got a bit confused about exactly where the IHOP was, and I accidentally got on I-270 while circling the area looking for it, so I ended up not getting there until 4:20. Luckily we had enough volunteers that my tardiness didn't screw things up too much.
34 riders showed up, a decent turnout for a 300 but a bit disappointing considering the excellent weather forecast. It was pretty chilly at the start, 42 according to the National Weather Service, so I turned up dressed almost for winter (balaclava, tights, heavy jersey, lobster claws), while half the field showed up in shorts. Starting early in the morning makes maximum use of daylight, but it also means we have to endure maximum temperature swings.
We had a pretty fast group at the start as we rode through deserted downtown Frederick. With no car traffic at all, it was safe to swarm the road in a big pack. I rode near the front for a while, then gradually drifted back, and completely let the front group go around 9 miles in, when I started to get warm. It was already starting to get light by then, so I stopped for a second to take off my balaclava and helmet light. I got a bit confused by the cue sheet at the turn onto Hansonville, and waited a minute for another rider to demonstrate which way to go. It was Rudy, and I figured he knew where he was going, so I followed him.
Joel and Sue on the tandem caught us a few minutes later, and we rode together until the first climb through Catoctin Mountain Park. It's not a very steep climb, but it goes on for a long time, with some descents thrown in so you get to do some of it twice. I rode away from the others, but then they all caught me a bit later. When you're getting caught by a tandem uphill, you know your climbing legs aren't there. Actually, my legs felt great early in the ride. It's just that I was carrying 20 extra pounds of winter flab and 5 extra pounds of winter clothes, so my power-to-weight ratio was pretty bad.
The tandem predictably got away on the downhill, as did Rudy, so I rode alone into the first control at mile 31. (Surprisingly, we hadn't had the traditional secret control before then, to make sure that nobody rode around the mountain rather than over it.) I ate a Clif Bar and bought a bottle of Gatorade.
The next few miles were pretty benign, until the short climb up Jack's Mountain Road on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. I got a bit confused at one of the turns and spent a couple of minutes making Really Sure I was going the right way. (I was.) I saw Jose take a wrong turn a few minutes later, and yelled to get him back on course. The blind leading the blind…
I rode with Jose up to the secret control around mile 52, right before the climb up the easy side of Big Flat in Michaux State Forest. George and George, manning the control, had food and drinks, so I grabbed a banana. I also put on sunscreen. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to apply the stick sunscreen everywhere, which would later lead to weird streaks of sunburn on my right arm and leg. (Next time I'll bring proper liquid sunscreen.) After the control, I followed Jose up the beginning of Big Flat. I was feeling fine but really slow on the fairly steep climb — around 4 mph. We turned onto Shippensburg Road for the steeper part of the climb, and I was down around 3 mph. Jose disappeared up the hill. I passed Duncan while he was resting, but then I stopped to pee and he passed me back, and I followed him down the long descent into Shippensburg. Done with the two big hills but not yet halfway through the ride, I was still feeling good, but not happy with my slow climbing.
We stopped at the Sheets in Shippensburg, and I got more Gatorade and some candy bars. (Sheets has decent sandwiches but I wasn't hungry enough for real food.) After the control came a reasonably flat section through cow country. Jose caught me again, and we had an unexpected mile of newly-dumped loose gravel, but took it carefully and didn't have any problems. Mud Level Road gets kind of gross when it's wet, but it was dry so it was dusty instead of muddy. I ended up at the front of a long loose train of riders, and when I missed the right turn onto Burgners Mill at mile 92, about 5 people followed me. I was watching my computer and realized pretty quickly that I was over mileage, so I turned the train around and got everyone going the right way, but I thought it was funny that all these people were trusting me to go the right way rather than watching their own cue sheets.
We rolled into another control at the UniMart in Plainfield, and I got more Gatorade. Joel was having problems with his tandem's front wheel and asked if I had a spoke wrench. I did, and I knew how to use it, so I trued up his front wheel a bit. With a 35-mile gap between controls I forced myself to drink more than I wanted then fill both bottles to the top. Still feeling fine at the halfway point, at least on the flat bits. I was eating and drinking enough, the bike was working fine, and I'd only made one navigation error (plus two brief stops to make sure I wasn't lost). During that long, boring 35-mile slow I started to get tired, and a bit uncomfortable in my contact points, and slowed down a bit. A few riders passed me, but I was still making halfway-respectable speed when I rolled alone into Rocco's Pizza in East Berlin (no, not that one) at mile 128.
I had two pieces of pepperoni pizza, but was in a hurry to leave and somehow forgot to fill my bottles. Joel's wheel was still not right so I spent more time adjusting spoke tension, and then left following Joel and Sue so that I could do more fixes if needed. There was a 7-11 at mile 136, but I didn't realize I was low on fluids and didn't think to stop. And then there wasn't another store until mile 169. Oops.
Running out of water is just about the dumbest thing you can do on a long ride, especially when it's hot. (It was in the low 80s, not super-hot, but hot enough that you want to keep drinking.) I ran out of liquid around mile 150. Sue ran out around mile 155. We ended up stopping at a house near Emmittsburg and begging for water. The nice lady there filled our bottles, but I really should have begged for water much sooner, as I was pretty dry by that point. My speed started to suffer and I could no longer stick to the tandem, even though Joel and Sue weren't going super-fast either. But with my bottles full again I knew I'd make it to Frederick eventually. At our slower pace, we weren't sure if we'd finish before night. Sue didn't have a cue-sheet-reading light, so the plan was to stick together so I could navigate. So I tried to keep up, but I just couldn't go faster than 12-13 mph. I figured if it got dark they'd have to stop until I caught up.
As I pulled onto the main drag in Thurmont I heard Joel yell from the first gas station parking lot. They had stopped to reprovision. I had drunk all my water in an attempt to re-hydrate, knowing I was really close to Thurmont where I could get more, and I bought a whole bunch of Gatorade plus various anti-health food and tried to refuel for the last 20 miles. Barry and Jose caught up while we were at the gas station, and after a break the five of us put on our reflective stuff, turned on our lights, and left together. I tried to stick to the end of the train, but just couldn't. Knowing that Joel and Sue had someone else to follow, I let myself get dropped and just concentrated on drinking as often as possible and not getting lost. I got to the Frederick IHOP at 8:53 p.m., just after full dark, 11 minutes behind the people I left Thurmont with. Some of the same volunteers who'd been there at 4 a.m. were back; that's a long time to spend in an IHOP.
The moral of the story? Don't run out of water. Dehydration is bad. If I'd stopped at the 7-11 at mile 136, I would have been fine. If I'd stopped at a house to beg for water sooner, I would have been fine. If I'd brought the Camelbak, I would have been fine. But I didn't do any of those things, so I finished really slowly. (If we hadn't begged for water at the house in Emmitsburg, I may not have finished at all.)
Things to change before the 400: review the cue sheet carefully to check distances between controls. If more than 30 miles, bring the Camelbak. If the forecast predicts hot weather, bring the Camelbak. Swap out the 24-ounce Polar bottles for the 1-liter Zefal Magnum bottles. Hope it's warm enough at the start that I don't need to carry a bag full of winter clothes.