I am a Randonneur!

I am a Randonneur!

Dr. Tejinder Singh Rawal

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.

— H. G. Wells

A couch potato plans to run: After  I ran my first 10k run at Goa Marathon on 1st March, 2015, I started preparing for 22.1 KMs  Running and Living Mumbai Monsoon Madness Half Marathon which will be held on 28th June. Transition from being a couch potato to a 10K runner was difficult, I somehow survived, and was delighted to get my first sports medal ever.  Transition from 10K runner to a 22.1K runner was even more difficult. It required more serious training, and more focussed efforts. I decided to follow a marathon running programme which suggested training on alternate days, and for not more than three days a week. The rest days could be utilised for any kind of cross training that would address another set of muscles while the primary running muscles get time to repair themselves. I started looking for cross-training alternatives, and thought something that I knew since my school days would be handy, and I picked up cycling.

One of my earlier rides on Firefox bike

One of my earlier rides on Firefox bike

The biker is born: Since I took to biking as a side activity, I wanted a bike which was not too complicated, and will not burn a hole in the pocket. I went to a new generation bike shop in Nagpur named “Cycology” and asked for “Firefox” bike by name, and asked for the model which was priced the least. I had no idea what a hybrid or a mountain bike was and didn’t want to know either. I just needed a pair of wheels to pedal. I bought a Firefox Maxxis 2.6 as my first bike.  Firefox Axxis is an MTB, single speed, with basic technology. I loved the simplicity of the bike. My initial runs were 10 kms a day, which was effortless and provided me a great break from my marathon training. Three- four rides and I started finding biking addictive.

In no time I was doing 30 to 40 kms. I met with  group of bikers “Orange City Bikers” and was soon biking with them. My bike was basic, but I found that I could endure more than others perhaps because of my marathon training. We decided to ride to Bor Wildlife sanctuary , 85 kms ride, on a hilly terrain, and I was happy to join. Boy, I could do it! The hill ride was steep but I could ride it, though I was riding a basic without-gear bike!  This five hours ride on an extremely hot day of May 12, when summer was at its peak really boosted my confidence.  By now I knew running was under a serious threat from biking, which might soon overtake. Biking with a single speed bike help me build strength which would held me in longer rides in future.

The road bike: I was just a two months old biker, and was averaging more than 50 KMs a day. It was time to upgrade. By now I knew what I wanted.  Met Aniuddha Raich, who owns the cycle business called nCyclopedia. nCyclopedia is not a business in the traditional sense of the term, it is a passion. Aniruddha and the entire team are very passionate about biking. They are seasoned bikers, who presumably made bicycle their business so that they could touch and feel bikes all the time. This team is supportive and is a storehouse of expert information on bicycles. You may find all of them on the street biking and offering real time guidance to other bikers. nCyclopedia is a great hangout place for bikers, who would meet-up there to fine-tune their bikes, to seek advice and to chat with other bikers.  I discussed my requirements with Anirudha and ordered Trek 1.2.

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Trek 1.2 : Trek 1.2 is a great machine as your first road bike.  1.2 puts in a solid performance out on the road, offering a stable, predictable ride, having a decent weight of less than 10 kg.  This bike is comfortable enough for racking up the big miles. It has well proven frame and fork. Nine speed Shimano Sora shifters is superb. The chainset is FSA Vero, a square taper design that does its job just fine. The only downside is breaks which do not seem to match the standards .  Bontrager  tyres are durable and quite dependable on road.  My first 50 kms ride was smooth as silk.

Having used platform paddles before, getting used to toe-clip paddles took some time. I had an awkward fall at a poha-chai tapri when I tried to stop there, and got a good advice from people around who thought that I was so stupid I didn’t know how to dismount from a bike. Though I have later learnt to carefully remove the toe from the clip before dismounting, this was not going to be the last fall!

The brevet: A month back I had no idea what a brevet was.  Brevet or randonneuring (also known as Audax in the UK, Australia and Brazil) is a long-distance cycling .  In randonneuring, riders attempt courses of 200 km or more, passing through predetermined “controls” (checkpoints) every few tens of kilometres. Riders aim to complete the course within specified time limits, and receive equal recognition regardless of their finishing order. Riders may travel in groups or alone as they wish, and are expected to be self-sufficient between controls. A randonneuring event is called a randonée or brevet, and a rider who has completed a 200 km event is called a randonneur. The international governing body for randonneuring is Audax Club of France which works with other randonneuring organisations worldwide through Les Randonneurs Mondiaux (RM). In India the controlling body is Audax India

I discovered that there was a 200 kms and 300 kms brevet on 14th June. Still a fledgling in cycling, I dared to take the plunge.

Preparation for brevet: The rules said the bike must have a front light and a back light, the rider should wear a helmet and reflective vest, and should be on his own between the check points. I bought lights and speedometer online and for someone who had never held a screwdriver before,  the do-it-yourself was no less than a successful school science project. The lights were fixed, the speedometer installed and calibrated, air filled to the required pressure level using the portable air pump, and the bike was ready to roar.

Carb loading: Carb loading before the enduring event was crucial, and I had upped my carbohydrate consumption during the last few days. I stopped my running training on Thursday. Running depletes your body of glycogen , and what I needed at this point was a higher store of glycogen in the body, to steer me through the tough 200 kms ride.

When you are biking or running or doing any activity at your aerobic heart rate, after the supply of glycogen in the liver is exhausted, the body switches to the fat burning mode. Body continues to get its fuel from the fat stored in the body. However, when it realises that it is fast depleting its  fat reserve- which the body conserves for the famine days- it suddenly gets panicky. That is the point where you hit the wall: the body stops cooperating. You soon hit the lactate threshold and muscles stop working. There are two ways to up the level at which you hit the wall: first, more practice so that you build higher endurance, second, and equally important, to provide the body with a continuous supply of glycogen.

The night before the event: I ate a high carb  dinner – small helping-  on the Saturday night. I wanted to sleep early but was busy with meetings and activities so could not hit the sack before 11. Set up two alarms at my iPhone, one for 1.30 AM, and the second for 3.00 AM.  Like a soldier who keeps his uniform ready , I  stacked everything on the table: helmet, gloves, dri-fit tee shirt, reflective vest, wallet, Polar Heart Rate Monitor, a packet of Enerzal, two water bottles in the refrigerator,  four gud and peanut chikkkis, padded cycling shorts.

1.30 AM: I am up – not because of the phone alarm- but because of the high anxiety. I head for the kitchen ,  eat two bananas, a small plate of rice , and two boiled eggs. I have done this in the middle of the night, so that it gets down the intestine within the next two hours. I am back to bed and I intend to sleep for an hour again. However, the sleep eludes me.

3.00 AM: I am out of the bed and head for the shower. Since all things were organised the night before, there was little confusion, and I was ready for the brevet. I decided not to carry any bag, and stuffed everything in the three pockets of the tee shirt.

The event: The reporting time was 4.00 and the place Zero Mile. I started at 3.45 from home and was at Zero Mile at exact four. I am ready for the take off.

The brevet starts at 4.30 AM. It is still pitch dark, and I realise that the front LED light is insufficient to show me the road, and I decide to remain with a peloton. The day breaks at about 5.30 and I feel more comfortable.

The first check point: The first check point at 35 kms at Saoner. It is a non-stop ride. All bikers are on their own by now. You occasionally come across a fellow biker and exchange pleasantries.

Reaching the Saoner check point

Reaching the Saoner check point

I reach Saoner check point. Smooth ride, first hurdle cleared. The volunteers at check point are friendly and co-operative. Before I could even realise it, the boy has picked the water bottle from my bike’s holder and filled it with Electral water, while

At Saoner check point

At Saoner check point

I was sipping the Electral water from the bottle I was offered. A volunteer notices that I have consumed less water and warns that I should be careful, else I might dehydrate myself. I am offered bananas, and I eat one. Break, refuelling, and hearty chat with the volunteers is refreshing, and I am ready for the next- and tougher- leg of the journey. The next check point is at Teegaon, 100 kms from Nagpur, and 65 KMs from the first check point.

Badchicholi 68 KM : From Saoner, I and Sanju ( the owner of Barbecue) got together, and rode together for rest of the journey except, last 35 KMs. The next stop was   Badchicholi at 68 KMs.  Badchicholi is a hamlet in MP, and is known for a cluster of banyan trees ( hence the name bad – banyan)all of which originated from one mother tree. It is a beautiful location, and is bound to mesmerise you. The place also has a memorial of the well-known Sufi saint, Hazrat Baba Sheikh Farid, who is respected by Muslims and Sikhs alike, so much so that his poetry has been recorded in Guru Granth Sahib. So sweet was his tongue, that he was bestowed with the title of Ganj-e-shakar, or sugar market.

The banyan cluster at Badchicholi

The banyan cluster at Badchicholi

By the time we reached Badchicholi, roadside dhabas had opened, and it was poha time. I had consumed so much of Electral and Enerzal water that I desperately needed something salty. Poha goes perfect as a carb diet, though I was careful to order it without tari, which could have caused commotion in the stomach. By the time we finished our poha and tea, many other riders joined us, and we had a great refreshing time together sharing each other’s experiences. Nikhil Kulkarni pulled out dates from his bag, while someone offered chikkis. It was fun.

Breakfast time at Badchicholi

Breakfast time at Badchicholi

Half way through: Refreshed again, we started for the next important point, the 100 KMs check point. We just had 32 KMs to go. Randonneuring – like Marathon- is more of a mind game. You need to condition your mind to endure.

Reaching Teegaon

Reaching Teegaon

I told myself that I am through two levels, and now only one level remains and I would have achieved my longest mileage ever, and the crucial midpoint of the event. This motivation kept me going. 100 KMs would not come easily, but every KM gone reduced the countdown, and there I was just a KM away from Teegaon bus stop, the target! It was an exhilarating experience crossing the 100 KM line, to be greeted by the volunteers who were so cooperative and helpful.  I was happy, I did something I had never done before. The endorphin and adrenaline rush was adding to the ecstasy.

Moment on leisure at Teegaon

Moment on leisure at Teegaon

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Had a chat with  Aniruddha Raich,  Princy Anand, and others at the checkpoint, and they proceeded further since they were participating in 300 KMs run.  Didar Singh also joined us. He had met us at Badchicholi and between Badchicholi and Teegaon, had a flat tyre. He managed to fix it up with the help of a village puncture repair shop which was  2 KMs away.

More hydration, banana and biscuits, and we were ready for the return leg.  The up journey was literally up journey, most of the time we climbed up the inclination. The down journey was supposed to be easy downhill task, I thought so. I was wrong!

The return journey: We started from Teegaon, with the pleasure of having won half the battle. It was nice and smooth ride for next 50 KM’s. Downhill, with wind moving at favourable direction, and cool and cloudy weather, we were riding at an average speed of 25 and would often hit the peak speed of 38-40. I had mentally broken the return leg into three segments, same as the first half.

Inquisitive kids: First stopover at the same dhaba at Badchicholi. A group of village kids gathered around the bike, and we heard interesting observations. On guy said, what kind of bike is this, it has no stand, no bell, no mudguards! Another was pressing the tyre to find out if it is air-filled or is solid rubber. Some took us to be aliens and gave us queer looks. Lot many kids wanted to know how much it costs to own a bike like this. I was wondering that cycling as a spot should have come naturally to the villagers in India since everyone owned a basic bike for transportation. Unfortunately, as it is  gathering momentum as an urban sport, it is fast losing ground in the villages, as more and more of the villagers abandon bicycle and buy motorcycles. Obviously, the incidence of diabetes and blood –pressure, which were urban diseases till a decade back, and fast penetrating into the rural India.

Water and tea at the dhaba, and water bottles refill, and we are ready for the Saoner segment, about 35 KMs. Smooth ride, no issues till Saoner, where we are greeted by Anirudha Kulkarni and another volunteer who offer us banana and water refill. Thankfully received.

Saoner: We have barely gone 5 KMs further, that Sanju notices that his rear tyre was flattening. We stop. It has indeed gone flat. I notice an Indian Oil petrol pump board   about a KM away. Sanju walks with the bike, while I go to the pump to check for the puncture wallah. There is none says the pump attendant, and we will have to go another KM . I notice a truck tyre repair shop next to the pump, but he refuses to fix the puncture of a cycle tyre, perhaps  it is below his dignity. With must persuasion he agrees. Now that puncture would be fixed, I leave Sanju at that place and move on.

Last 35 KMs: Just 35 KMs to go and I would be a randonneur. The feeling provides more fuel to the mind and body , which keeps it going. So far so good. Suddenly the weather Gods realise that the competition is too easy for me, and the sun is out of the clouds with all its fury. It is about 2 PM, I have been riding for 10 hours, and the heat is now unbearable. Humid air, drenched earth, and hot sun above act like a steam bath, and I could smell my sweaty body. It is becoming unbearable. I need to take a break and I need to find a shaded place for that. This is highway, and there is no tree or shade or dhaba around. It is tough, and I am dehydrating fast. First bottle over, I am now consuming the reserve supply of the second bottle. I am about to hit the wall, but I continue.

Hitting the wall with just 9 KMs to go:  I am almost there, it is Pipla, next town would be Koradi, less than 10 KMs from Zero Mile, and I would be a winner, a randonneur. 9 KM’s is a child’s play, I kept telling my mind. But as I reached Koradi, I hit the wall real hard. The scorching heat had made the helmet covered head so hot, that I was feeling like the engine of a car which boils when the radiator runs dry. I need to take a break. It is 3 PM, I must finish in 13.5 hours from start, which means I have a safe margin. I can afford to take a break. I stop at a small road-side restaurant, and out of sheer excitement of finding a good resting place, forget to take the right foot out of the toe clip. Dhupp!, and I fall to the right, again injuring the same knee which I had injured in the first fall. The scene is even more awkward now, the restaurant owner comes running and picks up the bike which is lying over my body, and gives an expression, which I read as, “ chalani nahi aati to chalate kyoun ho?” Sorry bhai, my foot was stuck in the clip, I explain. “Why do you wear those clips? , says the wise man! The insult was more severe than the injury!

I must add one more thing to the checklist of the things I should carry: a pair of knee caps, that would prevent an injury if I fall again.

With blood oozing out from the knee, and the body hot as furnace, I need rest. I pull two chairs and stretch my legs on a chair. An ice cold bottle of mineral water is consumed, half in the belly, half thrown over the body. Time to have some solid food, now that I am almost back, and there won’t be much risk of bowel disturbance, I order one idli.  30 minutes of solitude, and meditation like state, and I manage  to break the wall, and am ready. Just 9 KMs to go, and it should not take more than 25 minutes!

The frustration of riding through city traffic: Easier said than done. I have never ridden in city evening traffic before and it proves to be the most irritating part of the trip. With the heat receding, and it being a Sunday evening, it seems the whole of Nagpur is out on the road. The injury and the memory of the fall is still fresh in the mind,   I am careful to dismount carefully at each traffic signal. Nelson square, just 3 KMs to go, next signal Poonam Chambers, stop again, next signal Ras Kung, stop again, and wait for full 90 seconds at the back of the long traffic, Link road, stop again,  Ashoka, stop again, Liberty stop again, it is frustrating to say the least. LIC square , stop again, and now I can smile with confidence, Zero Mile, here I come! Reach Zero Mile, again stuck up at the traffic signals, but have lost my patience now, and just walk with my bike to the other side. Hey, I have done it!! My first ever 200 KMs. I am happy to sign  the register. Manohar Golhar and Sanjay Sontakke of Orange City Riders are waiting to greet me,  my wife Simi has come to pick me us. Presumably she knows that I can ride 200 KMs for a competition, but would hate riding 3 KMs after it was over. The bike goes in the Ecosport, and the joyous me heads back home.

My report time was 4.30 PM, exact 12 hours of biking, the Polar heart rate monitor says 9800 calories consumed!

And now it is time to prepare for the Half Marathon to be held on 28th June.

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Dr. Tejinder Singh Rawal

tsrawal@tsrawal.com

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19 Responses to “I am a Randonneur!”

  1. shanks0211 Says:

    I knew most of the things about your cycling plans about this race, since I regularly enqired about it Sir. But glad to read the full excerpts of the complete endurance race (Brevet) in detail.

    Sorry to know bout those nasty falls.
    But falls like those make one rise and you have risen to a great level.

    Congratulations Sir for this marvelous feat, and all the best Sir for that Half Marathon in Mumbai.

  2. Dr. Tejinder Singh Rawal Says:

    Thanks a lot Shashank.

  3. Terril Thomas Says:

    Hopefully I can ride with you one day . Avid Cyclist closing IN 🙂

  4. mohan damani Says:

    Boss I miss company

  5. Dilip Kamdar Says:

    A new facet of your multi dimensional personality. It was very interesting to read this blog. Looking forward to your marathon experience. All the best….!

  6. swatisani Says:

    You are a huge inspiration to me… right from learning Urdu rasmulkhat to being fit, to bycycling…. Thank you, Veerji for being the awesome person you are.

  7. Dr. Tejinder Singh Rawal Says:

    Thanks a lot Swati. I am humbled.

  8. Pravin Koteshwar Says:

    Veerji, that is it. Inspiration personified. This one blog is a complete motivational seminar for couch potato’s of the world. Me included. Jai Ho. Jai Ho.

  9. A Giant Escape for My Kind | Sachin Palewar Says:

    […] experience, as this post is already getting too long. However fellow riders Nikhil Kulkarni and Dr. Tejinder Singh Rawal have already written great posts sharing their […]

  10. Anuradha Koteshwar Says:

    Read this blog of yours today , no words …. it was just like a film .Not only a Randonneur , you are a smooth story teller too .
    Your MOC ( material of construction ) is really unique .Jai Ho

  11. environmentfootprints Says:

    Loved the narrative

  12. My Second Brevet | I think, therefore I am Says:

    […] successfully completed my first 200 KMs brevet  on 14thof June , 2015 (Read my blog on that event here) , and having participated in 21.1 KMs […]

  13. Rinku Says:

    As I always say you are a man of substance, you are a true inspiration to all the age groups exists on earth.. Really hats off to your abilities..
    You excel in any field, once you make your mind…
    Due regards to a mesmerizing personality.

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