Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Metamorphosis: A Q&A with Caroline Atkins

I first interviewed Mars Hill rider Caroline Atkins in 2005 for American Randonneur. Back then, she was in her rookie season of randonneuring. She said she’d “started cycling in an obsessive, maniacal way in 2001. Prior to that, I was a long-distance runner and dabbled in triathlons.”

Caroline has been a mainstay of the N.C. series ever since.

She came to randonneuring from a racing background. Her explanation for switching focus: “I was a lousy racer,” she said in an e-mail Q&A.

Caroline is selling herself short. She occasionally pursues her former passion and competed in a UMCA 24-Hour race in 2005, where she finished second by three miles to perennial champ Nancy Guth of Stafford, Va.

I’m fortunate to be on Caroline’s e-mail list. Her ride reports reveal a sharp eye, a self-deprecating wit and a talent for looking on the lighter side of randonneuring headaches.

Consider this frontline report from the ongoing war between man (or woman) and machine. Her bike’s shifting “had been fussy all day,” she reported, and she dropped her chain as she headed up a climb on the Middle Tennessee 600K on June 2-3, which she jokingly described as a “death march.”

I tried to save it, as I can usually do, by shifting back to the big ring. Nope. Not this time. In fact, the chain got STUCK, and my cranks/pedals would no longer turn. My weight was to the right, trying to drive the pedal down, and the bike started going. No time to unclip. I SCREAMED, and BAM!! I was down. In the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, by myself. My helmet hit the pavement, hard, and I remember thinking, “oh. That sounded kinda bad.” But then, I was so spittin’ mad, that I knew I was probably OK. However, I was on my back, shoes still clipped into my pedals, like a beetle stuck on its back with its legs flailing in the air. What’s the name of that play by Kafka about the cockroach stuck on its back? [The Metamorphosis.] You get the picture. Add the soundtrack of every expletive you can think of; I won’t elaborate, as your obscenity filters probably won’t allow passage.

In the 2005 Am/R interview, Caroline said randonneuring fulfilled a need “to keep a focus outside myself.”
Whether it involves a spiritual faith, an appreciation of the natural beauty I'm riding through, being thankful for the health, strength, and determination to ride, or focusing on the love of my spouse, family, and friends, I've found it very important to focus on something much larger than my own little internal world.

Caroline's focus is now on PBP. Read on for her thoughts about participating in that fabled event.

[One note: Caroline kindly gives me a litle credit for helping in her first year. For the record, that help was largely limited to shouting out the next turn while drafting her rear wheel...]

What attracted you to PBP as your first 1200K rather than some of the U.S. events? The enormity of PBP—the event’s history and the fact that it is an incredible celebration of cycling attracted me most of all. The timing is also appropriate, in that I have ridden the brevet series for only the past 2 years, and was uncertain whether I was ready for a 1200k before this. Not that I’m certain I’m ready now!

Do you have a time goal in mind? Nope. Anything under 90 hours will do. I’m there to enjoy the experience, and hesitate to make myself miserable with a time goal, other than what is required.

Do you plan to ride with friends or on your own during PBP? I plan to ride whatever pace my body allows at any given moment, with friends made along the way. Hopefully, I’ll ride parts of it with NC friends!

Who’s the first person you’ll call when you’ve finished? My husband, Tony.

When you get your PBP medal, will it go on the wall or in the drawer? It will eventually go on the wall, when I get around to arranging the series’ memorabilia in a frame. It might not be completed until the NEXT PBP.

What book is going in your travel bag? Very good question. Cycling has contributed to my downward spiral into illiteracy. I rarely find time to read anymore, and when I do, I instantly fall asleep. A good friend gave me a really cool book about the history of bicycles written by David Herlihy. That, and a book of Sudoku puzzles will go into my travel bag, if there’s room.

You have racing in your background. Why did you make the move to randonneuring? 1) I was a lousy racer. 2) Many road racers are, to put it politely, cranky. Racing, by its very nature, requires riders’ motivation to come from other riders. There was a lot of emphasis on beating your colleagues to a bloody pulp and/or excuses why you weren’t able to produce said bloody pulp. Randonneuring requires one to be much more self-reliant and self-motivated, which is right up my alley—something I can get juiced about improving. Best of all, Randonneuring offers terrific camaraderie with diverse folks who all ultimately respect one another (even during those occasional bloody pulp moments at county line signs!).

What has been your proudest randonneuring moment so far? Completing my first 600k in 2005, and completing the TN 600k/deathmarch several weeks ago.

Tell us about your training plans. Yikes—you mean I have to CONTINUE training until PBP? On a larger scale, I generally ride a cycle of 2 weeks of harder effort/more miles followed by 1 week of “recovery.” The 2-week stints will include 5-6 hours during the work week (4 days on the bike, 1 off) with intensity work for at least 2 days. The weekends will consist of back-to-back days of 100-150 miles each day, including a fair amount of climbing, and possibly some night riding. I plan to participate in a couple metrics/centuries by riding to the event, completing the event, and riding home. My “recovery” weeks will consist of teaching my 3 indoor cycling classes (easy spins for me, while the class works!) and the weekends will still include distance rides, but not quite as long (60-80 miles each).

Favorite food on the bike? Off the bike? Right now, favorite food on the bike is Infinit Nutrition drink mix and First Endurance bars. Off the bike, Thai and Indian cuisine.

Have you had a “mentor” in the sport? My most valuable mentors have been the folks who I rode with on the Morrisville series during 2005 and 2006. Rich Bruner, Mike Dayton, Glenn Himstedt, and Tony Goodnight. They all quietly showed me the tricks of the trade and most importantly demonstrated the positive, patient, generous attitude one must possess in order to complete these rides!

Any other question you wish I’d asked? Thank you for NOT asking “WHY do you ride these distances?”

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