The leaders of Randonneurs USA (RUSA) and the World UltraCycling Association (WUCA) recently came together over the realization that there was significant overlap in the interests of their respective members. Believing that there are attractions to both forms of long distance cycling, and that many members in each organization may be tempted to try activities in the other realm, we thought you might be interested to hear from a few members with deep experience in both.
Our questions were answered by three respondents: Georgi Stoychev, Andrea Matney and Dan Driscoll. All three have impressive resumes, built over years of participation in both forms cycling. Our purpose here is not to say that either form is better than the other, but to encourage members on either side of the fence to expand their horizons.
1) In which sport did you begin and what prompted your initial decision to venture to the other side? Why would you recommend a WUCA rider try a RUSA event and vice versa?
Georgi : After mountain bike racing as a teen, I was introduced to Randonneuring at 16. The comradery is the number one reason to try it. It is less stressful and does not require you to be super fast. The distances vary from 200 km to 1200 km and one needs to be fit, but generally if you maintain above 12 mph, you will finish within the time limit. This leads to a lot of riders staying in groups, helping one another and enjoying the shared adventure. When it comes to WUCA, you can expect to find welcoming racers and events from six hours to over 3,000 miles. Many of the races offer a self-supported division, bringing the nature of the event closer to randoneurring. And for an extra thrill, don’t be surprised to line up next to some of the best athletes in the world, from RAAM veterans to World Record Holders.
Dan : I grew up in a competitive swimming background, training six days a week from age 12. The transition out of the pool to biking, then road racing and crits, was a good one. Training with real race goals kept up the motivation and gave the training a purpose. Bike racing taught me that the longer and harder the race, the better I faired. And as I aged, and gravitated to longer miles, ultra cycling was an obvious next chapter. Ultra cycling training usually meant long solo rides; the goals were the races, usually just one or two a year. Then came my introduction to Randonneuring, which was a perfect compliment to my ultra-distance racing addiction. I could now do long miles with companions and camaradeie.
2) How does your training differ between the two sports? How is overlap optimized for enjoyment of both?
Andrea : I believe that the two organization’s events complement each other. As a RUSA rider, after investing SO much time in non-competitive events, you may find yourself wondering how fast you can go or how you stack up against others. WUCA can help you resolve that curiosity. Races will provide a higher level of adrenaline and will push you to new heights. It’s incredibly fun!
To the WUCA rider, know that brevets are an adventure and journey with new roads. It’s never a circuit done over and over - which can be boring. I use the non-competitive RUSA brevets as training for races. Brevets give you tremendous base miles, but they also teach you about self-reliance. There’s no crew, so it’s all you, Babe! You’ll learn how to handle sleep deprivation, energy conservation, and nutrition. All of that helps build mental fortitude to push through the difficult times – regardless the type of event - and finish no matter what.
Georgi : For racing, one would typically do more high intensity workouts; to increase their FTP and to sustain a higher percentage of FTP for an extended period. In Randonneuring, you will mostly work in lower zones that can also be beneficial for racing as endurance is the base of both. My high intensity workouts are on weekdays and long miles on weekends, which often fits well with Randonneuring events. It takes the monotony off and mixing things up helps to keep cycling interesting. As I am preparing for racing across the USA, my plan actually requires back to back 8-hr training days on the weekends with moderate intensity. Randonneuring can be a perfect substitute. The 400 km and 600 km events fit well, and 400 km generally has a 27-hr time limit so is done without sleep. This can be the perfect training ride as preparation for multi-day ultra races.
Dan : When this started for me, there was very little science available. It is much different now, with Training Peaks and power meters. Back in the day, it was all just long miles. Today, the long miles train the brain, allow for enjoyment of the outdoors with friends, while shorter and faster miles (or trainer hours) train the body. Many have found a happy balance between enjoyment and training, and this mixture works well for both ultra-distance racing and Randonneuring.
3) Motivation - what motivates you as a rando/ultraracer?
Dan : As an ultra-distance racer, much of the motivation is executing a good game plan, how to train efficiently, peak, taper, and perform on race day…. somewhat results oriented. The motivation for Randonneuring can easily change with the wind. On one ride it may be keeping the herd together, helping the ones in need, getting the group to work together, keeping everyone happy, and having fun. The next ride it could be saving a friend’s ride by giving them the spare tire you’ve been carrying, or helping them with a mechanical, or just talking to them and cheering them up, when down.
Georgi : The motivation is similar - challenging yourself, accomplishing your goals, getting stronger, finding your limits. I am also raising funds for breast cancer through racing as this has affected my life tremendously and the Ultra Racing family has done amazing things on the fundraising front.
Obviously in racing we aspire to win. That is a motivator on its own. But each racer sets their own goals, with plenty of riders hoping to set a personal best or to finish at their own performance target. In Randonneuring the goal is to finish under the time limit and it feels great to do it. Many riders enjoy the social aspect of it. You can ride and chat all day, stop at historical places and take pictures, take frequent breaks and enjoy great company. What is not to like?
Andrea : Do you love eating lots of chocolate chip cookies and other goodies? Do you like doing that with new-found — and life-long friends? Both sports create the opportunity to eat a lot and meet a lot! And honestly, I just love the physicality of it. It feels good . . . well, mostly.
4) How do participants typically define “success” and what does that take?
Georgi : Success can be just showing up to the start line, believing in your fitness and equipment and accepting the challenge. Success can be finishing, winning or simply enjoying yourself with friends. Success in ultra-distance racing can be holding a World Record, being one of the few in the entire world who dare and finish Race Across America, winning a local 24-hr while going over 400 miles or becoming a Champion in a specific division.
Andrea : Success for me in both sports are the same, but come from a different angle. Did I have fun, learn something, give my best, make new friends, or strengthen bonds with old ones? Yes? Then, it was a success.
Dan : The ultimate goal in racing is to WIN, or to come as close to that as possible. The ultimate goal in Randonneuring is to finish in the time limit, it’s a Pass / Fail event. We’ve seen the fastest riders on a 1,200 km Rando event finish close to the time cut off, but having enjoyed eight hours sleep each night. Some take pleasure in the flexibility of personal goals, saying "the ones who got the most sleep win". Having a foot in both camps brings a better perspective of the bigger picture. Being able to differentiate between racing and riding as a Randonneur, while also seeing the similarities is a good thing. At the end of the day, everyone needs to feel good about what they have done, or they will likely not continue. For me, if I’m still racing and still Randonneuring for as many years as possible, I’ve succeeded.