The Art of doing brevets (unsupported long distance endurance cycling)

From time immemorial, humans have always had this urge to push their limits and achieve something extraordinary. Though many would think of these acts as means to impress fellow humans, it is actually to convince oneself of their abilities and to test oneself against standards set by self and not others. Brevets are long distance cycling events, ranging from 200 to 1200 or even more kms. I got introduced to the brevet some two or three years ago by the folks at the Cochin bikers club who were organizing the rides. I clearly remember trying to dissuade my friend Shibu when he is said he is going on a 200 km brevet ride, I thought it was the craziest thing to do and did everything I could to stop him. But good for him (and later for me ! ) he didnt listen and went on the ride to Athirapally anyways and had a ton of fun doing it. It is still touted as the most fun, most challenging 200 BRM organized by Cochin.

Brevet Riding

I have participated in 5 brevets so far, with successful completion in 3 and a DNF in the other two. Each brevet was a different riding experience and a teaching experience. Brevets are never easy, even the 200 kms ones on a more or less flat terrain. They test your endurance, patience, time management, team skills, grit, determination, pain tolerance, creativity etc etc The list is long and I could keep going 🙂 The point is it is not just about physical fitness to ride 200 kms on a cycle.

Preparation for the brevet starts with studying the terrain where you will be riding. Some people who live in the neighbourhood can train in the same brevet route, but for others that wont be possible Riding the same route adds familiarity and makes it easy on the day of brevet but it also takes away the element of surprise , whats the fun in that ! So, understanding the terrain prepares the mind for the ride. Local weather conditions play a very big part in the ride. It helps to know the weather to dress accordingly for the ride.

A general read up on brevets is also a good preparation. So that you wont be like my friend Jay who rode the recent 200 K brevet, but had no idea he had to reach the control points on time. So in the end, he did ride 200 kms, but missed almost all of the control points and finished some 18 hours after the start !

Training for the actual riding part of the brevet should start months before the actual ride and it is based on the distance you want to ride. For a 200 KM brevet, you should have atleast rode a 100 or 130 kms prior to the actual brevet ride. And most riders do not do any long distance biking the week before the brevet, finishing all their training some seven days in advance and letting the body recover with some light exercises for the week.

Hydration is the key part of this endurance biking event. It is a good idea to start hydrating the body two to three days before the actual event and also load some sodium and carbs. This will prevent muscle cramps during the ride. While riding also it is important to remember to keep sipping on that water bottle every 15 minutes or so, even if you dont feel thirsty. Don’t wait for the thirst to strike you for drinking. Same goes for hunger. Though heavy meals are not recommended on a brevet ride, snacking throughout the ride on dry fruits, nuts, choco bars etc will fuel your ride continuously and make you energized throughout.

Cycling in general is a solo sport and brevets are definitely meant to be a solo event, the man and the machine on the road unsupported ! But many of us like to do these kind of fun rides as a group.If you have a team to ride with, it is always more fun (thats what I think). You can motivate each other, support each other if needed (changing a flat tire in the middle of nowhere is a prime example) and just be there for the other person. Brevet is not a race and there are no podium finishes, so it does not matter if you finish first or last, all it matters is that you finish it !

Last but never the least is time management part of brevet. A brevet is all about timings. Before you start the ride, read the control point timings, you need to be at each control point before it closes. The timing is set at an average speed of 15 km.per hour, so it is definitely a doable task, but when you throw in couple of snack breaks and stretch breaks, suddenly your average speed needs to be 18 or 19 km/hr to meet the timings. So plan well and mentally note down the timings you would like to achieve for each CP and keep that in mind as you ride along. In a team, usually there is one person who is in charge of the time and he or she makes sure others stick to it.

On longer brevets, you need to plan to catch some sleep in between to avoid exhaustion. This means your average should be well above the stipulated 15 so that you can shave off some precious hours for a nap. When practising for the brevet, try to push your limits by riding faster.

These are just some notes based on my experience of riding. I finished a 200 KM brevet last night and it felt wonderful to reach the final control point.

After Brevet completion

Of course there are some aching joints, blisters etc, but those are the rewards of this great sport of brevet ! Enjoy riding !

Do Sweat the Small Stuff

Recently, I was invited to speak at a local event where high scoring students from Grades 10 and 12 were honoured with awards. It was heartening to see a crowd of 52 students showing excellence in their studies and this was from a small sector of the society.

While I am in no doubt about their academic callibre and the bright future that awaits them in the corporate world, I did tell them to sweat the small stuff and not just focus on their studies too hard.
And this ‘small stuff’ includes things such as letter writing, spelling , grammar, team work, respect, humility and the list goes on and on. A few of these are my pet peeves.
I invariably get to see about 10 to 15 emails from young graduates seeking job opportunities in our organization (We do get around 100 emails a day, unsolicited, but most of them go to a job specific email id which I dont get to see only the HR does, these others come to some of our other email ids to which I subscribe to) and it is very sad to say that hardly one of them is written properly. And yes, I do open and read all of them.
Most of the emails dont have any addressing to begin with and then, if they address also, it is not proper. Formatting is non-existent, no punctuations whatsoever and grammar and spelling are absolutely alien to these folks. You get the picture, right? An absolute disaster of an email from folks who have secured 70% or more in their engineering studies ! Appalling !  And to think that letter writing is taught in our schools in grade 4 !
So, my request to all young grads out there would be to focus a bit on the small stuff as well and do take an effort to learn a bit of email etiquette. And of course, learning a bit of grammar and spelling wont kill you at all

Of Mentors and Mentoring

Last evening our team at Cabot bid farewell to two young engineers who decided to pursue their career dreams outside of Cabot. They had both spent between three to four years with us and they were both brilliant in their own ways, technically and otherwise. As I was standing in the corner watching their farewell speeches and the toasts given to them by their colleagues , I felt really happy and proud. A bit sad too, but definitely more happy and proud than sad, and here’s why.

As a young organization, Cabot had long ago decided that we want to mould young engineers by being their first employer and by imprinting in them great values essential for tomorrow’s leaders and I am not talking about just programming skills, which they could easily master from the internet within matter of few days.

As the world around us rings the funeral bell of Indian IT outsourcing as we know it, we need to be in a much more advanced state of engineering and technical leadership rather than being coding body shops and that’s exactly what our Graduate Engineer Trainee (GET) program does. This six month long initiative lays the foundation to groom a viable candidate into a successful software engineer.

But our work has just begun, so we can’t stop and rest there.

Whenever I think back of the good old days of my programming life, inevitably what stands up in my mind is the countless discussions that I have had with my team leads, career coaches , HR managers and so on. All of these wonderful people played a great role in shaping up my career to the point where it is now Of course companies such as Compuware, DMR , Fujitsu all had big budgets and resources for these, where as a tech starthup such as Cabot might not be able to match them. But that should not be a reason for a Cabotian to be left behind. And so, CLAP was born !

Cabot Leadership Acceleration Program (CLAP) is a recent initiative launched at Cabot to provide the much needed  Mentoring & Coaching in terms of leadership – both technical and managerial . The program is designed as a partnership between HR and Delivery teams with external resource of a qualified Leadership Coach.  To keep things simple, our team members decide what they want to learn and we offer programs that match their needs. The simple white board acts as the dashboard for the program and it reminds us day in and day out of the significance of continuous learning !

The leadership training requirements white board in our office
So when I stand in the corner of the next meeting and listen to the achievements of our young team members, I can take pride in the fact that Cabot and CLAP  had a role to perform in their transformation. We have planted the seeds and nurtured the saplings to good plants. As they become trees and start bearing fruits, it is for everyone to enjoy. And as for these youngsters flying away in search of greater glory and new horizons, I am sure we have groomed some of them to be boomerangs !

Cycling Thoughts – 2

Today is a beautiful day. A day when I really enjoyed being on the saddle and experienced the pure pleasure of biking, for all the same reasons why I started enjoying biking in the first place.

So, what’s different today then?

I started biking a bit seriously around 2001, when my friend Ron Singer introduced me to the concept of MS Bike tour and fund raising for it. I participated in the next five or six MS Bike tours raising funds for the cause and also getting some good biking done in and around Nova Scotia. After my return to India, I shunned from biking here because of the heavy traffic and no proper bike lane etc. It was my friend Shibu who convinced me that it is indeed not that difficult to bike in Kochi and he rekindled the passion for biking some two years ago and since then I have tried to ride an average of 400 kms every month, with lows of 100 and highs of 800 in certain months 🙂

Kochi and the places surrounding Kochi are great places to explore on the bike. With lots of backwaters and beaches around, almost all our rides had a wonderful destination and add to that some great local food to try out in every ride. Being on the bike seemed to free my mind and imagination. The morning activity set the mood and pace for the rest of the day and it also brought me friends whom I would not have met otherwise. And who wouldn’t want to start their day with some best buddies, riding and joking and sharing stories?

And then I started to become a bit more competitive in the rides. I joined brevets. Now my timing was important, I wanted speed, so I upgraded to a road bike. Changed to cleats so that my effort would be less. Started to time my rides and monitor my speed and distance. You get the drift. And then , all of a sudden, while riding a couple of weeks back, I realized that I was not enjoying the ride anymore. I was actually not comfortable riding the bike, period.

What could be wrong? I analyzed and the answer was right there. I had forgotten why I started riding, I had complicated the simple task of going for a ride with gadgets and by adding different parameters to it. I wasnt so sure of why I was riding anymore.

So today, I went back to basics and took my old bike and went for a casual spin and it felt so good, as if I was born again. The simple pleasure of not having to worry about anything and just riding was priceless. I did not put a speedometer in my bike, I did not track the ride in my fancy phone app , I just rode for pleasure and that brought me to my original reason to love riding the bike.

As an entrepreneur, every once in a while, there are situations that question the very essence of our activities. People become entrepreneurs for different reasons. And as the enterprise grows, it becomes complex and there will be issues that will force us to look at the very existence of the business and justify the need for it. It is easy to get distracted or even discouraged and ready to throw in the towel. And today I got the lesson that it might be good to think about why we chose to be an entrepreneur in the first place.

From a personal perspective, building an organization was the challenge I liked the most when I wanted to join Cabot to take it to the next levels of growth. And as long as that challenge is still valid, there is no reason for me to look for new challenges 🙂 At the core of the business plan, lies this challenge and there are many peripheral challenges around it. And I am not saying we can ignore the peripheral challenges, but every once in a while it might be good to refocus on the core problem and make sure your efforts are still on tackle that challenge.

I guess the same theory applies to many things in life. Always remember why you wanted to do anything in first place and if you can still find happiness doing that, go back to it 🙂

I still plan to do brevets and timed rides, just that once in a while I would like to enjoy my ride just for the sake of the ride. Happy riding folks !

Your Boss’s Work-Life Balance Matters as Much as Your Own

Leaders decide where the followers go, as simple as that.

Cycling thoughts – 1

I realized that of late, I am getting all my ‘gyan’ moments while cycling instead of in the shower as it used to be 🙂 And since of late I have taken the courage to add ‘cyclist’ in my bio in twitter, FB and all the other fancy social media sites, I thought it is only proper to disperse this so called ‘gyan’ and share the wealth 🙂 Here is my first attempt from todays thought.

So today we decided to climb some hills in and around Kochi for our routine morning ride. There is a route that we often take with moderate climbs but we always take the route in the same direction. So for a twist, the group decided to do the route in the opposite direction. It is a loop anyway and the distance was the same, only the hills would be in reverse order. So there are two major climb/fall in this route. Even though we have talked about doing the reverse route several times before, I have always discouraged it because of the fear to climb one of the best drops in the route (drop in our regular direction would now be a hill in the reverse direction, yes, of course you knew that, sorry!). But today I was outnumbered and off we went. So, this was my ‘gyan’ moment. Would I enjoy going down the big hill that has always tortured me while climbing it on several rides before or would I despise climbing up the hill that I have so much enjoyed rolling down in my past? What would give me a better experience?

The downhill came first and we swished through it, it was a winding road and a beautiful fall, not too rapid but well paced. I did enjoy going down this hill and thought of all those days when I was coming up the hill in the other direction and it felt good. But I also didnt let go of the bike completely and slowed down a bit lest I should hit the oncoming traffic or some pot holes on the way. In short, I was a bit cautious.

And then came the uphill. I have good memories of rushing down that hill at speeds close to 45 kmph and I knew it was a long one with a good gradient. So I prepared mentally to climb up the hill and to my surprise, I enjoyed every bit of that climb! It was such a fulfilling experience to climb the very hill that I had so much enjoyed driving down and I was giving it everything I had, with no holdbacks ! In short, I was enjoying the climb more than the downhill that I just finished.

If I were to draw an analogy between an happy time and a tough time, I would say that while we do enjoy and look forward to happier times in life, we always (at least we should) have a bit of reservation, while when we pass through a tough time, it is the time to give all we have. Crises make us stronger and we come out of it a better person. And believe me, in the longer run the climbs and the falls balance out as we all reach the same place we started from. Nobody has a full downhill ride neither do they always have an uphill climb 🙂

Feel free to leave your bouquets/brickbats in the comments section 🙂

Why do we fail? – A closer look at the 400 km brevet

Couple of days ago Veda was preparing for a Hindi assignment and she found it very hard as she had missed the classes at School and was trying to learn by herself. She made a remark ‘ I am going to be a failure in Hindi’ . At that moment, both Vani and I pounced on that opportunity and for the next 30 minutes or so, gave lectures on how she is not/will not be a failure and how she has to overcome fear of failure etc.

Now that I come to think of it, failure has been a part of everyone’s life. I am sure I can tell stories of failure from the past in the same way you can relate to incidents of failure from your own life. Why do we fail? has been a question that has been haunting me for a little while now, especially after a recent sports escapade ended in a bit of a disappointing failure 🙂 So I set out to seek answers within the set of information I had.

It has been long recognized that the mind is the bigger player in any physical activity and it is usually not the body that gives up but the mind. So then for success, we need to condition the mind to make sure it doesnt give up easily. In the case of the above sports escapade, a 400 kms cycling brevet, I stopped cycling at 180 kms and quit the race at that point. There has been a lot of discussions after the fact on why I gave up so easily and while I still dont have a strong answer, I have several pointers as to why this might have happened and they all lead to only one thing, mind 🙂

This brevet was happening one week after I came back from a 3 week trip to US during which I had done zero physical exercise, other than a bit of walking. I had clearly made up my mind even before the trip that I was not going to participate in the brevet. But when I came back and saw that all my friends were riding, I couldnt resist the temptation and I too jumped in at the opportunity to ride the 400 K. That in itself , I believe now, was not a mistake. The mistake was the thought that my body is not ready to ride because of my business trip and lack of exercise during the trip.

I have ridden brevets before, in 200 and 300 kms categories and they were both done in Kerala, the terrain that I am familiar with and in an environment that is supportive, with friends and family cheering and edging us on at each check point. A huge drawback on the 400 kms was the unknown terrain, unfamiliar faces and a shortage of cheering from our cycling friends who would really motivate us on every point of the race if it were to happen in Kerala. In hindsight, I would consider this as the biggest factor that led to the withdrawal from the race. I really missed the icons of Cochin Bikers Club and my family , who were present in the previous editions, to greet you at the 50 km mark, hand you an energy bar and pat on the shoulder and tell you that you are doing great !

This is where it gets a bit tricky 🙂 Group think. There is no blame game here, it is all individual decisions and as grown ups we are free to decide whatever we want to do. At the same time, in an endurance event such as this, your group becomes a critical factor and it should stick together and go for the kill ! In our case, the exact opposite happened 🙂 Our group stuck together in killing the race for all of us 🙂 When one suggested that we quit, others should say the contrary and roles will keep changing. In all our minds, we were questioning our ability to finish the ride that we had started. Our own lack of confidence manifested in giving up mid way through the ride. The thought that we had not trained enough, kept haunting us every now and then. Training is good, but I don’t think we need that kind of an extra ordinary training to ride 400 kms on a bike, given that all of us had done a gruelling 300 just three months back on a very hilly terrain. So it was our mind again that tricked us into believing that we were not properly prepared.

Giving up is not easy. It is a shameful act, even though we rode 180 kms in a windy and tough terrain before we gave up, we still figure in the DNF list and thats not a dream place to be in. And the mind knows that too. So it is when we think that the shame from quitting is less compared to the pain we have to endure to finish the ride, that we decide to hang up our boots.

Like the other brevets, this one also taught me a few good lessons and I am thankful for that. It also motivated me to start training harder for the next long ride and bring more discipline to the training. A sweet successful ride can sure erase the haunting memories of a bitter failure 🙂

Here is hoping for a better tomorrow .