Rando Q&A with George Swain, Hudson Valley Randonneurs

Today we again turn our eyes north, this time to New York for a Q&A with George Swain, of the Hudson Valley Randonneurs. George spent much of the past year rehabilitating and riding shorter distances after a serious car accident left him with 25 broken bones. George has written about his healing process since the accident, and about other things randonneuring and bicycling over on his blog, The Hudson Valley Randonneur.

This past weekend, George completed his first 200K since last August. AWESOME, and I’m thrilled to feature him on The Daily Randonneur for our Rando Q&A.

1. When did you start randonneuring?

I started randonneuring in 2007, soon after I turned 40.

2. Why did you start?

As I turned 40, I felt like I’d plateaued as a cyclist and needed to push myself to either ride as fast as I could or for as long as I could. Randonneuring actually provided a venue for both. I was plagued by typical mid-life questions: What are my limits? Of what am I truly capable?

Serendipitously, I came across a group that was training for something called “brevets” right about this time and was mystified that anyone could ride for such awesome distances. I also liked that these events were timed. I rode a full SR series in 2007 (also a PBP year) but did not opt to participate in PBP as my wife would have left me, for sure.

George Swain and his beautiful Independent on the NYC 200K

3. What is your home club?

I live about 2 hours from four different brevet series locations, which seems just about ideal to me. I also ride with some folks locally who loosely refer to themselves as the Hudson Valley Randonneurs. While none of us is an RBA and we do not run a series here, I do manage several permanent routes.

4. What is your favorite distance of the Super Randonneur series (200, 300, 400, 600K) and why?

My favorite distance within the SR series is the 600K. This event seems like a real, unalloyed adventure to me. I love the other distances too, but on a 600K, it feels like anything can happen. The challenge of how much or how little sleep one will need and riding at night are also thrilling components of a 600K.

5. Which distance do you find the most challenging of the SR series and why?

I find the 400K to be the most challenging event in the series, since it is a distance that one really needs to fit into a full day of riding. Since the overnight buffer isn’t there, I also usually feel the urge to ride it as fast as possible.

6. If you have done 1000Ks and 1200Ks, what do you like about them?

The only event over 1000K that I’ve completed is the 2009 London-Edinburgh-London 1400K randonee. This was a life-changing event for me. I literally was not sure if I could finish such an event since my longest event up to that point had been a 600K.

Since I was one of only 13 riders from the USA that year and since I travelled all the way to Great Britain on my own, I was deeply committed to finishing and finishing strong. It turned out to be a major adventure, complete with meeting great riders from all over the world, epic bad weather and majestic countryside.

I hope to ride this event again in 2013. I highly recommend it to all US riders. The event had a total of 600 riders in 2009 compared with the 5000 who will ride in PBP this year, so the scale is totally different. The hospitality of the controle workers was out of this world.

Sadly, the only event I’ve ever DNF’ed was last year’s PA1000K. I’ve always said that a crash would be the only reason I would DNF, but I was not eager to test this hypothesis. Just before dawn on the first day, though, I was hit by a distracted driver at mile 35 and left the course in an ambulance with 25 broken bones. Four surgeries, six weeks in the hospital and eleven months of physical therapy later, I rode in my first brevet again this past weekend. It felt great!

7. What is it that you love about randonneuring? That is, what keeps you coming back ride after ride?

The sense of adventure and camaraderie bring me back event after event and year after year. I love the non-competitive aspect of randonneuring. I participate in ultra distance races from time to time, but the Spartan, self-supported nature of randonneuring actually appeals to me more and seems more challenging.

8. What constitutes a “good ride” in your view?

A “good ride” can be a relaxed, mobile party on wheels with friends or a hammerfest with the goal of scoring a Personal Best on a particular course or distance. I find the best rides to be those where I get “lost” in the moments of riding and really allow myself to slip into a different world.

That said, I do love to climb hills so any route that has some challenging climbs in it usually falls into my “good ride” category.

9. What are the qualities you think a randonneur has to have to be successful?

A lot has been written about the “big tent” of randonneuring. There are all types of “successful” randonneurs. Some ride fast, some slow, some limit themselves to “shorter distances” and others seek to see how far they can go year after year.

The quality that unites all of these folks and leads to success is probably flexibility and determination. You will not be a successful randonneur if you give up easily when you encounter the inevitable unexpected adversity.

10. How do you define successful?

I think someone is successful when they meet their goals and enjoy themselves. Personally, this has a lot to do with pushing myself beyond what I have done in the past.

Thank you again for being part of our Rando Q&A, and congratulations on completing the NYC 200K. It’s great to see you riding brevets again!

Happy Friday, everybody. Time to ride our bikes!

2 thoughts on “Rando Q&A with George Swain, Hudson Valley Randonneurs

  1. Very insightful coments on the psychology of the randonneur. I’ve often contemplated the definition of a “successful randonneur.” We all know it’s not a race but it is timed. Kind of ironic if you think about it.

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