When I tell people about riding the North Cascade Highway under a full moon, with the night so bright that the surrounding peaks looked like Ansel Adams photographs, or about seeing the sun rise over the Puget Sound in the morning after riding the Tahuya Hills all night, most people say, "Oh, that sounds like fun!"
I'm one of those whose main goal is finishing, but I wouldn't feel less than human if I failed. Focusing on finishing keeps me honest— I won't stop because I'm cold, or because I've had three flats, or because there's no way I'll beat my time from last year—-but it's not more important than, for example, staying safe…. These rides are hard and we do them for fun, so there's no disgrace in not finishing, for whatever reason. I push myself harder if I'm determined to finish, and so get more satisfaction out of the sport, but not everyone has to feel that way.
One of the magical things you may discover on the longer brevets is that even if you implode, it is possible to recover. Rest a little, get something to drink and to eat, take a few electrolytes and perhaps some ibuprofen, and you may find your strength coming back to you.
To say that you went on a bicycle tour of Europe with several days of miserable weather makes you sound like an unwise or unlucky vacation planner. To say that you finished an endurance event in the face of unrelenting rain, cold wind and dark nights makes you sound Olympian.... In the end, it's the sense of challenge that keeps me interested in randonneuring. But, also touring cannot replace the sense of camaraderie that's built in a club, with fellow riders who've shared those 80th hour hallucinations with you and have ridden with you in the darkest nights and have faced down those demons of fatigue and despair.
Gosh, on every 1200K (and at the start of most brevets in general) I feel like Mr. Hoopdriver as he takes leave of his boring job at Antrobus & Co., a Drapery Emporium in Putney (London), in August, 1895 and takes his bicycle holiday down to the seaside vacation area around Southampton.
The real reason to be a randonneur is the joy I get at work on Monday when someone asks what I did for the weekend. "Oh I did a quick 250 mile rider from Concord, MA to Lake Winnipesaukee and back. What did you do?" The look on their face is priceless.
Time/speed? As fast as I can. Enjoyment? Time heals all wounds. Though I've ridden in the shadow of the valley of death, sick of Gu and out of water, looking back, the vivid memories are among those I most cherish. My singular goal? To not DNF. Each brevet, I pedal like a batter sprinting to first on a grounder: Out or safe, it's almost always a photo finish. It's living life on the edge and it keeps me coming back for more.
I like to enjoy the ride, although expecting to enjoy every minute isn't reasonable. Sometimes the personal challenge aspect is important. Pain free is nice but not really reasonable for a 48-yearold guy. Heck, I'm not ever entirely pain free even when I'm not riding a brevet!