Around the same time I was sipping whiskey on a beach in Ireland, my buddy Guz was in France riding further that he ever thought possible. It seems that when he isn’t organizing events for TBAG or peer pressuring me into his Tuesday night rides he is training his ass off and qualifying for the granddaddy of all rides, Paris-Brest-Paris. A nice little self sustained, 1200km ride through the French countryside with a bunch of people from around the world. Sounds like a great time to me, and I think this ride has officially been put on my To-Do list.
Since Guz lives right down the street from me, I asked him to hook us up with some words on his experience. Here is what he had to say:
So, it’s not a race? No, it is timed, and some treat it like a race, but it isn’t actually a race. And it’s 750 miles? Is it flat? It’s 1200 km and about 35000 ft of climbing but all rolling hills. And the clock never stops? Nope, the clock is always running and you have to make all the checkpoints on time. The longest you can take is 90 hours, but a lot of people sign up for 80 or 84 hours. When do you sleep? Whenever you can grab a few minutes. The faster you are, the more time you have for sleep, but then you’ll probably push it and try to get a better time. Do you have to carry everything with you? No, the checkpoints have food for sale, and there are lots of villages along the route with people out at all hours with food and water and cheers of Bon Route and Bon Courage.
This is Paris-Brest-Paris, 1200km (750mi) in under 90 hours and the oldest bike ride still running. It is the ultimate event for an obscure corner of the cycling world called Randonneuring. To even enter PBP you have to complete a series of rides, 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k with a local Randoneeuring club. These rides follow the same rules, with checkpoints that must be reached under the time limit and a clock that runs continuously. Think of PBP as a 120 year old French alleycat, combined with around 4 days of 24 hour racing, and the training rides are required.
I’ve been thinking about what I would put in a ride report since I finished the ride, but I don’t want to give a stage by stage account. For one that’s boring, and for another, PBP is so much more than the turning of the pedals and the long kilometers. So here are a collection of thoughts on this great event: Is it possible to stay awake for a little under 4 days and still ride? Apparently so. I joke about “Training for the Apocalypse” sometimes, but this is the real deal. I ride much better when I have like minded people to ride with. Whether someone I know, or total strangers from the other side of the globe. The ride is such a huge mental game, it’s great to ride with others who are consistent on the bike, optimistic, quick with a laugh, and have just that little bit of extra crazy. France is an amazing cycling country, the locals are great, supporting the riders at all hours and in all weather. High fiving a line of 10 kids really keeps you going, especially when they are at the bottom of a hill and you are going 25+ mph. Watch out for your friends from the UK, when they get tired they start riding on the left side of the road. When preparing for this ride everyone said that it sounded insane, and it is really, but when you’re doing, it you can’t believe that, you have to treat it as totally normal. And then when you’re done it becomes the new normal. I think they really have it figured out, each ride in the series builds on the last one, becomes your new normal, and prepares you for the final test. On the second to last stage I hit a wall harder than any I had before, at that point I had to ride faster and harder than I ever had, there was no choice really, it was either that or quit.
In the end, I finished in 88 hours 59 minutes, 1 hour and 1 minute to spare. I slept 1 to 1.5 hours here and there, plus many 10-15min power naps, for a grand total of somewhere around 3-4 hours of total sleep. I rode with my friend Scrottie towards the end, thanks for helping keep me awake man. I would also like to say thanks to Minnesota Michele (who I’ve ridden with some before) for encouragement and good pacing on the section in and out of Brest. And thanks to my new Audax UK friends, Simon and Justin for good company and good laughs for all those long kilometers.
I met some great people, pushed my limits farther than I thought possible, and gained a greater appreciation for France and its people. I’m looking forward to getting faster and more experienced over the next couple years and hoping to make a good run at the next PBP in 2015 (more sleep maybe? or shorter time limit?).