Tom thanks for the fantastic Brevets that you run, they are perfect allaround. I hope there may be a few tidbits to help a future PBP rider-that is my hope for this long note.
For the New PBP bound rider……don’t forget finishing is everything…….
Successful PBP completion "simply" means finishing under 90 hour, 84 hours, or 80 hours for the Touristes, Randonneurs, and Vendettes groups, respectively. Finishing is everything. That is it. New Randonneur-do not forget this. So simple in theory. Paris Brest Paris is hard and trust me, it can hurt. What else accounts for a 25-30% failure rate? Anyone who successfully finishes PBP is an Ancien for good reason. That is THE goal. Nonetheless, efficiency and energy management benefits all riders whether they are full value riders who wish a few extra hours sleep or a rider seeking to do the Grande Randonnee in Charly Time. Randonneuring is a big tent and some riders consider Brevets to be a personal test, almost like a personal time trial test albeit not a race-that is my view although I do not advocate this old school mindset. I say this because I shall always offer to help a fellow Rando with problems whether or not I have any time objectives for the ride. As most of us might know, Charly Miller from Chicago rode PBP in 1901 as an unsupported Professional completing the then course along the Route National on "old" technology in a heroic time of 56:40; and, RUSA recognizes modern day US Randonneurs who equal this feat although quite obviously we all know that there is no direct comparison from then and now. Nonetheless, Charly Miller Time takes some doing. A good number of Europeans in the 80H group do PBP as a quasi race and the start is brisk and racing experience can be helpful although not necessary. Other than the start, the controls were empty when I got there and this was one of my reasons for selecting the 80 hour start group. I did Charly time unsupported excepting one drop bag in Loudeac although nearly all the riders that I saw were supported and if any future riders wish specific advice, please chat me up on a Brevet. I shared with a few PA Randos that I painfully failed at PBP in 1995 tearing my posterior cruciate ligament after some much too fast times to the initial controls and some special circumstances. It took me years to be free of pain and for a variety of life reasons, it took almost 20 years for my return to cycling. I am glad to be back. I have learned and hope the following message comes across that success at PBP on whatever time scale is to a large extent about pacing, time management, and energy management (don't go too hard, rest when essential, keeping warm or cool, and eating the right energy sources as you go along). Pacing- it does not matter if you are shooting for 88:55 or 56:40. Sounds simple. Going too hard can do more than result in a DNF. Pace yourself-it is a long way. It ain't easy. Pacing is about energy output-you will go faster initially at PBP because of the mass of riders and the slipstream effect. Using left over time judiciously is merely the spice in the soup. Getting it done is the meat and potatoes.
So, what is in this for any misguided, sleep deprived Rando, if anything? The following random ideas might save you time. Some are basic. Time that can be spent taking pictures, eating a nice meal, sleeping, or simply spending less time in the saddle (my preference). Spend this time as you wish. Maybe a cushion for a mechanical or nasty, cold rain.
1. Giving up caffeine for 3 months before PBP. One 200 mg of caffeine on night two at 3 am was all I needed to do the ride w/o sleep. What a jolt. Now, I know many may think this is crazy but please consider it for safety reasons or just stop and sleep for safety sakes. I was not stopping at that point. Period. I would have frozen to death. LOL.
2. Losing weight helped with climbing and saving time. I could have been lighter but I did lose a lot of fat although my fully geared up bike went nearly 30 pounds….nearly twice the weight of some 80H riders.
3. Polarized training (google Seiler if interested) increased my talking speed (LT1) power by 50 watts (31%) and the increase in my Rando speed showed up in my overall times this year. Polarized training just fits Randonneuring and is not as punishing for older bodies as many other approaches in my opinion. Why train? Because 1230 KM is already hard and most of us can't do multiple 1200K rides per year. Why polarized? I only have to suffer one interval session per week and the other rides are relatively easy, fun paced rides albeit lots of miles (talking speed). I did more than a SR series and got a lot of climbing in. Lots of PA Rando riders do R12 and more in PA hills; so, I realize this suggestion is pretty basic. I personally consider a SR series to be a minimal preparation. I rode 9,000 miles in the seven months leading up to PBP including four 400k Brevets because I consider these to be the acid test of a Rando. My training was spot on for my objectives.
4. Assos S7 Cento and Laniseptic worked for me. One pair of shorts properly lubed and I had zero saddle issues as if I had never ridden. The Berthoud saddle is also great for me.
5. Garmin 800 ran flawlessly using a Gomadic battery pack with Energizer Lithium Ultimates, except the Heart Rate monitor function crapped out. I never once turned the wrong way or had to search for an arrowed PBP reflective sign that in some cases seemed high on poles for those with German lighting with strict beam cutoffs.
6. Four water bottles with maltodextrin from the start got me to Villaine (221 km) and this might be a good idea to get to Mortagne (140km) with a group.
7. I kept to my pacing limits as best I could absent a functional HRM. Learning and keeping to them is critical.
8. It gets cold and damp during PBP (40-45F at night). I was prepared with a wool tee shirt, arm and leg warmers, and thin wool gloves and or course, wool socks always for me.
9. I always try to spend as little time at controls by having a plan before arriving and executing it ruthlessly. Typically, I put powder into my bottles, get my card signed, fill the bottles, shake and then I just go. Go. Eat as you ride slowly. It is easy to consume 10-20 unproductive hours at controls at PBP. Be mindful. This is a learned skill. I am just trying to say be mindful of when, where, how, and the length of time spent at controls. It really adds up. I wasted a lot of time at Loudeac both ways and in Brest because I was confused where things were and there is a ton of walking needed at Brest to get from the control to the foods and then to the toilets and then to get water.
10. I had fun. I am fortunate to have been to France many times and I decided to ride for Charly Miller time and hope for Ian Hands time someday. When you arrive at Villaine, take it in. Suck it in. They are honoring you by treating you like a TDF rider or maybe even almost like a rock star. Thank the people cheering for you. It can be overwhelming. It was for me at times. Slam the hands of 7 year olds cheering for you in the little villages. Give them a thumbs up and a Merci. I would usually wave and then get out of the saddle in response and the French fans would go absolutely berserk. They really are fans. They know. C'est dur. The vibes would be good for the next 10 km. Soak it up. To me, this is PBP.
11. I got to Paris early to acclimatize and rest (slept as much as I could). I did a 50 mile ride Sunday before leaving, an easy 15 mile ride on Tuesday, a very hard 65 mile ride on Wednesday, and an easy 40 mile ride on Friday. This represents about half my normal non-brevet week volume and I started PBP with fresh legs. The previous week was about 75% of my normal volume and my last Brevet was the hilly August 2 NJ 300K.
12. I made sure my bike was in tip top shape having ripped it down to the guts including new chain, cassette, bearings, and all cables, padded bar wrap, tubes and tires.
13. I generally ate 150-250 calories every hour like clockwork (except one little incident below)
14. After bonking somewhere towards Loudeac in the cold, damp, dark hills, I knew an extended rest and feeding was needed. (I could not locate my drop bag in Villaines and some early controls do not have foods yet for the fast riders). Anyways...I had to spend 45 minutes getting myself back under my control whilst at the Loudeac control outbound. The takeaway message for a new Rando is this.....Managing your energy intake and output is the key challenge for many reasons...BUT….If you need a rest-TAKE A REST. Don’t quit. Life will get better in 20-30 minutes. It may take an hour for your brain to normalize once the glucose levels kick up. Your mood will improve.
What did not work? My front derailleur got wacked and thus my right hand got greasy having to stop and unjam my chain frequently and it put back onto the chain ring until I ultimately just used the big ring unless the small ring was essential. My left rear seat stay broke during the ride and made a lot of complaining noises. Pretty minor blips. I had hoped to be able to stay with the groups but it was eventually not possible for me to catch the fast riders who were in and out of controls like an Indy 500 pit stop and thus, I rode a lot solo unfortunately. I had some issues with the bag drop service but your mileage may vary. Everything else went according to plan about as well as can be expected.
I apologize if anything above is unclear or untoward and as I indicated, I just hope there are a few tidbits especially for the new Rando if it helps them. I know that most PA Randos have much more expertise than me but maybe there is something in there.....