Last year I rode a 1000k brevet through Quebec to understand what riding for multiple days would be like. I hoped that the lessons learned on that ride would prepare me for PBP...and it did. If nothing else, the exhaustion I felt during and after that ride put a little fear in me and spurred me to act.
My biggest fear was that I'd under-train for the event. The Coureur de Bois was a relatively flat course, but I found it challenging multiple times during the ride and even sustained an Achilles tendon injury. I knew I needed to be ready to ride another 200k through much more hilly terrain during PBP.
To mitigate this, I religiously participated in almost all of the spin classes I could. Three times each week, I showed up and took these hour efforts seriously, leaving nothing on the bike when class was over. About 1000 miles were logged on a spin bike at the gym in the year leading to PBP. I was later grateful for these interval sessions at the bottom of each French hill.
I also rode 13 long rides (brevets, permanents, and loaded tours). Anything to get miles in my legs. Despite my efforts (including the spin miles), I didn't hit the 5000 training miles recommended on the RUSA website before boarding the plane, but I felt confident that my body could do it.
My second biggest fear was about sleep deprivation. Anticipated jet lag, pre-ride jitters, and knowledge of my slow average speed (compared to others) were all contributors to feeding this fear. The memory of my exhaustion on the morning of my third day of the Coureur de Bois spurred me to seek a solution.
I landed on melatonin-induced slumber in our Paris hotel for 2 consecutive days before the ride. I went to bed early and got up late, thanks to the gentle action of a couple mg an hour before bedtime. I even got a couple hours of sleep on the day of the event, so I arrived in Rambouliet with a very full battery. I'd used melatonin before some rides before leaving for Paris to confirm that the effects of it wouldn't make me groggy or sluggish on the bike. A few hours into my first PBP night, as I rolled past riders sleeping on benches and in the grass, I was feeling great. On subsequent nights, I credited my ability to weather the short sleep stops to the bank of sleep I'd accumulated pre-ride.
Lastly, I worried that my unfamiliarity with France (the language, the people, the store hours, the food, etc.) would sideswipe me. I didn't know if the French food would agree with my stomach or how I could get what I needed without the omnipresent convenience stores of the US. Stories of long food lines at controls in previous PBPs concerned me. Short control stops offset my otherwise pokey pace.
One way in which I addressed this was to take advantage of the offer to receive near-control support. Marcia Swan has provided PBP support for Pete Dusel (our region's RBA) each time he's participated. This year Marcia was going to PBP again, renting a car and filling it with food and supplies for Pete, Paul Shapiro, JB Levitt (both NJ Randonneurs who occasionally venture up to the Finger Lakes for a brevet), and me. After getting a quick stamp on the brevet card at the control, we'd connect with her by phone or text and find her mobile oasis nearby to fill bags and bottles. She even had pain creams for sore knees that actually worked! It's often said that supporting PBP is about the same amount of work as riding it. I know she enjoys doing it almost as much as we like riding, but the effort and time are much appreciated!
Paul, JB, and me at Plage du Moulin Blanc in Brest
I also followed the best advice I'd seen and rode with an ancien (a rider who'd completed PBP in a previous year). After reaching Fougeres, I stopped for an hour with Marcia and waited for Pete, Paul, and JB. This spur-of-the-moment decision to wait really paid off for me. We regrouped, and I stayed loosely around JB and Paul for much of the ride. It's great to chat and interact with people from around the world, but centering my ride around these familiar faces kept me somewhat grounded. I benefited from their humor, encouragement, experience, and level-headedness when feeling low. They effused an infectious appreciation for this particular event, the land over which we rolled, the towns along the way, and the French people who participated with us. Without their help, not only would I have had a harder time finishing, but it would also have had a different character.
Paul said something like, "If every other brevet is tuna fish, PBP is lobster." It took a while after the event to soak in and make it's impression, but I think I get it. The event history, the scale, and the people of France make it a remarkable event. I still can't believe I did it.