PBP: Greg’s Story

Greg Conderacci wrote up his first PBP, where he focused on feeling good and not on the clock. It worked, with a finish in under 73 hours.

Greg at PBPGreg at PBP

PBP and Energy Management
By Greg Conderacci

I’m writing this because Ed Felker of The Daily Randonneur said “We need at least one [story] about a guy who just rides through without any problems.”

I don’t think that’s quite an accurate description of my PBP experience – everybody has problems on PBP – but I did manage to ride it in a credible 72.5 hours, despite being 58 years old and a Rando rookie. I didn’t get sick or hurt seriously (although I did fall twice) and I was never as profoundly tired as many became. In other words, I was lucky.

Also, I was very well prepared, thanks to Ed, Matt, Crista and many of my other fellow DC Randos. I have ridden a bike for more than 35 years, but I can’t remember learning as much about long distance cycling as I have from them this year. They provided great riding experiences, sound advice and a ton of conditioning.

So, what’s my “secret”? Since riding across the country in 26 days in 2004, I’ve come to believe that long distance cycling is all about energy management and very little about time management. There’s plenty of time to do PBP – if you have the energy.

Sure, you can manage your time better moving through the controls; you don’t want to waste time. But mostly it’s about how you husband your energy supply – physical, emotional and mental. Rush through a control to save five minutes and skip taking on the all calories and fluids you need and you’ll lose hours later on.

Therefore, I made a series of decisions, both before and during the ride, that focused on energy management, rather than time management. Here they are:

–Chose the 84 hour start. I knew that I would be better off beginning after a night’s sleep than after being up all day burning nervous energy waiting for the 90 hour start.

–Planned ambitious arrival times at controls. I didn’t pay any attention to the opening and closing times of controls, since I figured I wouldn’t be there for either of those. Instead I picked times that, if I hit them, would be a major emotional energy boost and if I missed them, well, no big deal.

–Carried my own high-energy food. I make my own energy bars, which I know I can digest easily and are more concentrated than you can buy. I didn’t have to risk eating too much strange food or getting food poisoning. And I didn’t have to expend much psychic energy standing in many food lines or making food choices.

–Built a bank of sleep instead of a bank of time. I slept Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights in real beds, away from the energy-sucking chaos of the controls, for five, five and four hours respectively. A huge amount of sleep for PBP, but I never felt sleep-deprived on the ride.

–Rode in the daylight as much as possible. I’m more energy efficient in daylight. So I didn’t really rest much during the day. And, even though I rode through the last night, I felt rested enough to do so.
Ate and drank constantly. I especially focused on a big meal at the end of the day to refill my reserves without giving myself “lunch legs.”

–Watched the heart rate and not the speedometer. The heart rate is a truer measure of effort and a better gauge of energy expenditure than speed. I tried to keep the rate within a fairly constant band that didn’t deplete glycogen reserves.

–Traveled light. I rode a light but comfortable racing bike (Serotta Ottrot). I didn’t carry much extra weight. I also lost 10 pounds around the tummy before the ride (and lost no weight on the ride). It takes energy to move weight. Sure, there’s a chance you’ll need something and not have it. But if you pack it, there’s 100% chance you have to expend energy to lug it.

–Rode with appropriate pace lines – or alone. The key here was finding just the right pace. I let the too fast ones go and dropped the slower ones. I resisted the temptation to go with those because I’d burn out on the former and bum out on the latter.

–Varied the pace. I frequently changed my speed depending on mood, conditions and bio-rhythms. Often, it was just as refreshing to go faster as to go slower.

–Used the Ipod. Wednesday was a 200-mile time trial from Loudeac to Brest and back. I figured I might have to ride alone so I had programmed a whole selection of high-energy songs. I put the earphone only in the right ear so I could hear traffic.

–No pedal, coast, pedal, coast. I fought to keep steady form and not get into the physically and psychologically draining pattern of pedaling and freewheeling.

–Treasured friendships; ditched the turkeys. Interacting with friends, new and old, was a major energy boost, no matter how much “time” it took. I stayed away from any rider, no matter how strong or skilled, with bad karma.

I don’t want to sound as if the ride was one big high-energy experience, because it certainly wasn’t. One of the best things about this crazy sport is riding with folks you love to ride with. But the variety of start times, the confusion and other issues meant that most of the time I was alone…amid more than 5,000 riders.

I found it very frustrating to ride alone so much (about 1,000 kilometers). At one point after Brest, I had to sit down by the side of the road and eat M&Ms and talk to myself until my attitude adjusted. In the end, I just channeled the frustration into energy, deciding to blow off the last night’s sleep to get the ride over. Interestingly, so did a lot of other folks and I enjoyed some of the best fellowship toward the end.

PBP and the preparation for it has changed my life, in many ways that probably won’t become clear for a while. It also gave me one great gift and I won’t soon forget: energy.

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