PBP 2011: Don’t call it a comeback …

I’ve been an ancien for years. Those who know me remember that my second go at Paris-Brest-Paris, in 2003, ended in the darkness of a rainy Virginia night as I got sick in a roadside ditch. I’d struggled with digestion issues throughout that super-randonneur series, and I decided at that point that it just wasn’t fun enough to continue. I haven’t tried again.

In 2007, I had just moved to a new country and wasn’t organized enough to make an effort. This year, I think I have it together and can make a third go at PBP. I put in a 300K last year – in fact, my first go at anything longer than 200K since 2003 – in order to jump ahead in the PBP registration queue. My first 200K this year is already in the bag, and I have a second one planned, this weekend from the northern London exurb of Stevenage.

My planning is together, and reasonably effective so far this year, I think.

Training: I have a short commute – one mile – far too short to bother with the clothing changes and other complications with a bike commute; and on top of that, the landlord at my office “tolerates” bicycles, but parking outside in a gated lot is not an acceptable choice to me. Thus, I have spent much of the year training indoors. Three Es mark my training: Economy, economy and endurance. I’ve been assisted by Troy Jacobson’s Spinervals series, largely technique sessions for triathletes, with some bits of power and higher intensity intervals thrown in. I believe an economical pedal stroke is probably the second-most important thing you can probably take to PBP after simple miles in the saddle. It’s at least as effective as a bike commute in traffic, with numerous stops – if not quite as much fun. I’ve come to enjoy indoor miles, however. Other than that, it’s been those weekend miles in the saddle that are the bread and butter of randonneuring. Applying just the slightest bit of science to training, I’ve done two critical power tests this year, and know my fitness has improved by 6% over eight weeks. In other words, at any given speed I’m riding just that little bit easier now than I was at the beginning of the year, small percentages that will count for a lot after 750 kilometers.

Ride planning: Part of the reason I opted against a super randonneur series in 2003 was the fact that I didn’t own a car. I didn’t really have a good idea where rides were, nor how to get there. Four years later, I know the geography a bit better and have become accustomed to the complications of traveling by bike and train. It just takes … planning and thinking.

As I’ve mentioned, the 200K is in the bag, with another to come. The 300K is from the Sussex town of Hailsham, near Brighton, a 3 a.m. start that will duplicate day two of PBP for me in that I’ll do it on minimal sleep. Instead of watching the Royal Wedding, I’ll journey west of London to Chalfont St. Peter for a ride to the Severn and back for the 400K, and the 600K on the final weekend of May will return to the same Essex roads of my first 200K.

Following that, I’ve planned an 80-mile ride to Stonehenge with some friends for the Saturday before the Summer Solstice, from which I will return by bicycle. In July, I will ride the 200K all-night Dunwich Dynamo with an enlarging grupetto of friends, and then return to London by bicycle rather than train, an outing that would duplicate the 90 hour PBP start if I were to opt for it.

In all, I have a sense of guarded confidence about the season. As I know, much can go wrong, but I’m 12 years older than my first PBP in 1999 and, I would hope, 12 years smarter. Experience counts in this game. And I’m really looking forward to it.


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