THIS SICK BANTAM IS PROBABLY WHAT YOU CAME HERE FOR, ADMIT IT
According to the omniscient, omnipresent body The Internet, Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is, “the oldest bicycling event still run on a regular basis on the open road.” It is a 1,200-kilometer brevet that leads the participating randonneuses and randonneurs through the French countryside, from Paris to Brest on the Atlantic coast of France, and back again. Every four years, thousands of endurance cyclists, bike jocks, Calfee-riding-dentists, and saggy-bibbed randos descend upon Paris to try their hand at the famed event and test their limits. In 2019 I hope to be one of those saggy-bibbed randos.
PBP 2019 will hold in store many firsts for me: my first time in Europe, my first go at a 1,200k, and my first exposure to the bidet. I’m very excited for these and many more new experiences. I got into randonneuring about 4 years ago and participated in my first sanctioned brevets in 2016. Even though it’s been just a few years that I’ve been pursuing the #thatsrando life, I went all in. I commissioned a custom steel, low-trail randonneuring machine, I put “randonneur” in my Instagram bio, and last season I became a Super Randonneur, an honorific meaning I completed a full series of brevets in a calendar year (200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k). I decided about midway through last summer to do PBP, and have been putting together a training plan in my head since then; sharing this plan with you is the very purpose of this run-on sentence, comma splice ridden article. Below is my attempt at a well thought-out training plan. I’m not a trainer nor sportsman in the classical sense, I’m just some dude on the internet, so bear that in mind.
Paris-Brest-Paris and all endurance cycling events take a lot of time and preparation leading up to the event itself, but with proper planning, goal-setting, and follow-through, success is attainable. This is not an exhaustive training plan, but more of a guide to creating your own training plan. I’ve never done PBP or any ride over 600k and I was having a hard time finding advice other than “ride your bike as much as you can”, so I set out to create my own plan. Hopefully this helps others who are in a similar situation.
…and find ways to keep yourself accountable. In 2018 I fell short of my mileage goal by about 1000 miles. Major bummer. I think a reason for that is because I didn’t break it down into smaller chunks; I only looked at my total miles i.e. 4500 out of 6000/year instead of looking at it in more easily digestible chunks like 80 out of 120/week, which I think is more manageable. For 2019 I set a goal of 6,000 miles. By many standards that’s pretty modest, but I’m a full-time graduate student and have a full-time job, as well as a wonderful partner and two loving cats who I want to spend time with, so I set a realistic goal for my lifestyle and commitments. Being realistic is important. It’s not worth losing your job or dropping out of school to ride your bike more (unless it is worth it to you, in which case be my guest, but it’s not for me).
So with a “big picture” goal of 6,000 miles this year, I need to average about 120 miles a week, give or take. Because of my job and school schedule, I go on longer rides primarily on the weekends and commute by bike to work/school during the week. As the days get longer, I also try to get out on a couple of 20-25 mile after-work rides per week.
RANDONNEURING IS A SERIES OF GAS STATIONS
In addition to my overall mileage goals, I also set the goal of doing at least one 200k ride per month. This is a pretty common thing in the randonneuring scene, and when you do it consecutively throughout the year, it’s called an R12 and you get a little medal or something from Randonneurs USA (RUSA). To get the RUSA credit, you have to do sanctioned permanents (established routes of 200km or more that may be ridden by prior arrangement with the organizer) or full-on brevets run by an RUSA club. I haven’t decided if I’m going to do that or just do them on my own. The only barrier to doing sanctioned permanents is that there is a lot of paperwork involved and that’s no fun. Sometimes I just want to ride and not worry about getting to the control, or I just want to leave from my house and not some random parking lot across town.
I also got Strava Premium this year, which allowed me to enter my goal into the computer machine and have it tell me how many miles ahead/behind I am to be on pace with my goal. This allows me to hold myself to my goal by seeing with my eyes how much I have to ride to meet said goal. That helps me, might help you too. Following through with the goals you make is also very important. Goals don’t mean anything if you don’t take steps to meet them.
…with the same or similar goals as yours. Training alone can be very hard and can take the fun out of riding. Do your best to find people around you who have mileage goals and riding styles similar to yours and ride with them regularly. Company is crucial, especially while randonneuring when you’re trying to stay awake after 20 or 30 hours in the saddle.
A good way to train with people is to set up weekly rides that start at the same time and place every week. Meeting at the coffee shop in your neighborhood at 9 a.m. for coffee and roll out for a 75 mile ride at 10 a.m. Again, you can do this alone, but really who wants to be the only one in the coffee shop wearing a spandex diaper? Not me.
PRESTON AND ALEX CLIMBING BARLOW PASS ON A SUMMER 400K
Riding bikes is about the experience. It’s about seeing the world around you and connecting with it in an intimate way. The experience becomes richer when sharing it with others. That’s the point of doing PBP, for me at least. There are several domestic 1,200k brevets that I could do instead of PBP, but the fact that there will be thousands of riders from all parts of the globe doing the same ride with the same goal in mind is a really special thing. When looking back at memories of riding and training, it’s nice to be able to reminisce with friends about how hard a certain ride was or how good the coffee was at a certain gas station. Don’t let a harsh training regimen get in the way of the human aspect of cycling.
Conversely, it is good to be able to ride alone and push yourself when no one else is around. There have been countless times on brevets where I lose the group that I’m riding with for hours at a time. At times like these it’s important to focus on pacing, navigation, and keeping that positive mental attitude, because you will find your friends again. Those dogs in Homeward Bound did and so can you.
…so that you know what you have to do in order to meet your goal. For the 2019 brevet season, I bought one of those giant wall calendars and marked every brevet I’m going to do until PBP. I’m bad at keeping dates in my head, so having it in large print above my kitchen table is quite helpful.
Part of the process for qualifying for PBP is doing a full series in the same calendar year. I knew that doing so would be hard for me this year because I have class on alternating weekends from late February until late May with only a few breaks, so planning ahead is going to be paramount to my success. Because of school, I won’t be able to do as many brevets as I had hoped, but I will be able to do a full series.
ALEX OF TAGGART CYCLES ON A SUMMER 400k
Planning ahead like this also helps you to ease into the longer brevets, building on shorter ones to ramp up your strength and endurance so that you’re not going in cold and noodle-legged for a 600k. Last summer I did not plan ahead very well and did a 300k, 400k, and 600k all within a five week span and because I did not allow myself proper rest, my recovery from the 600k took what felt like weeks.
Along those lines, plan not only how much you’ll be riding, but also how much rest you’ll need. Different people recover at different rates, so it’s important to know your limits before you test them too far like I did last year. This year I have at least two weeks between every brevet, which is plenty of time to rest and then do maintenance rides to keep my fitness where it needs to be without overdoing it. In the three or four weeks leading up to PBP I plan to “taper”, which means progressively shorter training rides until my longest ride will probably be my commutes for the last week leading up to my flight to Paris so that I arrive feeling fresh and eager to ride, not drained and over-trained.
I really have no idea if this training plan will work, but I’ve given it quite a bit of thought and it seems like the best way to train in a serious way while not letting the training take over my life. I’ll be posting a post-PBP follow-up wherein I’ll discuss what I think worked and what I would do differently were I to try this kind of thing again.
Ben is a cyclist, musician, and graduate student living in Olympia, Washington (Nisqually territory). He enjoys randonneuring, gravel racing, bushwacking, caffeinating, and fine vegan junk-food dining.