Chris Ashford completes the Paris-Brest-Paris cycle event
Chris Ashford had a great year of running in 2017 with fantastic results that you can read more about here. Unfortunately shortly after those successes, a “stress response” was found in his lower back, putting on hold any further running adventures for 2018. As any triathlete will tell you, if you can’t swim or bike or run, then just run or bike or swim instead (which ever you can carry on doing). This lead to a personal challenge of Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) in 2018 and as Chris looked to go further and further, 2019 lead to Paris – Brest – Paris. Lets find more about it here:
What is Paris – Brest – Paris (PBP)?
Pretty much what it sounds like. A ride from Paris, to Brest (by the coast) to Paris again. PBP started as a pro- race in 1891, before reverting to an audax for amateurs in the 60’s its only held every four years, 1219kms ride starting in Rambouillet, close to Paris all the way to the Atlantic coastal city of Brest, before turning round and heading home again and now has ~6500 participants from all over the world. Oh and did I mention the time limits? 90, 84 or 80 hours depending on your motivation or desire for pushing yourself really hard or really really hard!!
What does the training for such an event look like?
It’s not easy to qualify for the ride (yes, they do set out minimum standards) which means that all riders should theoretically be able to complete the PBP. Each entrant has to complete a “Super Randonneur” series of rides (1x200kms, 1x300kms, 1x400kms and 1x600kms) between January and June in 2019 to confirm your entry. This not only ensures fitness, but also a chance to test bike / kit / food choices for the actual event itself at the end of August. For myself the early rides in winter tested mental fortitude, whilst the later rides tested sleep depravation and ability to take on fuel on the bike.
Around those specific rides I also kept on running and swimming, but made sure that I followed strict training programmes from Zwift (FTP Builder / Zwift Academy) as well as an S+C programme designed for cycling to ensure my body would be able to handle the pressures placed on it over this period of time. Balancing the longer rides on the weekend, and short intensity rides during the week made sure that I was boosting the FTP whilst also getting as comfortable as possible in the saddle.
How did you manage the event itself? (route planning, sleep, nutrition, etc)
Route – Route planning was a relatively simple affair. The French absolutely love cycling and the route was signposted from start to finish. Garmin courses were uploaded, but weren’t really required. During the day you just followed the cyclist in front, and during the night you just followed the bobbing red tail lights and hi-vis reflectors!
Sleep - As someone who likes their beauty sleep (and needs plenty of it) this was one of my biggest concerns. How was I going to manage to function on completing the distance, whilst getting enough food and sleep to get to the finish. As part of the 84 hour group, we started at 05:00 on Monday morning, meaning that are plan was to ride ~350k / ~350k / ~350k / ~150k for 4 days, the idea being that we could start at 05:00 each morning, finish by ~23:00 each night then sleep before getting up and repeating each day… but with best laid plans….
Nutrition - During the event you have different controls (more or less one every 60-80 kilometres), with showers and dormitories to briefly recover energy, but this actually turned out to be roll mats on village hall floors. The great thing though is that at almost every village and town you ride through there are supporters out day and night giving out coffee, crepes and croissants to fuel you along your way – no energy bars and gels for this ride!
What was your high point and what was your low point? Aside from the finish, were there any really memorable points in the ride?
High points? Aside from the finish, the spirit of the French to support all the away along the ride was fantastic. Team comradeship of a challenge undertaken and completed together (undertaken with fellow Beacon Road Cycling Club members). Meeting riders from all across the world. India, Singapore, and Japan, all with their own stories to tell. Riding into a small town at 01:00 to be greeted by a church group handing out soup, rolls, chocolate and coffee for free to tired and hungry rider.
Low points? The end of day 3 when the start times were still 04:00, but I had got to bed at 23:00 on the first night, 00:01 on the second night, and 01:30 on the third night. Leaving a control at 21:30 knowing I still had Information Classification - Internal 50km to ride to get to the next control. Oh, and my pedal seizing and then falling off 5k from Brest. Not exactly a problem you want to have with 600km still to go…Memorable moments? Seeing someone asleep at the side of the road at 150k, was a surprise the first time…by the 100th person that seemed like a great idea. Eating spaghetti bolognaise at 01:30 and thinking this was perfectly normal. Sleeping in a hall of 250 people with my head less than 10cm some someone’s feet, and being woken by a French man at 04:00 and thinking that I had paid €3 for the privilege…
What would you do differently if you had the chance to do the same again?
Go faster! Haha, you always think afterwards that you could have saved time here and there in controls and at coffee stops which is probably true, but when fatigue sets in, just having an ability to sit down for a rest and shut your eyes is invaluable. Stopping at cafes just before / after the controls would have saved time in queuing etc, but you then miss the random conversations with other PBP participants over the dinner table.
Taking less stuff - much of it I didn’t use “but better to have and not need, than need and not have”.
Spent more time on the bike I used – although it was lovely to have a full titanium ride, a bike fit and more saddle time would have highlighted potential “pressure points” – I wont say more as Too Much Information for this blog… In all seriousness, for me this this wasn’t a race very much a personal challenge.
Eat more fruit and more veg – the diet of “beige” although good for calories and carbohydrates does get slightly trying – never had tomatoes and peaches looked so good!
How does it compare to other endurance sports you have done?
This is the first event I have done where sleep has been a consideration. I think I bared up well considering and was surprised how much I could push myself through the night without rest. I haven’t done anything so long before, and as a multi-day activity you have to be super switched on with minimising faff to ensure that you are washed and tidy and ready to go as soon as possible. Although similar in distance to LEJOG, this isn’t the same as it is the lack of rest that gets you down eventually.
Recovery and preparation for the following days ride is key!
Stats: Entrants - 6,674, Starters - 6,374 (4% drop out), 1,702 abandons or time greater than 90hours, i.e. 27% of starters were non-finishers. Full results can be found here.
What is next?
Well I have promised my girlfriend that I won’t be doing any more “silly long rides” this year, but am continuing to complete a Randonneur Around the Year (RRTY) which is 12x200k rides across 12 months, but as for 2020 and 2021 who knows… Lets see if I can come up with something interesting for another TTH blog...!