The notes below were compiled by Paul following meetings earlier this year in Mullingar and Dublin to discuss preparation for PBP 2019. The intention was to publish this a few months ago so it might be a bit out of date, but hopefully you can still pick up a few tips.
The riders planning to take part in PBP2019 are at many different levels of experience/fitness but these notes give some general information on how to approach the qualifying process.
ASSESS WHERE YOU ARE NOW
At this stage (mid-January), with 6 months to qualify, and 8 months to the start, you should be comfortable riding at least 100-150km, and getting out on your bike regularly, if possible every week.
KNOW WHAT IS REQUIRED TO REACH GOAL
If you rode a qualifying BRM event during the previous 12 months to 31st October, this gives you an earlier chance to pre-register, and the longer the event, the earlier you can register.
Longest ride in 2018 Pre-registration Opens
1000km or more 14th January
600km 28th January
400km 11th February
300km 25th February
200km 11th March
In order to qualify for PBP you must ride a Super Randonneur series (1 each of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km) of approved BRM events, between 1st November 2018 (Start of 2019 Season) and 30th June 2019. Of course, if possible you should do more than these minimum 4 qualifying events, to give yourself the best chance of a successful PBP.
Training should be based on gradually building up your distances over the next few months. The most important aid to finishing a long-distance event is being comfortable on your bike. The majority of non-finishes are probably due to problems with hands, knees, feet, neck, and of course posterior ! The points of contact with your bike take an unavoidable hammering over 4 long days in the saddle, and it is critical that you are as comfortable as possible. Your training rides, and especially your Qualifying events should be ridden on your PBP bike, carrying what you expect to carry in France. There is no point training on a stripped-down carbon race bike, and then going to France with an additional 10kgs or more of lights, mudguards, spare clothes etc.
As you can see from the Audax Calendar, there are many qualifying events available all over the country, and in general the earlier ones are 200’s, building over the months to the 400’s and 600’s in May and June. You should select events that you hope to do, book leave of absence from family stuff, and start riding !
Once you have got your 4 qualifying events under your belt, you will be well on the way to a good PBP, and once that’s done, don’t overdo it, take a bit of a break, and recharge yourself.
Then 3 to 4 weeks before PBP, do a hard ride with the full kit that you will use on PBP, recover and taper your distances down as you get closer to 18th August.
Get any nagging dental problems, ingrown toenails etc, sorted early in the year. Organise leave in work, and try to plan that you have time to spare before the Start, rather than after the Finish. Arriving in Paris at the last minute leaves you with no time to resolve any problems which can arise without warning at the most inconvenient time.
The Easter Fleche – this is a good opportunity to test yourself fairly early in the season. It is a 24-hour team ride with 3 to 5 riders per team. Each team plans their own route of minimum 360km to ride in 24 hours, at Easter Weekend, all finishing in Mullingar this year (2019). The finish location changes from year to year. This will give all riders the chance to ride through the night, with little or no sleep, in potentially cold or wet weather. This is invaluable preparation for PBP, where the vast majority of riders will ride through the first night without sleep, although hopefully the weather in France in August will be better than Ireland in April. There is no guarantee of this however, and Brittany can sometimes be just as cold and wet as Ireland.
RRTY aka Randonneur Round The Year is another great way to build your consistency, involving at least 1 approved ride of 200km or more every month for any 12 consecutive months.
By early August we should all be able to list several reasons why we will be having a good PBP, if we have put in the groundwork over the last 8 months, or more.
Qualifiers are where we learn our trade and are not a form of punishment. Confidence grows with competence. What can we learn at these:
Nutrition – your digestion is likely to do funny things after 300km. Qualifiers are an ideal test bed to decide what you can or can’t eat on a long ride. Food is available for purchase at all the controls but sometimes there are only so many ham baguettes one can handle. These are a staple item but there is also hot food, pasta etc available at most controls. You also need to figure out what you like to drink, water, electrolytes, and practice drinking enough to ensure you avoid dehydration. Some riders swear by energy gels and bars and the like, but others find them hard on the stomach, or too dry to swallow after a few days on the bike.
You will also learn more about your preferred pace for long events. If you’re suited to the pace of a group that’s a big help, as it can dramatically reduce the amount of work you have to put in, although you should of course do your share of work in a group. It is important that you ride at your own pace. If you’re trying too hard to keep up with a fast group, then you will be likely to blow up later, and lose more time than you had gained. Likewise riding in a group that is too slow, will cost you time. You should be cautious about committing to ride the event with others, unless you know them well and their pace is well suited to yours. In PBB each rider is riding their own event, and if one member of the group gets tired and wants to sleep before the others, or has a few punctures, this will negatively affect the group.
Prep – you should compile a list of all the items you need or might want for an event, and then the day before every event, get used to going through your check-list and ensuring that everything is available. PBP is a long event, but you don’t have to carry that much, as there are regular controls, providing food and somewhere to sleep if required.
One of the main uses of the qualifying events is perfecting your navigation skills, use of GPS routes etc, although PBP is probably the only Audax event where the route is marked by arrows, which makes navigation much easier.
Another area is time management, particularly at Controls, when time can disappear before you know it. You need to have a routine when you arrive at a control, to include getting your card stamped, filling water bottles, toilet, food, and sleep if needed.
Night before – Bike & gear prepped, routesheet laminated, and know where the start is, and how to get there. On the day – have a proper breakfast, get to start early, pace yourself at the start and ride yourself gradually into the event. Many riders get carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, and start too fast, leading to a blow-up later.
Afterwards – ensure you get proper recovery + nutrition. Think about how the day went, i.e. what worked and what didn’t work for you. These points don’t need to be overly complex, e.g. didn’t drink enough, don’t eat a hot curry the night before, change worn tyres, bring sunscreen etc. Write these down.
Goalsetting – PBP is the dream goal, but setting intermediate goals along the way will keep us focused. Think of some goals for next year. These do not always have to be major goals e.g. arrive at start with time to spare, not getting lost, first night ride, ride a Fleche. It is important to write goals down. When we achieve our goals we feel happy as it shows that we are on the right track.
Remember, Packing is not an option, there’s no point starting if you are not 100% confident of finishing. If you have done your preparation, then there is no reason you can’t get to the finish.
Packing once usually leads to a downward spiral of packing and becomes more addictive than heroin. It sends the wrong message to your psyche !
DEFINITION OF SUCCESS AT PBP ?
Everyone should think about how they define success at PBP, if you can’t state this you may lack focus during the event and be disappointed with the outcome. For some it will be finishing within a specific time, but for many it will be just getting to the finish within the time-limit. The most important thing is to do your best: the most important person to please is yourself.
Finishing the event is a key component of success, even finishing out of time is much better than not finishing at all, and in many cases riding your bike to the finish will be the easiest way to get there !
The components that will lead us to success are manifold and like a jigsaw you need all the pieces. Some of them are: Physical fitness, Mental fitness, Nutrition, Recovery and Support system – hopefully they will all come together for you in France in August !
Good Luck and “Bon Courage” to all Irish riders in the 2019 Paris-Brest-Paris !