I finished Paris-Brest-Paris in 89hrs 4mins — 56mins inside the cut-off. That was the hardest thing I've ever done, even London-Edinburgh-London (1400km) seemed easier (although I was fitter in 2013).
This short summary of my first PBP experience was first published on my Facebook feed.
1232km ridden, around half a million pedal strokes, 20-30,000 Calories burned (equivalent to half a stone of body fat), only about 5 hours sleep, innumerable conversations in unspeakable (by me) languages, many opportunities to help others — and to be helped by others — which is common in audax, 12km of elevation gain, a chest infection and a hacking cough. And a blister on my bum — a very big blister, on most of my bum …
Never, ever again will I ride PBP … on a Brompton … in its current configuration …
Already I'm thinking about what I would change so that I could be quicker and therefore enjoy the sheer unrequited hospitality shown by the locals in western France to all PBP riders — it is quite moving to be taken into somebody's home at silly-o'clock for a coffee and galettes with the only recompense being a postcard from home by return, if anything at all!
In most towns and villages, the locals were out clapping riders past and calling out "bonne route!" and "bon courage!" for day after day and night after night. I'll let them off the initial chuckle when they saw the size of my wheels — I think they thought I was riding a kiddie's bike — but they still clapped and called.
There were dramas aplenty — little vignettes and tableaux keep popping into my head about this and that. On a ride this long it would be unusual not to have things happen, but it was the continuity of it all that makes it interesting. We end up sharing the road multiple times with multiple riders, over and over, and so we compare notes on stories in between and outcomes to events started but not finished while we were there.
We had three days of incredible weather — not too hot at about 20ºC, but the sun took that up into the silly 30s, so dehydration and heat stroke were major factors for many riders and there were dozens who succumbed. One of our UK group got to 1050km before she fainted and was pulled from the course by the medics — she just wanted time to recover and continue, but was disallowed. Another went down with the squits and got to within 100km of the finish before having to abandon. Others admitted defeat this time around and lay down on the grass in the sun, allowing themselves to drift out of time.
There was one unfortunate fatality — a heart attack, just one of those things on an event of this nature, a risk we all have to accept before we start. A few accidents, most involving the rider falling asleep into a ditch, but a couple involving motor vehicles; nothing life-changing as I understand it. Lots of cyclist-on-cyclist crashes in the early stages of the vedettes, the racers who head off first.
I have to say an enormous Thank You to Marcus Jackson-Baker and Dave Minter, who helped me sort out head troubles in the heat and continue when I was ready to abandon: in the end Marcus rode with me on the final stage, slowly, to make sure I got back in time, he himself had plenty of time in hand (a later starter). Perhaps I wouldn't've made it without them, but they made a noticeable difference at the time and turned my attitude around on the spot.
Multi-day rides of this distance are hard and you can only learn your limitations by doing hard things. You also learn how to get through difficult challenges more easily next time you experience them, thereby making you stronger. I now have more experience and should be stronger next time, better able to sort out these fatigue/heat/sleep problems as I encounter them as well as help those around me still battling demons they don't recognise. Paris-Brest-Paris was something I have been working towards for three years. I have now achieved what I set out to do. It has taken over 20,000km of riding to get there and I have made dozens of new friends along the way. I am still looking for new challenges, but for the moment I think I might take a week or two to rest on my laurels and eat cake!
I have to say a massive Thank You to my beautiful and understanding partner in life Ewa, who has tolerated dozens of lonely weekends without me around to annoy her as I have been off riding audax around the country. I love you, and I do miss you when I'm away. Perhaps we should get a tandem? … xxx