My client David finished the arduous Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) covering 1219km (758 miles) in 89 hours 20 minutes. (90 hours was the cut-off for an official finish.) This is the total time including all the time off the bike including short sleep breaks! Riders had to check in at controls (check points that also had food and places to sleep on the floor) along the route within specified time limits.
David had multiple problems, but still was able to finish within the official cutoff time. Although you probably aren’t doing something as challenging as this, you can still learn from his journey.
1. Train Enough to Build Self-Confidence
“For my part the 10,000 km (6,250 miles) of training really paid off.” David was very confident of his physical fitness and the he could ride his bike to Brest and back. He knew he’d have other challenges but his legs wouldn’t fail him. You don’t need to ride that many miles! For any ride of 50 miles or more you should train up to about 2/3 or 3/4 of the distance. For a 50-miler your longest training ride should be at least 34 to 38 miles.
2. Test Everything to Reduce Anxiety
Another important way to build confidence is to test everything in advance. David had dialed in his equipment, bike fit, clothing including rain gear, nutrition, etc. Nothing new on an important ride!
3. Practice Toughness
“I enjoyed the year’s training. All those five to seven hour rides in the winter toughened me up.” David never quit a training ride because conditions sucked. Instead he learned to enjoy riding despite the conditions. The PBP route was much hillier than he’d anticipated, but his toughness carried him through.
4. Have a Plan
David had developed a plan “printed on waterproof route cards I could see as I rode showing all the controls with the cut-off times, the towns with food and the time I had to leave the control to be on my plan. Invaluable.” The controls had very long lines in the cafeterias so I had suggested he shop in stores en route to save time. For your next significant ride create a very simple plan showing when you need to pass a waypoint to stay on schedule. A waypoint could be an aid station or a landmark such as the top of a major climb. Also note, just in case, how late you can leave each waypoint and still finish within any time limit.
5. Commit to Success
David arrived at the starting line thinking, “I will ride to Brest and back!” Not, “I’ll try to ride to Brest and back but I can always quit if it gets too tough.” Before a big ride commit to finishing even if that means getting dropped or finishing outside the cut-off.
6. Ride to the Next Waypoint
At the starting line, 1,219 kilometers seems like an impossibly long distance to ride, especially for a rookie like David. On your next significant ride don’t think about how long it is. You know you can ride as far as the next waypoint, so just focus on that.
7. Recognize and Accept Fatigue
Every ride has three parts. At first you’re fresh and excited. Then you’ve ridden far enough that your legs are really tired but it’s still a long way to the finish. Finally you smell the barn and your pace picks up. In that depressing middle section don’t give up; just recognize that it’s part of the ride and you will feel better.
8. Cope, Don’t Give Up
At 400 km David thought “a road marking was a painted white line when it was a 5mm kerb. Locals call these bike catchers. Went down heavily, broke a rear derailleur hanger, which I managed to fix but was left with a broken little finger on my right hand and a very bruised thumb on the left hand. Managed to soldier on and the direction of my little finger was a great conversation topic.” When you have a problem on a ride ask yourself, “How serious is this really? Is it something I can fix? If so, fix it. If not, keep pedaling unless it’s truly disastrous.”
9. Refuse to Quit
In the dark at 2 a.m. on the final day, David bent down to pick something up and hit a metal rod sticking out of the concrete. Fortunately the rod hit his cycling safety glasses and pushed them into his eyes. Unfortunately he couldn’t see well enough to ride. An ambulance came and he refused to get the ambulance and DNF. David’s vision improved a little and he rode for several hours to the next control. Paramedics checked him out and after another hour allowed him to continue. Of course, don’t do anything that risks another accident!
10. Buddy Up
“At 1,150 km I realized I could get to the finish within the allotted 90 hours if I significantly increased my pace. I set off on the time trial of my life and had a great piece of luck when Judith Swallow, a renowned UK distance cyclist, pulled along side me. She rode along side me helping with my vision, chatting and keeping me calm.” When you’re discouraged find someone else to ride with and chat to help each other.
Before your next significant ride take care of the first five items, which will reduce significantly the chances of something negative happening during the ride. Then if something happens then you can use the next five tips to help you get to the finish.
You learn mental skills just like you learn cycling skills: by practicing the skills. My eArticle Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling is a workbook to teach you mental skills. It is divided into six progressive chapters. Each chapter teaches two to four specific skills. The 17-page Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling is only $4.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.