By Coach John Hughes
My club had a party for anciens et anciennes (veterans) of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) as well as rookies. I talked with nine old friends, some dating back to the 1990s, now all in their 60s and 70s. I had moved from Boulder to the mountains and hadn’t seen some of my cycling buddies for years. I was interested to learn after their PBPs what kind of cycling they do now?
I was one of the first Americans to complete PBP back in 1979. PBP is 1200 km (750 miles) long and you have to finish in under 90 hours including all your time off the bike. So you don’t get a lot of sleep. I’ve finished PBP five times as well as the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200 and the Rocky Mountain 1200.
To ride PBP you have to complete a series of qualifying brevets with time limits: 200 km (124 mi.) in 13:30; 300 km (187 mi.) in 20:00; 400 km (249 mi.) in 27:00 and 600 km (373 mi.) in 40 hours. I have ridden the brevets multiple times and it was fun to reminisce with my fellow riders. Remember the brevet it hailed so hard we had to crawl under a parked semitrailer? Remember riding the 400 km at 2 a.m. still a couple of hours from the finish? Remember riding all night on the 600 km and watching the sun rise?
Ted is still a very strong rider, but his interests have shifted. He has a place in the mountains and enjoys all day rides on a mix of gravel and pavement. He’d gone backpacking earlier this summer and last weekend volunteered to build a couple of bridges in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Mary and Stan live on a steep gravel road in the foothills above Boulder. Their downhill commutes to Boulder are relatively easy and their return commutes get their attention. They enjoy riding with friends up into the mountains above their house. Mary now coaches cyclists and Stan works for a company making bicycle parts.
Bill didn’t make the party — he was riding across the United States with his daughter and his wife driving the RV in support.
Joe still loves riding and organizes our Rocky Mountain Cycling Club’s brevets. He’s a strong climber and hasn’t lost much speed climbing a single canyon out of Boulder, but his age starts to show on a multi-canyon climb. Joe enjoys taking photos and posting illustrated stories on Facebook.
Jack and I rode many brevets together. On our ride today we reminisced. We miss the camaraderie of riding brevets and the sense of accomplishment when we finish. We agreed we’re glad we don’t have to spend 10s of hours a week getting in shape for the brevets. Jack still loves multi-hour rides and the sense of freedom – all he has to do is ride his bike, he doesn’t have any other responsibilities. He also volunteers as a mechanic in a not-for-profit bike shop.
I enjoy our two to four hour weekly road rides but to be honest I have more fun — and get a better workout — on my mountain bike. On it I’m cruising through the curves, come around a corner and there’s a 10 meter stiff climb. Shut up legs … I did it! At the top there’s a corkscrew descent, which I walk down. I don’t want to risk a broken bone. And my wife and I have started kayaking, an activity we enjoy together. We don’t try to kayak fast and aren’t breathing deeply on the water but when we get ashore we’re amazed at how tired we feel. And there are no drivers texting instead of watching out for cyclists.
Brian and Betty are going to Paris-Brest-Paris. He’s finished PBP twice; this PBP on their tandem will be a new adventure. They’re strong riders on their tandem with many ultradistance rides under their wheels. They’re going not for a personal best or bragging rights but to enjoy the camaraderie of the multi-national groups and the fun of riding through the French countryside and small towns. I told them, “Just keep pedaling.” to which he responded, “Just keep the wheels turning.”
Coach Hughes PBP 1999
I write these columns and coach a few clients to keep in touch with the sport and to share what I’ve learned in over the 40+ years I’ve been riding. I get great satisfaction out of my riders’ finishes, especially older rookies. I spare them my mistakes: One brevet I made the mistake of loosening my seat bolt, raising my saddle a bit, tightening and snapping the bolt. I bought a roll of duct tape, taped the seat post to the seat tube, the seat post slowly slipped down and every 25 miles I’d retape it. Unless essential never change anything on your bike during an event!
About training, Greg LeMond said, “It never gets easier, you just get faster.” As one ages, serious training never gets easier and, unfortunately, eventually one gets slower.
My nine friends and I have recognized how we’re changing both in body and mind as we age. Rather than just grinding ourselves into the ground trying to ride like we did 10 years ago, we’ve made conscious choices about how to continue cycling, adding other physical activities we enjoy and how to stay in contact with the sport.
The 8,000 participants in the 2023 PBP can choose three different starting groups with time limits of 80 hours, 84 hours and 90 hours. For example, the solo riders in the 90 hour group start this Sunday August 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. guaranteeing they’ll ride all night. They have to finish by 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Thursday August 24. Bonne chance et bonne route. (Good luck and safe journey)
My eBook Stop Cycling’s Showstoppers is about prevention. I address all of the things that can go wrong and interfere with a ride. I explain how to avoid issues involving equipment, nutrition, weather, ailments, injuries, discouragement, and more. In addition, this eBook is a valuable primer on topics such as riding comfort, training and riding skills. Stop Cycling’s Showstoppers is a workbook to help you diagnose and prevent problems. The 65-page Stop Cycling’s Showstoppers is $14.95.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process has chapters on the training principles to build endurance, how to gauge intensity, cardiovascular endurance exercise and recovery. I include plans you can easily modify for different amounts of riding. One plan increases over two years your annual riding from around 4,000 miles (6,500 km) to over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) a year. I give you plans to build up to 100 km and 100-mile rides. I discuss the importance of recovery and how to gauge if you are getting enough recovery. The book includes chapters on how to meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations on aerobic, high intensity aerobic, strength training, weight-bearing exercises, balance and flexibility. I include sample weeks and months for different types and amounts of exercise. I combine the different kinds of training into programs that balance training and recovery. The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.
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 over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.