So I just finished riding 750 miles (1200km) across 4 days in something called a brevet. I am officially a randonneur! What the heck is that? And why in the world would I do this in the middle of my racing season?
Let’s start by answering the first question: Randonneuring is a long distance unsupported endurance cycling event. The events are non-competitive in nature and being self-sufficient is critical. Friendly camaraderie, not competition, is the hallmark of randonneuring. With these events, you ride a prescribed course with a generous time limit and document that you’ve ridden through a series of checkpoints along the route, called “controls.” A randonneuring event is called a randonnée or brevet, and a rider who has completed an event is called a randonneur.
The most iconic brevet is “PBP” or Paris-Brest-Paris. PBP is a 1200k (750 mile) event held in Paris every 4 years. This started in 1891 and it is the oldest bicycling event that is still regularly run. It began as a race for professional cyclists, but is now a non-competitive endurance challenge. You have to qualify in order to do this event, often by completing a series of brevets within the same year. The last PBP was in 2019, so the next one will be August 2023.
So why would I choose to do this in the middle of my race season? As I type this, I have 10 days until I line up for LeadBoat, then 6 days after that I have Gravel Worlds. I just rode 38 hours in the last 4 days. Most would argue that this was not a wise decision for my racing, and they may be right if they only look at numbers. But I signed up to do this event after I had heard about these earlier in the year. My friend who rode a 1200k in May talked about how the community was supportive and the camaraderie among the riders was inspiring. As most of you know, my season has not exactly gone as planned. I had surgery. I DNF’ed for the first time. Right as I started to get fitness back, I got sidelined with a bad case of COVID. My personal life had some major shake-ups. If I’m being honest and transparent, things have been rough, both mentally and physically the last few months.
The “why” for this event really came down to me wanting to explore another area of cycling. I like to add something to my calendar every year that is not performance based. I wanted to see the culture of these events and be around like-minded people who just love to ride their bikes for the joy of riding. Since I am new to cycling, I really only know the racing side of things. I’ve always been a competitor and I get a lot of joy from racing and competing to the highest possible level. However, when things go poorly sometimes you need a reset. So sure, this may not be the conventional approach to my race season but who likes to play by the rules anyways? I like to challenge the “normal” way of doing things and stay curious about what my body can do.
In addition to meeting such amazing, supportive and kind people the last 4 days I gained a lot of experience and knowledge of what works and doesn’t work on these long days. I saw how durable I was and I learned what my body needed to keep going. I gained confidence and my eyes were opened to what I could be capable of for back to back efforts or even stage racing in the future. So here are some takeaways:
Equipment is critical.
You put your bike through a lot in 4 days crushing through 750 miles of variable terrain. I rode my Ventum NS1 road bike with SRAM force drivetrain and had no mechanicals. I love this bike and this was the first step in making sure these miles went well. Each night I looked over my bike, cleaned my drivetrain and double checked charge on my shifters and batteries. I tried to do this right when I got back since once I ate dinner I was too tired to do it afterwards. That was a key learning point - get the stuff prepped for the next day on back to back days before relaxing.
You are a human garbage can.
I can officially say that I am sick of carbs. I never thought I would say that but usually I would burn anywhere from 4,800 - 6,700 calories per day. Add in my basic nutritional needs and I had to consume over 8,500 calories per day. When you’re on the bike you mostly stick to carbs since that’s the easiest fuel source. Eating feels like a chore but it’s part of the process. When you finish it’s also tempting to eat a massive plate of food in one sitting but your body can only absorb so much at once. So I favor timed eating - this is basically where you eat a smaller meal every 60-90 minutes in the next 4-5 hours after events like this. This helps with digestion as well.
You need to pace yourself before you wreck yourself.
On back to back efforts and endurance events this long you really need to have a good sense of what your limit is. The last thing you want to do is be cracked on day 1. Thankfully my coach and I had a good plan to really keep all my riding zone 1 & 2. It’s important to avoid surging as this depletes different energy systems and quickly adds fatigue to the legs. “Slow and steady” really does the trick. For me, I was lucky enough to have my main training partner there with me and we have so many miles together we both know how we ride and what is sustainable. I know exactly when he’s going to ramp up power to try and gain speed across terrain.
Threads and Helmet/Body Care:
When you ride 38hrs across 4 days you want to be comfortable in your gear. You will most likely get a saddle sore. So you want to do everything possible to try and prevent that. I wore Voler brand kit and chamois everyday and love their threads. I found that having bibs that fit tight are really important. In addition to your body shrinking over the course of those days, you also don’t want a shifting chamois on the tenth hour of the day. I also use barrier balm before each ride and even apply nightly to help soothe the skin. I reapplied chamois butter 2-3 times per day as well. Shifting positions helps a lot on the long days and standing to climb to give the taint a rest every once in a while will do wonders. We as cyclists don’t talk about this enough, but saddle sores and the damage we do to our skin down there is no joke. Talk about it more and ask questions. Try new things, but make sure you find out what works best for you. I also wore my Abus Gamechanger helmet; even though this is marketed as a more aero helmet it’s actually quite cool and well vented even in the 90+ temps we had. These simple things really make a big difference in your comfort.
Ice Ice Baby….
Staying cool and hydrated is very important. Drink more than you think you need and make sure it’s not plain water. You don’t want to get hyponatremic! I used a variety of drink mixes to keep things light on the stomach and to avoid getting flavor fatigue. I really enjoy light hydration, meaning I don’t like strong flavored drink mixes or calorie dense fluids. They just don’t sit well for me. I tried to have more calorie dense liquids on day 2 and paid for it with stomach bloating and cramping. Thankfully for me, I knew this was a gamble so I did it near the end and could muster through. Equally important is cooling the body. I did this by adding ice to my bottles every chance I could and man did that help! In addition to cold drinks, it’s really important to wear sunscreen. I don’t think people understand how much sunscreen can impact performance. Your skin is your largest organ and your body’s ability to cool itself is impaired if you are not applying sunscreen regularly throughout the day.
Now prior to getting to the fun numbers and stats of each day, I have to give a shout out to the volunteers of these brevets. They might have a harder task than the actual riders. They stay up through the nights since riders come and go at all hours of the day and night. When I finished my ride I had a protein smoothie waiting for me and then had a hot meal for dinner with plenty of snacks. They had a warm breakfast every morning with fresh coffee and plenty of options. But more importantly, these are all volunteers who do this because they want to be apart of our journey. They were extremely supportive, encouraging and genuine. It didn’t matter if you were the fastest rider of the day or the last person in the control - everyone’s journey is equally important and monumental. Their work really helped ease stress for me; all I had to do was show up and ride my bike and the rest was taken care of. If you ever do these events, you’ll see how passionate and amazing these people are! Thank you!!!!
Stats + Strava Links for each day (could write a blog on each day, but will keep it brief)
Day 1: 208 miles, 9K gain, 20.6mph average speed, 10:08 moving time, 11:44 elapsed time
High = getting to meet so many new people who love cycling and then a roller section of up/steep downs through the country side
Low = starting to question what I got myself into….
Day 2: 228 miles, 11K gain, 20.4mph average speed, 11:12 moving time, 12:59 elapsed time
High = getting a euphoric wave near the last 50 miles and feeling like a million bucks despite being on the saddle so much in the last 24hrs
Low = stomach bloat after experimenting with concentrated fluids
Day 3: 168 miles, 10K gain, 18.2mph average speed, 9:14 moving time, 9:52 elapsed time
High = The 5 mile dirt climb section!!! And getting to ride with Gabe for 80+ miles
Low = riding 90+ miles into a headwind without a draft
Day 4: 145 miles, 8K gain, 19.5mph average speed, 7:27 moving time, 8:13 elapsed time
High = Getting to ride with my old team’s DS Josh Lipka and the morning views with mountains through the fog.
Low = saddle sores hurting on every bump as we approached the end spot and more pot holes, etc.
Website to learn more about randonneuring: https://rusa.org/