by Bill BryantAfter the last Paris-Brest-Paris, Randonneurs USA sent out a survey to the 304 American finishers. RUSA thanks the 114 members who took the time to participate in order to help the next group of randonneurs headed to France this coming August. RUSA also surveyed the 93 American DNFs after the 1999 PBP. The responses make for interesting reading and the analysis can be found in the February 2000 issue of American Randonneur, which is available on-line in the RUSA archives. ( Note: the question numbers below will not correspond to the same question number on the survey.)
1. How many training miles did you log prior to PBP: 6,165 miles on average
2. Have you participated in PBP before? Yes: 38% No: 62%
Almost two-thirds of our respondents were PBP rookies. Of the 38% who were returning to PBP in 1999, 93% of this group were finishers of one or more past PBPs; only 7% had not previously finished.
3. Did you do an entire brevet series in 1998 in addition to the required series in 1999? Yes: 58% No: 42%
In 1999 US rookies at PBP needed to do two years of brevets, as they did in 1991 and 1995, per mandate from the International Randonneurs. When RUSA was formed in August of 1998 and rescinded this extra requirement, virtually all US 1998 brevet series had already been completed. Of the 42% who only did one year of brevets, most were previous finishers exempt from this extra requirement. A small remainder began PBP qualifying after (or because) the 2-year rule had been dropped. (Interestingly, in a similar survey of our 1999 PBP contingent who did not finish, 78% had done a full brevet series for two years or were previous PBP finishers exempt from IR's two-year qualifying rule.)
4. Did you take a sleep break during your 1999 600k brevet? Yes: 73% No: 27% Of those who took a sleep break, the average stop was 4 hours.
5. Which Start Group did you chose to enter? 80-hr group: 8% 84-hr group: 38% 90-hr group: 54%
6. Did you use a personal support crew? Yes: 25% No: 75%
7. How long did you ride without sleep? 80-hr group: 38 hrs, 84-hr group: 23 hrs, 30 mins, 90-hr group: 24 hrs
This is where figures can sometimes be deceiving. One would look at the averages above and think that the 84- and 90-hr riders rode about the same amount of time before their first sleep stop. But this doesn't make sense since so many of both groups stopped in the same place at roughly the same time to do that (see #8 below). With this in mind, it will be more useful to look at the median figures since there was such a wide range among the 84-hr group responses and this affected their average figure quite a lot. (Some of this group went much farther before their sleep stop compared to the 90-hr group, which was more consistent.)
80-hr group: 32.5 hrs, 84-hr group: 20 hrs, 90-hr group: 24 hrs
With this we get a more accurate picture. The typical 84-hr rider went about 20 hrs prior to their first sleep stop, while the typical 90-hr rider went 4 hrs longer. Knowing that so many of both groups ended up in Loudeác for sleep Tuesday night/ Wednesday morning, this makes more sense. Simply put, the typical 90-hr rider tended to take longer to get there. Also, the question was somewhat ambiguous. A large majority of respondents seemed to indicate from the start in Paris to their first sleep break, but the question could also be interpreted as to be asking about the longest time between sleep breaks elsewhere during the ride. Cross-checking other answers on each survey showed that only in a few instances did they ride farther elsewhere than during the first leg of the ride.
8. Where was your first sleep stop? 90-hr group: Loudeác (444k) 62%; Carhaix (520k) 15%; Brest (603k) 5% 84-hr group: Loudeác 82%; Carhaix 3%; Brest 3%
*The other respondents reported taking their first sleep break at various places along the route, usually in-between controls or somewhere after Brest. The vast majority of 84-hour and 90-hour starters indicated they stopped at Loudeác going outbound for their first sleep break on Tuesday night---no wonder the place was so crowded. Despite the apparent lack of showers there, this was a very good choice for the RUSA bag drop. (Indeed, quite a few US riders made Loudeác their second sleep stop too.) And for the riders using Loudeác hotels, the lack of showers at the control was not a problem. (The 80-hr group respondents stopped at widely scattered spots along the course when they took their first sleep break---and some didn't stop to sleep at all. No significant conclusions could be drawn from their answers on this topic.)
9. How did your 600k qualifying brevet time compare to getting to Brest? The answers fell into three groups: 32% were faster than on the 600k and they were 2 hours quicker on average. 6% had a similar time on both 600k rides. 62% took longer getting to Brest than on their 600k brevet, and they were 4 hours, 15 minutes slower on average.
9a. Same question, but separated by starting groups:
80-hr group: 75% were quicker; none were about the same; 25% were slower. 84-hr group: 31% were quicker; 31% were about the same; 38% were slower. 90-hr group: 14% were quicker; 4% were about the same; 82% were slower.
No real surprises when looking at each starting group. Unlike at their local brevet with a small group of riders, at PBP, many 80-hr speedsters probably benefited from having a lot of similarly fast riders to draft getting to Brest. The 84-hr group was fairly evenly divided, probably from a start time that is similar to a normal brevet. However, for the 90-hr riders the night start and long lines at controls getting to Brest obviously slowed them down a good bit. This makes an interesting compari- son for riders thinking about choosing a PBP start time for 2003. Or, should they need more than 36-37 hours on the 600k qualifier, if they should undertake PBP at all.
(Note that the respondents' times were rounded to the nearest 15 minutes to ease computation in this category. Also, it is important to remember that in 1999 the route from Paris to Brest was well over 600k, probably by about 15-20 kilometers, or about one hour of cycling.)
10. Did you have a difficult moment during PBP? Yes: 76% No: 24%
One-fourth of our respondents reported a relatively trouble-free ride but three-fourths had a particularly difficult episode or problem. Many reasons were given but they broke down into several main groups:
Excessive physical fatigue/mental malaise: 37%
Body/energy management problems: 17% (bonk, indigestion, or diarrhea listed most often)
Physical injury: 16% (knee or Achilles problems, "Shermer neck" listed most often)
Overheating on Tuesday: 7%
Dreadful saddle sores: 7%
Bike problems: 7% (broken gear cables, wheel troubles were mentioned most often)
Getting lost: 3%
Other: 5% (trying to stay with an ailing friend, etc)
11. What was the hardest part of PBP for you? Too much variation to tabulate, but typical comments were: Pre-ride anticipation...preparing for the ride; wondering if I could do it...financing the trip...waiting for the start...the 10 PM start...endless hills...climbing to Mortagne-au-Perche...riding all night from the start...hot temps on Tuesday...disgusting barnyard smells in the afternoon heat...trying to find my hotel in Loudeác at 2am...the saddle!...sleep deprivation...deciding which French foods to eat, or not...my sore butt...the steep climbs leaving Loudeác headed to Carhaix...getting lost...the climb to the Brest control...starting to ride after a sleep stop...staying awake for so long...stinky, pushy, Euro-dudes in long food lines...not getting enough sleep...route-finding in the dark... trying to minimize wasted time at controls; I wish I could have enjoyed the ambiance more...sleeping on concrete floors...the fourth night on the road...the last 200k...the last 10k on a very confusing route that wasn't on the route sheet...finishing; I didn't want to quit!...realizing it was over; what a blast!...th e hardest part was finishing, knowing I had to wait four more years to do it again...etc.
12. What was the best part of PBP for you? Too much variation to tabulate, but typical comments were: The French drivers...the people, both in the ride and on the roadside cheering for us..."flying" in a pack of French riders into Paris to earn our medals...doing the ride with my friends...the encouragement of the French people...the scenic route...everything...the entire ride; everything was incredible...the French people...living a wonderful dream...very few cars on the route...meeting an important personal goal...the beautiful forests, farms, villages, roads, spectators, and courte- ous drivers...riding into Mortagne-au-Perche in the moonlight...bettering my time goal...finishing the damn thing...riding under the full moon...the final 80-90 miles...the scenery...cycling with accomplished randonneurs from around the world...the tailwind from Brest to Paris...just about all of it...people along the way and my fellow riders...just being there...arriving at Brest and finding no steep hills...seeing all my friends...the whole experience...meeting my wife in Brest...the sheer joy of riding such a spectacular event with like-minded cyclists from around the world...the wonderful people along the route cheering us onward...I loved everything about PBP...too many great things to list, etc.
13. What were the strongest reasons for your ability to finish PBP? There were numerous answers too difficult to tabulate, but the overwhelming majority came down to personal pride, determination, not wanting to be a DNF, etc. "Quitting was not an option," several persons wrote. Having fun was also frequently cited, as was having done hard qualifying brevets. "Being surrounded by great randonneuring ghosts of the past" inspired one weary fellow to continue despite his fatigue.
14. Are you considering riding PBP in 2003? Yes: 86% Maybe: 8% No: 6%
Following the extreme "high" of finishing such an incredible ride, most respondents were understandably very enthusiastic. Three years later, the "maybe" category would probably have more votes since the historic data shows that for most American randonneurs, doing PBP once is enough. For the people who responded "no", most of their comments fell into two groups: "Been there, done that" was seen several times, so too legitimate concerns about the large amount of money it takes for Americans to do PBP.
15. Will you take the same start time if you do PBP again? Yes: 73% No: 15% Unsure: 12%
Almost three-fourths of our respondents feel they have found the starting group that works best for their abilities and/or style of randonneuring. Of those wanting to change, the majority were 90-hr starters who wanted to move to the 84-hr group and have less night riding, while a few from the 84-hr group wanted to join the 80-hr start and go faster. Several 84-hr entrants found they didn't sleep well prior to the 5am Tuesday start, so they will opt for the Monday evening group next time.
16. Is there something RUSA can do to better prepare the riders for PBP? The overwhelming response was that it is up to the riders themselves to train seriously and get ready. Virtually all the respondents were in agreement on this. As someone pointed out, "RUSA won't be there to hold anyone's hand on the ride from Brest back to Paris; it takes guts and determination." The aspect of personal willpower came up again and again, and a "never surrender" attitude was seen as being crucial to PBP success. One determined randonneuse went right to the nub of the matter: "I wasn't going to be a soft American," she wrote.
In addition, several respondents also emphasized the need for hard, hilly brevets since the PBP route is relentlessly up and down, and others mentioned the importance of training effectively between the 600k brevet and August. More "how to" randonneuring articles in the newsletter were also suggested. (Hopefully the RUSA Handbook has addressed that con- cern. In addition, for 2003 the RUSA BoD has encouraged Regional Brevet Administrators to schedule more brevets after their 600k in order to improve riders' training leading up to PBP.)