Paris Brest Paris 2007 – by Denise Silk
I was one of three people from Singapore to take part in PBP in 2007. There was JF Torrelle, Andrew McIntyre and myself (Denise Silk). Looking back on this experience I think a certain amount of naivety was priceless but there is certainly a few things that I would do differently knowing what I know now.
I remember clearly going to the start and just entering into the swarm of riders making their way around a running track to the starting area. We knew it was going to start raining at any minute, it was inevitable, what they didn’t tell us was that it would be torrential rain for the next 2 days straight and go down in history as the second worst weather conditions for a PBP.
As soon as my turn came around and pedals started turning the rain started. So that section to the first checkpoint is all a bit of a blur. It was dark, it was raining, people were figuring out speeds and who to ride with and really you couldn’t see anything just this long stretch of lights going for miles out in front of you. I reached the first checkpoint and the volunteers were so happy and welcoming even though we came in literally dripping with water. It was beyond cold, I was shivering and my teeth chattering. I grabbed a coffee and some food and can remember standing at the door thinking, if I don’t go now, I won’t go. So I found the courage, even though one lovely volunteer said I could sleep there; to walk back out into the horrible rain and get back on the bike.
As I was riding solo (JF and Andrew had a different cut-off and therefore started later than me), it wasn’t too hard to find people to ride with. I jumped around between a couple of different groups seeing some familiar faces again and again. Whenever I rode into a village and saw a bunch of people having coffee I joined them. I loved chatting with different people both on the rides, at coffee and at the checkpoints, it made the experience so special. At times I found myself on my own too, which was fine. That was one thing I had trained for, doing solo Changi rides every Sunday, a representative amount between each checkpoint and getting the head ready for that.
It was funny though, when some of the guys realized I was a female and riding by myself they insisted I should draft behind them to the next checkpoint 🙂 I wasn’t going to object, God knows I needed all the help I could get. We always had a long chat and that made the ride go by quicker. It was interesting though how few females there were, that did surprise me, hopefully that will change.
The next major point was around 450km, the weather had been beating us down and we came across a really long climb that just never seemed to end. I started to see loads of people sitting by the road side all the way up the climb, some crying, totally shattered. The rain and wind was unrelenting. Looking back at the statistics afterwards this was indeed the area where majority of people quit the ride.
Of course, not wanting to miss out I too took a seat on the roadside, more in solidarity but also to give myself a chance to lessen the pressure. I decided at that point I would finish the ride, even if it took longer than 90 hours. Psychologically that did the trick, I ended up making it within the timeframe. It was amazing how much calmer I felt giving myself that permission.
I think one of the hardest things for people to get their head around was giving themselves time limits. Like expecting to finish in 80 hours. I could see that totally affecting people. Even one guy I saw just 70km from the finish struggling to go on because he’d gone past his “personal” time limit even though he was well safe in 90 hour time limit and looked strong enough to finish. The mental battles can be really hard, you need to take a moment and step back sometimes and not get caught up in the new world of PBP that you enter into. Time limits can be motivational but they shouldn’t define the experience.
Just before reaching 600km Andrew had caught me and we rode into the half way point together which was a great feeling and was so nice to ride with someone I knew. God knows how many training rides we had done in Malaysia and I knew Andrews wheel very well. He had family along and I could totally see the benefit of having a support crew. It made a world of difference even for me. They cheered us both into the checkpoint which was fun.
I did decide though not to continue riding with Andrew (he his a much faster rider), I had to keep to my own pace. I felt bad on one hand but I knew if I tried to match Andrew I would blow a gasket and it would be game over. That is one of the biggest things I think helped work for me, I knew my pace, I knew how fast I could go and kept monitoring my heart rate to keep it steady. But things always work out, 200km down the road and I find Andrew!! He obviously got some sleep but was also starting to slow down. So then we did ride the last 400km together which was incredible. He was able to push me a bit faster when I needed it, and get me up to some of the groups so we could tack onto the peloton and we also both kept each other company in what was now a very dispersed group of riders. In some sections we barely saw anybody. There was one section where I had handed my wet gear to his niece and taken her shirt and beanie and we headed out into the dark again and it was just us to the next checkpoint. It was so eerie. Occasionally we would see lights flickering in the grass as people slept wherever they feel asleep. We saw one guy in a coffee shop pick up his coffee and it didn’t even touch his lips and he was sound a sleep, his arm raised holding a cup 🙂
Sleep deprivation is not something to take lightly. I was very lucky on that last day, after both of us only got 1 hour sleep at the checkpoint before we had to continue, I actually started to fall asleep on the bike and we were riding in a pack!! Andrew obviously was still alert enough and swiftly slapped my arm and told me we needed to get to the back of the pack and then we rolled off at the first coffee shop. You do need friends around sometimes to catch moments like that. I’m glad he acted on it and avoided a potential accident.
We both crossed together at the end. Both within our time categories, me 88hrs 46 mins. It was such an exhilarating feeling as we raced those last few km’s to the finish. I slept though almost the entire week after…..I was so tired. That first night I slept 13 hrs straight!! PBP has a way of taking you to the limit mentally, physically and emotionally and then some, but I would do it again. I am targeting 2019 so will see how it goes.
Things I would do the same:
- Chat to people, stop for coffee when it looks fun to do or in a town where they do special things for riders like a random soup kitchen at 2am in the morning.
- Eat at the checkpoints, food is awesome and get to meet so many amazing people (although towards the end one checkpoint did run out of food)
- Ride my pace, or group who rides similar
- Take photos again, but even more
Things I would do differently:
- I would train more, so my average speed was a bit higher. Oh and add in some hill training 🙂
- If I trained more, I could then sleep more
- Have support there, either in other riders or friends/family at the checkpoints. Especially for gear/bags
- Take a few days off work afterwards, recover fully
- By shoes one size bigger (my toes were numb for a month afterwards)
- Get some notes on the route (I totally went in blind, no directions, distances, just followed the yellow arrows which started to disappear at the end as some people took them as souveniers 🙂
- Don’t use a triple chain ring (mine needed some manual adjustments many times to change into gear so I could go up hill!!)
- Carry some badges or small gifts from home country to give to other riders