Training and preparation for our Paris Brest Paris journey 2023

Training and preparing for Paris Brest Paris.

(If you dont want to read the full story we have given a short synopsis at the bottom)

This is our account of the training and preparation that we did, we are not saying its the perfect way to prepare but it suited us. 

So, who are we?

I’m Padraig Marrey from Western Lakes CC Ballinrobe, standing at 6 feet tall and weighing in at 88 kgs. I’m generally easy-going but like to have things planned. I don’t get too caught up in all the stats, but I do appreciate the details. Favourite meal juicy steak, my better half would describe me as an 8 on the enneagram table.

Micheal Brady hails from Westport Covey Wheelers. At 5 feet 6 inches and weighing 82 kgs (I’m being generous here), he’s incredibly easy going. He’s a great man to go to war with, but you have to drop him off in the exact right field. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t use gadgets, rarely plans, but even if you dropped him in the middle of the Sahara, he’d find his way home. He absolutely loves finger licking tasty chicken, doesn’t care how its presented. He’d score a 9 on the enneagram table with maybe a wing in a 7.

Both of us are more suited to rugby than cycling, but we have ridden Ireland’s biggest cycling events and got through them fine.

The Why and how to Train

So, how does one prepare for an event that spans 1,220 km, features 13,000 meters of climbing, and has a time limit of 90 hours with limited time for sleep?

I think the proper answer is you can’t but you can prepare your body and mind for what lays ahead so that you endure the event.

The other real question is how did we ended up doing Paris Brest Paris in the first place.

It all began when we overheard our buddies, Darragh and Trevor, making plans for a multi-day long-distance cycling trip up the North West coast. I asked what it was for, and that’s when I first heard of PBP. They thought a long-distance camping trip would be good preparation for next year’s PBP event. Upon delving deeper, I learned that to secure a spot, you had to pre-qualify by completing a 400 km or 600 km Audax event a year beforehand.

In 2022, I was more into hiking, with the goal of climbing 50 peaks by the age of 50, so I wasn’t cycling much. But as the weeks flew by and the summer was coming to a close, I spotted an article about PBP and got hooked. I heard that the last 400 km event of the year was called Inishfree 400 that was on at the end of August, starting in Sligo and covering nearly every hill in Sligo, Leitrim, and Donegal.

I have no qualms in saying that I am a full-fledged adventure junkie. One gig finishes, and another is born, usually within days. This time, I refrained from sending out a text to the wolf pack because it wasn’t that type of gig. Over the years, you learn the traits of your mates pretty well, and you really have to be careful with their partners. 🌍🚴‍♂️

Balancing the call of adventure with consideration for your mates and their relationships is an art form in itself! 😄

Ah, the classic reaction from my mates’ partners when I drop them a call or a text about one of my bright new adventures. It usually unfolds a bit like this:

Partner: “Who was that, dear?” Mate: “Ah, it’s only Marrey.” Partner: “What does he want?” Mate: “Ah, he’s only ringing for the craic.” Partner: “Marrey doesn’t ring for the craic. What’s he up to?” Mate: “Ah, it’s only a few days pedalling.” Partner: “Sorry, dear, but you can’t go.” Mate: “Why?” Partner: “I have something booked for those dates!” Mate: “But I never told you the dates.” Partner: “It’s a no, and that’s it.”

Seems like my adventures often clash with their plans. What can I say? Life on two wheels waits for no one! 🚴‍♂️😄

It’s not that anything major ever happens on these trips away, but it’s the collective spirits of the wolf pack that make them special. One of my mates reckons I attract all sorts of mad hatters, referring to guys on the spectrum, but well, it takes one to know one. 🚴‍♂️😄

Indeed, there’s a unique camaraderie among us adventurers, and sometimes, it’s the quirkiest characters who add the most flavour to the journey! 🌟

So, with just five days to go till event day, who do you call for last minute gigs but the #No1 Cove Micheal Brady, known for his nonchalant attitude towards most things but a deep love for cycling challenges. I floated the idea of PBP and the 400 km audax event to him, and he casually said, “Sure, why not?” Micheal had previously cycled from Mizen to Malin with little or no training and that’s after a bought with Covid, me on the other hand hadn’t ridden more than 140 km all year. Still, we figured it would be a nice day out. Misery just loves company. 

The Inishfree event turned out to be an excellent learning experience. We decided to drive down the evening before since the start time was 6 am. We set up shop, had a few bevies with other participants and then slept in the campervan. The night was a mix of heavy rain and Micheal’s snoring—I didn’t get a wink of sleep.

Micheal, as always, woke up in disarray, searching for his gear under any available light source. The rain was relentless, but it took all the determination I had to make it to the start line. Again, we were late by 12 minutes, but luckily, another participant had a flat tire, so the organizer waited. He grunted a few disapprovals in our direction, handed us two brevet cards, and off we went, pedal to the metal.

The route was spectacular, taking us along coastlines we didn’t even know existed. Eventually, we reached Donegal town for a much-needed refuelling stop. The rain stopped, but a strong headwind greeted us. Uphill and downhill, we went, conquering classic climbs like Glen Colmcille, Glengesh, and the Bluestack Way.

Everything was going fine until we had about 60 km to go. In the dead of night, somewhere in Leitrim, both of us ran out of lights, leaving us in complete darkness. Our buddy Damo had been trying to track us, but we kept missing each other until, like a superhero, he appeared out of nowhere. Damo had spare lights and gave us some food, and together, we stumbled our way back to the finish line at 1 am, a staggering 17 hours after we started. The seed had been planted; we had caught the  cycling endurance bug.


What We Learned

You don’t need to have cycled 400 km in one go to tackle an event as long as this. The body is like an engine—keep feeding it with fuel, water, and don’t push the revs too high, and it’ll go on forever. Mentally, following the GPS device and its various cues helps stave off boredom. Aches and pains from being in the saddle for so long are just that—aches and pains. They come and go; the key is not to dwell on them. Push a little harder, attack a hill, aim for the next town, or use visual distractions.

PBP Training

The number one principle to remember is that you don’t have to see the full staircase to be able to climb the stairs. So, don’t try to do the exact distance; leave a bit in reserve for the adventure. What do I mean? Well, for me, PBP was an adventure. If I was sure of the outcome, it would’ve lacked something. Yes, get the miles and hills done, but don’t overdo it. In my younger days, I tended to overdo everything—work, training, and neglecting my nutrition and recovery.

Since my heart incident nine years ago, I’ve been skeptical of pushing too hard. So, taking on PBP was as much a mental challenge as a physical one, but one I felt I needed to undertake.

Interestingly, neither Micheal nor I ever sat down to discuss training or planning. We only ever talked about events. Our preparation was not a meticulously structured affair.

First, I always examine the event’s requirements. Is it hilly? What are the temperatures like? What kind of road surfaces do we face? Is the course affected by winds? Is the route technical? But one thing I never checked was the number of controls or checks we would have to negotiate.

It turns out we collected 17 stamps on our PBP passport. Each control took about 10 minutes without faffing about, so just for controls alone, we could lose up to 3 hours. Wait until you see how much time we actually lost during the event itself.

Training Focus

Here’s where we concentrated our training efforts:

  • Strength for Climbs
  • Endurance for the Distance
  • Core Strength for Stability
  • Try different foods, it turns out you need a Stomach Like a Septic Tank
  • Your Kidneys need to be Like a Water treatment Plant
  • Have a Bike that Could Survive Armageddon 
  • Have shorts with a Chamois that would soak up an earthquake’s vibration

If you had all these aspects in check, you were on the right track.

We didn’t push ourselves too hard during the winter. If the weather was unfavourable, I stuck to short spins on Zwift or ventured onto the trails with my MTB or gravel bike.

By January, I made sure I hadn’t packed on too much excess weight. With my large frame and voracious appetite, it’s easy for me to gain weight. Nevertheless, I still tipped the scales at 88 kgs and above.

We’d heard all sorts of training plans and suggested events ben floated about, but we decided to do things our way. Our jobs were already physically demanding, and we had families, so getting soaked for two days straight was not our idea of fun. Plus, it could leave us fatigued for an extended period.

We didn’t need a coach or mentor to call the shots. Cycling was our escape, a break from the categorically ordered world. I’m a qualified coach and tutor, well-versed in training principles. I don’t need fancy training scripts to understand how to get fit. All I need is a couple of buddies like Micheal Brady, #No1 Cove, and his brother Noel. No need for gadgets or fancy training plans; we just get out there and pedal.

Micheal and I are complete opposites in many ways but brothers from different mothers in others. He’s the yin to my yang, so together, we cover all the bases. Or to put it differently, we balance each other’s inadequacies.

In late January, I organized a two-day training camp to Clifden. I used to do this during my Ras days, and it always worked well to gauge our fitness. We took the long coastal route to Galway’s western oasis and returned via the Connemara hills. The pedalling was tough, and the weather was equally challenging, but it set the foundation for our PBP training.

Qualification Journey

Our qualification journey kicked off in Midleton, Co. Cork, at the Gimme Shelter event in early February. It was a 200 km distance, and we powered through it. However, we wasted a lot of time at food stops and controls, as evidenced by how far behind the front-runners we were. Brady loves to savour his food, after all.

Fixing Mistakes

On the way home we had a chat to fix a few faults:

1. The First which is easy to do, bring enough food and water to get us through the first 100k, try not to stop at all, even if the call of natured warranted it, if you needed to it meant you stopped on your own and clawed your way back..(This might not suit everyone but its a good exercise to do).  

2. Stop the faffing around at the controls and minimise time spent at food stops 

3. Keep pace smooth, no big surges in speed, build up the speed and keep steady. 

4. Use the group’s speed to all our advantage. 

5. No racing or jumping away. 

Lets see how long the above lasted….!

In March, I tackled the brutally hard East Clare Meander on rough roads with 3,300 meters of climbing. There were no takers from our group, so I went alone. I found it rather liberating to pedal the entire course solo. I kept stops to a minimum and was only halted for 25 minutes in total. It was a good exercise.

Early April saw Micheál Brady and me jump into the Connacht 600 km event. We’d never done one before, but we applied the same tactics as before—starting strong, then easing off a bit. We hit a 200 km headwind leg to Leenane, with sleet and hail, making it one gruelling day. At the 390 km mark in Westport, we stopped and slept in our own beds for a few hours before resuming at around 6 am. The second part of that day featured the worst conditions I’d encountered all year, but we powered through. It was character-building stuff.

Next up at the end of April was the Killeshin 300 km event in Carlow. The conditions were perfect, and we completed it in 11.24 hours. Poor Damo got a toe injury (would’ve been better if it was his tongue), so we had to wait for him. We also met a lively Spaniard named Victor, living in Mayo, which seemed quite ironic.

Audax events had taken us all over the country, leading us down roads we’d never cycled before. The whole experience was enlightening and invigorating, offering us a new perspective on endurance cycling. Plus, the sightseeing wasn’t half bad either.

Had to organise the Wild Mayo Ultra in the 2nd week of May, so that took up a few weeks with little or no training but defiantly gave me a lot of head meltdowns.. 

Our final qualifier a 400k on May 20th involved a full lap of County Clare. This time, three of us went all out from the beginning. We encountered fog along the coast all the way to Loop Head, which was a pity, as we missed all the beautiful scenery. Kilrush taught us a lesson about what not to eat; greasy chicken and chips for me and fish and chips for the others glued us to the road for the next 100 km. It was an unpleasant feeling, the injectors were clogged, but it was a valuable lesson.

We completed that 400 km event in a unique way, navigating an 8 km mountain gravel path in darkness and  pissing rain, with all sorts of nocturnal creatures popping out of bushes and scrub. “Different” might be an understatement, but it was a one-of-a-kind experience, a “Henrik special.”

For a few weeks, we did very little in terms of proper training, focusing on gravel biking and some mountain biking. A silly crash led to me falling palm-first onto a pointy stone. Strangely, the pain from that crash was the worst I’d ever experienced ever. Every ride after that was torture, no matter what gloves or handlebar foam I used; the road vibrations still seeped through. But there was no point in complaining about it; we had to press on.

On the first week of July, a special trip we embarked on was Croke Park to Croagh Patrick. However, the lads were taking the train to Dublin for the start, so Bryan and I decided to cycle the 250 km to Dublin and beat them there, which we did. Our journey followed the Royal Canal to Tarmonbarry, the gateway to the west, and on the second day, we reached the top of Croagh Patrick. This proved to be the toughest three days of cycling I’d experienced, with gravel and country roads, along with a relentless headwind that made every kilometre feel like a hundred. Nevertheless, we made it, and it was a significant achievement.

Our final preparation event, just four weeks before PBP (July 23rd), was a 330 km route through Connemara, starting at 2 pm and finishing at 7 am the following day. With few places open, we had to carry all our food and water. Cycling in the dark also allowed us to test our lights and bag setups. It served as excellent training for both body and bike.

One thing I noticed after looking back over the past few months, between events we did very little long rides, the norm was somewhere between 50 and 90k, I know the days after most of the events we were fit to do very little except maybe go for a sea swim and a hot sauna. I did a good bit of core work and swam nearly every day in the sea, maybe we have hit on a new training regime because it defiantly worked.

The saying “fail to prepare,  prepare to fail” was not going to be our motto. We had our preparation done, and from July on, it was just about maintaining fitness.


Pre-PBP Family Holiday

Mary, Kyle, and I had planned a family holiday at Christmas, get to France three weeks before the event. It was an incredible holiday, filled with a bit of everything, all from the confines of an old campervan. Staying in a campervan for three weeks might not have been the ideal preparation, but it turned out to be the perfect tonic.

My day job as a walking and cycling postman meant waking up at 5 am daily, walking around 20 km, and cycling around 18 km. In my spare time, I organized events, which could be mentally draining due to the many uncontrollable factors. Those few weeks in Normandy allowed me to do some 100 km rides, acclimate to the roads and the heat, all with little to no stress, except for the evening soccer games with Kyle and a bunch of enthusiastic kids from all over Europe.

Over those few weeks in France, I put on an extra 3 kgs intentionally, knowing I’d need the extra calories during PBP. Feasting on camping BBQ, wine, and fine dining had its benefits.

On the Friday before PBP, most of the Connacht and Irish gang arrived. We’d been fortunate to arrive a day earlier and scope out the area. We parked under lofty, leafy trees that provided great shelter from the blazing sun. We got everyone else parked around us, creating a little cycling oasis.

On Saturday, we covered 50k, the first 30 km of the route out and the final 20 km back home. It was great to have that under our belts. Our last supper was a feast fit for kings, exactly what we needed before the big day.

Race day, as we mentioned earlier, was all about fixing bikes and getting ready for the 1,200 km epic journey ahead.


Paris Brest Paris, here we come! 🚴‍♂️🥖🧀🍷

The final stats: Covered 1234 km, even though we lost about 20 km due to Wahoo dying. Average moving speed was 26.5 kph, with an average wattage of around 235w. Average heart rate was 110 bpm on day 2, had to work really hard to get it to rise. Maintained an average RPM of 67.

In total, spent 66.27 hours on the move, with 20.30 hours not moving, squeezed in about 2.5 hours of rest broken into 3 naps. Consumed a staggering 40,000 calories, which is nearly 12 days’ worth of food for an average person! Food expenses reached 220 euros, as Audax events don’t supply food at controls. Relied on 2 power banks to keep our devices charged. Notably, we didn’t use gels, instead opting for electrolytes and a few sachets of energy drink powder, with a focus on solid food and smoothies. This is an idea of what it takes to ENDURE at event like PBP! 💪🚴‍♂️🍔🥤

As you probably noticed, we were short about 20plus k, thats where the Wahoo ran out of go go juice.

A recap on PBP preparation and training:

Build a Base: Start with a solid foundation of fitness. Regular cycling and maintaining a good level of physical activity are essential.

Nutrition is Number 1 (hence this long paragraph)  it plays a pivotal role in long-distance events like Paris Brest Paris (PBP). Understanding what your body needs and how it reacts to different foods and strategies can make a significant difference in your performance and overall experience. Here are some key points to consider:

Experiment in Training: Use your training rides and shorter events as opportunities to experiment with nutrition strategies. Try different foods, drinks, and supplements to determine what works best for you.

Balanced Diet: Maintain a balanced diet leading up to the event. Ensure you’re getting a variety of nutrients from carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Carbohydrate Loading: Prior to the event, consider a carbohydrate-loading strategy to maximize glycogen stores in your muscles and liver.

Hydration: Stay well-hydrated before, during, and after the ride. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and decreased performance.

Electrolytes: Monitor your electrolyte balance. Sweating during long rides can lead to the loss of important electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Consider electrolyte supplements or sports drinks to maintain balance.

Regular Eating: Consume small, regular meals and snacks during the ride. Eating every hour or so can help maintain a steady flow of energy.

Avoid Overeating: Be mindful not to overeat, which can lead to discomfort or digestive issues. Listen to your body’s hunger cues.

Energy Gels and Bars: Energy gels and bars are convenient sources of quick energy, we didn’t use much of these. Would recommend that you experiment with different brands and Flavours to find what you like best.

Real Food: We preferred real foods like sandwiches, fruits, and nuts. These can provide a welcome change from processed sports nutrition products.

Caffeine: If you’re accustomed to caffeine, it can provide a mental and physical boost during long rides. However, use it strategically and be mindful of its potential diuretic effects.

Recovery: After each leg or segment of the ride, focus on recovery nutrition. This includes carbohydrates for glycogen replenishment and protein for muscle repair.

Personalized Plan: Every cyclist is different. What works for one person may not work for another. Create a personalized nutrition plan based on your preferences, dietary restrictions, and what your body tolerates well.

Pack Extra: Carry extra snacks and nutrition supplies in case of unexpected delays or if you’re riding through areas with limited access to food.

Digestive Health: Pay attention to your digestive health. Some cyclists experience gastrointestinal issues during long rides. Experiment with foods that are gentle on your stomach.

Mental Boost: Certain foods or flavours can provide a mental boost. Consider having a favourite treat or comfort food as a morale booster during the ride.

Remember that nutrition is a critical component of your overall strategy, and what works best for you may require some trial and error. The goal is to find a nutrition plan that keeps you fuelled, hydrated, and feeling good throughout the entire event.

Strength Training on the Bike: Incorporate strength training into your cycling routine. Use big gears and tackle plenty of hills to build endurance and leg strength.

Progressive Events: Plan a series of progressively longer events, spaced about a month apart, to gradually increase your stamina and endurance.

Rest and Recovery: After each event or strenuous training period, allow yourself time to rest and recover. This is crucial for preventing burnout and injuries.

Use Heart Rate and Power: Monitor your heart rate and power output to ensure you’re not overexerting yourself. Regular testing can provide valuable insights into your fitness levels.

Core and Flexibility: Don’t neglect core strength and flexibility. These factors can greatly enhance your cycling performance and overall comfort on long rides.

Heat Training: Practice cycling in hot conditions to acclimate your body to different environments. Hydration and heat management are vital during endurance events.

Sleep Management: Pay attention to your body’s sleep signals. When you feel the need to sleep, don’t resist it. Adequate rest is essential for staying alert and focused during long rides.

Sleep Deprivation Training: Occasionally, plan rides or events where you go without sleep for a night or more. This will help you understand how your body reacts to sleep deprivation.

Positive Self-Talk: Maintain a positive mindset. Remind yourself that failure is not an option. Mental toughness is just as important as physical fitness in endurance cycling.

Persistence: If things get tough during an event, remember to take a break, if necessary, but never give up. Perseverance is key to completing challenging rides like PBP.

The journey to Paris Brest Paris was a remarkable adventure, it was never about the destination but saying all that we were glad to reach it. I hope our training and preparation strategies provide valuable insights for aspiring endurance cyclists.  🚴‍♂️💪🌟

Till the next adventure over and out.