PBP: A diary of discomfort

Sunday 7:30 PM: feeling great. Start wave goes. Body feels amazing.

Sunday 10 PM: riding in same position for awhile in a fast group. Feel the typical aches associated with riding bikes. Some soreness in the saddle and a bit of numbness in toes, but nothing unusual. Knees holding up great. Finally catch up to Irving, Ian and Ben who started 30 minutes before me. Grateful for the chance to sit up and ride with them and stave off any potential muscle soreness from hammering with this group.

Monday 4 AM: rolling out of the control point at Villaine-ah-Juhel. We made the 200k mark in under 8 hours and in celebration I over-ate. Bolognese topped with gruyere. Stomach not happy. Burps taste like gruyere.

Monday 11 PM: a few hours of sleep at the hotel in Loudéac. Getting up and I am stiff in the legs, but a few minutes on the bike and I’m feeling good again. 450 km in, knee is holding up.

Tuesday 6 AM: descending in freezing fog down into the town of Sizun. Cold air rushing over exposed skin is painful, but my time swimming in the SF bay with the Dolphin Club has made me far more tolerant of cold. Espresso and croissant in Sizun, and it’s off to Brest.

Tuesday 10 AM: we reach Brest and I am ecstatic. 600 km in, and no physical problems, just fatigue and hunger.

Tuesday 1 PM: left knee starts acting up. Haven’t had issues with this one before, so am getting worried. I stop, stretch out my legs, and attempt to manage the pain by easing back on the pace and trying different pedaling positions. Eventually start riding much slower, and with more emphasis on the right leg.

Tuesday 6 PM: left knee pain persists, but isn’t getting too much worse from stop to stop. As expected, pedaling asymmetrically also starts to cause problems for my right knee. IT band begins to tighten up and generate soreness on my right side. Start limping at controls and having trouble walking down stairs.

Tuesday 9 PM: Right knee decently swollen and left knee still feeling moderate pain. Riding slowly has taken a huge toll on me. Without the rush of physical exertion, staying focused on the road takes an enormous amount of mental energy, leading to boredom and frustration. I swear up and down that I am never doing this, ever again. To stay awake and alert I fall back on caffeinated gels, which make me nervous and jittery. In a bout of frustration, just as we are hitting Loudéac for the second time, I turn up the gas. For a solid 15 minutes, I’m flying. Lots of pent up energy from the gels and caffeine. Passing dozens of riders like they are standing still, and momentarily the joy of riding returns. I stop briefly at a town corner and notice that even though I am not feeling tired or breathing heavily, my heart is absolutely racing. I stop, take thirty deep breaths, and try to down-regulate both my heart rate and my exhilaration. Oddly enough, both knees felt fine. Take a mental note of that, but fully expect this foolishness to put my knees further into a hole.

Wednesday 2 AM: wake up in the hotel, and everything is stiff as hell. Open my mouth to yawn and immediately yelp in pain due to chapped lips. Tongue and mouth are raw and abraded from constantly chewing crusty baguettes. Legs feel moderately better, but can tell that knees still won’t be happy back on the bike. 450 km to go. How will I manage?

Wednesday 10 AM: the heat of the day is driving me crazy, and still bothersome knee pain means I’m moving super slowly. After 3 hours of crawling, I look back and a huge group of cyclists is coming up on us fast. I can’t resist the temptation, and jump on the train and start hammering to keep up with them. Japanese power couple pulls us all the way to Villaine. Wait a second, knee suddenly feels great...

Wednesday 4 PM: Decide my knee only feels good when I’m hammering. The last two days of riding slowly means my legs have a good deal of snap left. Passing a continuous stream of riders, and begin collecting a decent sized train of riders in my slipstream. Get swept up by a group of twelve or so serious 84-hour riders and tuck in. This is some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike.

Wednesday 11 PM: arrive in Mortagne-au-Perche. Legs start to ache from the effort, but knees feel decent, especially after completing a regular regimen of hip and hamstring stretches. My renewed focus on riding hard means I’m paying less attention to my hands, and at this control I start to notice some of my fingers going numb, a classic symptom of ulner nerve compression. I’ll take that any day over knee pain.

Wednesday 3 AM: leaving the Mortagne Airbnb, I start developing a pulsing headache, which I suspect is from not drinking enough water before going to sleep. Both knees still ache slightly, but somehow in a way that doesn’t concern me.

Wednesday 11 AM: the finish. Nothing is terribly painful, but nothing feels great either. Contact points (butt, hands, feet), joints (knees, ankles), supporting tissues and small muscles (neck, Achilles) are all straining from nearly 90 hours of continuous effort. We are elated to have finished successfully, and all ignore the aches and pains in the glow of the finish.

Thursday 8 AM: the aftermath. The worst after-effects are chapped lips and sores/abrasions in my mouth and tongue, which make it hard to eat. Of course legs and butt are sore. Not about to jump on the bike again today, but after 1200 km of riding, I’m pleasantly surprised at how good I feel. I can sense the randonnesia setting in, and thoughts begin to form in my head — what might a 2023 ride look like?