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760 Miles of Fun
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A Chat with Paris-Brest-Paris finishers Josh Simonds and Doreen Chaitt

by Carol Torgan

Paris-Brest-Paris, commonly called PBP, is an insanely grueling 760-mile cycling adventure that originated in 1891 as a way to popularize the bicycle. Riders start on the outskirts of Paris, head northwest to the city of Brest on the Atlantic, make a U-turn, and return to Paris. Riders commit to either an 80, 84 or 90 hour time limit.

Husband and wife Josh Simonds and Doreen Chaitt completed what's been called "a noble human adventure" on their tandem for the second time, having also finished in 1999. Josh and Doreen agreed to stop pedaling long enough to chat with Carol Torgan, Healthy Riding column contributor, about what it takes to get through the epic journey.

I. Basics

Let's set the scene a bit. Josh, you have been on a bike almost since you were old enough to crawl. You've ridden across the country three times, coach ultra-distance racers, and ride with the local DCVELO race team. Doreen, you are an avid swimmer, road cyclist and weight lifter. You've raced tandem bicycles, ridden tandem across the USA once, and cycled together since 1990.

What was your first date?

(J) I first saw Doreen during a PPTC 'A' ride. She kept passing me and was obviously "trolling". Just kidding. In all seriousness, it was so nice to meet a single woman who had a passion for exercise and the outdoors. Our first date was to go see "Silence of the Lambs"... I was hoping she'd hold my hand during the scary parts.

(D) It was love at first bite, er, I mean sight.

You both work, yet manage to accomplish what others only have dreams (or nightmares) about. What philosophy do you have for balancing ultra-endurance cycling with taking out the garbage?

(J) Preparing for a high-level endurance event such as PBP takes a big bite out of your time. There is no way to accomplish a healthy, happy lifestyle unless you have a strong circle of support and love. Things like putting a fresh coat of paint on the hallway walls or having a swell flower bed become less important. Also, it is imperative that you spend time with family and loved ones on a regular basis.

(D) Once you set a goal, you identify what it will take to accomplish the goal. For us, this meant balancing training with our desire to spend time with family and friends.

What types of goals do you set?

(J) Well, there are training goals, racing goals and life goals. They all go hand in hand and I can't separate them. Doreen and I plan our goals at least a year in advance. We feel it is depressing and aimless to train so hard unless we have something to look forward to.

II. Preparation

You take what you describe as a "nerd approach" to preparing for an event like PBP. How important is it to keep a training journal?

(J) You are doing yourself a disservice not to! When you are involved in something that takes this much time and energy you can not possibly track what you have done and then recall why you have success or failures unless you can look back and analyze your approach. If you kept a journal of these basic stats then you could experiment with some of the nutritional aspects, record your results and refine your approach-otherwise it is a crapshoot.

You create scripts and analyze scenarios. What scenes did you contemplate for PBP?

(J) Before PBP Doreen and I practiced riding 135-150 miles, only stopping quickly for water. One month prior to PBP we were able to ride about 135 miles at an 18 mph pace and only stop three times for water and to quickly mix bottles. Doreen and I also would practice and talk through what each of us would do when we rushed into each control. At race time and during the race we had to do very little decision making, and that saved a huge amount of energy.

(D) In an attempt to be as efficient as possible at each control, we wrote out specifically when bottles needed to be mixed, supplements taken, and camelbacks refilled. Our approach was K.I.S.S.-Keep it Simple Stupid.

What sort of visualization do you do?

(J) We both have different things we do. I like to imagine riding a steady 90 rpm pace and feel a warm breeze on my face. While I am riding I like to think about the miles as blocks of shorter rides I've done in the past, such as my daily commute. This is especially helpful when I'm in a lot of pain.

III. The Big Event

Josh, you are the nutrition/supplement contact for the local DCVELO race team, and have researched this area extensively. What was your nutritional routine? What sorts of supplements and pain killers did you both take?

(J) Doreen and I both use E-Caps and Hammer Nutrition products for our energy needs. The basic routine for all training and ultra racing is 250-300 cals/hr with no more than 16-20 oz water and sufficient electrolytes every hour (200 mg sodium, 50 mg magnesium, 50 mg potassium). These values are for when we are race ready: stress-and heat-adapted.

Supplements that we both take hourly while racing long distance are (major ingredients in parentheses): Race Caps (vitamin E, CoQ10) and Enduro Caps (calcium, cytochrome c). Every fourth hour we take 1000 mg MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), Mito-R Caps (acetyl L-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid), AntiOxidant "Super AO" (super oxide dismutase).

That sounds like a mouthful and it certainly feels that way at times. Doreen and I have found that it is impossible to eat the natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidants we need during an event in the form of "real food" so the supplements are necessary and preventative.

Don't think you can take a pill and race PBP! We have worked long and hard and have done extensive testing to find what works best for us. Each person must seriously consider, research and take a careful approach.

The race is famous for the warmth, encouragement and support of local townspeople all along the route. Did you ever stop for a fresh, hot crepe at the side of the road in the middle of the night?

(J) Who told you? Yes, in fact somewhere in the middle of the race at about 2 a.m. Doreen and I spied what we initially thought was a hallucination. There was a young man beckoning us to stop and have refreshments. It was amazing. These gentle and generous Bretons had opened their farmhouse to any and all PBP racers. The farmer's wife was making crepes and her husband was smearing them with homemade jam and folding them into warm squares. This was served with hot, strong coffee and?an offer of a place to sleep! Wow, it gives me goose bumps to recall that. It is the sort of generous and genuine love of sport that defines the French. We saw this sort of hospitality repeated throughout the event.

Let's talk Zzzzzzzs. You calculated exactly how much sleep you needed, and ended up with 3.5 hours over three days, not including the time your eyes drifted closed while biking. How did you arrive at this amount, and how did you manage to start back up once you laid your head down?

(J) I know from extensive research that the absolute minimum a person needs to sleep in order to achieve central nervous system regeneration is about 1.5 hours each 24 hours. Also, I know from supporting Race Across America and working with others who have more experience than myself that it is possible to use short catnaps to get through the first 35-40 hours of an event on a bare minimum of sleep.

(D) In fact, our most restful and rejuvenating break was a 30-minute nap upon a bale of hay enhanced by the warmth of the sun.

There's an old saying among endurance athletes: never stand when you can sit, and never sit when you can lie down. How important is this off the bike?

(J) That saying is really better applied to day racers since getting a complete recovery is essential. We found that saying was our motto when crossing the USA on the tandem. Get off your feet and save your energy. However, during an ultra distance event it is not a good thing to sit or lie down for more then a few minutes as your muscles will stiffen up. We tend to stand during an event even when eating. Again, experience has taught us some hard lessons.

Let's get to the question that most people want to know about: given that you pedaled 7.6 consecutive centuries almost non-stop, how did you manage to keep your crotches tolerable?

(J) We stop and apply lubricant at least every 50 miles. We know from past experience that after about 600 km of constant riding we will get some saddle sores and there is no way to prevent it. At that point we double up on lubricant and start using something to numb the sores. A wise Race Across America veteran, Lon Haldeman, once told me, "If it is something that will heal in a few days or a couple of weeks, then keep riding." Riding tandem in an ultra-endurance event has its own challenges and your individual ability to fidget in the saddle and get some "air time" is not the same as riding a single bike, so some discomfort comes with the territory.

(D) How can I say this delicately? Let me just say that by the end of PBP it was a pretty scary sight. I'm glad I never looked that closely during the event, or I might have freaked out. Amazingly, the body heals quickly and within five days my crotch was recognizable.

You both spent a fair amount of time hallucinating. What about?

(J) Mostly it was shadows that looked like people or animals. Also, I'd see flashes of lights and at one point I kept seeing bats diving at bugs in front of my face, and I'm still not sure if that was real or imagined. In 1999 Doreen saw an old lady in the woods and people hiding.

Did you ever pass the time by singing old camp songs or playing travel games like finding roadside attractions that start with the letters of the alphabet?

(J) Yes, but only after slapping myself as hard as I could to stay awake and asking Doreen to slug me to stay awake failed! We started singing simple kids' songs and things like the theme to Gilligan's Island.

Many couples start bickering on a simple drive to the local supermarket. How do you two manage to stay on speaking terms over so many grueling hours?

(J) We settled that issue years ago. On the bike we are a solid team and rarely, if ever, fight. However, we have a tradition of having a real dust-up once every 1000 miles-it is always the same things and we eventually laugh it off-but the people who observe it must think we really hate each other. We actually love each other a lot and same goes for racing tandem.

(D) During PBP, we recognized that we had set a lofty goal and an important factor to achieving this would be teamwork, both physically and emotionally. This included being patient, supportive, and respective of each other's temperament and sense of well-being.

IV. AFTERWARDS

What was the first thing you did after you crossed the finish line?

(J) Well, we were really fatigued and starving so our brains were not working well. I remember just feeling nothing special about the event and was confused. We both were probably depleted and half asleep. We made sure to get our official race cards stamped and then went to a tent where we got a quick meal and then (OUCH) rode the bike to our hotel about two miles away.

(D) The first thing we did was kiss and hug.

What was your first real food?

(J) As soon as we showered and dressed we ran for our favorite nearby Italian restaurant and ordered big salads and wood oven fired pizzas, beer and bottled mineral water. HEAVEN!!!

(D) Pizza and Coke!

What do you do to help your body recover from such abuse?

(J) Within 30 minutes we will take an energy drink consisting of a 4:1 mix of carbohydrates to protein. That will greatly decrease muscle soreness. After the race we took a few weeks off the bike and actually spent a few days in bed and eating, swimming and generally staying off our sore fannies and feet. You can't underestimate the toll such a rigorous event will take. Nonetheless, two weeks later we both felt strong and near fully recovered.

After the event was over did you go to EuroDisney to celebrate?

(J) No, no, we managed a much better alternative. We rented a zippy Renault and drove to my sister's vacation house near Aix-en-Provence where she and her husband took good care of us. Every night we'd party with her friends and by day we'd take driving tours of the countryside and visit wineries. In the afternoons we'd sleep and then swim in a nearby gorge. You can't get that at EuroDisney. I love my sister.

What's next?

(J) Well, one thing is for sure. We are done with PBP on tandem. In 1999 we finished in 74 hours and thought we could have done much better. This year we finished in 68 hours and feel that we've done a great job and that it is "good enough." Now, Doreen and I are making plans in 2004 to race tandem at Masters Nationals and paint that hallway!

FURTHER INFORMATION

To learn more about Josh and Doreen's equipment and adventures visit their website at: http://www.ahealinghand.com/

To learn more about PBP see: http://www.rusa.org

To learn more about ultra-endurance cycling see: http://www.ultracycling.com

Joshua Simonds and Doreen Chaitt can be reached at jsimonds at att.net. Carol Torgan can be reached at ceetee01 at yahoo.com

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