Michael Henderson loves to ride his bicycle… really, really far. Michael left earlier this week for France to compete in his first Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur. First run in 1891, the 1200-kilometer Paris-Brest-Paris, or “PBP” as it is commonly called, is a grueling test of human endurance and cycling ability. Organized every four years by the host Audax Club Parisien, the Paris-Brest-Paris is the oldest bicycling event still run on a regular basis on the open road.
Beginning on the southern side of the French capital, it travels west 600 kilometers to the port city of Brest on the Atlantic Ocean and returns along the same route. Today’s randonneur cyclists, while no longer riding the primitive machines used a hundred years ago over dirt roads or cobblestones, still have to face up to rough weather, endless hills, and pedaling around the clock. We’re already cheering Michael on!
Before he left, we caught up with Michael and asked him a few questions about his first 1200km race — the Colorado Last Chance. Here’s what he had to say…
1. How long have you been cycling?
I started cycling competitively in college, continued for a couple years after graduation, but then my bike just hung in the garage for 15 years. After joining Osprey and moving to Colorado 9 years ago, the biking culture here inspired me to ride the Iron Horse Bicycle Challenge from Durango to Silverton, and then I was hooked again.
2. What inspired you to do the Colorado Last Chance and other 1200km races like Paris-Brest-Paris? And to bike overall?
Overall, I just like being on a bike. Once at Osprey, Sam Mix leads by example when it comes to commuting – when he bought studded tires to commute in the snow, I thought, the least I can do is commute when the roads are dry!
When I got back into competitive cycling, I was riding a lot of the local Cat 4 races in New Mexico and Colorado. I soon realized that I didn’t have the top end speed to contend at the end of a race, and more often than not I would get dropped. But I never quit a race just because I was off the back, and in fact I would start reeling in others who were also dropped, feeling stronger and stronger. So I thought, I just need longer events, and I gravitated to endurance cycling. Race Across America comes through Cortez every year as well, so that was an inspiration. Eventually I found Randonneurs USA, the US arm of Audax Club Parisien, with local clubs in Colorado and New Mexico that hold a series of randonnee rides called ‘brevets’ of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km. The ultimate brevet is 1200km, so it naturally became my goal.
As for the Last Chance, though it seems like an end in itself, it was really just a training step toward my goal of Paris-Brest-Paris. This is the granddaddy of all 1200k events, older than the Tour de France. I didn’t want to go into PBP having never done a 1200k event before, and I learned so much about resupply efficiency, sleep breaks and general comfort on the bike. Also pacing, and the mental capacity to push harder when all you want to do is cruise.
3. 1,200 km, that’s a long way. What gives you the endurance/motivation to get through the race?
Well, training gave me the endurance. Three years ago I could not have conceived of riding that far. I had done a few century rides, so I felt certain that 300km (180 miles) was within range. Having tackled 300km, I knew 400km was doable. And so on. Then it became a matter of doing it faster. I’m certainly not an elite endurance rider, but finishing a ride with a new personal best has always motivated me. Riding with others with similar goals, helping each other, is also motivating and ultimately satisfying. In addition, I have found that sharing my goals with friends, or anyone willing to listen, is a huge factor in my riding. When I’m on the bike, I feel a lot of support from people who themselves are inspired by what I’m doing. I get a lot of strength from that. So when I’m exhausted and making bargains with myself, starting to justify slacking off, I draw on that support to keep pushing.
4. Obviously, you’re a lover of cycling. Why do you love it, and what message do you want to spread about cycling to the masses?
Of course, being outdoors is a big part of my enjoyment of cycling. I also like the self propulsion. Randonnee cycling is more about finishing than racing, of overcoming obstacles along the way, be they physical, mental, or mechanical. As a long-distance hiker, that aspect of independence and self-reliance is very appealing. And unlike long-distance hiking, I can apply that every day on a bike by commuting or getting groceries, using the bike instead of the car. I used to worry about getting a flat riding to work, but not any more. If I drive to work, it takes me 15 minutes. If I bike, and I have to change a flat along the way, it takes 35-40 minutes. Only an extra 25 minutes? I can handle that.
5. Water or electrolytes? And what’s your fave post-ride treat?
Water AND electrolytes! You gotta have both. I put my electrolytes in one bottle with my liquid food, and usually the other bottle is water. I love the taste of good ol’ plain water on an endurance ride. Hot water on a cold morning start, ice-cold water in the heat of the day. Plus you can pour it on your jersey or through your helmet.
As for after the ride, well, first thing is always a quality recovery drink, otherwise my legs are like rocks the next day. But right after that I’m usually craving something SPICY! Carne adovada with green chile, chicken tandoori masala, sushi with lots of wasabi — I have hallucinated about these foods many times at the ends of rides.
Michael Henderson is the CFO at Osprey Packs HQ in Cortez, Colorado. Stay tuned… we’ll be posting updates from his race and recap when he comes home!