Cycling, Ride Reports

Sleepless in Czechia

I did the 1000 km Bayrisch-Böhmisches Bier-und-Bäder-Brevet in one go, without sleep (other than a couple of 5 minute power naps).

I was originally planning to find some audax hotels (bus shelters) to sleep in on both nights and to simulate my sleep schedule for the upcoming TCR. But a race of that length demands much more careful pacing than a 1000 km audax, and I would not have been pushing myself as much as I could. In the end, temptation got the better of me and I decided that this was the day to have a crack at a no-sleep 1000 km. I’d always wanted to try it, and to see how fast I could finish and how I felt at the end of it (spoiler alert: like death).

The timing for this is important. From experience (and extrapolating from shorter distances), I know that 1000 km should take me between 40 hours (very fast, no sleep) and 55 hours (my time from 2021, including sleep stops). Start late on day 1, and even with a good pace you’ll finish some time in daylight on day 3 – two full nights without sleep. Start early enough and you’ve got a fighting chance of getting into bed at the end of day 2 while it’s still dark. Start too early and you’ll start off sleep-deprived.

As it happened, we started at 8am on Thursday from 3mills (my favourite shop in Munich). The first 300 km from Munich to Linz was super fast, taking only 10.5 hours to cover 300 km. The smooth roads, gently rolling terrain, and tailwind made for a nice start. I knew from last year that the next section would be much slower, so I figured that if I could just manage 23-25 km/h overall I’d be back on Friday night. Game on.

I’d been riding in a group for most of this first section. I was averaging around 200 W on the flat, which I know is at the edge of sustainability for me over this distance, and I’m generally one of the “fast ones” in the field. In other words, I wasn’t hanging around. And yet the rest of the field was riding at a similar speed, and on the hills I was at times having to crank it up to 400 W just to keep up. We still have 850 km to go – what’s everyone playing at?

But I see this in nearly every audax I do. For the first quarter or so, everyone is full of beans and pushing as hard as they can. Inevitably after the first control or two, the field splits, smaller groups form, people settle down and find a sustainable pace to ride at. I think it’s the group mentality that infects people and makes them push harder than they should. It got the better of me too and I possibly pushed a little harder than I should’ve done here, but I eventually managed to get on the front and control the pace a little. Someone even complimented me for my even pacing and asked whether I was using a power meter (I have done for years, and I think it really helps).

When I reached Linz, people were riding mostly alone, and I’d made up my mind not to sleep. The northerly stretch from Linz to Karlovy Vary was pretty grim. The stop-start rain that had been indecisive for the whole of Thursday finally “decided” after nightfall, accompanied by strong headwinds. It was wet.

Meanwhile, Austria’s smooth, rolling tarmac gave way to Czechia’s dilapidated network of backroads. There is practically no flat ground on the Czech section of the route on which to recover and build up speed – you’re either going up a hill in your smallest gear or having your bones rattled to pieces going down the other side. Igor and Jörg had actually adjusted the route since last year to avoid some of the worst stretches (which I very much appreciated), but in many places it was still more pothole than tarmac.

Crossing from Austria to Czechia in the dying light

After 24 hours I’d covered around 600 km (the fastest 600 km I’ve ever done), putting me close to Karlovy Vary in the north of Czechia. I was really fed up of the Czech terrain at this point. Just a little bit of flat ground would’ve been appreciated.

At 850 km, fatigue was starting to set in. This became embarrassingly clear as two casual cyclists accelerated away from some traffic lights in Regensburg faster than I could ever hope to catch them. Nonetheless, I trundled out of town along the Danube cycle path in the idyllic evening sun, happy to be heading towards home at last.

As the sun went down, it was getting cold. I’d been hoping for really hot ride to help me acclimatise for the hot hot Balkan summer that I’ll be enduring on the TCR, so the sudden dip in temperature (almost down to single figures) really caught me off guard. At the same time, I was unable to keep up a sufficient power output to keep myself warm, and I had to progressively layer up.

In numbers, you can see quite clearly from my power output how much I was flagging by the end:

  • First third: 175 W 💪
  • Second third: 150 W 📉
  • Final third: 130 W 😩

Was this down to not eating enough? Sleep deprivation? Bad pacing in the first half of the ride? I’m not sure, but I’d like to be more consistent next time.

For the final flat 50 km run-in to Munich, I was running on fumes – coasting at every opportunity, barely over 100 W, and wearing my down jacket for warmth. I finally arrived in downtown Munich at 03:30, about 43 hours after setting off. Not quite the 40 hours I’d hoped for, but near enough – and I’m certainly proud of it 🙂

Miscellaneous reflections

Food. I neglected it early in the ride. The ride cost me a total of 22,000 kcal over 43 hours. That’s like eating a large sandwich every hour for two days. I ate a lot, but certainly not this much. I didn’t have appetite problems as such, but it’s always a struggle to get this much down your gullet. It didn’t help that I had several painful mouth ulcers at the time, too.

On a more philosophical note, seeing people sitting in their Cafés having a nice time while riding through Karlovy Vary, Regensburg, and other nice places reminded me of the good things in life (and ultracycling doesn’t count). It made me think: these people have the right idea. Not every “holiday” has to be an “adventure”, or riding a bike over absurd distances and pushing yourself to the limits of your physical endurance. It reminded me to maybe give myself a break and do a real holiday some time – something involving cafés and sight-seeing rather than arduous journeys and little (or no) sleep.

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3 thoughts on “Sleepless in Czechia

  1. Thomas says:

    Thanks for the great report, Will! Absolutely bloody impressive – and obviously totally bonkers.. 😉
    See ya at 3Mills,
    Thomas

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