February 24, 2012

Interview with Pamela Blalock, part 1

Pamela Blalock is an amazing cyclist. Her blog, The Blayleys: John and Pamela's Cycling Adventures  and web site, The Blayleys,  came to my attention recently while looking for information about New England randonnées. Now, I really mean those words in my masthead that say "Bicycles are wheels. You can do all kinds of things with them."   So imagine how delighted I was to find Pamela's site, because she does in fact do all kinds of things with a bicycle ...  rides tandem and solo, commutes, rides year-round, tours, races hillclimbs and is a randonneur. I was thrilled that she agreed to this interview, which is focused on randonneuring, defined by RUSA as "long distance unsupported endurance cycling." This is part 1 of our email interview.

What drew you to cycling and how did that lead to randonneuring?
I have always ridden a bike. But my first exposure to club riding was also my first exposure to randonneuring. I met Gilbert Anderson through the North Carolina Bike Club. He had done PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris, described below) in 1979 and 1983, and he just told the most entertaining stories. He shared stories about French people in the little villages inviting riders into their homes in the wee hours, and climbing over fences on some ride where the route sheet sent them down a dead end trail, and of going into a convenience store to buy panty hose to keep warm. His stories were funny and romantic and just made me want to do these rides. I did a 100km ride and was hooked. I'm not sure how I jumped straight from 100km to 300km, but I did, and while it was hard, I was so excited when I finished. And I never looked back!

Probably because it is held in France, before discovering your site I knew a little bit about PBP, but nothing about BMB. Will you describe these rides? 
PBP stands for Paris-Brest-Paris. It is a 1200km (750 mile) ride from Paris out to Brest on the coast and back. Riders have up to 90 hours to complete the event. The clock does not stop. So the 90 hours includes riding time, eating, sleeping and all other stops. PBP is held once every 4 years and was first held in 1891.  Originally it was a professional race that, because it was so difficult, was held only every 10 years. In the 50's it became an amateur event and went to every 5 years, and then every 4. The last running, in 2011, had about 6000 participants from all over the world.

In 1988, inspired after doing PBP, a couple of guys from Boston conceived the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200km ride, with the same format. Until then, there were no other 1200kms aside from PBP.

How is the culture of PBP and BMB different?
BMB had at most about 150-160 riders. PBP has 6000 riders. You are almost never alone at PBP. There are cheering spectators lining parts of the route in France. Crowding at controls can cause delays at PBP. At BMB, if you end up riding alone, you might not see anyone else for a long time.  PBP has massive support from the locals, at all hours, day and night, and everywhere. Lots of press, lots of folks at controls. Everyone knew what was going on. At BMB, no one along the route has a clue what BMB is. You are likely to get blank stares at convenience stores as you come in during the wee hours to buy something. When they find out you are on a long ride, the first question is what charity are you riding for, and folks seem offended if you aren't doing a charity ride.


What is the demographic of the participants like in the two races? I assume that both draw international participation.
Folks come from all over the world to do PBP. In the years it was run, BMB got a few Canadians, Irish (how I met John), English and French.  Most of the American 1200km rides have mostly American riders, with a few from somewhere farther afield. PBP is truly international and gets even more so with every running.

I've often thought that cycling gets so little coverage in this country, and women's cycling is really not on the public's radar at all. Although the first women riders in PBP were in 1931, you are the first woman randonneur whom I've read about. Has women's participation in endurance cycling changed since you've been involved?
I took part in the first BMB, along with 18 other riders, 4 of whom were women. One of those women got lost and did some bonus miles before getting a lift back on route and finishing (unofficially). So all 4 women "finished," but one was listed as unofficial. The first year likely had the highest percentage of women participants.

There are a few women in the area who do these types of events. One is Melinda Lyon, who has finished as the first woman at PBP several times. She has also done BMB many times, as well. Another local gal, Emily O'Brien, has done BMB, PBP, and Endless Mountains on a fixed gear bike.  She has also completed Furnace Creek, a RAAM (Race Across America) qualifier on fixed gear. Women make up a small percentage of randonneurs relative to men, but there are still quite a few women throughout the US doing these types of rides.

As for my track record, I attempted PBP in 1987 and did not finish. But I did finish BMB the next year. I went back and had a successful PBP in 1991. I did BMB on tandem in 1992 with my partner Steve, and in 1994 with John, who later became my husband. John and I also did PBP on tandem in 1999.

Do you try to keep to any particular strategy or tactics?
I like to make effective use of the allowed time. I typically try to get 5 hours of sleep a night, and take time to eat meals at each control. But otherwise I am riding. To paraphrase and clean up the language of one of my friends, time not spent riding, eating or sleeping is wasted time.  Eating is a big concern and a challenge. It's important to eat on and off the bike, and to find the right balance, eat enough to get through, but not so much that you puke when you ride up hills!

Good preparation is vital, both for the body and bike. I have often described brevets at 95% mental and 95% physical. I think you must have both.

It's important to have a reliable bike and to be able to fix any issues. I have become a pretty good bike mechanic as a result of either learning to fix something on the side of the road, or better yet, learning about and preventing issues beforehand. Since riders must complete a series of 4 rides of increasing length (200km, 300, 400 and 600) before attempting a 1200km, they and their bikes should be well-prepared by the time the 1200km comes around.

Is falling asleep at the handlebars a danger ?
I always try to ride with other people, especially at night. Conversation is one of the best ways to avoid the "noddies," nodding off to sleep. Plus it's just more fun and makes the miles pass by quicker. For me, pre-dawn is the toughest time. Once the sun comes up, I am awake again. So I try to arrange sleep stops for that time. One of the great things about riding the tandem is always having company. 

This is the first part of our interview. For Part 2 of Pamela's interview, click here.


  1. Pamela, you're amazing. I admire your stamina and athleticism.

    1. Hi Steph,

      Couldn't agree more ... I'd be ahead of the game with half as much even!

  2. Replies
    1. Tommy,
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

  3. Really nice job on both sides of the interview. I shared a link to it.

  4. Hi Iron Rider,

    Thanks for reading, and for sharing the link, I appreciate both!


  5. Replies
    1. Yes, it is ... and thank you, many times, for the question! My link was incorrect, so it stayed here. It is fixed now, so just click at the end of the story where it says click here. I'm sure you tried that before without success! It should work now.

      Also, thanks for sharing the link! My traffic was way up yesterday and I credit that to you. These interviews have been quite fun to write and I am very grateful to the riders who participated, so am happy to have more people see them.

      Happy pedalling!


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