Dedicated to the Cause: Calista’s Road to PBP 2015

I recently had the pleasure of talking with D.C. Randonneurs and RUSA member, Calista Phillips, who had a great year on the bike. Some of you may have already seen this feature in the latest edition of American Randonneur, but I present it again in full here.

In 2015, Calista completed three 1200Ks (including PBP), and also earned her first K-Hound Award. In our interview, Calista discusses her randonneuring goals, PBP, some of the challenges she faced in preparing for long rides, and what makes randonneuring so special.

Calista, you’ve had a spectacular year of riding. Congratulations! You started randonneuring in 2013, and soon after that, you set your sights on PBP. What made you decide to ride PBP? 

When I first started randonneuring back in 2013, I heard mention of PBP and decided then and there that I would ride it. The idea of attempting the challenging distance and the location thrilled me.

At that point the furthest distance I had ridden was a 200K and I had never been to Paris so it seemed like a grand fantasy at the time. The idea absolutely thrilled me.

D.C. Randonneurs 600K. Photo by Bill Beck
D.C. Randonneurs 600K. Photo by Bill Beck
You rode the Lap of the Lake 1000K in 2014. The next year, you completed the Sunshine 1200K, three months prior to PBP. How did these events help in your PBP preparation? 

Those two rides helped me immensely. When I rode the 1000K, I was exhausted on the last day. I remember saying to a friend of mine that that he should ride on ahead of me because I wasn’t sure how the day would go and I was going to take it super easy. Shortly after that a group of riders came by in a peloton and he jumped on the back and they took off.

I felt so dejected as I watched them speed off down the road. I told myself to try to go just a little faster. I started spinning the pedals and it got me through my slump and I ended up feeling great that day and finished the ride going about 18 miles per hour. It was such a confidence booster.

I had never ridden far enough to have a slump like that, and I just assumed that type of exhaustion was permanent. It was one of the best feelings I have ever had to find out it wasn’t.

I rode the Sunshine 1200K because I hadn’t ridden a four-day ride before and I was nervous about going overseas and trying it for the first time. Again, it was a great decision.

I had some nutrition issues pop up. This also happened on the 1000K but since it was the first ride of 1000K or longer I didn’t pay it much attention. However, it was really evident during the Sunshine 1200K.

I haven’t quite worked the issues out, but both the 1000K and the 1200K gave me the confidence to know that I can finish a 1200k even with that hurdle.

The other confidence booster from experiencing these long rides is the friendships and camaraderie you form. It’s an experience like no other. I went to Paris knowing I was going to form some great bonds and have the time of my life meeting great people who love to cycle.

What other activities did you do to prepare for PBP?

I upped my RUSA riding distance quite a bit. To try to get faster I did a lot more populaires.

To keep my base I kept my R-12 going and made sure to do a 200K every month. I completed a Super Randonneur a series which prepares you pretty well.

I also went to massages and did yoga to try to keep my flexibility from being horrible. My ace in the hole, though, was the massage I got once every two weeks.

I could tell my recovery time from training was much faster with massage and I ended up being able to ride more often and further because of them.

PBP days. Photo by Nick Bull
PBP days. Photo by Nick Bull
You were the first American woman to finish PBP on a single bike, finishing in 74 hours and 42 minutes. Another congrats! What were your goals going into PBP? 

I can get a bit ridiculous with my goals. My first goal was a Charly Miller time and my second goal was to be top 10 women. It was all Susan Notorangelo‘s and the D.C. Randonneurs’ fault initially. Susan came to speak at the D.C. Randonneurs’ annual meeting and she talked about her Charly Miller time and PBP experiences.

Susan was so humble and spoke so well that she made me believe that I could do that, too. I started looking up women and riding PBP fast and formulating a plan. I ended up having to adjust my plan because I made some mistakes and had some mechanicals and food issues.

The pre-ride meal I purchased to have ready for me before the start didn’t work out so I ended up having to borrow food from Michele Brougher. That got me stuck on wanting a meal at every stop which is not conducive for a fast time. But man, I did have some great soup at the controls.

I always set my goals high and adjust accordingly. I knew my goals were lofty and I ended up very happy with my results. I learned so much challenging myself that I have no doubt I will do even better next PBP.

In 2015, 56 women from the USA started PBP, compared to 407 men. Internationally, women made of 5 percent of the field (158 women out of 3,079 total riders). What was it like to be one of so few women at PBP?

It has always perplexed me that more women don’t cycle. I hope the numbers of women at PBP keep increasing; I believe that we had more in 2015 than at previous PBPs.

Being a woman at PBP is kind of like being a celebrity. The spectators on the side of the road give you an extra cheer when they realize you are a female. I can’t say how many times I heard “La femme?”  This was followed by an extra clap and “Bonne courage.”

My favorite though was “Allez gazelle.”  My face was stuck in a grin for probably the next 100 miles.

The joy of PBP. Photo by Mike Wali
The joy of PBP. Photo by Mike Wali
What were the highlights of your ride experience?

I had so many highlights at PBP. At check-in I met Shusanah Pillinger, the first British woman to finish Race Across America (RAAM). Talking with her only reemphasized my dreams of lofty achievements as PBP.

Another highlight was the weather. We were extremely lucky and had some of the best weather. The people and the cheering has to be my favorite. I saw people out at 3 a.m. giving us a shout-out.

And I will never forget hearing “Allez gazelle.”

Any difficult or low moments?

I had a surprisingly easy PBP. I never really struggled physically or mentally. The lowest moment and I experienced my most dangerous moment while riding into Dreux. I was falling asleep on my bike and I could not for the life of me keep my eyes open.

I tried to find a spot on the side of the road to sleep. When I went to check a spot, ants just started crawling everywhere! So I got back on the bike and I immediately fell asleep as soon as I started pedaling.

I don’t know how long I was asleep, but it completely disoriented me. Finally a guy from England came up riding a fixie and he talked non-stop and loudly. He kept me awake until Dreux, where I drank a soda and ate some food.

At that point, I had enough adrenaline from being near the end that I was able to book it to the finish. I will always be grateful that I didn’t hurt anyone falling asleep on the bike like that.

Less than two months after PBP, you took on the High Point 1200K, your third 1200K in 2015. What inspired you to keep riding like you did? 

Honestly, I tried to talk myself out of that one. My body was tired from riding more than I’m used to this year, and I had just done the Tejas 500 race as well.

But I couldn’t get my mind off of doing all the US 1200ks offered this year and earning the American Randonneur challenge award so I went for it.

I felt pretty good during the High Point 1200K. Yet again, I met some great people and shared some great memories; this combination will always keep me doing 1200Ks.

200K Permanent. Photo by MG
200K Permanent Day. Photo by MG
What would you say to women who are interested in transitioning from century rides, to randonneuring, but are reticent about trying it because so many fewer women than men participate in it? 

I would say please don’t let the low numbers of women be a factor. If you love riding bikes and have the desire to ride further, then give randonneuring a go.

The RUSA randonneurs are the most welcoming people I have met. I have never felt alone or uncomfortable riding because I’m the only woman in the group or one of a very few. The rides are amazing, the places we go are beautiful and remote, and the friends made are sure to be around for the rest of your life.

What question didn’t I ask you that I should have?  

You didn’t ask me if I pulled a PBP and slept on the side of the road.  The answer is YES!

What words sum up your 2015 randonneuring year? 

Incredible! I had the best riding year. If you would have asked me at the beginning of 2015 what the year would bring, I would have had no idea that I would do all the rides I did and feel great doing them. I can’t wait for next year and more memories!

One comment

  1. Awesome post. As for why more women don’t cycle, I have no idea but I do know that, like running, they typically shy away from extended efforts. For example, for running, 5k’s and 10k’s are dominated by women who make up 60-70% of the pack. The numbers start to even out at the half-marathon before men have their first majority in marathons. The ultra races are are a majority men as well.

    Cycling will always be tougher for women to embrace because of the mechanical nature of the bikes. How we get women over this, I don’t know but the more competent people on the road the better. I hope we can figure it out.



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