Ten tips when preparing for a cycling challenge

In just over three weeks’ time, I and seven of my colleagues at Croud are cycling from London to Amsterdam. At Croud, we love a challenge. Preferably with quantifiable targets. So we’re aiming to reach our destination in 36 hours. That’s 460km to cover in a day and half.

Not easy, but achievable by anyone with the correct training. If you’re considering this kind of challenge, LEJOG, or even your first sportive, here are my top ten training tips:

 1. Build up the distance

If you haven’t ridden a bike for a while, heading out for a 50km ride first up isn’t a good idea. Start with a 10km ride, keep the pace steady. Then try 20km, 30km and so on. You’ll be surprised how quickly your fitness improves.

2. Invest in some decent kit

The array of cycling apparel available can be daunting. There’s no need to spend £240 on a jersey or $1,000 on super light-weight cycling shoes. A good pair of cycling shorts are essential. I’d recommend finger-less gloves with gel pads for some extra cushioning. DHB – Wiggle’s in-house clothing brand, make excellent value clothing. Clipless pedals will make the biggest difference to your performance of any available upgrade. The term clipless is a misnomer, your shoes clip onto the pedals. Road Cycling have an excellent guide to some of the many clipless options.

3.  Intervals

Once you’re feeling confident about cycling at least 50km, try some intervals. Try cycling for 90 seconds to two minutes at maximum effort. Then return to a steady pace for four to five minutes. Repeat this pattern for 30 to 60 minutes. This will improve your endurance and increase aerobic capacity.

4.  Hills

l love cycling up hills. Not everyone does, but put in the training time on climbs and you’ll be rewarded in every aspect of your riding. Hypertrophy, the enlargement of individual muscle cells, results in an immediate gain in physical power and is stimulated by high-intensity exercises like hill climbing. If you don’t have any big hills close to home, try repeated efforts on the biggest hill you can find.

5. Commuting

Bikes burn fat and save you cash. Why not put in some bonus training kilometres on the way to and from work? Throw in some intervals and hills on the way! You’ll find your energy levels at work increase, no post-lunch lull. The extra sunlight increases serration and will help you sleep better and longer.

6. Track Your Rides

Strava (other ride tracking apps are available) is a great way to measure your progress. You can track the distance covered, your speed and power output over time. You can also plan routes using the Route Builder and take advantage of local cycling knowledge by highlighting popular roads. Strava serve up monthly distance challenges for extra motivation.

Below is example of how we track our rides on Strava:

7. Nutrition & Hydration

If you ride for less than an hour, you don’t need to eat during your cycle, you can draw on your body’s glycogen reserves. Any longer and you’ll need some extra calories to fuel your ride. As a rough guide, aim to consume 1,200 to 1,600 calories per 50km. The faster and heavier you are, the more calories you’ll need. Aim for carbohydrate-rich foods such as bananas; cereal bars and sweets are my favourites. Energy gels are great for a quick boost, but consuming too many can upset your stomach.

Eating while riding isn’t easy and requires some practice. I trim the top off my cereal bar wrappers before heading out, to save opening them on the move. Build a cafe stop into your longer rides. One of the joys of cycling a long distance is that you don’t need to feel guilty about eating cake. Aim to drink 400ml to 800ml of liquid per hour, depending on the temperature. Plain water is fine, but add electrolyte tabs to replenish the minerals lost through sweat. Energy drinks kill two birds with one stone; they keep you hydrated and top up your calorie intake.

8. Go long

Once you’ve mastered most of the steps above, you can aim to ride over 100km in one session. If you are aiming for the kind of long-distance challenge Croud are attempting, you don’t need to cover the same distance in training. But you should aim for a ride of 60% to 80% of the distance in training, to emulate the physical and mental effort required on the big day. Long rides are about overcoming mental fatigue as much as physical.

9. Recover

On finishing any ride longer than 90 minutes, the priority is to take on some quality protein and, for this, using some protein powder to make a shake is probably easiest. You will also need some carbohydrates to replenish your body’s glycogen stores but this can often wait until your post-ride meal. Stretch after every training session to increase your flexibility and avoid stiffness.

Stretch your glutes, hamstrings and legs by sitting on the floor and bending your legs to pull each muscle group. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds to get the maximum benefit. Spending some time elevating your legs after a hard ride can make a difference to recovery by promoting lower body blood flow and preventing pooling. With a pillow behind your head, place your legs up against a wall and aim to stay there for five minutes for every hour ridden.

10. Eat well

Carbohydrate-heavy meals are ideal a couple of hours before or after (to replenish your glycogen stores) a long ride. Otherwise, aim to get more protein into your diet. Beans, pulses, lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy foods should feature heavily.

I love a post-ride pint. There is some evidence that the calories and carbohydrate in a typical beer aid recovery. But as a general rule, alcohol isn’t performance-enhancing. So aim to cut down on your weekly units as you approach the big ride.

Well there you have it, my top tips for preparing for a cycle. We are cycling from London to Amsterdam on the 15th of June, so make sure you check our social channels to see how we are doing!

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