Going the distance

How to train for fitness and fun rather than for racing glory.You can achieve big things if you plan your goals, eat right and manage your time carefully.

Lots of us like to ride hard, but more for fitness and fun than for racing glory. Recent seasons have seen a big growth in long distance events, whether sportives, Audaxes or the CTC Challenge rides popular with racers and leisure cyclists alike. Many Brit cyclists have also been tempted to try big European rides, lured by the glamour of the Etape and Italian Gran Fondos...

So, do you want to ride longer? There's still time to make a step up in distance, be fitter and achieve your goal. From L'Etape to Gran Fondo, to breaking the hour to beating a two-up time trial personal best, to simply increasing your weekly mileage or upping your race distance, with planning, you can do it!

Make every minute count. And when hitches happen, do something to smooth them out - most can be fixed or minimised

1. You need a plan

Whatever your level, from the start of this 'stepping up project' you need to have goals, and more importantly, ways to achieve these goals. This planning and thinking need not be the preserve of elite riders - every type of cyclist can benefit from this process.

At the very least, a cycling goal for sometime in the next three months will show others that riding is something you take seriously and are prepared to put first once in a while.

So get a pen and paper and write your goal down. For example," I want to ride a 200k Audax". Next you need to break down the big goal into smaller plans of action. What will you do with your daily schedule to find time? When will you enter the event or set your own testing sessions. When will you do that extra ride?

From the original goal you have to take action. It's far too easy to set a goal but never actually make any changes to get nearer to it. It won't happen by luck; you don't hear people say: "I accidentally entered and completed L'Etape". Little changes over many weeks and months will reap better biking and a fitter you. Your final achievement may be a quantum leap forward in your riding ability, but it's what you do to alter your daily habits that will get you there.

2. Feed the engine

Any rider who excels needs to be fed, watered and rested so that their body performs at its best. Don't kid yourself that a poor diet can be overcome with great riding, because you'll miss the full benefit. Instead, feed your body like a Formula One car with great fuel and attention to detail.

This may mean writing a new shopping list, spending time getting local produce, or just ensuring that when eating out you make wiser choices. Put simply, for most people it means trimming the evening meal slightly, eating more regular mini meals and allowing the occasional treat.

If your goal will take more than about an hour's effort, you'll also have to work out what foods work best as you ride. Very long rides will need sports drinks, bars and gel, alongside everyday foods in order to keep energy stores high. You can't excel if you just try water with an occasional fig roll. Practise long rides to test what goes down well and what comes back up (or out). We are all different, so some will consume 150 calories an hour, others 450.

3. Think 'time saving'

It's one of the least talked about parts of good bikers' routines. They spend more time on the bike and less finding their shoes, lubing their chain, mending a puncture... the list goes on. Use time-saving devices like heart rate monitors to keep your riding at the right effort and do a post-ride bike check. Good tyres also mean less standing by the roadside or emergency phone calls for a lift home. If you think you might be wasting time, think how you can be more time-efficient.

Get ready a box for your helmet, shoes and so on in its place ready for each ride. More importantly, put it all back there afterward. It may be choosing a commute time or weekend riding scenario that best fits in with your family commitments, such as riding to relatives when the rest of the family drives there. Make every minute count. Make every minute count. And when hitches happen, do something to smooth them out - most can be fixed or minimised.

You'll find that just by tweaking ride lengths, routes, equipment and timing for every day, you get more out of every week. Just think - 10 minutes extra a day equates to an hour a week. Then the big goal seems possible and motivation is already building.

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