Training for a sportive

By Cycling Plus | Thursday, April 17, 2014 1.00pm

One of the best ways to keep yourself motivated and indulge your new-found love of riding is to set yourself a goal, and one of the simplest things for a cyclist to target is a significant distance.

Depending on your fitness level, that can be anything from 30 up to 100 miles – anything that you realistically believe you can achieve in a set amount of time.

Whether you opt to ride your target distance on your own, enter a mass-participation sportive or take part in a charity challenge, one thing’s for sure – you need to train, and train in the right way. Below are a list of guidelines to follow that will hopefully help you in your quest to conquer your first big event.

Set your goal

First off, choose your event. Be realistic: if you took up cycling only a couple of months ago, don’t enter a monster slog through the French Alps. Challenging, yes; sensible, no. If you're you're a bit more experienced, you could try a multi-day event, such as the Rat Race Road Trip, which allows contenders to take on its 440-mile route over four days or two.

Then think about exactly what you want to achieve on your ride. Are you completing, competing or conquering? Again, be reasonable. Set an impossible aim and you’ll soon lose motivation. Once you have your goal sorted, write it down and put it in your wallet, next to your computer, on the dashboard or fridge door - anywhere that you’ll see it often enough to help keep you focused.

Get long rides in

Training for a sportive:

We all miss occasional planned rides, but even if you can’t do high mileage outings all the time, don’t miss the long rides at the heart of your training – they’re vital. Bad weather? Go out anyway; you could get bad weather on event day. Bike broken? Fix it, or get your bike shop to sort it – and learn how you could have solved the problem out on the road. Long rides are when your body gets used to handling the demands you face on the big day; they help you learn to draw on your fuel reserves more efficiently, and they get your head prepared for long, gruelling efforts.

Develop technique

Get used to incorporating technique work into your general rides, as well as devoting regular sessions to improving your skills. Find a long, winding hill and time yourself down it over several runs, looking to get quicker by laying off the brakes, leaning into the corners and learning when to put the power back on. Be careful – do this with a riding mate and only on quiet roads where you can easily see any approaching traffic. And don’t think that you can make up for poor climbing by flying downhill.

Training for a sportive:

Sheltering from the wind in a group saves you masses of power output from your legs and will improve your sportive finishing time, but it doesn’t necessarily come easily – there are tactics to learn here too, so practise in regular group rides and local road races. The more comfortable you are riding in close formation, the more time you can save.

Muscle power

Lactic acid is produced when your body breaks down carbohydrate for fuel, resulting in lactate in your blood that affects your muscle performance. All you really need to know is that the point at which lactate starts to accumulate faster than you can disperse it is your lactate threshold (LT), and raising it helps you ride faster for longer. Working on your power is important too, both for increasing the amount of force you can put into every pedal stroke and also for increasing endurance.

Take breaks

Training for a sportive:

You don’t get fitter when you’re riding, you get fitter when you recover afterwards, which is why you need to have at least one day without exercise every week, or more if you over-stretch yourself, plus an easy week each month.

Drink enough

Training for a sportive:

You might have read that you should drink 500-1000ml of fluid an hour while riding, but that’s only a rough guide. Work out precisely what you need at varying intensities and in different weather conditions by following this process over several rides:

  • Weigh yourself while undressed, before putting on your cycle kit. As an example, suppose that it’s 75kg.
  • On your return, note the amount you drank and ate during your ride. We’ll say it was 1500ml, which weighs 1.5kg, and three gels of 0.06kg each, so you’ve taken a total of 1.68kg on board.
  •  Before showering, eating or drinking, towel yourself dry and weigh yourself again. We’ll say it’s now 73.2kg.
  •  Subtract the second weight from the first to get your bodyweight change: 75 - 73.2 = 1.8kg.
  •  Add the weight of the food to this to get your total loss: 1.8 + 1.68 = 3.48kg.
  •  Estimate any bathroom stops because this will mean losses are higher.
  •  Divide total losses by the hours spent riding: 3.48 ÷ 3hrs = 1.16kg lost per hour

You won’t get to the end of your training ride or event at the same weight as you started, but eat and drink enough to be within 1-2kg. Never be more than 2-3 percent down in mass unless it’s a ride where you really can’t get adequate fuel down.

Become fuel efficient

You need to drink when you ride to replace the water you sweat and breathe out, but for longer training rides and during the event itself you must use drinks to help provide fuel. Suffering ‘bonk’ – when your body can’t get the energy it needs and refuses to cooperate any further – is very bad news.

For both training and the big ride, try a drink that’s 5-7 per cent carbohydrate. This is an isotonic level, meaning the drink contains the same concentration of dissolved particles as your body fluids, so will be absorbed fast. Some people prefer a hypotonic drink – one with a carb level of less than 5 per cent. The only way to find out what’s right for you is by experimenting in training. Choose a drink that also contains electrolytes, particularly sodium. This speeds up the delivery of fluid to your body, so it’s especially important on longer rides.

Finally, it’s key to go for a drink that you really enjoy the taste of – that way you’re far more likely to drink enough. Drink plenty before you go out on your bike so that you start off fully hydrated, and continue drinking afterwards – a little and often – to aid recovery. If you’ve trained for over an hour, make it a carb drink. Don’t wait until you feel really thirsty – that’s a bad gauge of need.

Training for a sportive:

You should consume at least 1g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight for every hour of riding. This can be in the form of carb-electrolyte drinks, gels, bars, solid food, or a mix of these. But your needs could be different from the norm so it’s important to experiment in training. That way you’ll be able to tell exactly what you can tolerate and what you need with you on the day. If riding an event, find out what food and drink will be available and at what points along the route. If you can’t stomach the energy drink on offer, take your own sachets. If you get sick of sweet stuff, check there’ll be something savoury for you to grab, or carry it with you.

Avoid injury

When you step up the amount of riding you do you’ll be adding stresses and strains on your body. You might be tempted to ignore niggles in order to stick with the programme. Don’t! Riding through the pain is a great way to make minor problems major. If you get injured, take it seriously. Take some time off the bike or do some cross-training, and if it’s a biomechanical problem have your riding position looked at by an expert. If necessary, visit a health professional. Whatever you do, don’t ignore a potential injury when it’s still in the niggle stage.

Pace yourself

Training for a sportive:

Related links

Pacing is crucial in training and on the big day. The main trick is to climb at an intensity that won’t blow your legs. This comes with experience, but if you’ve trained by heart rate (HR) or power you should have a good idea of what you can sustain. If you don’t know how hard you should be working, don’t go over 85 per cent of your max HR on even the steepest hills or you’ll dip too far into your glycogen stores. You have limited glycogen and can never eat enough to make up for going too hard too soon. Pace yourself, feed regularly and enjoy the ride.

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