Welcome to part two of our exciting series on taking part in a sportive this summer, and it’s a big one.
In this article, we’ll be dealing with the challenges of taking on long miles. To be ready to tackle either an 80km or 200km course, more than anything else, you need grit.
These are distances mere mortals find hard to appreciate, usually only experienced from a seat on a train, plane, or automobile.
Completing such journeys therefore, requires full implementation of Rule #5, made famous by those notable cycling philosophers, the Velominati. So, in full accordance with Rule #3, we are obliged to provide assistance.
To summarise, this article deals with getting serious.
Once again, we have enlisted the help of experts and sportive veterans to produce this guide to getting involved in a sportive, and will continue bringing you the sum total of that combined knowledge over the coming months.
If you’re not yet familiar with Rule #5, the most often quoted rule of the Velominati, in essence it summarises that – when all else fails – you must overcome psychological and physiological barriers by gritting your teeth and just getting on with it.
To borrow from late President John F Kennedy, you must do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
From Nietzsche to Earhart, the benefits of graft have been well documented. Cycling isn’t easy, which is exactly why it’s so rewarding.
It does not mean, however, that you should push yourself beyond your limits. Instead, it’s being honest with yourself about where your limits lie and not being afraid of coming whisker-thin close.
Accept that you’re going to hurt, feel uncomfortable, make mistakes, let yourself down, exceed your expectations, and eventually overcome.
Maintaining your motivation is just as difficult as the most villainous of strength-sapping climbs. But there are ways of staying upbeat about the bike without having to fall back on Rule #5.
Following a training schedule, such as the excellent example provided to The Hub by British Cycling in part 1 of our Sportive Training Guide, is a great way to stay on track, but there are many other methods of maintaining that motivation.
Here are five ways successful cyclists manage to keep their nerve:
This might be your first experience with long miles, or you might be returning to them after a long break.
If you’ve been following the 8-week Sofa to 50km plan provided by British Cycling in part 1, then by this stage you will have been covering 20-40 miles during the course of a week. In week two, you’ll have been building up to an hour-long, continuous ride and may have found a few unexpected discomforts that you’ll need to fix.
These may be bike-related – clicking or grinding – which we’ll be discussing in future articles (subscribe below to ensure you don’t miss out on the rest of the sportive series). Alternatively, they may be physical, with saddles soreness, chaffing, and rubbing first raising their ugly heads.
If you’re an experienced rider who is coming back to the bike, you may be experiencing many of the same problems, so here’s a quick guide to some strategies for managing those long rides
When considering the value of pre-exercise static stretching, the current consensus is that, well, there is none. But, warming-up or dynamic stretching (mimicking the movements you’ll be doing) is still believed to be beneficial.
British Cycling has a wealth of information on getting ready for long rides, including sportives. In summary, they suggest using the first 15-20 minutes of your ride working through the gears, increasing and decreasing your effort to ensure your ligaments and muscles are well-oiled and ready for the challenge ahead.
A cool down of around 10 minutes is also advised to ensure your muscles can recover.
Cycling nutrition is a huge subject, which we’re going to touch upon briefly here, but a much more detailed look will come in our future sportive training guides.
There are three main elements to cycling nutrition – energy, hydration, and recovery. It’s also one of the few areas where even ardent application of Rule #5 will not help you.
As you ride longer miles, you’ll need to ensure you have taken on enough calories to complete the journey, lest you fall prey to the dreaded bonk. You need to ensure you keep hydrated, and you need to feed your starved body after excursion with the building blocks it needs to repair and rebuild stronger fibres.
It’s important to note, however, that while many cyclists enjoy the benefits of nutritional supplements, you should also be maintaining a healthy, balanced diet of real food.
Here are some examples of nutrition you’ll need for each of these purposes.
Science In Sport Go Isotonic Energy Gels 60ml x 6
Gels are a great way to quickly top-up your energy, and many cyclists will carry a number of pouches in their jersey pockets while on a long ride. SiS GO Isotonic Gels are consumed on the bike to deliver carbohydrate quickly to your muscles, giving you the energy you need to keep going.
High5 Energy Bars 60g x 25
A balance of simple and complex carbohydrate from fruit and grains with a great taste. Each bar provides one of your five-a-day portions. It’s moist, easy to chew, does not melt in the heat or become hard in the cold.
High5 Zero Electrolyte Drink Tablets
You’ll be amazed how easy it is to forget to drink while on a long ride – especially in cold weather. Many cyclists set a timer for 10 minutes to remind them to take a sip. High5 Zero Electrolyte Drink Tablets are hugely popular, just drop one into your water bottle to replenish your electrolytes and stave off the bonk.
Skratch Labs Excercise Hydration Mix replaces both the fluid and electrolytes you lose in your sweat while providing just enough calories to help fuel your working muscles.
Torq Recovery Drink 1.5kg Pouch
TORQ recovery is an advanced post-exercise nutritional shake powder designed to repair, recharge and refuel fatigued muscle tissue after heavy exercise. Its natural flavours taste great (check out some of the reviews on the Chain Reaction Cycles’ product page), and its scientific credentials are exhaustive.
Science In Sport Protein Bars
Designed to be convenient to eat after a tough ride, these protein bars will help the process of muscle building after a strenuous session. They’re tasty, with each bar packed with 20g of protein.
As you progress, riding longer, harder miles, you’ll find chafing, rubbing, and soreness become an increasingly reoccurring problem. Bike saddles aren’t exactly Eames lounge chairs, so you need some protection while spinning those knees.
If you are experiencing a lot of discomfort, make sure you remove all potential cause first: Make sure your saddle is the right shape, isn’t too high, and is at the right tilt; try a different brand and fit of chamois or shorts; and make sure you’re washing your shorts of chamois after every ride.
After eliminating all those possible causes, you may need to make your first acquaintance with with chamois cream. Applied to chafe points either on your body, directly onto the shorts, or a bit of both, chamois cream provides anti-bacterial, lubricative, and soothing qualities.
Here’s some of the best:
Friction-reducing and antibacterial, Assos is a trusted product among cyclists, favoured by many for its cooling effect.
If words like Aloe Vera, Witch Hazel, or Shea Butter sound soothing, it may be neural conditioning from beauty ads, or it’s because they’re actually quite beneficial. Either way, they’re in Muc-Off’s popular chamois cream.
Chamois Butt’r Original is a non-greasy skin lubricant developed by cyclists for use with all chamois and immediately improves comfort soothes already chafed or irritated skin. Some cyclists prefer the European style cream, so give that a look before you buy.
Morgan Blue Soft Chamois Cream
This Morgan Blue chamois cream contains Saint John’s Wort oil, olive oil, sunflower oil and rosemary oil and helps prevent saddle sores, chaffing wounds and skin irritation. It’s especially designed for use in dry weather conditions. Morgan also make a female specific cream which contains almond oil and natural vitamin E.