Cycling is one of the fastest growing sports in Ireland.
Cycling is a great low impact exercise that almost anybody can do and the best thing about cycling is not only is a great workout but it can be a great social event.
Everyone has probably done a Spin class at some point in their lives and found themselves wondering how people spend hours on the bike. Cycling outdoors is a completely different experience to spinning. In spinning the its about working as hard as possible for a short period of time using intervals as the base for the session. Cycling outdoors however you have an everchanging landscape to take in and you are out in the fresh air so you don’t have that sweaty experience that you would have in the Spin classes.
Having said that Spinning can form a great training aid in your distance cycling training plan but we will get to that later on.
WHAT IS A SPORTIVE?
A sportive is a mass participation cycling event that is non-competitive and often these events raise money for certain charities. There are usually different distance options to choose from when you register your participation in the event.
Sportives appeal to riders of any experience or fitness level. Some riders will be looking for some element of competition usually in the form of a Personal Best Time but the majority are happy to make a day of it and take many breaks along the way to either have a coffee, take some photos of the scenery or perhaps as I have seen on the odd occasion have a quick pint in the pub!
Sportives are aided by volunteers directing you on your route and food and water stops are staggered around the course to keep you hydrated and keep your energy levels up. Mechanical and first aid assistance is also on hand for any issues you might encounter along the way, giving you peace of mind.
The greatest thing about cycling sportives is the atmosphere that surrounds the event. People of all ages, shapes and size participate. Sportives are an un-intimidating event and everyone is considerate and encouraging to one another and you will always find someone to have a chat to along the way to break up the long journey.
At the end of the cycle you usually receive a medal for completion and some form of meal to replenish the energy burnt off over the course of the day. Once you have replenished your food stores it is then time for a hard-earned beverage to celebrate your achievement! Some events even put on a special function the night of the event so you can let your hair down and have a bit of fun.
Here is a link to a video of one of my favourite Sportives: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shPT8zx2Kpc
NUTRITION AND HYDRATION FOR CYCLING
Whether it’s a sportive or a long training ride, optimal nutrition, along with consistent training and realistic pacing, is one of the keys to a successful ride. Get it wrong and you may come to a halt, reduce training benefits and significantly increase the time you will need to recover from the ride.
Eat normally the day before a big ride and pay particular attention to hydration. You want to make sure you are optimally hydrated in the 24 hours leading up to a ride, rather than trying to play catch up the morning of your cycle which will tend to result in more toilet stops than is necessary. If you are travelling to a sportive the day before then don’t rely on service station food, instead pack a healthy lunch and snacks.
The evening before a sportive or long training ride, avoid eating too late or it might impact on your quality of sleep. There is no need to eat the vast plates of pasta commonly consumed for the outdated concept of “Carb Loading”.
Your body can only store a certain amount of energy in the form glycogen and with the combination of your normal diet and a rest day before the event your “Carb Tank” is more than likely already full. Avoid heavy red meats and opt for a lighter protein such as chicken instead.
On the day of your cycle aim to have your breakfast 90 minutes before you start riding or if you know it is a nice easy pace to begin with and no early hill climbs you can push this to 60 minutes before. Porridge is the perfect pre-ride breakfast and add some banana but for longer rides 2-3 eggs will give you some extra slow release energy.
When you begin your ride settle into a pace that is sustainable and realistic, don’t get carried away with excitement and burn yourself out at the start. Sip your bottle right from the start of the ride and sip small and often. You should be aiming to consume 500-1000ml of fluid per hour depending on your build and also the conditions. Obviously if it is hotter conditions you will need to increase your fluid levels. I like to have one bottle with an electrolyte mix in it to replenish my levels as I tend to sweat a lot and this helps prevent cramping and allows me to retain fluids better.
Carbohydrates need to be consumed early and in small amounts and frequently. 30 minutes into a ride might seem too early but you are not eating for that moment but for 15-30 kilometres down the road. You can’t afford to wait until you are hungry or low on energy as it will be too late and you will “BONK.” Think of fuelling your body like you fuel a fire... you put the wood on the fire before it has gone out. If you try to put a block of wood on when there is very little heat left in the fire then it will be hard to get it going again and it will just smoulder away instead of burning at full force.
When considering what to eat post ride, try to get some good clean protein with a mix of carbohydrates. If you won’t be eating for a while after your cycle then a drink with a mix of protein and carbs is a quick and convenient option.
I can’t stress enough the Importance of Nutrition and hydration during your cycles, it really is key!
TRAININING FOR DISTANCE CYCLING AND SPORTIVE EVENTS
There are different methods of training for distance cycling. I am going to Focus on 4- Interval Training, Steady State, Tempo Training and Strength Training.
Now these may seem a little advanced for someone who wants to just participate in a casual sportive but I am just giving an idea of some different types of training methods.
Interval Training is a type of training that involves a series of short high intensity efforts with periods of recovery interspersed. The high intensity periods will be training in the upper heart rate zones and you will experience lactate build up. This type of training will help you to build your speed and acceleration along with the endurance of your working muscles, therefore leading to the build up of lactic acid being produced later. Interval training is also great for Fat loss which is very beneficial for cycling as you don’t want to be carrying extra weight around.
Interval training workouts are generally shorter in time due to the high intensity involved. Spinning classes are a great way to fit in your interval training with the benefits of a trainer to plan the session for you and give you the guidance and accountability you need to make sure you are working as hard as you should be to get the benefits from interval training.
STEADY STATE TRAINING:
Steady State training is a continuous steady effort over a long period of time as opposed to interval training where you vary your output.
This form of training is where you are going to build your distance and get the miles in your legs without over exerting yourself. With this form of training you will be training in the lower heart rate zones and keeping it to pure aerobic training. So simply put just get on your bike and ride, each week trying to gradually build your distance. You will be able to cycle with a friend and comfortably hold a conversation.
The benefit of steady state training at lower intensity is it trains you trains your heart to allow more blood in and out with each heart beat meaning your heart becomes more efficient. If you can move more blood with each heartbeat, than your heart doesn’t have to beat as fast. This will lead to a lower resting heart rate and will in turn help you with your interval and tempo training. To put it simply, the better your aerobic system, the higher your anaerobic threshold.
Tempo pace definitely isn’t sprinting or even riding at a particularly hard pace but nor is it riding steady state. It’s training above pure aerobic training and just below working at lactate threshold, or for the scientifically minded it equates to training at 85% of your maximal heart rate or 76-90% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).
To simplify it, Tempo pace can be described as “Sustainable discomfort” or “the highest intensity you can sustain for a prolonged period of time.”
For a rider looking to post a great time in a hilly sportive then being able to produce a sustained Tempo effort is key. Many riders can generate the power needed to climb a hill at a good speed or hit a fast pace on the flat roads but they simply can’t keep it going for long enough.
The key in fact is to not focus on going faster but training not to slow down. We have all been there where we cycle up a hill with our hearts beating out of chest and then once we reach the top we slow right down. This is where tempo training helps us so that we can maintain a consistent tempo where we don’t need to ease off at the top of the hill.
Your Tempo training can start with 3 x 15-minute blocks at tempo pace with 3 minutes gentle pace for recovery in-between. You can use a heart rate monitor to assist you or if you have a power meter than you can calculate your required output from your FTP.
As time goes on and your fitness increases at Tempo pace then you can increase the length/number of intervals and decrease the recovery time, with the ultimate aim being able to sustain tempo pace for an hour or more.
One key mistake to avoid is going too hard too soon so that your effort doesn’t taper off. This means your effort and output shouldn’t drop off throughout each effort and your last interval effort should be just as good as your first!
Once you have base fitness Tempo training is great because it means you can train in a shorter period of time with great adaptations.
I can’t stress enough the importance of strength training for cycling!!!
I’ve heard it a million times “I don’t want to do resistance training because my legs will be tired and I won’t be able to cycle.” This is where structuring your training so that you begin your strength training in the winter months when you won’t be on the bike as much is beneficial and then it’s just a matter of maintaining it through the cycling season.
Strength Training will greatly improve your power output along with the endurance of your muscles, meaning you can go for longer before that point where your legs fatigue. Once your legs start to fatigue your heart rate is going to increase, so by having a strong body it will be beneficial for your overall cycling performance.
When we are thinking of cycling programmes we want to target the entire body with lots of big compound movements that will target several muscles in the one movement.
So if you need a gym programme then book in with a trainer and they can design you a specific strength programme.