Two years ago I went from a failed Festive 500 attempt to completing 400 and 600km Audax events in under 20 weeks. I’ve pulled together my historic Strava rides to compile a training diary in the hope that this will inspire and enable others. I’m not recommending you follow it to the word, everyone is different and there is a chance I just got lucky. However it gives you an idea, breaks it down and shows you that it can be achieved!
What is my definition of couch?
I cast my mind back. I’d been riding a bike most of my life but was not a cyclist. I didn’t have a sporty childhood but got into team sports at university so I had some experience of training. After an ACL reconstruction and difficult year I wasn’t in great shape. I bought a second hand road bike and I joined my local cycling club in summer 2015 and enjoyed the rebalancing effect that had on me. I moved away in October 2015 to start a 9-5 job. Without the influence of my old club my riding became reduced to the occasional 60km ride at the weekend. In 2016 I signed up for a 140km sportive with a friend, this would be my longest ride to date. This served as some motivation to start riding more consistently. In May we completed the sportive and I was in reasonable shape. Later that summer life was destabilised by my granny dying and family took priority once again reducing my riding to occasional trips. Up until December I had ridden a total of 2,000km in 2016, my longest ride to date was 140km and I would consider a ride fast if I’d managed to maintain 25kph average speed. My longer term goal was the Transcontinental race but this plan focuses on the rapid learning curve I made between December and May when I’d complete the 400km Brevet Cymru and 600km Bryan Chapman.
This isn’t a perfect training plan. Let’s be honest, it’s more of a training diary. This is based on the rides I did between December 2016 and May 2017. Hopefully it will demystify long distance riding and show you that you might be capable of more than you thought you were!
Here are some of the things I learned from this rapid learning curve.
There are no quick fixes for long distance. You need to build strength, fitness, your body needs to condition to being sat on the bike for over 12 hours. I still haven’t mastered this and you’ll see plenty of weeks where I managed 0 useful miles. I’m still trying to embrace consistency. In an ideal world I’d have several weeks where my cumulative distance was 400 and 600km in preparation. I only managed one 400km+ week. Anyone who knows anything about training would probably say I fluked it and got lucky. Turns out determination can count for a lot!
Learn from others
Riding in a group taught me a lot about riding efficiently, stopping efficiently, consistency with speed, keep pedalling, don’t coast, pedal over the top of a climb etc. It’s also a good way to motivate yourself to ride over cold, dark, wet winter months. Time off the bike is time spent not moving forwards, watching how people navigate their stops efficiently helps you see how you can minimise this stoppage time.
Learn about yourself
While they can appear intimidating and feel isolating there is value to riding by yourself. Long, solo rides help you to learn what your own pace is, what fuelling strategies work, self reliance, navigation and motivation. If you can get used to riding long rides alone then turning up to something like an Audax feels much easier because you’ll have company, wheels to sit on and food stops organised.
I was planning on spending a long time riding my bike. A good bike fit was important but I didn’t stretch anywhere near enough and my hip flexors were constantly shortening putting strain on my knees. My bum was (still is) a challenge on long rides, I’m not sure I’ll ever find comfort here.
I was leaving my comfort zone more times in a month than most people would in a year. I needed to do more to look after myself. Talking to others was a help but I could have shown myself more compassion. I’d often beat myself up it I missed a ride or didn’t ride as far/quickly as I wanted. It took me a long time to learn how to be kind to myself.
Mix it up
The long game is hard. I needed to mix it up to find it interesting enough to keep going. Shorter rides, hill reps, new places, turbo workouts all helped fit training around work, life and social commitments.
Know your challenge
I was working towards two rides. A 400km with 2,800m elevation and 600km with 7,000m of the finest Welsh hills. I’m not a natural mountain goat so but luckily the countryside around Bristol isn’t flat so it wasn’t hard to train for hills! I also recced parts of the route, I find that where possible knowing what I’ll face makes me feel more comfortable. Although this does in part give in to my anxiety rather than help me learn to overcome it. There are situations where it is impossible to recce a route and learning how to cope well and problem solve in unfamiliar places will be key to any long distance trip. Nevertheless, it is always wise to research any route to know where the resupply points, big hills, bike shops etc.
I ride everywhere I can. Whether that’s to work, to the train station, a friend, social occasion, wedding. I find this helps me to get used to being on the bike whether I’m tired, awake, in rain or snow. It isn’t just about base miles but about riding in every condition and every emotion to build resilience.
To remember the wise words of the late Mike Hall. Treat it as a pass or fail test and you will be dissappointed, instead see it as an experiment with an uncertain outcome. Enjoy the rides, the training, the new places and new people. Never loose sight of how lucky you are.