Training and Preparation for the Manchester to Challenge

Manchester to London

Training and Preparation

19 January 2018

An appropriate mantra when it comes to preparing for the 220-mile Manchester to London Challenge ride is courtesy of Fausto Coppi. When asked by a journalist how he became such a great champion Coppi replied “Ride a bike, ride a bike, ride a bike”. Maybe knowing what we know about physiology now, we should also add: “and work on your core too”.

In essence, your training and preparation doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that – get out and ride when you can, as often as you can, for as long as you can, but don’t forget that we’re not machines.

Start in good health This event is an achievable challenge for regular riders who are looking for a step-up in distance. No matter how fit you are (or aren’t), before you start training or rapidly increasing your time spent on the bike it’s worth making an appointment with your GP for a basic check-up.

Make a plan Start by taking a close look at your weekly schedule of home, family and work commitments and work out, realistically, how many hours a week you can dedicate to training from now until September. Nothing is a bigger drain on morale than failing to achieve self-set targets so remaining pragmatic at this stage will give you achievable targets which, in turn, will help keep you motivated.

Commit Whatever your motivation for riding this event, make a pact with yourself to commit to your training and maximise the hours you have available.

Write it down Once you know how much time you’ve got available to ride then set up a training diary. This can be a simple pad of paper or an online site like Strava, but measuring what you have achieved against what you said you’d do is a great way of keeping on track.

Get creative in using your time You’re busy and time is tight. Rather than feeling you need more riding time but can’t get access to it, look for opportunities to ride that you haven’t exploited before. Could you take a longer commute to or from work a couple of times a week? Could you set up a turbo trainer and do a quick hour before work without leaving the house? Instead of skipping a wet night ride, how about working on your core in the gym?

Find out what works for you You can remove a lot of uncertainty from an event like M2L by finding out exactly what works and, perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t work for you. This can be split into four main areas but the key theme is the same for all.

Don’t use anything during the actual event that you haven’t tested in training

Bike – Comfort and reliability are the priority here. Ensure your bike is well maintained and try to avoid any last minute equipment changes, particularly the saddle. Some people find slightly wider 25c tyres more comfortable than 23cs and they can be run at slightly lower pressures. If your shoe cleats are worn out then anticipate this and change them well in advance of the event.

If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. If it is broke – fix it, quickly and properly

Body – Comfort is, once again, the key here. You have three points of contact on a bike so make sure they are all as comfortable as you can make them. Wear the shoes, socks, shorts and gloves that you feel the most comfortable in over long distances. Chamois cream is highly recommended as it reduces the chance of saddle sores and infection.

Asking your body to sit on a bike for several hours at a time and ignoring your core is asking for trouble so factor in some core specific exercises into your training programme. This could take the form of Yoga or Pilates, circuit training or strength workouts.

Soul – An army may march on its stomach but cyclists ride on theirs. Without enough of the correct fuel in the tank and hydration in the system your body won’t perform. Use the lead up to the event to experiment with different foods and energy brands to find out what works for your body. Many riders find that on long rides a mixture of “real” food (like rice cakes and flapjacks) and sports nutrition (energy gels) works best. Staying hydrated and keeping electrolytes in balance is an essential part of any big ride. Most critically for a long ride like this – learn to eat and drink on the bike.

Mind – By looking after and learning about your bike, body and soul in advance of the event you’ve taken important mental steps to eliminate the fear of the unknown. The confidence you gain from feeling prepared is a great way to arrive at the start line without any worries, and you can focus on enjoying the ride.

Build up gradually Graeme Obree always used to say “remember training actually makes you worse at doing the thing it is you are training for…it’s the rest and the proper nutrition that makes you improve”. ‘Supercompensation’ – a healthy body’s innate ability to best adapt to the task demanded of it – is at the root of improving all athletic performance. Give your body a chance to recover and build up your mileages / hours spent riding gradually. Don’t embark on a 120-mile rides if your previous longest ride was 60 miles.

Nutrition In order to recover from increasing levels of training you need to eat as well off the bike as on it. Cutting out sugary and high-fat foods and ensuring you eat a lot of protein and high quality carbohydrates are the key to recovering effectively.

How many hours / miles of training is enough? This is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question and depends entirely on your current fitness levels and sporting background. If you’re new to cycling and long distance riding, it’s likely to be more than someone who already regularly rides. It’s a question that can only really be answered by a qualified coach who can test your physiology.

That said, a personal goal could be to be to build up to being able to comfortably ride two big (100-120 mile) back-to-back days by the end of August. That would give you the assurance you need to know that your body is prepared physically for the challenge ahead. Others may prefer to do a simulated ride distance as part of their training. Either way you will want to taper down your training load during the last two weeks for the event – do keep riding to keep your body ticking over but do cut down your time spent on the bike.

Maintain an average speed You don’t go faster by going faster… you go faster by not going slower. Settling into your personal pace at the start and getting dialled into the average speed you can maintain in training is the best way to pace yourself. Long stops kill your average speed, so stop only for as long as you need to properly refuel and rehydrate. Don’t forget to top up your back pocket food and bottles before you leave the Feed Stations.

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