Get Ready for your First Brevet

The Bike Affair

Raman Garimella is a Super Randonneur and regular at national Level races. Here he shares some vital inputs on training and finishing strong on your first brevet.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Riding a super long distance could be a very gratifying experience. Though it might seem like a highly daunting task to take part in a brevet, it is actually fun. However, the risk of injuring yourself is high if you have not trained enough for your first 200km brevet. With the very popular 2 Lakes- Heaven and Hell brevet right around the corner, we decided to come up with a training plan that focuses on getting you ready for the mammoth ride. 

The key to any smart training plan is doing the least amount of work that is required to obtain maximum benefits. Any extra work would be termed, and un-dignifiedly so, “junk miles”. Considering that you are a Monday-Friday office-goer, we scheduled Monday and Friday as rest days and Saturday & Sunday as the key workout days. The weekend is when your schedule will demand a long and/or a hard ride. Resting on Friday keeps you well-recovered, fit and ready for the key workouts and resting on Monday gets you ready for the rest of the week. This schedule has been designed to get you used to spending a long duration on the saddle consistently, to get you into the habit of ultra-endurance cycling.
 

This plan is not inflexible. You can vary your training within the week if other commitments pop up, as long as you make sure to hit the weekly targets. Keep track of your rides in a personal/public journal. You may do it on paper or on any of the online tracking tools that are available: www.dailymile.com, www.trainingpeaks.com, www.strava.com Keep track of the distance, time taken, weather conditions and how you felt at the end of every ride. This is to record your progress and to reflect upon mistakes if there are any. Before we get to the actual training plan, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Group ride vs Solo ride

Solo riding has an almost meditative feeling to it. People around the world vouch for the mental clarity that riding alone gives them. It is a way to release stress, reflect upon your day, clear your mind or simply spend time with yourself. Riding with company has many benefits as well. The mental and moral support that you get from other riders cannot be replicated by anything else. It is best to have a mix of these two worlds.

Route & Terrain  
Vary your ride route often, so that you don’t get bored. This way, you will also get to see more of your city, the outskirts, highways and countryside. Varying terrain also helps in preventing your progress from plateauing. Ride hills, flats, downhills, against the wind, with the wind, and so on.

What if I can't ride?

If the weather and/or the traffic conditions are bad you can ride indoors either on your home trainer or on a stationary cycle at the gym. If you scheduled a 90min ride but don't have the time and can only squeeze in a 60min ride, do it. Remember, any activity is better than skipping your training day.

Diet
Following these simple tips will help you  :

  • Before starting a ride, eat simple carbohydrates. Bananas, bread & honey are the best options.
  • Always carry water with you when you go out to ride and sip small amounts roughly every ten minutes. The intention is to drink water before you feel thirsty, and eat before you feel hungry. You don't want any surprises or realize that you were too late to eat or drink.
  • If your ride is longer than 90 minutes, carry a bottle of electrolytes (salts) and food to eat while on the ride. 
  • Get used to eating and drinking while riding (i.e. without getting off your cycle). Typical easy-to-carry food is bananas, energy bars, nuts, dates and other simple but high-calorie food. The salts in the bananas and electrolyte mix will help prevent cramping of your muscles.
  • Post-workout, eat within 30minutes of finishing your workout. If this is delayed, you start to lose the benefits of the workout rapidly after the 30min mark. It is best to have a protein shake or any other food with high protein content. You must take care not to overeat at this point.
  • Throughout the day, eat small portions but eat frequent meals. This gets your rate of metabolism up and is a sure way to get the physical benefits of cycling - mainly weight loss. 
  • It is a good idea to take vitamin supplements as well as you will be spending a considerable amount of time exposed to the wind and dust, and cycling for long hours might drop your body's immune system momentarily.

Warm up and cool down 
Both these activities are very critical. Before starting a ride, stretch the three most important muscles of cycling - the calves, quadriceps and the hamstrings. After this, warm up on the cycle. While warming up, make sure to start at a low intensity, and gradually build up the intensity to the target endurance intensity. Spend at least 10-15minutes doing this. For cooling down, do the reverse, ramp down the intensity over a period of 10-15minutes. At the end of your ride, spend at least 10 minutes stretching all the muscles you used - calves, quads, hams, back, neck and shoulders.

Over-training 

Start slow and gradually build up. The only way to gaining substantial fitness is consistency and being patient with yourself. Sometimes we push too hard not knowing how much our body can take and the result is "over-training", a phenomenon where the body is undergoing more damage than good because of not staying within the limits of what your body is physically capable of. So listen to your body and progress gradually. Signs of over-training are: elevated heart rate throughout the day, shortness of breath, constant body and muscle sores, frequent headaches.

Guide for zones
 1. Zone 1 - "Rest/Recover" - This does not mean that you must skip riding altogether, it means that you do a very low-volume and low-intensity ride, barely breaking a sweat. If you need a mental break from cycling, any other low-intensity activity like walking, swimming or stretching is equally good. "Active recovery" is better than complete rest - it keeps the blood flowing and flushing out the fatigue - both physiologically and mentally. Recovery days are an ideal way to ride your cycle with the children and family. On a scale of 1-10, this should be a 2-3.
Effort scale: 1/10
Guide: Should feel really good, not even breaking into a sweat


2. Zone 2 - "Endurance intensity" - This is the intensity that you can hold all day (certainly for many hours together) also known as LSD = Long, Slow, Distance. In this zone, apart from all the great physiological benefits of building your “base”, you get a chance to improve your economics on the bike. Focus on smooth pedalling motion, pedalling in circles, cadence between 85 and 95, relaxed upper body, rhythmic and stress-free breathing, eating and drinking on the bike and so on. 
Effort scale: 2/10 – 4/10
Guide: Able to hold a conversation, just breaking into a sweat


3. Zone 3 - "Tempo" – This zone is just above the endurance intensity and this is something that is right in the spot where you need to apply pressure at all times, but it is not an anaerobic intensity that you can’t sustain for 60-90mins. Sometimes upper tempo rides are called SST or Sweet Sport Training. Riding in this zone can cause some miracles to your fitness and hence it is the mantra for time-crunched cyclists. However, you can’t only be doing your rides in this zone. Overall fitness is obtained only from balanced training in all zones. Caution: Tempo rides can seriously tire you and you will need a solid amount of time to recover from them. 
Effort scale: 5/10
Guide: You are breathing hard and can speak but can't really hold a conversation


4. Zone 4 – “Threshold” – These workouts are focused on improving your strength at your LTHR or lactate threshold heart rate. It is very challenging and requires a solid rest time between sets. We have tried to keep these sets to a minimum.
Effort scale: 6/10
Guide: Panting, sweating freely

Here's the training plan to set you up for your first brevet, which incidentally could be the 200 km brevet.