For some, cycling is a way of getting fitter and staying in shape. For others it's about the social aspect - the opportunity to meet new people on two wheels who share your enthusiasm for this sport! Others find pleasure from both these things combined: achieving competitive performance while also feeling comfortable enough around friends and strangers so that you can chat about stuff without worrying if they'll judge your or not.
The first piece of advice I always give people who want to get stronger at road cycling is just get on your bike and ride as often as possible. The more you do that, the fitter and stronger you'll become over time. However if structure is more your thang, then keep reading. You're going to love this...
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cycling, so feel free to mix this plan up in any way that you see fit. I'm also aware of how mileage isn't always comparable - one mile with 50ft climbing will be much easier than 300+ ft. This is why some people put their focus on time while others concentrate more heavily upon distance. Personally I found putting specific targets at distances farther away from home helped me stay motivated during training rides.
Every ride has a different intensity. In order to find your personal sweet-spot, it's important that you try various levels of 'challenging' and 'enjoyable' so you don't get bored or injured from overdoing things.
The aim here is to love cycling, not loathe it. If you find yourself feeling like your cycling is becoming more of an obligation than a pleasure, it might be time to change things up a bit. And there's no shame in taking a few days off following a period of several, back-to-back riding days. Afterall, your body will appreciate the recovery period and you'll enjoy your next ride when you cycle with a feeling of more freshness.
The plan below is designed to be flexible. You can obviously alter the recommendations depending on your personal circumstances and local riding conditions. If you want to do a 25 mile ride instead of only 15 for example, then go for it, but make sure that by the end of week 7 (or sooner!) you're riding through that 50 miles barrier like a road biking boss!
First things first:
Tracking your distance:
Tracking your cycling progress is easy with the right tools. There are 2 main ways you can go about it. One is with a dedicated cycling computer. These may be a step (and cost) too far for newbies so, instead, use what's on offer from apps like Strava. This can run on your mobile phone, which you can carry in one of your cycling jersey's back pockets. If you want to see your screen whilst on the move then grab one of those handlebar mounts. However - be sure to buy a rugged one that won't lose grip of your mobile at the sight of the slightest bump on the road.
Things to take:
Look. There's no getting away from it. You're gonna need lycra. Both bib shorts and jersey. When it comes to the bottoms I strongly recommend the bib shorts. They keep everything in place and stop you showing your crack to anyone traveling behind you. Lycra is a fact of road cycling life. Suck it up and slip 'em on. You'll be fine. Trust me.
You're going to need the stuff below so make sure you get a decent saddle bag - one that fits tightly to your seat. Avoid the ones that rattle around. They're very annoying. Alternatively, grab yourself a storage pod, which can fit into one of your bottle cages. Although for longer rides you'll need two bottles so a saddle bag will be your best option.
Spare inner tube (x2 ideally and ensure their valves are long enough to poke through the rims in your wheels).
Co2 gas cannisters + valve (to pump tyres quickly).
Micro pump (carry in one of your cycling jersey's back pockets).
Changing a tyre:
Make sure you know how to change a tyre BEFORE heading out for your ride. It's worth practicing this in advance so that you can do it quickly when stranded on the side of a road down some country lane.
Clipping in your pedals:
This is the biggest dread for most people I've helped get into cycling. The thought of attaching your feet whilst riding may sound ridiculous to begin with but there's a reason why I recommend getting used to it as quickly as possible. It makes your pedalling more efficient and effective. You'll be surprised how quickly you pick it up. Yeah, you might have a little wobble in the first few miles but you quickly learn that you can release your foot very easily with a simple flick of your ankle.
7 weeks to 50 miles. The plan:
The following weeks will see your ride distance gradually increasing. The outline below covers:
The target distance for that week.
Water to carry.
Nutrition to carry.
Helpful hints, tips and watch outs.
Target time you might want to aim for.
Week 1: 15 miles ride
If you're starting from scratch then 15 miles might sound long. Riding is as much about cycling through mental obstacles as it is physical ones. Try not to think of the distance as one large number. Try looking at it as, "I'm going to ride 5 miles, 3 times." For some reason, this makes longer distances easier to get your head around. (well, it works for me at least!)
Water: 500ml (unlikely you'll need it all).
Nutrition: 1 x banana (unlikely you'll need it but take just in case).
Watch-outs: There no getting away from it. Just as there's no nice way of saying it. You're going to get a sore arse. Road bike saddles take some getting used to. Consider it a rite of passage for... Well... Your back passage. You'll probably want to leave it at least 3 - 4 days before going out for your next ride.
Target time: Aim for 1 hour - 1 hour 15 mins. try not to stop. Any slower and you're probably not challenging yourself enough. (Obviously you can go as fast or slow as you like. These times are a gage if you're looking to increase your heart rate to quicker fat-burning /stamina building levels).
Week two: 20 miles
Nutrition: 1 x banana.
Watch-outs: Continue to take it easy on the saddle. If you're up to it then try going a bit faster, for longer, but don't push yourself too hard. And sorry. You're bot-bot is still gonna hurt. Not as much though! Which is a good thing. (keep telling yourself that!)
Target time: Aim for 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 hours riding time. Try not to stop.
Week three: 25 miles
Water: 500 - 730ml.
Nutrition: 1 x banana. 1 x energy gel (use the gel towards the end of the ride. They give a great little kick to get you over the final 5 - 10 miles).
Watch-outs: You might feel like you can push on and increase the distance this week. If you're up to it then great but don't pressure yourself. Remember, you're still building up to that 50 mile target. If everything is going well then maybe consider increasing the distance by a couple of miles. Better still, try upping your speed. As they say in cycling, "it doesn't get easier, you just get faster."
Target time: Aim for 1 3/4 hours riding time. You may want a quick, 2 mins break.
Week four: 30 miles
Nutrition: 1 x banana. 1 x energy gel.
Watch-outs: For me, hitting 30 miles for the first time was a big mile-stone. Congrats! Stick to the same routine as last week but try increasing your average speed by another half a mile or so per hour. You want to still be feeling comfortable.. By now you should be feeling more confident and fitter too. Keep going!
Target time: Aim for 2 hours riding time. You may want a quick, 5 mins break.
Week five: 35 miles
Nutrition: 1x banana. 2x gels (try to only use 1 but take the other as back up).
Watch-outs: You're getting closer to that 50 mile target! This week, increase the distance by a couple of miles but remember to take things steady.
Target time: Aim for 2 hours 15 mins riding time. You may want a quick, 5 mins break.
Week six: 40 miles
Water: 1x 500 ml bottle + 1x 730 ml bottle.
Nutrition: 1x banana. 1 x energy bar. 2x gels.
Watch-outs For a newbie, shits starting to get real. This is a long ride so make sure you're properly fed and watered before hitting the road. Also, it's time to release the chamois! Slap this stuff on around your 'bits 'n' bobs' to avoid painful chafing. Whilst out on the saddle, remember to eat regularly. Prevent hunger setting in and avoid 'bonking' (hitting the figurative wall). Also, it's perfectly okay to take a little break to stretch your legs and back. Do so if you feel like you need to.
Target time: Aim for 2 hours 30 - 45 mins riding time. You may want a 5 - 10 mins break.
Week seven: 50 miles, baby!
Water: 2x 730 bottles.
Nutrition: 1x banana. 1 x energy bar. 3x gels.
Watch-outs: And just like that, you're here! The final stage of this training program. If you've made it this far then it's high-fives and fist bumps all round, my friend. Make sure your bike is in great nick and that you are, too. Have something small to munch before starting and regularly swig your water and eat whist you're on the move. This is a long one, and you're going to smash it! Oh... And don't forget that chamois before heading off!
Target time: Aim for 3 hours 15 - 30 mins riding time. You may want a 5 - 10 mins break.
And voila! A simple guide to get you from zero to hero in just seven weeks. Now all you need to do is grab your bike and enjoy the open road! Just remember to leave your ego at home and build up gradually. Most importantly of all, Enjoy!
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