5 handy tips for big training sessions

When it comes to marathon training, I’ve pretty much sussed out the weekly long run – the route, the kit, fuelling and hydration and pushing through the tough bits – but I’m still a fairly novice cyclist, so when the reality of my upcoming 100-mile cycle event hit me, I might have freaked out a little. (Ok, a lot).

I’m cycling the Prudential RideLondon 100 on August 2nd, to raise money for the Devon Air Ambulance Trust (an incredible organisation that saved my Dad’s life a couple of months ago). When the magazine came through the door, it still seemed a looong way off, and I registered without thinking too much about it. Since then, I’ve managed a few cycle commutes (14-mile round trip) and I’ve done Guildford to Brighton (42-45 miles) twice on the hybrid.

100 miles is a bit further than that.

I should have started building up my distance on the road bike weeks ago. But if I’m completely honest, the idea of heading out on a long cycle – solo, and on unfamiliar roads – scared me.

Finally, after weeks of procrastinating, on Saturday I finally bit the bullet and set off on a 100km solo cycle through the Surrey hills.

60-mile Surrey cycle

And you know what? I survived. In fact, it was actually quite fun. Yes, I got lost (multiple times – the route above was meant to be a neat loop!). And yes, I completely failed on the nutrition front and hit the wall massively at about 50 miles… But on the plus side, I didn’t faceplant instead of unclipping from the pedals; I didn’t accidentally end up on the A3; I didn’t get hit by a car; my phone (i.e. Google Maps) didn’t die on me, and I made it home unscathed (albeit with crazy tan lines). Result!

Whilst they didn’t stop the nerves completely, I found that a lot of the tips and tricks I’d picked up during my marathon training applied just as well to a long bike ride, and really helped me to feel a bit more confident about the whole thing:

1) Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, right? (Or yknow, something a little less melodromatic). If there’s anything I’ve learnt over the past couple of years, it’s this: You can never be too prepared! Sort out your kit, and lay it out ready to go; plan your route, and print off a map if you think you might need one; work out your fuel and hydration (not just what you’ll eat and drink, but also how you’ll carry it with you) and add it to your kit pile. The last thing you want is to be running around like a headless chicken trying to find your socks when you’re meant to be heading out the door!

2) Plan your route carefully

If you’re attempting a new distance, it can be a bit daunting, and you might want to break it up into smaller sections. ’15 miles’ sounds a lot tougher than ‘2 10ks and a parkrun’, for example! And when it comes to planning a route, the options are endless: Out-and-back? Big loop? Small loops? A-to-B? Whilst this is really down to personal preference, it’s worth thinking about the logistics: if you want to stick closer to home, repeating a smaller loop is a better option than a long out-and-back slog. And if you fancy the A-to-B option, how will you get to/from the start/finish? Will friends be joining you along the way?

3) Pick your time wisely

If you have plans that afternoon, you’re going to want to get it out the way first thing. Equally, if it’s going to be a late one the night before, chances are you won’t be heading out at the crack of dawn! And that’s fine – schedule it for a time that works best for YOU. That said, if you’re training for an event with an early start, it’s a good idea to schedule some of your longer sessions for that time of day – breakfast logistics are as much a part of training as the session itself, after all 😉

4) Accept the worst case scenarios

Fact: Things WILL go wrong at some point in training. We’ve all been there! Whatever worries you have – getting lost, hitting the wall, kit malfunctions, tummy trouble, mechanical problems, chafing – make a list, and then think about how you’ll work around them. Whether that’s getting familiar with Google Maps; planning a route via shops or loo stops; learning how to fix a puncture, or packing some vaseline – trust me when I say that you’ll overcome it in training, and you’ll overcome it on the day!

5) Avoid time goals

When it comes to longer sessions, don’t stress about the pace – especially if you’ve not covered the distance before. If you need to slow down, walk, stop and stretch, make a pit stop, throw a bit of a wobbly – do it! Leave the finish times and mile splits for race day, and just focus on getting the miles in your legs (or wheels). It might feel counter-productive if you’ve got a time goal in mind, but trust in the training and you’ll be amazed by how much the adrenaline, crowds and taper will carry you along on the day!

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What are your go-to tips and tricks for getting through the big miles? I’d love to hear them!