Basic Training Tips
Recently I joined a Facebook group for people who will do the Ride London this year. Quite often, members ask how to approach training, how to train, what to do, etc. Now, I want to make clear that I am not a cycling coach and I have no qualifications whatsoever to support that. I have done my fair share of cycling and I have followed (or at least tried to) different training plans/programs; some of them helped, some others didn’t. Sometimes I just did the miles without much planning. Some other times I just used my commute to train. So, based on these experiences, I though I could point people to some plans and give some advice.
I understand that there are some people than are not serious cyclists and they just want to do the Ride London event as part of their London Classics attempt. Some others are much keener cyclists but don’t know where to start their training. Some others are keen but don’t want to spend more money on expensive equipment. I will try to cover as much of that as I can. So, let’s start.
- Heart Rate Monitor: If you have one then great, skip this part. If you don’t have one and you are serious about cycling or even running and you can afford one, I suggest you get one. Even a Bluetooth one that connects to your mobile phone and you use it with an app (Strava or whatever else) is OK. If you have a cycle computer that can connect to a heart rate monitor strap, then get one that works with your cycle computer. Nowadays, most of them work with ANT+ and/or Bluetooth. Check before you buy, but any of the large online retailers accept returns, so you can even experiment a bit.
- Power Meter: If you have one most probably you already know what to do and you don’t need this guide, but you never know. If you are still reading then I say that you don’t really need one. I believe it’s for people that race. A HRM is good enough for the Ride London event. Still, if you have one, or want to buy one then don’t let me stop you.
- Cycle Computer (Garmin or any other brand): If you have a Power Meter then you definitely have a CC. IF you have a Heart Rate Monitor, then again you most probably have a CC or a GPS watch.
Some people just use their mobile phone on a mount for maps and stats. Personally I find them too bulky on my handlebars, the GPS and screen on constantly drain the battery (so I need to carry a charging cable, powerbank etc) and I prefer to have the phone with a enough juice to make calls in case of an emergency.
If you are doing triathlon, running, hiking or other sports in general, then a watch might be a better solution. Some of them can connect to speed and cadence sensors if you want.
As for a proper cycle computer, there 2 main needs: stats and/or navigation. If you only care about stats, then a Garmin Edge 130 or a second-hand Edge 520 will do nicely. If you want proper map navigation, then you can have a Garmin Edge 530, or a 830 which is a 530 + touch screen, or a 1030 (there is a new 1040) which is even nigger with some more features but nothing to write home about. I personally find the 1030/1040 far too big; they are almost the size of a mobile phone.
Apart from Garmin there are other brands: Wahoo, Bryton, Cateye and some cheap non-GPS ones. Wahoo is fairly nice similar to Garmin but at the moment there are some rumours that the company is not doing well; you don’t want to buy something and then struggle with support/warranty issues. The other brands are much cheaper the do not all connect to Strava and other apps; check before you buy. DCRainmaker has been runngin a website/blog that test and reviews all this stuff.
I have been having a Garmin Edge 520 for years and I got a 830 last year that I decided that I needed the navigation function. My opinion is that if you want a GPS, then you buy Garmin; that’s what they do for all sorts of applications.
- Clipless Pedals: These help a lot. Setting them up might take some effort but it is worth it. There are different types: SPD, SPD-SL, Look, Speedplay etc. If you don’t like the idea of your foot being clipped on the pedals, there is a brand that uses magnets to keep the show on the pedal; they are called Magped. If that still fells restrictive there is another solution that doesn’t hold the shoe at all but just puts it on the right spot on top of the pedal. They are called Bythlon and it is a set of pedals with cleats that just sit in a recess but has no hold. You just lift your foot with no extra effort. Personally I believe that they are too expensive for what they are. If you insist to ride flat (bog-standard, old-fashioned, simple) pedals then please read on about the shoes in the next section.
- Cycling Shoes: Not much to say here, if you have clipless pedals, then you need cycling shoes. But if you really don’t like/want them then at least get some shoes for urban cycling or touring. They have flat soles but harder and stiffer and can be used on normal flat pedals. You do not want to cycle 100 miles (160km) in your running shoes; their soles are too soft, you will be losing power and the pedals will be digging into your feet. An example of these shoes are the Adidas Velosamba. If you search for “urban cycling shoes” or “touring cycling shoes” you will find some that have flat rubber soles. Some of them might have the holes for cleats, but you don’t have to use them; you can leave them without. If you are on a low budget, sometimes Lidl and/or Aldi sell this type of shoes.
- Cycling Shorts: Do you need them? Yes! Just go buy them and thank me later. Actually, I don’t care if you thank me or not; just buy them. If you don’t want to ride in lycra shorts (some men don’t like the idea of showing off their bits), then buy the ones for mountain biking that have an inner short with padding. However, when you wear cycling shorts you go commando (you wear them on your skin with no underwear). If you are going to wear any underwear, you might as well skip the shorts. If you really hate cycling shorts try padded boxer shorts for cycling with urban cycling shorts. They have a diamond-shaped gusset so you don’t sit on any seams/stitching. Vulpine make padded underwear and urban cycling shorts. The seams of the normal underwear can cause discomfort; ask me how I know. Finally some people don’t like the idea of using chamois cream; but I believe it’s best if you do. After five minutes you will forget that it’s there. It will protect you from friction that causes chafing and skin redness and irritation.
For women the same things apply (more or less), but I cannot say that I have any experience as I lack certain parts of the anatomy.
Generally speaking when it comes to clothing, I say avoid cotton as it will absorb sweat, keep it next your skin, soak your skin, soften it and it will start getting irritated. Wicking fabrics are much much better. No need to go for expensive gear; Decathlon have some own brand reasonably priced stuff. Aldi and Lidl also sell some cycling gear from time to time.
There are loads of training plans out there and if you are a beginner anything will do. Some of them seem too complicated so they might not help you much and half-way through you might feel lost and you opt to stop following it altogether. If you are an intermediate rider, some of them might be too simple for you so you want something more challenging, engaging or interesting. So, here are the following possible solutions.
- Simple mile-based plan: This is for people that don’t have/want a heart rate monitor, they don’t understand intensities and/or want just a simple plan they can follow. Nothing wrong with that it is a plan after all. This is just an example, you might find some more out there. If you want to convert to kilometres just multiply the distances with 1.6 (I suggest you round the distances, no point in trying to do 53.234 km).
- Rate of Perceived Exertion plan: This is for people who, again, don’t have/want a heart rate monitor, but they want something more than just distances. This program tells you to go easy, hard, do tempo, or endurance, or threshold etc. It uses a scale from 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 (or whatever) to measure your efforts. Ride London have published a plan; you can follow that one. If you google “cycle training plan” you will get dozens more. This is another example.
- Power or Heart Rate Based plan: This is more or less the same as above, but instead of the Rate of Perceived Exertion it uses your power or heart rate to measure the effort. Due to the fact that out heart rate is affected by stress, how much we have slept and other factors, power is more accurate. On the other hand you don’t want to kill yourself so if you are not feeling too well it might not be a good idea to push yourself just because the power numbers tell you so. So the heart rate might be better for amateur riders. As I said above, you will find loads of programs like this.
- Mobile phone apps: In the last year or so, some apps have appeared in the market that can guide you to a specific goal. They will calculate automatically what you should do and how much of it. They will take into account your past performance as they plan the future training sessions. I don’t believe that they are widely tested and that’s one of the reasons that most of them are in beta (trial) period and/or are still for free. A couple I know of, are Pillar and Zihi. Pillar seems more complete although it is till in beta. Zihi seems more of a work in progress. I also discovered VeloPro; it’s not a mobile phone app but a web application. It looks quite good I have to say. I bet they all have pros and cons. I guess there are more out there; please let me know if you find any others.
- Web-based coaching: There are some companies out there that create different training programs based on hour subscription level. From a generic program with some email correspondence, to fully customised with Zoom sessions/calls. It’s all about your budget. Cycling Inform and My Cycling Coach are just two of them; you will find more if you google “online cycling coaching”.
- Face-to-face coaching: I guess this is a bit of a niche and it is well beyond what you will want, but if you google, you will find cycle coaches who will be able to help you improve your cycling performance for a fee. I believe that for an event like Ride London this is a bit of an overkill. But if you want to spend the money, who am I to stop you right?.
- DIY coaching: Now, this is for the real geeks. You will end up here if you have done some of the above and you have tried 2-3 different programs and read a couple of books. Check Amazon for bicycle training books. You will find loads of information online, too.
- Indoor training: Indoor training is boring, training apps like Zwift, Rouvy, Training Peaks etc. can make it a bit more interesting and they also allow for more structured training. No traffic lights, no start-stops and no car traffic can help your stick to your training plan. Especially during the winter months it can be really helpful (a Godsend even). But you need to get miles on the road and ideally among other cyclists. So whenever you can ride on the road, do it. When it starts getting warmer I suggest you do the hard rides (like intervals) in the indoor trainer and easy or endurance rides on the road.
Some general guidelines: Most of these programs are for 10, 12, or 16 weeks. If you have less time start from somewhere that feels like you can do right now even if you don’t have time to complete the program. So, if you have 8 weeks till event day but you find a 16-week plan that you like then start at week 4 (or whichever week you think is for your current fitness) and then 1 week before the event, jump to the last week of the plan that has loads of rest. Adapt it as you feel like. If you have a 10 week plan but you are 16 weeks from event day, then repeat 6 of the weeks. So do week 3 twice, week 4 twice and so one. Avoid repeating the penultimate week and do NOT repeat the last week either.
Now, if you end up not following any plan and the longest ride you have done is 25 miles, then don’t worry about it. On event day, get on your bike, ride 25 miles, stop, stretch, eat, drink and rest. Then get on the bike and ride another 25 miles, stop, stretch, eat, drink, rest and so on until you have crossed the finish line. Just break it down into manageable chunks. There is nothing wrong with this plan; I did a 4-day event from Geneva to Nice, completely undertrained. I knew I could do 30-40 km at a time and that’s what I did. I suffered a bit, but I did it. So can you.
Nutrition while riding
All the gels and electrolyte drinks are good as long your gut can handle them. That means that you need to try them beforehand. By “try them” I don’t mean while sitting in the sofa watching Netflix, but while you are riding hard. The ones that have worked for me in the past are the Cliff Bar products. If you prefer more natural supplements I suggest you try Veloforte for gels and chews and Supernatural Fuel for healthy carbs. If you are on a carb-free/keto diet you can try KetoKeto, or Keto Collective but I strongly suggest that you talk to a nutritional therapist like Nutrimedico for proper advice. The good ones will give you really healthy options as opposed to off-the-shelf products that are full of synthetic unhealthy additives.
I am not in any way shape or form affiliated with any if the companies or websites mentioned above. I do not receive any commission or freebies from any of them. Some of those services and/or products I have used (and/or still use) myself and have helped me.
Also, I remind everyone that I am not a qualified trainer/coach in any country. I am not and I do not imply that I am an expert trainer/coach in cycling or any other sport. I only express my opinion based on my experience and knowledge. I raced competitively between 1987 and 1991 (in Greece and quite unsuccessfully, really) and I have been regularly riding my bike since 2009 (in the UK) for commuting and fitness.
If you have any other questions I will try (but I cannot promise that I will) to answer and/or give you some pointers free of charge.
Here is the GPX file of the 2022 RideLondon (you might have to right-click and save rather than click)