In writing this I have to be honest. Of this year (2016) I have done 2 training rides all year before both my main sportives. I am finding myself in a Jeckl and Hyde mood when I think about this half because 2 training rides really isn't enough, and the other half is it's all I really could have properly managed this year. As I've mentioned before I was ill this year, and with the advent of a massive new road (AWPR) tearing up my usual cycling routes I have been rightly reluctant to go out out my end of Aberdeen. (it's pretty horrific at the moment - the usual roads I roll have either been cut off, the ones I can roll on no one would in their right mind.) But hey, sometimes that is how the cookie crumbles and 2 is better than none.
The purpose of training rides are mostly to make sure you can sit in the saddle. Come 60mph wind, rain, crashes, go slows, and snow. All of which happened to me in last year's Etape Caledonia. If you can sit in the saddle with your legs always going one more pedal turn you can finish any distance barring mechanical faults or acts of God. And he knows he can be a funny bugger sometimes. They also teach you how to read a road in terms of surface conditions and terrain, how to get to the top of a climb efficiently and your limits on cornering. Whilst some of this can be gained on a cycle commute every day, knowing you can do three hours plus then a big climb does wonders for the nerves on your first sportive. So... what things should you consider when planing a training ride. Well...
1. How you are going to build up Miles and Time. In the first year me and the girls built on distance by adding 5 or so miles to each training ride every weekend. The longest mileage we did in that first year was 65 miles which was a perfect distance for me - about 7 hours including stops - as it was more than half the distance of the sportive ('Every endurance event is done in halfs, get half way then start counting the second half backwards' - Thomas Willis my da'.) and meant that I knew that come act of god or serious mechanical failure, I could always get back on the bike and push the pedals one more time. Now, there is a general consensus that you should train for how long you think your sportive is going to take, with the intensity of how much hard work you plan to hit it with. So for example if I planned to do a 65 mile sportive in 4 hours in Zone 3 (about 170bpm* for me) then I would carve out time to train for a single four hour session once a week (or more) and building up the duration upon which I could spend time in zone three to four hours. In saying this, in my first year there was no way I'd have finished the 81 mile sportive (given a mixture of fitness and bike skills) in about 4 hours averaging 170bpm.
2. How to structure your training sessions in between your longer training rides. To borrow from our Muscle bound brethren 'It's on your recovery that you make your gains.' I find I work best on every second day regardless of what training I do so it's Monday off for me if I've been out on a training ride on Sunday anyway. But be aware that DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is relieved by moving so you may want to keep up with your commute, or the habit of hitting the turbo trainer for 10 mins while your bath runs the next day. And also, it does help a lot in getting used to that saddle just remember to take it easy or you'll get sick.
3. Where are you going to go. Hill training. HILL TRAINING. HILLLL TRAINNING!!!!! Again it does wonders for the soul knowing that after 40 or so miles that you can hit a big hill and get up it. If your sportive has hilly terrain it's worth doing a search on google, checking your local cycling reddit thread and asking if there are any hills worth climbing. Sportives are pretty popular now so there will be someone who will know your area well enough to say 'head out here there's a cracking hill there...'.
4. What to eat. There is so many things specifically for athletes, amateur or otherwise, and a lot of them are foul. In the first couple of training rides, it's best just to stick to sweets and perhaps something starchy (crisps or biscuits) to help the digestion. The body has, at any given time, about an hours worth of energy within the muscles, specifically for use in the muscles. The body needs this in order to burn any extra body fat one is carrying as well as to move. Once this runs out, or a rider fails to top this up, it's miseryvile so even if you are dieting, if you are going out for more than an hour take about 100 or so cals worth of food and drink for every hour that you are out. Take what you fancy, perhaps consider decanting it to make it easy to open and adjust next time for what you found hard or easy. One of my mates on her first year ate mostly chocolate bars and bananas and I drank cans of coke, as well as stopping for soup and cake at some point. We probably over munched but it was tasty and no-one really bonked. We did eventually get onto some of the specific gels and energy drinks but chances are as soon as you find something you like the taste of, they'll stop producing it.
5. Equipment and Clothing. What to take? I would insist on your mobile, a cheap bike computer and a puncture kit** but everything else is up to you. Testing how to eat on the bike - little carry on's to store eats and drinks - it's best to get used to these now. Weather apps are great, and knowing that below 10 degrees you'll need your thermal long sleeve and a tank top under the cycling soft jacket, or that at 15 degrees all you need is a tank top and the cycling jersey will help a lot in choosing what to wear on the day. Same as knowing that the waterproof you have can be worn as a wind break but would be too uncomfortable if it's going to be over 20 degrees. It's all about personal comfort. For example my blokie insists on wearing board shorts on top of compression tights and a lumberjack shirt, but then that's what he's tried and tested and happy with. I on the other hand like long sleeves, running leggings and have yet to find a pair of gloves I'm happy with.
There is a lot more I could go into on this. Where to find routes for your area, what maps to use, what to take, what not to take, where not to go but that would lead to a behemoth of a blog post and the best thing to do is to keep it simple on the first couple of training rides. Especially if you're keen to go it's best not to get fogged down in detail as that can take a lot of joy out of what is supposed to be a leisure activity. Also, the better you get at training, the more efficient you become. The first year we stopped every training ride for some lunch and a sit down, the second year we continued on regardless, now 2016, I go out about 4 hours max, concentrating on my bike handling skills - which as a dyspraxic - are pretty shocking.
The first two ridewithgps.com windows you see are a couple of training rides, the first in 2012, the second in 2014 (I think) and this last one is the time for my first sportive in 2012.
*For the interests of full disclosure my heart rate ranges from 60bpm resting, to 201bpm max - that's this year and I've been ill. Have I mentioned that? I feel like I've mentioned that. Last year max was 209 and before that max was 211 so getting old and all.
** You will never need this puncture kit until the day you leave it at home.