LEJOG cycle training tips
The type of training you do for a long bike ride will often vary slightly depending on your goals, whether you're aiming for speed & distance, or just a leisurely trip. I'm not really qualified to comment on training tips (as I already said I didn't do much myself!!) but much of the advice from the experts is as follows:
- Start training at least 8-12 weeks before your ride. Create a training plan (many templates are available online) and gradually build up your distances until you're riding your target distance (the average you'll aim for on your trip) three times a week.
- Vary the intensity - don't just focus on putting the miles in. Try out interval training to really get your heart racing; spin classes at your local gym are great for this.
- Remember the hills. If the area around where you live is very flat (calling all Norfolk residents....) then actively seek out some hills, even if this means driving some distance to get there. Strength training at the gym for your legs is often advised too to complement your cycle training, although it should never be a replacement for actually being on your bike.
- Practice riding with your loaded panniers, including at least one or two long rides. These will add weight (making hills harder) but also can affect your bike handling characteristics. It's also good for checking that all your equipment works and that you know how to use it.
- Vary the training - you need to ensure your supporting muscles are fit and strong, not just the primary ones used in cycling. An imbalance of muscle strength can lead to injuries, especially a sore back. Exercises such as swimming or rowing are great all-over body workouts, whilst specific core building exercises such as the balance ball will be beneficial too.
- Don't neglect sleep! Fitting in cycle training around a busy life can be tough, but make sure your body has enough sleep to recover and don't burn out.
Pre-trip test run
Because I hadn't been a regular cyclist for a few years I was particularly nervous about how I'd be at cycling day after day. Doing a training ride on a Sunday was good, but it didn't tell me anything about whether I could get back on the bike again on the Monday. Or how I'd feel on the Tuesday. And then the Wednesday. And th... (you get my drift!)
Our cycling group in Tuscany
So before I committed to my trip I booked myself onto a weeks cycling holiday in Tuscany, Italy. I did this through Saddle Skedaddle and had a blast - it was really well organised and the scenery (and food & wine... 😉) in Tuscany was just amazing! It was much hillier than I'd anticipated, and I did take a rest day midweek and travel in the support van, but it proved to be great training. It:
- Helped build up some fitness;
- Gave me the confidence that hills weren't actually too bad(!);
- Made me realise that I can cycle day after day;
- And I met many other great cyclists who've done lots of touring before (including another Andy who's previously done JOGLE) and who I got a lot of tips from.
As soon as I got home I went ahead and started planning and booking my LEJOG trip - just 4 weeks later I was on the train down to Penzance.
I'd highly recommend doing a cycling holiday like this for anyone who isn't already a very regular cyclist (and even if you are!) - as well as being just a brilliant week in itself it helped greatly in preparing both physically and mentally for LEJOG.
A vineyard we cycled past - typical scenery for the week!
Avoiding injury and pain
Injuries are one thing that all cyclists dread - and not just those caused by accidents. Joints and muscles are complex things and are easily hurt through overuse or a poor posture, with the most common issues generally being knee and back pain. Fortunately however there are things that can be done to reduce our chances of injury.
- Sore knees: Your knees will flex hundreds of thousands of times on this trip so it's no wonder that some people have issues. The best tip I found online, and which seemed to work for me, was to keep the gear low (ie easy) and increase the cadence (pedal rate) for the same speed. Don't try to be a superhero and force the pedals round in a high gear; you'll put much less strain on your knees by making two easy pedal revolutions rather than doing it all in one big push.
- Sore knees can also be caused through having the seat too low, meaning your quadriceps will be having to do more work and putting more strain on the patella tendon (behind your kneecap). Try raising the seat until your leg is just slightly bent at the bottom of the stroke.
- A further cause could be if you use cleated pedals and have them set up with your feet in the wrong position - see this page from Cycling Weekly magazine for a great guide to setting them up correctly. Obviously getting this right is best done before you set off!
- Sore wrists: Racing and touring bikes don't (generally) have any suspension, so any bumps will be transmitted straight through the handlebars and into your hands and arms. Some bikes are better at absorbing bumps and vibrations than others, but at the very least make sure you get some comfy hand grips and well padded gloves. As cyclists we often grip handlebars very tightly too - move your hands around the handlebars often to help prevent the ulnar nerve (which runs from your little finger right up into the upper arm) from getting too compressed or damaged.
- Sore back & neck: This often comes from having a poorly fitting bike - it's crucial that when you buy a bike that you make sure it's just right for you. Don't buy online (unless you've already tried the bike out) and instead always go to a reputable dealer who knows what they're doing and will spend time with you trying out different bikes and setups - and always always always test-ride it before buying! Trust your instincts; don't be tempted to buy something just for the fancy gearset if there's any niggles in how you feel on it. You'll be hunched over on this bike for hundreds of hours so it has to fit exactly! Making sure you have strong core muscles in any training can also help prevent back pain.
- Sore bum: This is what every cyclist dreads! A good padded pair of shorts (worn commando) and some Chamois cream* can help reduce the chafing of your skin, whilst making sure that your saddle isn't too high can also reduce the skin rubbing slightly.
- Making sure you have the right saddle for you is also crucial so try a few out before you go. Many people swear by Brooks saddles; I only invested in one after having finished LEJOG but it's simply amazing! They need breaking in first (they're solid leather), but they have got a popular following amongst many cyclists as being the most comfortable saddle you can buy (despite bucking the trend by having no padding).
For such a long journey you might also want to consider booking a session with a professional bike fitter. There's many of these specialists around the UK now who can check your individual bike set up and create a stretching plan for you to avoid injury. I didn't use one before my LEJoG ride but did before my European trip in the summer of 2018, and it was incredibly useful. Just a few tiny tweaks to saddle and handlebar position made a huge difference, as did identifying which of my muscles were tighter than others and therefore which I should focus stretches on. Booking a session with a good fitter is worth the investment!
There's a great short PDF here from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US that details some common injuries and, crucially, exercises that you can do to help relieve yourself from these pains.
Nutrition & hydration
Whilst I really wanted to lose some weight on the tour (and I did, a little), I knew it wasn't going to be any miraculous weight loss simply due to the fact that I'd need to keep myself fuelled. The main 2 food groups to concentrate on (as well as your 5-a-day to get your vitamins!) are:
- Carbohydrates: These are where you get most of your energy from. Your body stores them naturally in muscles and calls on these during your ride, but once they're gone then your performance will suffer as your body turns to its fat stores instead. As a result you need to keep your carb stores topped up - have pasta or rice for your evening meal (there's no need to go overboard on this as there is a maximum amount of carb that your body can store), and then a slow-release carbohydrate (such as porridge or muesli) for breakfast.
- I liked having a full English for breakfast, and they did fuel me, but I could tell it took a long time for it to kick in and porridge was much more effective on the days I had that!
- During the day whilst you're riding energy gels are a great way to top your carb stores up; these are designed to be easily absorbed and fast acting. I personally prefer the Torq gels* and have used them when hiking for years, but go with whichever brand you like. Normally I'd have just one or two a day whenever I could feel myself starting to flag, or just before a steep uphill section. I also mixed an SiS GO* energy sachet into one of my water bottles for some liquid carbs too which were easy to consume.
- Protein: Protein is good as a steady long-lasting source of energy; the general advice seems to be to have roughly a 1:4 ratio of protein:carbohydrate in your diet for most effect. Where possible I'd have eggs for breakfast and I really noticed a difference on these days. Protein bars can be great too - I'd normally have one or two Eat Natural bars throughout the day to keep me going.
- The other reason that protein is needed is to help repair your muscles and speed up your recovery. Chicken, fish, or eggs are great for this, and I also used SiS ReGO* recovery sachets (a powder you mix with water) straight after each day's riding, although I couldn't decide if these worked for me or not. I didn't use them on my European trip and didn't miss them.
Overall, and most importantly, you should just listen to your body. Little and often is the way to go - having a huge breakfast or lunch will seriously slow your riding down for a couple of hours as blood and energy is diverted to your stomach away from your legs (as I found out on day 6 after a particularly big lunch...)
The other important area is hydration. Your muscles work better when they're hydrated and even a slight amount of dehydration will mean you feel less energy. I always took more water with me than I thought I'd need for the day; whilst it weighed me down, there were a couple days (when it was really hot) that I did actually almost finish every last drop I had. Most days you'll pass shops and cafes and can always re-stock if you really need to, but tap water from your B&B is cheaper than having to keep buying bottles.
Make sure that you drink little and often; it's much more effective than having infrequent large gulps. I also put a couple of electrolyte tablets* in my Camelbak - this helped add a bit of flavour but also crucially helped my body to absorb the liquid.
Join the discussion!
How did you train for your ride? Was it effective or do you wish you'd done anything different? Have you got any tips to pass on to others? Let us know here!