Words: Naomi Mahendran
Ever thought about signing up for a cycling training camp but had no idea where to start? You'll get the most out of your time there if you arrive with a good level of fitness, but how do you go about the preparation?
Deciding to go on a training camp organised by an ultra-endurance racer and a former British mountain bike champion meant I had a pretty big fear of showing up and being the least fit/slowest of the group. I decided to use this as an incentive to build up some base fitness and strength ahead of the camp - using my experience training for running half-marathons as a starting point. Here are my top tips for pre-training both body and mind, to get myself in the right headspace, and so I would get the most out of my week.
Weeks or months to go: break it down
No matter what your fitness level, break down the time you have till T-0 into manageable week-by-week segments. Try and include at least one each of strength and yoga/stretching sessions along with more intense short to medium length rides and one long ride at the weekend. No matter what your level, try and challenge yourself each week by making the long ride a little longer or more challenging, by increasing the distance and incorporating longer or steeper hills.
[*Editor's note: You'd be surprised what your legs are capable of when all you have to think about all week is ride, eat, recover, repeat. Don't try to ride the sort of weekly mileage you'll complete on camp at home. Rather, ramp up so that you can complete the distance of an 'average day' on weekend rides before you go.]
Benchmark your results
In the first week, schedule a 'threshold test' to set a benchmark for your overall fitness - then repeat it at two-week intervals till you leave. A good one is laps around a closed loop (like Regents Park in London) or 20 minutes on an indoor bike. After a 10-minute warm-up, try and maintain a constant pace at the highest rate you can sustain for the duration. Doing it right, you should be completely exhausted at the end.
Depending upon what you have available to you, record your average speed, heart rate or power - but remember that if you do the test outside factors such as wind, rain or even air pressure will have an effect on your speed and effort required to achieve that speed. The test is more repeatable if completed on an indoor bike. Remember that change doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t see big results immediately. The best thing about repeating the same test over and over again is that you’ll notice the small changes - and it’s those baby steps that add up to big leaps and a stronger you.
Don’t forget that brain
A lot of endurance cycling is psychological. That brain of yours can be your biggest cheerleader - so nourish it and train it to love and support you. I downloaded the Headspace app and started practising 15 minutes of mindful meditation every day.
On long, steep climbs when my legs were burning, connecting my breathing helped focus my mind into a state of zen calmness that seemed to pull my bike up the hills while keeping my heart rate low. A personal achievement was making it up Box Hill in Surrey not once, but twice - two months after bonking really badly on a hill half that size.
Buy some new riding kit
Everyone loves new cycling gear. Treat yourself to a new jersey, or a new pair of cycling tights. It’s amazing how much it will motivate you to get out there on those cold mornings or dark evenings for training. I mean, no one sees your shiny new togs when you’re lazing on the couch slamming down those Kettle chips, right?
Focus on how you feel
At the end of the day, it’s not about the numbers on the Garmin, or whether you’re first or last - the greatest benefit you will get out of a training camp is how it makes you feel. No matter what your level of fitness, you will leave stronger, fitter and faster than when you arrived - this is 100% guaranteed. Instead of comparing yourself to other people, compare yourself to you and start thinking about what you will get out of the experience. Let's be honest here, no one will judge you - they’ll be too busy focusing on their own personal goals.
I didn’t let it get to me when I let my training slide over the Christmas/New Year period and just ate risotto and delicious baked goods for two weeks straight. Instead, I focused on how climbing hills in the Spanish countryside for a week is pretty much the most epic way to jump-start my cycling training in 2017.
This article was commissioned by The Adventure Syndicate for Total Women's Cycling, and made possible with sponsorship from Scottish Cycling through Awards for All funding. We hope these articles, part of our Women on 2 Wheels programme, help inspire more women to ride more often. Get out there!
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