Novice to L2P. Jacky Bernett shares her experience of the build up and training.
On 30th November 2009 I signed up for the 2010 L2P. I didn't sleep for a week afterwards as I pondered what I had signed up for - what had I let myself in for? I was a total novice and did not know how I was going to meet the challenge of 330 miles in 3 days.
I had only bought my bike in August 2009 and had completed a couple of sportive rides in September and October, however I still didn't understand how the gears worked and I had no clue about what gear to use when. I remember spending time on Google looking for information about efficient gear usage.
The winter came and I did not get on the bike between November and January. I endeavoured to keep fit - a must - and did this by attending spinning classes 4 times a week at my local gym.
The first L2P 'Spring' ride loomed at the end of January, and it was going to be 100km at a winter pace. I thought I'd better try my bike out. I spent some time in Richmond Park and it was hard work. I thought cycling for 30 miles was good going! At that time I was riding with a rucksack full of my supplies and a camel back as I was too nervous to get my drink bottle out of the bottle cage on my bike and drink whilst riding.
Just before the first L2P ride, the South East had just experienced the coldest weather for years. I was very nervous - it was very icy on the roads and I had no idea what to expect. We actually cycled for 44 miles to Windsor and back again - damage limitation in place with not many big hills as it was too icy! I had never cycled in a pack with other people before. Whilst in Windsor Park, I remember going up a slight hill and finding it really tough. I remember being given a push several times to keep up with everyone.
I certainly needed help.
Everyone on the Spring Ride was really friendly and helpful. I met a couple of experienced riders who offered to take me out riding and show me how to master climbing up hills.
Lesson 1: Get rid of the rucksack, and learn to drink out of a bottle whilst riding.
It was going to be a sharp learning curve. I had written instructions about how to ride up a hill which I studied and committed to memory. At that point, I couldn't even cycle on my bike standing out of the saddle. I had a lot to learn. How was I going to build up to riding 110 miles per day for 3 days? How was I going to learn how to climb hills and ride fast enough to achieve the goal of an average speed of 25kph?
I had 6 months. At my gym, I was lucky to know a very experienced rider who had originally encouraged me to enter the L2P. He set up a fitness training programme for me.
Training regime and Hill Climbing
You have to be very focused and be prepared to put in the time. I started with:
- 2 spinning classes per week, Wednesday and Friday
- Saturday outside on my bike - a shorter ride with some interval training
- Sunday - a longer ride which was either an L2P Spring Ride, a sportive or cycling with friends.
I continued with this programme for the full 6months. In April the clocks changed allowing me to train in the evening during the week. So I added:
- A hill training session - outdoors. I am lucky to live in the Surrey Hills, therefore I headed out to a difficult hill, Staple Lane and went up and down that hill as many times as possible during one session.
I had been told that the route to Paris was quite hilly and therefore needed to incorporate hill climbing into cycle rides to in turn master the art of hill climbing. If you are confident cycling up hills then cycling on the flat becomes easier and faster. It is also essential to learn how to recover from cycling up a hill by keeping going! You can't stop at the top of the hill - on the L2P you won't be able to stop and recover!
After one of the L2P rides I remember feeling really depressed as I thought I had been training really hard and then when I rode in the group found it quite difficult and I was not fast enough. I realised that I needed to push myself harder in my training sessions and move out of my comfort zone. I used the Wednesday hill training sessions for more intensive training. Cycling with the boys really pushes you! These short, intensive hill sessions are really good for increasing stamina and speed. It is not always necessary to go out for long rides and it is often easier to go on shorter, harder rides during the busy week. In London my training buddies Teresa and Sally would go into Richmond Park and do laps in alternate directions - another example of a short, but intensive training session.
It is a good idea when training to try and ride your bike on 3 consecutive days. It doesn't necessarily have to be on long rides but you need to be able to do this. You need to be able to ride around 80- 100miles and not feel too exhausted when you've finished as when you're cycling to Paris you have to cycle for 3 days with very little recovery time.
Gradually step up the distances. I remember when I thought 40 miles was a long way. Then when I reached 60 miles in one day I was over the moon, but quickly realised I had to double this distance each day for 3 days! Try and make sure that you are comfortably completing 80 mile rides at least 6 weeks to 2 months before the L2P.
If you can, cycle Stage 1 of the London to Paris. The maps are available to you on www.mapmytracks.com About 5 weeks before, with the map uploaded into Teresa's Garmin, we tackled Stage 1 of the L2P. It was a very useful exercise - we knew exactly what we were letting ourselves in for. It boosted my confidence so much!
You also need to train whatever the weather - winter training is important. Don't wait for the good weather as it may never arrive. Riding in all conditions makes you stronger and generally gets you kudos from riders who only cycle when the sun is shining.
Sportives, Training Rides and Training Buddies
As part of my training I rode one L2P Spring Ride and one sportive a month. All the other weekends I headed out for a minimum 70 mile ride, usually on the Sunday.
Sportives are a great way to push yourself to actually cycle the miles, and the best thing about them is that all the routes are sign posted, and you have back up. You do not need to think about anything else other than cycling.
In January, I rode alone. I knew other riders, but I felt I was too slow for them so I cycled 70 mile sportives on my own, which is really tough physically and mentally.
Fortunately in February I met a couple of lovely girls also training for the L2P on one of the L2P rides who lived locally to me, and yippee, finally I had training partners. Training partners are essential. They help push you on, share experiences and it is good to have the company as sometimes you are out cycling for hours. If you don't know anyone and are not local to the L2P training ride area, maybe join a cycle club. Try and find training partners - it will be worth it.
To find out where and when your local sportives might be happening, go to http://www.cyclosport.org
Evans Cycles organise events called 'Ride It' with different distance routes - these are always really well organised.
L2P Spring Rides
- would really recommend that you do as many of the L2P training rides as possible. I went to all of them.
- You'll meet fellow riders that all have the same goal.
- You'll become familiar with the ride captains - these are all very experienced riders, who are all very helpful.
- You'll learn and get used to riding in a group which is very different than going out alone or with a friend
- You can use each spring ride as a benchmark to assess your progress.
For me each month was a test to see how my training was going and whether I was going to be ready for L2P in June, given that knew I had to be strong and fit enough to spend many hours in the saddle (around 7 hours per day) for 3 consecutive days, whilst spinning at an average of 25kph (15.6mph).
A speedometer is an essential piece of kit for your training. When you sign up you know that you are going to have to ride in a group that cycles at a particular average speed. An average speed of 25kph does not mean that your aim is to be able to cycle at 25kph, but to have an average of 25kph. This means on the flat you are aiming to cycle anywhere between 27 and 32 kph. The 25kph average allows for adjustment for slow speeds when cycling up hills.
The only way that you know whether you are hitting that target average speed during training, is by having a speedometer. You don't need to spend hundreds of pounds on a speedometer there are many brands around available in cycle shops.
Are you reaching the required goal? I kept a ride diary of all my rides and speeds so I could see my progression. I kept a traditional 'book' training diary, however there are online sites where you can record your training.
Food and Drink
It is really important to experiment with food and drink as soon as you start your training. Learning about what food and drink suits you is as important as the cycling itself. Everyone has different preferences and different things work for different people. You need to experiment as soon as you can.
You need to have 2 bottle cages on your bike, and a place to put your food which is easily accessible. You'll need to learn how to eat whilst cycling, which I personally found very, very hard - it is quite difficult to eat and chew when breathless!
Bike set up and Cycle gear
Make sure that your bike is properly set up - it makes a huge difference to your riding ability and comfort as you cycle in a much more efficient manner. If you can, get yourself fitted at a BG Fit centre - it is a small price to pay for being comfortable in the saddle. Make sure you check your tyre pressures every time you ride.
If you don't cycle with cleats, then speak to someone about it. I had great advice about shoes and cleats which again improved my bike comfort and cycling efficiency.
Buy good padded shorts as you'll be spending many hours in the saddle. If you have a sore backside after 3 hours in the saddle you need to assess whether you need to buy better shorts and/or look for a more comfortable saddle.
Don't be afraid to ask more experience cyclist questions, however stupid you think they may sound. Road riders are really helpful and friendly people and want to help you as they've all started somewhere too. Take all the help and advice you can.
I was lucky as a good friend of mine is a good rider and he rode with me several times and would ride next to me and correct my riding position and technique. Learning to ride correctly will help your riding and strength. For example: When climbing hills, where is the best place to hold the handlebars...When to use the drops...changing saddle position.
If you don't know any experience cyclists it is advisable to join forums on sites such as Bike Radar, or join cycling groups on Facebook. Twitter is another great place to 'talk' to cyclists. Failing that, get in contact with a Ride Captain, who is there to help and advise you!
I had a wonderful 6 months of training and loved every ride and have certainly learnt a lot.
The L2P experience was magic and all my hard training certainly paid off.
Would I do it all over again? A big YES!!!