Top 10 Tips for Your First Sportive
Whether you’re looking at 50km or an enduring 250km, the thought of taking part in your first sportive can be daunting, especially if you have no idea where to start. Fear no more, we’ve pulled together our top 10 tips to help you smash your first sportive.
Get a plan and stick to it - Work out what your goals are for the ride and identify anything that could possibly be a hinderance (diet, alcohol consumption etc.). Goals can be as complex or as simple as you like - do you want to complete it within a certain time, get better at climbs or simply just want to survive – all goals are valid and having a plan will help to get you there. Plans can easily be found online (we personally love this one from Cycling Weekly) or you can invest in a coach if you want something more in-depth and personal.
Don’t try and train like the pros - For most of us, we can’t pedal our days away, and feel the breeze on our face day-in day-out. As much as we’d love to, of course, it’s just not realistic. Make sure your plan fits around your work and social life to try and avoid burning out. If your plan is manageable and achievable, you’re more likely to achieve your goals and smash your sportive.
Pace yourself – This goes for training and event day. Make sure you’re riding at a pace that won’t blow your legs. Train using a heartrate monitor or power meter so you can get an idea of where’s comfortable for a long tempo. General rule of thumb is not to go over 85% of your max heart rate – even on the steepest of hills.
Nutrition – Nailing your nutrition is a great way to make easy wins during your ride and training. Pre-event, it’s important to ensure your muscles’ energy stores are well stocked so you’re not riding on an empty tank – often known as ‘Carb loading’. Rather than eating your body weight in pasta and/or rice the night before your ride, gently up your carb intake on the days running up to your event. Try to aim for 8-10g per kg of bodyweight a day, and mix it up with fruits, smoothies, or even a cheeky pastry (we challenge you to find someone that can say no to a Greggs!).
On the morning of your event, keep things simple and don’t throw anything new into the mix. Try to avoid big meals or overdoing it so you aren’t left feeling bloated and sluggish. Drop your carbs per kg down to about 2g around 1.5-2hours before your event start time.
During your ride, it’s recommended to fuel every 20-30 minutes. We would advise not to try anything new and listen to what your body needs – some can get away with just using gels, others need ‘real’ food. It should be noted that if you are going to use gels on your ride, make sure you are well acquainted - you really don’t want to have any surprise stops on your ride… (if you know, you know).
Post-ride, it’s important to have some food as soon as possible after your ride. There’s around a 45minute window for optimum recovery – aim for the 3:1 carb to protein ratio. Don’t forget to hydrate!
Strength and conditioning - This should be a crucial part of any cyclist’s regime. Forget the days of heading to the gym and lifting three-times your bodyweight, we’re talking about taking a step back, sharpening up bodyweight and light-load exercises, then building up to strong and powerful lifts. A good strength and conditioning program can not only help you get stronger and improve performance but, can also help protect your body for injury – it’s a win-win!
Focus on pelvic and knee stability, maintaining and/or improving lower back mobility and hamstring flexibility, and of course working on your core. Here are some of our go-to exercises to get you started:
Bulgarian Split Squats
Also try and get into the habit of stretching post ride and training session to avoid any muscles from tightening up – or better yet, throw in a yoga session as part of your training.
**Disclaimer** All weighted exercises should be carried out with care and caution. Remember to lift within your limits and to only progress weight when you are confident and successfully performing each exercise.
Group Riding – It’s likely that you’ll find yourself riding in a group on event day. Make sure you feel confident riding in groups as it can be pretty nervy when you’re almost touching someone’s back wheel and have riders either side of you. Here are some of our tips to help boost your confidence and group riding etiquette-
When riding in a group, communication is key – riders at the front and the back are the eyes and ears of the group; If there’s a pothole approaching, point it out if there’s a car behind, make the call. As group rides can be quite noisy and jumpy, use hand symbols to give other riders the heads up, only shouting if it’s necessary.
Bike handling is another one to be aware of when riding in groups. Keep relaxed and hold a smooth straight line will help you feel more confident. Maintain smooth lines when cornering with other riders around you, and obviously avoid any sharp braking. When attacking hills, make sure you shift into the right gear to help maintain speed and avoid the person behind you clipping your back wheel.
Make sure your bike is in good condition – It’s not just you that needs to be in tip-top condition! Making sure your bike is running smoothly before an event seems pretty obvious, however, it is one of those things you may forget to check – you don’t want to be let down mid-ride due to a mechanical!
Top ones to keep an eye on are the condition of your wheels and tyres, keeping your brakes clean and make sure they don’t need replacing, and checking your chain. If you can, we recommend booking your bike in for a service before the big day, so you know everything is running smoothly.
Bring the right kit - Sounds pretty obvious, but the number of people who will rock up to their event without a rain jacket will surprise you! Nothing worse than getting part the way round, or even waiting on the start line and the heavens opening (highly likely if your ride is taking place in the UK). So, make sure you’ve got your jacket tucked away in your back pocket.
As you’re likely to be in the saddle for a few hours, make sure you’ve got a trusty pair of bib shorts and a good application of chamois cream to make for a comfortable day. When you start, there’s likely going to be a chill in the air, so best it’s best have a base layer or cotton t-shirt on under your jersey of choice. If things do start to heat up, it’s good to know that you can always take a layer off.
Don’t forget to bring a multitool, puncture repair kit and spare inner tubes just in case luck isn’t on your side!
Make sure you know where you’re going – Although your route will likely be signposted on the day, it’s good to have a rough idea if you find yourself out on your own. Organisers will often provide GPX files that you can save to your Garmin to use on event day, or even do a quick reccy before the event. Uploading the GPX to Strava is also a good way to see the elevation pattern of the event if these aren’t available from the organiser. Make a note of when to expect your climbs and attach it to your top tube as a reminder on the day.
Enjoy it! Remember to trust the process and enjoy the ride – cycling is meant to be fun after all! Accept that not every training session is going to be a PB, or overly enjoyable *cough* hill reps *cough*, it’s all part of the process of getting to where you want to be on the day of your ride.