Feeding- despite the provision of feed stations on the route, they should never be relied upon. Ensure you have enough food for the bulk of the ride. Personally I like to think of the feed stations as additional. For last week’s event I had three energy bars, opened in my back pocket, one gel with caffeine (to be taken with a water) and a cheese roll made from soft bread cut into small pieces. I find that a constant intake of sweet food, makes me nauseous, so cheese works well. I wrap the small bits of roll in silver foil which I can unwrap with my teeth, whilst still on the move. You really won’t have time to stop constantly for eating, so work out a strategy for refuelling on the move, hence the need for having the bars already opened.
Drink- always start off with two 750 ml bottles of tried and tested carbohydrate drink. Yes, they may have refills on the route, but your own carbo hopefully will get you through the first three hours. After that, you can top up with any provided on the course, or you could even choose to have more powder in your pocket and use their water to top up. If it’s hot, mixing the carbo slightly weaker than normal will help you rehydrate, but you will need to refuel in another way. As the ride progresses and ‘carboed out’ I personally like water. It makes me feel like I am ‘running clean’ and is more refreshing. At last week’s event I had a real dip at about three and a half hours. I started drinking Coke and water because I needed a ‘pick up’! Usually this would create an insulin rebound and make your blood sugar drop, but if you are already exercising, it will give you a big ‘kick start’ because of the caffeine and sugar mix. For me this work’s brilliantly. What ever you choose to do, never skimp on liquid. It will sabotage your performance and could risk your health. If you are getting to the end of the ride and find you are carrying too much, just ditch it.
Equipment- it makes sense to have a small repair kit with you and at least 1 spare tube, even if there’s mechanical support. Time wasted waiting for assistance, can make you miss a time cut off. Make sure you have the correct tyres for the job. Last week’s route was on lots of pavé (cobbles), which is a bit of a feature in Portugal, so I rode round with 25mm Vittoria Pavés which for me are are bomb proof! They are what I used on the Paris-Roubaix sportive. If it’s a hilly course, make sure you are not under geared. At the moment, I am using 11-32 sprockets on the back. Sure, I don’t always use that 32, but last weekend when I still had 10km of 7% to go up and the temperature had hit 34 degrees, I was grateful it was there. So to the men who thought they could maul their way up it, the reason this old gal’ over took you, was because she could sit down, spin and save what little energy she still had left! It’s a hard lesson I know but the ability to spin is your friend, as Chris Froome repeatedly shows us. I rest my case!
Choice of distance- it’s very easy to choose a really hard course from the comfort of your settee. Yes, you want to set yourself a personal challenge, but the ultimate aim is to complete it in style and enjoy it. Is it best to crawl round and finish just as the course closes or is better to hack round a slightly shorter route, passing some people on the way? Remember,the longest course will have the fastest riders, so unless you can ride with them in a bunch, you may end up riding a personal time trial. I have to lay my cards on the table here, I have done both! I do quite like the ’nipping round with style’ option. There’s nothing better than a bit of acceleration!
Personal effects and clothing- last but not least, always wear good shorts you have ridden in before and don’t forget a liberal amount of chamois cream. Yes it’s a funny subject but, do you really want to be walking like John Wayne for the following week? Long endurance events blitz our immune systems and we need to do everything we can to keep ourselves in one piece. On that note if you are lucky enough to be wrecking yourself in the sun, don’t forget sunblock. You already risk, feeling like you’ve aged 50 years on Monday, so you don’t want to look like it too!
I have tried to include all the things I think about in my preparation for events such as Granfondos and sportives. If there’s anything I haven’t covered or clarified, I will quite happily answer any questions via my blog. Whilst I have enjoyed top level competition, it’s some of these mass participation events which will stick in my mind forever. They are fantastic personal challenges which can be tailored to your level of fitness, so be brave and get an entry in now!