Training for a Cycling Sportive

Posted on Categories Vulpine Features

Taking on a big sportive is on the agenda for Jools and her road bike… and that requires preparing for such an event. When it comes to training, Jools chatted with Laura Scott (who’s taking on the Trans Am this summer) for advice on the best way to do it.

As my relationship with BaadGyal continues to grow, I know there is a lot more I want to do with that bike. Bigger and more challenging rides are on the horizon, but I know I can’t just leap into them without being fully prepared for them: both physically and mentally.

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It might be a way off before I’m quite at the level of Laura Scott, but I’ve been seriously inspired by her and the cycling challenge she is taking on this year: riding the Trans Am bike race in June. Peeking at her Instagram feed and tweets, Laura is training pretty much every day for the Trans Am – and somehow for me, she is making the hardcore nature of it look appealing!

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One of the elements of Laura’s training that really calls to me is how she mixes it up. Unlike some other more formulaic plans out there, Laura is big on keeping it varied and no two training days are the same. From laps around Regents Park to spin classes, there is always a change. As she explained to me, the reasons for this are two-fold: “I’ve always had a quick attention span, so the variation makes it easier for me to schedule training and stops it from becoming boring”. This I can totally get (as I predict just riding the same route over and over would dive me potty) and the other element of it stems from an injury she picked up during winter, and needing to work on her cardio strength during that time. As she was unable to get out that much, doing BOOM Cycle classes became a significant part of her schedule. “I go there 2-3 times a week for the cardio and because it helps me with my climbing. Spinning builds glutes and quads which are key muscles you need for climbing, and also boost your base fitness”.

There always seems to be such a good vibe around spin classes, and it was interesting to learn from Laura that as well as them being a serious influence on a training plan, they can be a lot of fun too, especially if you go with friends. Now, this is something that had crossed my mind about training… riding with other people, especially if they are a lot more advanced than you. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy riding with my mates, but that worry of being “the slow one at the back” can be enough to put some people off group sessions. For Laura, cycling with friends has been an eye opener for her Trans Am training and is teaching her new things. “When I’m riding with my friends, I get so much more out of it!”. A perfect example are the three friends she heads out with on a regular basis – “they are three totally different types of cyclist, so they are teaching me three different disciplines! Riding with other people helps and it challenges you”. Laura likes this as it constantly brings something different to her riding style and is an education each time she gets on the saddle… “we’re learning and pushing ourselves further when we ride in groups. The egging on to keep going is a motivation, and helps you to keep on pushing”. With this and sharing images from her training on her social media, other people (like myself) have reached out to Laura to ride and train with her, which is pretty inspirational stuff. As she explains, the training is not only a personal journey, but one she hopes to share with others and encourage them to get into it in “being able to input knowledge to others and for them to come back to you with how they are getting on is an awesome way to track your own progress too”.

To take on a huge sportive will require you to push yourself harder than you ever have before, and from what Laura tells me, it’s a whole new world of cycling. Your legs will be putting in more miles than you’d ever have imagined, so training them to know what to expect is essential. Laura is riding 200-300 miles a week in preparation for the Trans Am, and splits this into either 1-5 hours a day for smaller bursts of riding or 4-7 hours a day for ‘hard training’. Distance is everything. Keeping her self disciplined with that plan, Laura has a rule, “I’m on a self imposed TFL ban! No trains, tubes or buses!” There are no sneaky commutes on London Transport allowed, even if the weather is horrendous… “cycling has to be my only way of commuting”. Hearing about her training plan, one thing that crosses my mind is the balance between work life and bike life. Getting in all those hours while working sounds like a logistical nightmare, but Laura is able to make it work, due to freelancing… but this can also have it’s pitfalls too. “It’s very expensive living in London, so taking on the Trans Am, training and securing work can be hard”. A stroke of joy came when she received an offer of sponsorship from a law firm that specialises in cycling. They represented her after a major accident she had, and after seeing her Trans Am efforts and reached out to her with the incredible offer of sponsorship. It won’t be cheap to do the Trans ,Am, so this helps with the costing and allows her to dedicate more time to training.

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When training like that takes up so much of your physical life, the mental side of it must surely take on a lot of work too. Thinking back to when I did Eroica in Tuscany, I had to mentally prepare myself for the climbs and descents that lay ahead, so psyching yourself up for all the training that comes before taking on a huge sportive must have an impact, right? The more Laura gets into it, the more she’s taught her mind to adapt to it. “My brain feels like it goes into a mental flow. I wake up early, usually around 6am, get ready and am out riding. I get home, eat and then I’m usually in bed by 10pm which is now really early for me!” It’s a big regime to stick to for cycling and training, but it sounds like Laura has it nailed again in the discipline front – “I get in the zone and, I feel focused.” Keeping a training diary is another top suggestion from Laura too, to keep that mental balance correct and to remind yourself of what you’re achieving is a huge boost. She keeps a calendar of every singe training ride, and her miles are recorded on her Strava to track and check distances. “My aim for the Trans Am is 140 miles per day, and I need to check if I’m actually OK to do this and if that’s realistic.” This also acts as another confidence boost while training as she explains “It’s a confidence builder. When I’ve trained for a Marathon, I’ve trained to that distance of 26 miles… the Trans Am isn’t like that at all! So I train, push myself and recover – and note this all down and compare each session each time”. What also motivates her to keep training is the actual motivation to complete the Trans Am, as she explains wanting to do it for such a long time is not an opportunity to waste… “There is so much energy going into training for this – if I mess up with the training, what’s the point in doing it? I can’t wing the Trans Am”. Not only that, it’s also a huge drive for Laura to encourage other women to take part in the event, or any long distance cycling event – “inspiring other women is really exciting and there is a focus to boost other women into cycling.”

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Back to the physical effects training like this will have on the body, you’ll certainly go through some extreme changes. For Laura recovery and nutrition are important factors. Her metabolism is much higher than it used to be, and she’s found that she’s losing weight rapidly – “I’ve never found it easy to lose weight until the training started” It’s caused issues with kit for the race as some of what she has already bought for it doesn’t fit properly anymore, and as Laura told me, the last thing you want is a pair of bib shorts where the pad doesn’t stay in place over a long distance. From this, buying kit as close to the event as possible is another top piece of advice. Being comfortable while training and doing a sportive is paramount! When it comes to nutrition, reading up on how much to eat while training and on the ride is a very important thing to do… “I need to be eating every 1.5 hours while on the bike, and talking to other people who have done the Trans Am / big cycling sportives is a good sources of knowledge.” Avoiding muscle burn is key, so remembering to keep eating in intervals and taking small but powerful snacks with you will be a massive aid. A food element to add to the mix for Laura is being a vegan, which has a slight effect on her eating plans! “I’ve found that UK the straight carb / vegan options are a lot more straightforward in the UK, and the US options are not so vegan friendly”. Planning ahead for this, Laura has spoken with other Trans Am riders who are also vegan for advice… “Peanut butter for protein, fat and sugar, banana chips for the potassium hit, sugar and carbs and chia seeds shots (yes, such a thing does exist) for more protein and slow release energy are ideal vegan snacks”. There is also the slight issue of what she calls “food snobbery” that exists within cycling – something I can understand when I get the odd bit of ribbing for snacking on Jelly Babies stored in my jersey pocket instead of an energy gel! “I find energy gels hard to stomach, and get sugar & caffeine withdrawal headaches the next day… for me, a sneaky bag of skittles does the trick and doesn’t have side effects!”

So, there is a lot more to training for a sportive then just getting on a bike and doing some laps, and talking to Laura, I was fascinated by her training plan. This is a far cry from the usual ones that I see and a much more inspiring route to take. Mixing it up, making it into a social thing instead of going solo and tracking what you are doing sounds like such an encouraging plan… and one that really makes me want to take on a much bigger cycling challenge one day. The down to earth nature of Laura, and her take on doing the Trans Am makes it all the more exciting and more accessible. So when it comes to me and BaadGyal taking on some more miles, this is what I’m going to keep in mind. That and a cheeky bag of Skittles for the journey.

One thought on “Training for a Cycling Sportive”

  1. Good luck Laura, very impressive juggling a heavy training schedule whilst being a freelancer and having a life.
    I saw your (rather lovely) bike at Bespoked and chatted to the builder who was also in awe of you and your goal.

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