Cycling not only allows you to increase your fitness level, it also gives you the opportunity to be outdoors. So many of us are stuck inside buildings of one description or another all day, that to get outside and feel the wind on our face is beneficial to mind, body and soul. Perhaps you are now enjoying your cycling so much that you have decided to take it up a notch and start entering road races. As long as you are now comfortable riding for a few hours at a stretch, you are ready to train for that big event - your first cycling race.
CLOTHING AND SAFETY
If you don’t have bike shoes (shoes with cleats), then perhaps now is the time to invest in a pair. These shoes attach to the pedal with a click and release with a twist. They enhance your cycling efficiency and add to your safety. As far as clothing is concerned, you will probably already have appropriate clothing, including a reflective vest or a reflective belt. Make sure your helmet is the very best that you can afford – it can save your life in a serious accident.
Map out a training programme which suits your schedule. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t stick to it because of soreness or an unexpected meeting. Just try and make up the lost time. If you join a cycling club, they will assist with training programmes and also give you the opportunity to learn how to ride in a group which is obviously essential for road racing. Most training programmes advise 2 or 3 days of rest a week and include days with easy rides, days with interval training, days with hill climbs, days with short rides and days with long rides and days where you push yourself to your limit. If you have no option but to train in conditions of poor visibility or after dark, remember to wear your reflective vest for cycling to ensure other road users can see you. Remember everyone’s goals are different, so don’t be persuaded by the leaders of the pack to change yours, be true to yourself.
If the thought of that hill gives you nightmares, then climb it frequently. You will soon wonder why you considered it to be so challenging. On one of your training days, push yourself to the limit and then temper this with a slow ride the following day – this really strengthens the legs. Do not abandon the gym; this is where you will strengthen your core and other muscle groups. Stretching is obviously vital before and after all exercise to keep joints flexible and muscles strong. If you find your mind doubting your ability to continue, snatch these negative thoughts and immediately replace them with positive ones, and images of finishing the race in a good time.
NUTRITION AND HYDRATION
You need to balance your intake of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in ensure you perform at your peak. Carbohydrates feed working muscles. Your carb intake is calculated by looking at how many hours you train and your weight. Foods such as fruit smoothies, potatoes, pasta, bread and cereals are good sources of carbohydrates. Protein is essential for muscle repair and muscle growth and the best sources are lean meats, eggs, low fat milk, soy products, cheese, yoghourt, nuts and seeds. Fats are needed in a balanced diet. Some vitamins need fat in order to be absorbed into your body. Choose foods which contain unsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts and seeds, olives and good quality plant oils and add oily fish to your diet to get your dose of Omega 3. Proper hydration is the key to success in any sport. What most people forget is that they must be fully hydrated before they begin their exercise. Recommendations vary greatly but it is generally advised to drink 12 to 16 oz (350 – 500 ml) of water two hours before a ride. How much you drink on your ride depends on various factors, such as the air temperature, your cycling intensity and how much you sweat. Happy cycling.