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The winter club run – part 1.

The club run is a bit of a British institution. It has roots with mass rides of the fifties when cycling was something everyone did to get around and Sunday would be ride into the country to visit a pub or a cafe. The club run has maintained this historical format and a cafe stop is often the highlight of a nasty November morning.

Not to be confused with a ‘chain gang’ which is a term usually reserved for a fast ride of through and off, where road racers hone their skills and ride as if in a race breakaway.
The club run can be an effective training aid and a great way to learn about group riding, racing and how a club can help you be a better cyclist. Garry Palmer passes on some advice in how to get the best out of your Sunday mornings…

Eat a good breakfast
Porridge is a good one. Take some food with you especially if the ride will be 2 hours or more.

Your bike
Make sure your bike is in good mechanical condition and has mudguards fitted.
It’s about being considerate! You don’t mind a wet backside, but the rider behind you may not want a face full of dirty water, likewise whilst everyone on the run will want to assist, you don’t want to get stuck 20 miles from home with a broken chain, or only one gear working, and have to get a push home.

Tyre choice
Prevention is better than cure so make sure you fit decent tyres and
replace them regularly. Continental Ultra Gator Skins are excellent for poor winter weather (recommended by RCUK’s editor!) and they are cheap, so you can replace them long before they wear out.

Carry a spare!
On the wet roads it is always easy to pick up a puncture or two, so carry a couple of spares… and whilst on the subject of spares, always carry a couple of spare energy gels, they will help you get home if your legs “fall off” and the packaging can be used to patch a gash in a tyre.

Dress for the worst of the weather
You lose most heat through your hands, feet and head. So always wear gloves, booties, and a hat. If you get too hot you can always take off a layer, but if you get too cold you are stuck. Also, it takes energy to maintain body heat in the cold you may need all your energy to get round so think sensibly. Better to be too warm than too cold. ALWAYS carry a rain jacket, remember you are riding in the UK and the weather can change in ten minutes.

Start with the easy group
If you are new to the club run, start with the easy group. As you get stronger and more confident, you can always move up. Often you will pick up far more about technical issues, how to hold a wheel etc, by going with the steady group, than spending the morning hanging on to the faster boys

Drink well from the start of the ride
Even in the winter, it is easy to become dehydrated. Drink plenty, and from the start of the ride. Ideally, this should an energy drink (more on this another time).

Don’t half-wheel or race
Don’t race (especially the hills), or work too hard at the start, and share the workload.
Consider the club run as a long steady ride to benefit your cardio-vascular endurance. Racing up hills, or riding hard at the start of a long ride will not only mean you are more likely to suffer at the end of the session (the faster you go the more carbohydrate reserves you use in the early stages of the ride) but you will be working at a rate that does not serve the aim of the ride. We will be looking at these issues in more detail later.
Riding through and off, will not only help conserve your energy when you are sitting in, but this way the ride can become more social, and you learn to ride at the front, middle and back of a group.

Aim to keep the pace steady. Riding too hard will only make you and everyone else suffer towards the end of the ride, and mean the purpose of the ride is lost. When you are on the front, don’t take this as a chance to up the pace. Half wheeling usually gets the competitive nature in everyone going, but often makes it a miserable ride.

Record your heart-rate
Use a heart-rate monitor to record your progress, and help you ensure that you are working at the desired intensity (usually on the club ride it will be an indicator that you are riding too hard!). It can also serve as an early warning system if you are not drinking enough, or are running out of energy.

Plan a recovery strategy
Use the winter rides to develop your post exercise recovery strategy. This should include type and timing of food intake, the need for nutritional products, stretching, possibly a massage, or bath (hot and cold!). If you sort this in the winter, the lessons learned will help you recover faster from races in the summer.

Train sensibly in the week
Put the good work you have done in the club ride to the best possible use by training sensibly in the week. Ideally this should mean riding 2-3 times as a minimum, with a structured approach considering both intensity and duration of the mid-week efforts.

So, do you stop for egg and chips? Look out for part two where Garry will discuss the positive and negative effects of long winter miles…

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