With the British autumn in full swing, and winter not far away – maybe you’re thinking about taking a trip abroad to get some miles in, either just for the fun of it, or to get a little bit ahead of the game on the competition who you hope are stuck indoors and dreaming of riding.
Getting away from miserable British weather and jetting off to somewhere like Majorca (the cycling mecca) is great fun. I’ve done it three times, and learnt something new every time. Here’ my advice following trip number 3:
“Yesterday I got back from a fantastic week of cycling in Majorca. It’s the second year I’ve packed my bike up and headed off to the land of smooth roads and mountains with Redhill Cycling Club, and I very much doubt it will be the last.
It was quite pleasant to wave goodbye to snowy England and touchdown in… rainy Majorca. Thankfully it only rained for one evening, before brightening up – and the final days were hot and sunny.
Last year I remember feeling mainly nervous. I was (still am) a fairly new rider, with not that many miles in my legs. I’d heard stories of 80, 90, 100 mile rides up hideous climbs and on windy winding roads. At the time my longest ride had been a 70 miler in Kent, sandwiched between 3 very close friends. As a result, I was pretty conservative and very keen to keep my speed down and save energy to make sure I got home. This year? I still don’t have that many miles in my legs – but knowing the roads, knowing I’ve done it all before –I was a bit less careful. So comes lesson 1:
Know thy self and be cautious for the first half of your ride
Ride number one – 90 miles with one big climb, and some puddles in the flat lands, passed very pleasantly (excluding wet feet). On day two we attacked a 7k climb and a 15k climb – and by mile 65 of 80 I cracked and felt like crawling home (arguably not much helped by an evil stomach ache – girls – if mother nature is going to try and get in your way, don’t forget your normal painkillers). On day 3 I was feeling perkier so I went with a faster group on their ‘easier’ ride, and tried to stick near the front for the first 40 miles (largely out of fear of dropping off the back), meaning miles 80-90 I found my legs were pretty empty for the standard sprint home.
Next, I went for a ride with just one other friend, who pointed out that the fact I couldn’t talk throughout the first half of the ride implied I might be pushing myself a bit too hard. Since an early season training camp is about building up some base miles in your legs, going all out certainly isn’t the name of the game – so we plodded up the climbs and took it easy – which was rather enjoyable. We even accidentally caught up with the group from day number 3 – but decided, having chased then down (believing them to be a very different group!), trying to stick on the back would only result in tired legs (lung failure and total exhaustion) – so we left them to it. On this ride, I paid special attention to my heart rate and wattage – keeping them low, and trying not to worry about average speed as we clocked up the all important miles.
Unless you’re training for a non-stop, 100 mile thrash fest, the best way to tick of the miles is at a pace you know you can sustain. When it comes down to it, none of us are pro riders and regular coffee stops in the sun are what it’s all about. Spreading the miles out and enjoying leisurely breaks means you’ll be refreshed for the next portion of the ride.
Know thy stomach and thy taste buds
Long days in the saddle require lots of eating. Gels, I find, get me through 3-4 hours, but for anything over 60miles I’m an energy bar gal. I’ve always been quite a fan of Torq bars, but this year I thought I’d go for a change and test out High5 yoghurt covered berry bars. Yummy – they are. But I have to admit, by the end of the trip I didn’t want to even look at another oozy yoghurtey bar. I think the trick, on reflection, is to take a mixed box – or group together with a few friends (“I’ll swap you one High5 bar and a Torq gel for a pack of Shot blocks and a sachet of SIS…” A whole new playground game..) so you don’t get sick of one taste.
I’ve also heard a plenty of stories of people whooshing off for a training camp, and returning over 1kg heavier having hit the hotel buffet. I’m already heavier than I was this time last year. Since last year I managed a whole month of racing before burning out with an injury, I’m sort if ok with that, but I wasn’t keen to add any extra kilos. Thankfully, I returned the same weight I was when I left.
Hotel buffets are great, and when you’re exhausted after a long ride, it’s easy to pig out. I find the best way to avoid this is to have a proper recovery drink after your ride, meaning you’re more likely to stick to one plate of ‘main meal’, as opposed to going up for countless seconds. When it comes to the pudding table, I think avoiding it would be unnecessarily cruel, but piling it high with fruit is a good idea. Not lingering for too long in the dining area, just waiting to get hungry again, helps as well – and of course, to avoid any stomach upset, it’s better to stick with what you’re used to in the morning.
I’ve ridden Majorcan roads in downpour, in brilliant sun, and in wind that made me feel scared I’d lose my balance. Obviously, the sun was the most fun – but all the rest was character building! When packing, be aware you’re probably going to be riding through a variety of weathers – hot, cold, windy, rainy (sorry!). Take a packable- just in case. Don’t skimp on sun cream (you might get lucky!). This year, we discovered even when it was 15 degrees on the low land, there was snow on the mountains – so arm warmers and a gilet are indispensable ways of making sure you can adapt as required.
Unless you somehow manage to fit back to back days in the saddle into your working life, I imagine on a training camp, you’re going to be eating up more miles than normal. Therefore, it’s worth bearing in mind that your saddle needs to be pretty comfy, and it needs to be in the right position. This trip was the first week long excursion for my Specialized Ameira. I absolutely adore the bike – and generally, the racy saddle I’ve got mounted on her suits my bum just fine. However, for mile after mile – I could have done with something a little more forgiving. Majorcan roads might be smooth, but 400 miles on the clock and I was wishing for something a little softer.
I also kept messing with the height of the saddle. If you’re flying your own bike, make sure to use electrical tape to mark the height (unless you don’t want to mark it, in which case, take a tape measure).
Bubble wrap and prayers
Yep – I said it – ‘if you’re flying your own bike’. It can be a bit scary, right? But it doesn’t have to be. This might be asking for trouble, next time, but I’ve now put bikes on 8 different aeroplanes, and never had a problem.
The first time, I packed by brand new (first ever road) bike into a cardboard box, having realised that day I needed to pack it into something. Silly – I know – but we all do silly thinks at the age of 21 (and, I’m sure, at the age of 31, 41, 51…). I got the box from a bike shop, took off the pedals, twisted the handle bars – and job done. This is a very cheap way of doing it, but there are better options. One very serious piece of advice here: when putting pedals back on the bike – do not use a tool and make them really tight. Just apply a bit of grease, and twist them in. If you over tighten them, you’ll only have a painful job on your when you end up having to push so hard you smash your hand into the cassette getting them off (I speak from experience).
If you’re lucky enough to have your own bike box, it’s just a case of getting used to how it works. Mine is quite a light box, so I can get away with packing most of my clothing in there too, and I tend to wrap my lycra around any items that could scratch the frame, as well as covering my carbon in a stiff foam. If you don’t have your own, there are loads of hire places – and this is a good option if you aren’t going to fly the bike often, it’ll cost you about £40 for a week.
If you’re hiring – make sure you shop around. Majorca is full of bike hire shops, and it’s easy to go for the first one you come across online, but you might be able to find a bike you will enjoy more elsewhere. It’s best to take your own saddle, (as above – choose a perch you can ride a lot of miles on), and pedals and shoes if you’re riding clipped – this means you’re more likely to have a comfy ride.
Finally, unless you’re a pro rider, your training camp is a holiday. If you’re riding with friends, make sure to look after each other, ride safely, and have a lot of fun. If you’re alone, do take the opportunity to jump on the back of other clubs pelotons (I say this with a smile, please don’t do so unless it’s appropriate..), and watch the miles tick away on smooth, beautiful roads. Last of all – just enjoy it. “
Do you have any tips and tricks for training camp rides?