So you’ve registered for a big bike event, and you’re in the final few days of preparation. You’ve done all the training, got the rider kit, and had your bike recently serviced (hopefully) so it is running smooth.
So what are some of the important things to consider over the last few days of preparation?
Taper your Training
At this point in time, you’ve done all the training you can before the event. The final week should be a “taper” week – where you taper your training off to a lower intensity. This doesn’t mean stop completely! It’s a good idea to still do regular rides (as often as you have been already), but try to spin the legs a bit faster, and don’t push yourself too much. You need to stay supple and flexible in preparation, without inducing fatigue!
Try to go out for a little gentle, flat recovery ride the day before the ride. This can also help to reduce feelings of anxiety about the event, reassure yourself of your readiness for the event, and may allow you to uncover any last minute bugs with your equipment.
Carb-Loading - leading up to a big ride
Whilst there are a number of varied opinions on this, it is best to focus your carbo-loading on the 48 hours before a big ride. Some people find that while carb-loading does increase their fuel stores, it also makes them feel heavy and bloated – which may detract from the benefits. Don’t force yourself to eat just for the sake of it, and be realistic as to how much fuel you will actually need for the event.
The night before
The meal the night before a big event should be high in carbohydrate to keep your muscle stores topped up, and should also have a serving of good quality protein and plenty of fruit and veg. Avoid spicy foods, or anything new that might disagree with your stomach. Eat early enough so that the meal doesn’t interfere with getting a good night’s sleep.
Are you eating somewhere other than home the night before the ride? If so, it’s a good idea to plan your meal, either by taking something you can prepare or reheat at your accommodation, or ensuring you research a suitable restaurant to provide you with the exact food (type and quantity) you require.
Breakfast / eating before the ride
The goal here is to store enough carbohydrates to get you through the workout. It is ideal to eat two hours before the event - however due to the early start times of some events, this is not always practical. Try eating a banana, an energy bar, or a couple of gels (always consume with water), 10 minutes before the ride. This isn’t quite as good as a real breakfast two hours before, but is far better than starting on a low fuel tank.
During a Ride
Hopefully you have been practicing your nutrition during the lead-up to the event and have this part totally dialled. If not, read on…
You body can store fuel for about 90 minutes of work. So for events longer than this, you’ll need to intake fuel (carbohydrates) during the ride. Your specific carbohydrate needs will depend on numerous factors. But as a rough guide, aim to consume something every 30 minutes - so break your energy bars or food into portions that are half of your intended hourly caloric intake. Don’t wait until you are hungry – start your food intake at the 30min mark!
This isn’t the time to be trying new types of bars, gels, foods or drinks – stick with what works, even if the freebies are tempting! The last thing you want on a ride is an upset stomach.
Immediately After a Ride
Within the first 30 minutes after a ride, it is crucial to replenish your supply of glycogen and protein, to refill the fuel tank and kickstart recovery. During this time, your body is 100 times more sensitive to carbohydrates and will store them more readily.
Make sure you consider this and plan for it. Many people have their food planned for the ride, but forget about their recovery food – and then find that suitable food isn’t available when they need it during that crucial 30 minute window. So make sure you have your post-ride recovery food packed ready to go as well, and remember to consume it as soon as you get back!
Your hydration plan shouldn’t just start at the start of the event – it should start in the days leading up to the event. Ensure you “pre-hydrate” by drinking plenty of water within the 48 hours beforehand. You might also consider having some electrolyte or sports drink the night before, particularly if it is going to be a hot and/or sweaty day. As a rough guide, during the ride you should aim to consume 100-250mL of water every 15-20 minutes. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink – start your hydration at the 20min mark! And ensure that you keep replenishing your fluids after the event has finished as well.
It is crucial to get a good night’s sleep the night before the event. If you are at home, ensure that you have your family onboard with your needs so that you can get to sleep early, ready for the early start. If you are staying away from home, do whatever you can to ensure a good sleep – take your own pillow, an eyemask, earplugs, teddybear… whatever it takes. Stay away from the caffeine, alcohol and sugary food & drink in the few hours before bed so they don’t keep you awake. Also stay away from your devices if you can, the screen light can prevent your body from initiating the sleep process! Try having a herbal tea and listening to relaxing music if you are finding it difficult to calm your mind.
Have your equipment packed and ready to go the night before the event. Have all your food packed and ready to eat, already cut into ready portion sizes if that’s how you roll. Have your kit (clothing) laid out ready to put on, so that you aren’t fiddling around getting stressed looking for that favourite pair of gloves at 4:30am! This not only reduces the stress in the morning, but also reduces the likelihood that you’ll forget a crucial piece of the puzzle. Knowing it is all prepared might help you sleep a bit easier too.
It can be good to write a checklist of important things – bike, helmet, water bottles, etc – then do a last-minute check as you pack everything in the car. You wouldn’t believe how many people I know have turned up to events without their helmet!
Also know how you’re getting to the event, check the Google Maps link, confirm any carpooling, double check any road closures, be familiar with the car parking instructions, and know your timings. Always allow a little extra time (someone in the car always needs a coffee or toilet stop, or both!)
After the Event
There is a lot of information available full of useful tips about training and preparation for a big event and what to eat, drink and do during the ride. But what about after the event? Here are a few things you might want to consider.
If you drove to the event (particularly if it was a long distance), have a think about how fatigued you are going to be once you have completed the ride, and how this might affect your driving ability and concentration. If you are unable to recruit someone else to drive you home, ensure that you have a back-up plan if you feel you aren’t able to drive home safely, or be prepared to take extra rest stops - whatever is necessary to get home safely.
It’s easy to get caught up in the celebrations and forget to stretch. Then you try to stand up to get in the car and your back has locked up, or you attempt to lift the bike onto the roof-rack and you pull a muscle. Or your adductors start to cramp during the presentations, in both legs at once – yes I’ve been there. So make sure you take a moment to stretch out your key muscle groups as soon as you’ve finished your event. Consider bringing a yoga mat for this purpose.
The night after the event, make sure you get to bed early and get a good sleep for recovery. Don’t force yourself to stay up if you feel tired – there’s nothing wrong with an afternoon nap (and even better if it lasts all night).
The day after
The next day, you might pull up a bit sore and tired. Don’t make too many commitments for the next day, if you can help it. Do a bit of light exercise – yoga, stretching, walking, swimming – just to flush out the muscles. Get a recovery massage if you can.
Food & Drink
You might have an urge to binge on something sweet or fatty in the day or two after the event. However this is the time your body most needs healthy and wholesome foods. If possible, have this pre-prepared ready for when you get home – you might be feeling too tired to cook. Or at least, make sure it is easy to access and prepare. Make sure you keep drinking lots of water to replenish your body – and avoid alcohol as this will hinder the recovery process.
Post Event Blues
I’m sure this is a very individual thing, but don’t be surprised if you have some interesting mood swings after the event! You might cross the line feeling elated at your achievement, go back to everyday life the next day, and not feel any other effects.
Or, if it has been a particularly gruelling or physically challenging experience, you might feel completely spent and want to burst into tears at the finish line. Don’t be too concerned if this is your reaction - it happens to the best of us. Just do what you have to do, and take some time out to be nice to yourself – your body has been through quite an ordeal!
Some people also experience a slump in mood a few days after an event. To alleviate this, you can try looking through photo albums of the fun times you had during your training and the event. Re-connect with your riding companions - make a time to meet for a cuppa and share your experiences of the event. Also start thinking about your next challenge – will it be another cycling challenge, or something different? Do your riding companions have anything planned? Or perhaps you will reward your achievement with a bit of cycling related retail therapy, or some travelling?
And as always, seek professional help if necessary.
Now, where's that cake??!!!
Cazz Clarke is a cycling coach, ride leader and owner of small Melbourne-based business Bike It Better -providing coaching services, training programs and guided rides for beginner to intermediate level cyclists since 2013. Visit www.bikeitbetter.com for more information.
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Information and advice contained in this article is general advice only. In preparing this information I have not taken into account your objectives, physical health situation or requirements and you should consider the appropriateness of this advice to your circumstances before acting upon it.
For more detailed dietary advice specific to your own health needs, it is best to consult a Dietician, Nutritionist or Naturopath.
And for mental health related concerns, call Lifeline on 131114 or consult a professional therapist.