Juliet Elliott is part of the fabric of the women's cycling world. She's a sponsored cyclist, former pro snowboarder and model, as well as boasting a dark past playing the guitar and singing backing vocals and playing guitar in bands. These days she frequently vies for awards for her blogging. She's the Founder and Editor of women’s action, art and adventure magazine, Coven Magazine, she contributes to national and international publications, makes regular appearances on the telly and is an outspoken advocate for women in sport.
In fact, one of the few things she's never taken on is disciplined training...
It’s somewhat ironic that I’m penning a piece about training on a bike as I’ve long been against it, preferring to just ride my bike for pleasure. I’ve never wanted to introduce elements of discipline or enforced labour to my cycling, to divert my attention away from the landscape I inhabit or erase the smile from my face. I enjoy riding hard and fast, I enjoy pushing myself but I’ve always preferred doing it how and when I chose to rather than when I’m told to.
But then Red Hook Crit came along.
A legendary fixed gear circuit race with its origins in New York’s messenger culture, when I heard the race would make its UK debut in London this July I really wanted to enter, albeit after a little nervous deliberating.
Once I made the decision to go for it I realised that I’d need to train - first because the standard is very high and the field contains National Road Race champions but also because the preparation would make me feel more confident on the start line. At least I’d feel that I could give it my best shot.
Unfortunately I only decided to enter a month before the race, so with (far too) little time to spare, I threw myself into a training regime with the help of James from High Rise Coaching. Having never trained before, it was a baptism of fire and a real eye opener, and throughout the month I’ve learned a lot about myself, my body, and also about training.
So if like me, you’re new to this training malarkey, here are a few tips that might make your first steps a little easier, whether you’re planning on racing, entering a sportive, joining a cycling club or getting fit. Happy training!
- Don’t just wing it. Map out exactly what training you’d like to do over the week and plan exactly what each session will involve.
- Prioritise. Put your training sessions in your calendar before anything else, so you can plan the rest of your week around it.
- Be prepared. If you’re training before work or you’ve got little time, get all your kit and bike ready so you can jump on and go without any excuses.
- Make things simple. Write out exactly what you want to do during your training sessions and sellotape it to the stem of your bike. It’s easy to get confused during these kinds of workouts as you’re so focused on cycling (and pain management if your session is fast paced!). I like to clearly list the times at which I’ll complete various exercises or sprints.
- Warm up. If you’re including any specific exercises to build strength or power such as hill sprints or interval training, make sure you warm up thoroughly. I complete a 20-minute warm up before proceeding.
- Never skive off. It pays to be pretty inflexible about your training, because the minute you let things slip it’s easy for it all to fall apart. If you’ve planned to sprint for 30 seconds and then rest for 3 minutes, never allow an internal debate about whether you’re going to complete those 30 seconds - they’re not optional. Similarly, if you skip a training session it’s easy to skip another because you think, ‘oh sod it,’ like when you’ve eaten a few too many biscuits and decide you may as well finish the pack. Or is that just me?
- Don’t drink too much water if you’re doing high intensity training. It’s very important to stay hydrated but if you’re constantly gulping water between sprinting it will make you feel pretty sick.
- Eat properly. I find it best to eat about two hours before riding so I’ve had time to begin digesting. If you’re doing a long ride, make sure you take some snacks along with you - and make sure you eat them! You need to fuel your body properly if you want to get results, so leave any weight loss strategies for another time. Some healthy protein after your ride can help you recover more quickly - nuts, raisins, apples, Greek yoghurt and peanut butter on toast work for me.
- Warm down and stretch. Make sure you warm down with some gentle riding for at least ten minutes. After you get back from your ride do some long, slow stretches, trying to hold each of them for at least 30 seconds. Alongside stretching, I’ve been using a foam roller, which is useful for stretching the iliotibial band and giving your legs a kind of DIY massage.
- Remember why you’re doing it. Although I said earlier, ‘it’s not optional,’ of course we all know that training actually is. So don’t forget that you chose to do it, and you’re doing it for no one but yourself.
- And rest. Make sure you factor in some rest days rather than just going hell for leather the whole time. The rest days are when your body adapts to the exercise you’ve been doing and your muscles repair themselves. I’m forever having that drummed into me, but I still don’t like rest days because I love cycling!
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