Rapha Festive 500 2019

Lets talk about the Rapha Festive 500 challenge

Simply put it is a challenge to cycle 500km outside over 8 days… Turbo rides, indoor training or manually logged rides don’t count. So you need 500km of outside GPS tracked riding.

Sounds simple enough right? Except these days at the 8 days starting Christmas Eve and ending New Years Eve… Not so simple.

Most people spend this period eating all the food, drinking a little more alcohol than normal, maybe having a few longer lie ins, more time in bed, watching movies and basically relaxing and winding down with friends and family…

Therefore the idea of squeezing in 500km’s of cycling during this period is not altogether an attractive prospect. Add in the minimal hours of daylight, low temperatures, wet roads, possibly icy roads, pot holes, fog… I mean I could go on, but there are lots of reasons not to ride this challenge.

To be honest I don’t really know how I got dragged into it, I have done very minimal cycling since Redbull Timelaps. I can not be alone in losing motivation through the winter months. Coupled with Christmas parties, a few weeks of catching all the winter germs I got to Christmas eve rather unfit and definitely not in optimum condition to ride lots of miles…

But a few guys from my cycle club wanted to give it a go and I do like a challenge. Plus I needed a bit of a kick start to get back to training properly so I decided I’d give it a go. I wasn’t optimistic about managing it, especially as I was working all the days except the bank holidays but it was worth a try.

So here is how my rides worked out:

Tuesday 24th December (Christmas Eve): 32.6 miles 
The guys I know who were also doing the challenge (Tarik and Hasan) clocked up a mega 110 miles this day, but I was working, so along with some other friends I joined them for the last few miles of their ride which gave me some company, but was a lower mileage start to the challenge than I had hoped…

Wednesday 25th December (Christmas Day): 0 miles 
I went to Christmas Day parkrun with my family and didn’t do any cycling

Thursday 26th December (Boxing Day): 32 miles 
After an early dinner with family I rode a local loop in the evening with Hasan, more hills than I might have liked but not much mileage. Every little counts though!

Friday 27th December: 51 miles 
I was back at work… So my riding was done in the evening after work. I rode out from home and joined a number of my RomfordCC club mates for an ad-hoc social ride before riding back home. This felt pretty good despite being a longish ride late in the evening.

Saturday 28th December: 68 miles
After getting up to look after my horses I met some club mates to cycle to one of our favourite places to have breakfast – The Bakehouse. Tarik had headed out earlier for some extra miles, and met us there for breakfast. Sensible people rode home after breakfast, Tarik and I headed out to Tilbury adding on almost 40 extra miles trying to get the bulk of our target done. Back to put the horses to bed, then it was an early night for me.

Sunday 29th December: 65 miles 
This day did not start well… One of my knees hurt, it had stopped me sleeping properly. I didn’t get up early to ride, spent a while debating whether this was the end of my challenge… but the planned route for the club was flat… It shouldn’t add too much pressure to my knee… And there were quite a few people riding the club route… Pulled myself together, took some aspirin and off I went… I rode to meet the club, then rode about 35 miles with the club, then I looped round the local roads a bit until I reached 65 miles. A tough day, my legs hurt, I was tired… Tired is probably not a strong enough word… I was a bit broken… And still had 64 miles left of the challenge to complete…
I debated trying to ride some more miles that night but my legs were not going to play the game… I ordered a takeaway and had another early night.

Monday 30th December: 64 miles
I was working… This makes fitting all the miles in difficult (and dark). I got up early and rode 14 miles before work… Temperatures were a high of 4 degrees… It was thick fog, these miles felt like they went on forever. Home, showered, changed, off to work.
Back from work and I rode to meet Hasan, then to join the usual RomfordCC Monday night ride. There were 5 of us, by this point Hasan and I both needed 35miles to finish the challenge so we did the usual club route followed by an extra 7 mile loop to complete the challenge… 50 miles done in total for this ride and the challenge was over. We rewarded ourselves with chips at a local chip shop…

Tuesday 31st December: 0 miles 
A spare day! Challenge complete with a day to spare and Christmas Day spent bike free. My legs are having today off before heading back to parkrun tomorrow (if I remember how to run after a week of cycling).

Total mileage: 313 miles…
Approximately 179 miles of the 313 miles I cycled were in the dark…

Tips for success…

So… my tips for anyone who fancies attempting this craziness at some point in the future?

Check your bike and equipment before you start – Obvious but important… Your bike needs to be in good condition. Check your tyres, chain, brake pads and charge any electronic gearing, power meters etc. No one wants the challenge to end due to a preventable mechanical issue. Give it a good check over and some TLC at the beginning and it should be good for the week. Charge your bike computer, lights etc. Pack your saddle bag or tool bottle with plenty of spares and any tools you may need.

Don’t make excuses – if you want to do it you need to be determined. Don’t use the dark, or the temperature as a way of convincing yourself not to go, wrap up if its cold, use lots of lights if its dark. As long as it is safe (e.g not icy or gale force winds) there is no reason not to be out on your bike…

Drink fluids – I was terrible at this… yesterday over 64 miles of riding I drank less than one 600ml bottle of water… Not clever… Drink every time your bike computer clocks a lap, or every 3 miles, or every junction… Don’t end the challenge dehydrated or even worse have it ended for you as you haven’t looked after your body.

Eat all the food – you need to fuel, and that doesn’t mean taking the contents of the Christmas chocolate tub in your bar bag… Remember cereal bars, protein bars, gels, whatever you would normally use when cycling long distance. Eat little and often, when you are already hungry its too late… You know this, but its easily forgotten between Christmas and New Year, especially if you think you overindulged on Christmas day… But this challenge is not the time to start your new diet… Recovery fuel is important. Eat and drink well after the rides.

Try and ride in company – I was so lucky that 2 of my good friends and club mates were also doing the challenge, and also that other club mates were up for getting in some miles over the festive period and happy to ride with us… This meant the majority of the miles were ridden in company. Its a long way solo, and there is something to be said for safety in numbers, someone to keep you concentrated, remind you to eat/drink, chat away and take your mind off the heavy legs… Don’t underestimate how much of a boost you can get from other people. Riding to meet everyone yesterday everything hurt, I was slow, I didn’t think I’d make it… 45 miles into my ride I felt amazing… Riding with people definitely played a massive part in this. Don’t get me wrong I did a fair few miles alone, but luckily for me these were usually an hour or 2 at the beginning or ends of rides… I wouldn’t have fancied doing the full distance solo.

Today I feel amazing… But I am not sure if that is just because I know its over…

Its definitely been a tough week but has given me a well needed training boost and helped me to fall back in love with my bike… Who knows, I might even wash the 500kms of dirt off her soon…