The year is 2020. Due to laid back Summer, Lithuania is having huge Covid-19 hangovers and is rapidly climbing up a ladder of the most affected countries in Europe. Non-essential shops are closed and society is urged to stay at home. I have been working remotely from my flat for the past couple of months and aside from my wonderful girlfriend, I unintentionally reduced contact with outside world to a bare minimum.
As a cycling enthusiast, I am thankful that I can still somewhat actively prepare for 2021 season without any noticeable hiccups. I can still jog outside, I have an opportunity to cycle indoors and clock in kilometers on Zwift. I’m not even sure how I managed to Zwift so much, probably these 3 resources helped me stay sane. If you are planning to complete Rapha Festive500 on Zwift, definitely check this article out. On top of that, together with like-minded people, we connect twice a week over the internet and complete body fit training sessions.
The problem is, that everything I do for the past couple months are between the same walls, not counting an occasional jog for 30 minutes around my block, so naturally I was really excited to complete Rapha Festive500 challenge even though, I will have to do it alone. So how to complete Rapha Festive500?
In this article I am going to cover my preparations and gear that I used as winter cycling creates more complexity. Besides that, I will quickly go over all the crucial metrics, such as fatigue and form using GoldenCheetah.
What is Rapha Festive500 challenge?
An initiative to urge cycling enthusiasts around the world to participate in a non-traditional Christmas period, which involves 500 kilometers on bike over 8 days, starting on December 24 and finishing on December 31. This boils down to roughly 63 kilometers every single day, which does not sound a lot, but given winter climate in the northern hemisphere, this can quickly become challenging. My approach is to take each day at a time. I might ride more if weather is in my favor, so that I could take shorter days in the future if it’s not.
During winter cycling it is important to utilize the most reliable equipment and clothing at your disposal. This not only makes it easier mentally, but also helps to reduce fatigue or a chance of catching cold. On the other hand, it would not be wise to use your full carbon bike with carbon wheels and Dura-ace groupset, due to road salts and wet conditions. My suggestion- find a cherry pick between quality and robustness.
Most cycling enthusiasts know, that proper layering is key. It helps you to stay warm just enough, reducing a risk of sweat. Sweat, in most cases during winter cycling, is a tragedy. You start to feel uncomfortable and annoyed, but that is nothing compared to the real threat- catching cold and abandoning your challenge.
My equipment is something that works for me and I have tested over couple years of cold days in the saddle. For the upper body, I use three layers, because I find it becoming most cold during a ride. I start out with a mesh layer shirt. On top of that, I put on merino long sleeve shirt and an insulated cycling jacket. If it is extra cold, I might carry a gilet in a back pocket. For the legs, I invested in a decent pair of winter cycling bib tights.
Feet require a paragraph on it’s own. This is the most crucial part, because getting cold or even worse- wet feet, is a disaster both mentally and physically. I tried numerous ways to keep mine warm and once again found layering to be the most effective technique. I start out with generic cycling socks (long please), cycling shoes, a homemade toe warmers from wool socks over the shoes, another thin sock to keep toe warmers in place and then a water resistant overshoe. If it is extra cold, I might use skiing instead of cycling socks. Did you know, that getting numb toes might not only be due to getting cold? This might happen if you reduce blood flow with too many layer or socks that are too thick inside cycling shoes. If this happens, I always get off my bike and do some squats, walking around until I feel comfortable again.
Gloves, warm under cap, neck warmer go without mentioning. If you find any other piece of equipment useful, let me know, I am always eager to spend more hard earned money on non-essentials related to cycling!
I am a road cyclist. I started out as one and this is a discipline that I enjoy the most, therefore my go to bike is my old Scott Contessa, that is used as winter beater. An aluminum beast, which doesn’t fear road salt and some beating. I will install Favero Assioma Uno powermeter from my racing bike to better track my fatigue and fitness. Couple downsides include rim brakes, that are not as reliable as disc ones during the winter months, a low-end Shimano Sora groupset, that might cause some problems on the road, and a hideous bar tape. But those are the comfortability sacrifices I am willing to make in order to spare my racing bike from this burden.
I’ll skip all the boring details, but I’ll say that this was much more challenging than anticipated. First of all, psychological toll- when the weather is not that great and you have been cycling during these conditions for the past days, it really gets to you. On top of that, social aspect of Rapha’s challenge is underrated, doing this alone becomes tedious. Lastly, this was the most demanding experience from physical perspective, I have never created so much stress for my body before. I managed to ride all the distance in 7 days, averaging just shy of 75km/day.
Data and what you can expect to gain
As I briefly mentioned before, the amount of exercise that I did over 7 days was over the roof. This created a big stress level on my body and I had to be extremely cautious about not getting ill both during and after the challenge. In order to prevent catching a cold, I made sure to eat not only enough of calories, but choose only whole foods. Couple weeks before the challenge I cut out majority of processed and fat food, I started to store both vegetables, fruits inside my body which made me feel amazing to be honest. During the challenge I consumed a lot of liquids, vitamins and supplements that kept my body from falling apart. Sadly (or not), I pulled breaks on alcohol all together for a bit more than a month, from the end of November until New years eve when I had my celebratory drink. This on it’s own has been an interesting experience, because I had never taken diet aspect very seriously. The most noticeable changes include feeling more energetic and I was sleeping much better.
As you can see from the figure above, purple line depicting how much exhaustion I caused is peaking and my form (yellow line) is below ground. When deciding to complete this challenge, I was really expecting my overall fitness (blue line) to go up and it did, this means that my fitness in early January is on the same level as it was during season. I can expect it to grow even more the closer we get to the actual racing. So future is looking bright and I expect to be much stronger than I was during 2020 season. Now for the statistics, I averaged:
- 145W (~2.6W/kg)
- 159TSS/day (With maximum of 230 on 26th)
- 2h 40min bike ride every day (The longest one being 4 hours on 26th)
Lastly, recovery time was quite long, although I took 2 days off from training completely, I felt quite heavy and slept a lot. Once again proper nutrition was a key to get back on my bike as fast as possible. After taking two days break, I started to do light exercises- running, body fitness sessions, short indoor rides that also boosted my recovery speed. At the time of writing this, I am fully back on my regime and training with intervals, averaging around 500–650 TSS/week.
I would really encourage people around the globe to give this a shot. Especially, if you are preparing for the racing season. This is great winter training camp that costs basically nothing (unless you take unpaid vacation from work) and gives good results looking into the future. Personally, I took this challenge as a zone 2 long days in the saddle, I did not do intervals, I didn’t try to keep up with other riders that I met during this challenge, I just rode my bike and enjoyed it, except for 26th, where I didn’t take enough food, decided to deviate from the plan and increased distance during the ride. This caused a hard bonk and was not so helpful for the morale. If you decide to participate in Rapha Festive500 challenge next year, I wish you learn from my mistakes and took the most out of it. Good luck!
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