Thinking of taking on one of our cycling challenges and need some tips? The voice of cycling, Hugh Porter MBE, offers some nuggets of two-wheeled wisdom.
When we heard that a team from our corporate partner Marks and Spencer were planning to take on the epic Five Peaks challenge in full Men United style, we turned to Hugh Porter MBE, four times World Champion and Commonwealth Games gold medallist, to offer some top tips.
On 7 June, the team of 19 will set out on a 1,000 mile adventure. In just seven days, they’ll cycle to each of the five highest peaks in the UK and Ireland, and climb each mountain (around a 50 mile hike in total) before carrying on their journey.
It goes without saying that when you take part in a 500-mile cycling marathon, you’re going to spend a lot of time on your bike, so it’s really important you choose the right one for you. Find a good local bike shop and try before you buy and make sure it’s the right fit for your body. You can always make small changes to the saddle height and the stem, but the frame needs to be right to begin with. Mismatched bikes can cause injuries, so be cautious if your best mate offers to lend you his (unless he’s also your identical twin).
If you’re doing a challenge on the scale of The Five Peaks, you’ll want your bike to suit the road conditions. Carbon bikes (you know, the kind you can pick up with the tip of your finger) might be all the rage among the cycling pros, but they’re not cheap. As long as you’re not planning to do the Tour de France anytime soon, you can probably get away with a decent, and much cheaper, aluminium or steel alternative. And as an added benefit, they tend to be more comfortable too.
What you put into your body is crucial, and it’s even more important for multi-day, endurance challenges. Your body will need to refuel and repair muscles between days, so you’re going to need protein and sugars. There are hundreds of sport bars, gels and drinks designed to help you, but if you’re new to endurance cycling you may want to think carefully about trying any of them for the first time during a challenge. The simple sugars in carbohydrate gels can sometimes cause stomach problems – not what you want – so practice using all of the products you’re planning to take on the challenge well in advance. If in doubt, a peanut or almond nut butter and banana sandwich is one of the best snacks going!
As the M&S team know only too well, riding by yourself isn’t half as much fun as riding with a group of friends. If you want to follow suit and attempt a cycling challenge of your own, seek out a few pals to sign up with you. If you’re all at the same level of experience you can encourage each other, but it’s also good to have someone with a bit more experience who is willing to share some tips.
A basic kit of two spare inner tubes and some tyre levers to help remove flat tyres are a must for any cyclist, and are especially important if you’re planning to go on an epic journey over unknown terrain. Changing the inner tube isn’t easy, especially if you’re a newbie to cycling, but you’ll certainly get plenty off practice. If you’re going out with your friends make sure you’ve got something to bribe them with so they stop and wait for you – or you may find yourself facing the rest of the course alone (not very Men United!).
Kevin Webber, who lives with advanced prostate cancer, tells us his extraordinary story of marathon running while undergoing chemotherapy, and how he now plans to compete in the epic, trans-Sarahan Marathon Des Sables in April.