Conquer your first sportive

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Plymouth running festival
Le Cure

As your big day approaches, a few final preparations will see you reach your goals – and the pub – in double-quick time…

This summer will see more UK riders take on sportives than ever before, including thousands of first-timers.

You’ve ticked off the training, sacrificed alcohol for water and grazed on a diet of quinoa (okay, we might be stretching it!) – now it’s time to shine on your big day. Typically, there are many hurdles to overcome but, with a degree of research and preparation, you’ll hit your targets.

Course recce

Make sure you’ve recce’d the course beforehand. Ideally this’d be in person, but often that’s just not practical. All’s not lost, though, as race organisers supply detailed course maps, which you can elaborate on by using a mapping tool, like Google Maps.

Group riding

Make sure you practise riding in a group during training, whether this is with cycling mates or a club. It’ll give you confidence when you’re riding close to other cyclists on the big day.

Light taper

Reduce training the week before the event as you need to preserve energy. The old saying goes, ‘To finish first, first you have to finish’. Don’t set out at world-record pace only to fatigue quickly. Ideally, know a speed or heart rate you can maintain for the duration and stick to that.

Bag check


Make sure your bag’s all packed and you’re ready to go two or three days before the race. In fact, if you’re heading somewhere in the UK that’ll require accommodation for a night or two, ensure you have one bag for sportive gear and one for leisure.

In your sportive bag, make sure you’ve ticked off: helmet; bike shoes (if wearing); cycle clothing; accessories like sunglasses, gloves, towel and socks; and nutrition.

Two’s better than one

Use this simple equation to calculate what time to set your alarm:

Start time minus time to warm up minus time to register minus driving time minus getting up, getting changed and eating!

In short, give yourself more than enough time so you’re not panicking about missing the off. That’s why two alarms give greater peace of mind than one. It’s also worth pre-loading the address into your SatNav well before the race and checking how long it’ll take to reach the start line.

Pre-race meal


Don’t consume Chicken Madras the night before – it’ll only end in gastro-intestinal disaster and possible humiliation!

Instead, keep it simple so consume something like a pasta and tomato sauce meal the night before. It’s packed with carbohydrates, which will fuel you the following day, and doesn’t contain anything controversial that might upset your stomach.

Also, eat breakfast no closer than 2 hours from the off, so it’s fully digested by the time you start. Again, go for something simple that delivers slow-releasing carbs like porridge.

Be competitive…against yourself

Sportive riding’s not designed for racing; rather it’s a great way to challenge yourself. Set your Garmin or Strava and, when you return home from your ride, you’ll have hours of fun deciphering where it all went right – or wrong!

Testing yourself against previous similar rides will motivate you towards improvement without making you feel like you must chase down the guy in front.

Blog post written by James Witts. James is a writer and editor specialising in endurance sport, health & fitness, outdoor adventure and sports science.

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