Going the Distance with Imogen Cotter

By We Love Cycling

Getting ready for a sportive

In this month’s column, Irish professional cyclist and Škoda ambassador Imogen Cotter gives us an insight on her experience at the Škoda Ring of Clare, and how you can prepare for a sportive!

Hi everyone, and welcome back to my monthly column with We Love Cycling. I’m at my usual base in Girona, Spain preparing for a big block of racing and I’m really excited for it. I’ve been doing a lot of training which has been focused on heat adaptation. I try to head out at the hottest part of the day to get my training done, as I have races coming up in Italy. I’m hoping this kind of attention to detail will pay off and I’ll achieve some nice results for myself and the team – here’s hoping!

I really needed the time to get used to the warm weather again, as I spent June and July mainly in Ireland. This was great as I love training back in Ireland and I adore being close to all my family – and the cherry on top was that I got to take part in some races around the island. The Irish cycling scene is so friendly and motivating, and I feel like I made some great power and fitness improvements while I was back home!

I also got to take part in the fantastic event that is the Škoda Ring of Clare. It is a 160km ride around some beautiful areas across the county, including Doonbeg, the Kilkee Cliffs and Ennis via the Shannon Estuary! Although we weren’t exactly blessed thanks to some typical Irish weather, (it rained nearly the entire day!) it was a lovely way to experience some of my favourite training roads with lots of like-minded individuals. As a professional cyclist, I do a lot of my training alone, so having people around me to motivate me on such a long ride was brilliant!

Tips for preparing for a sportive

1. Create a training plan – and stick to it!

Whether it’s a training plan that you have downloaded from a website like Zwift, or you have a coach who has created a tailored training plan for you, it can be very helpful to have some structure and guidance when you’re preparing an event like the Škoda Ring of Clare. With a training plan that is designed by professionals, it takes the guesswork out of your training – you can be assured that you are increasing your workload in a realistic and achievable manner, without fear of getting burnt out.

2. Build your base

As important as it is to get some hard training sessions in, it’s equally important to incorporate some easy rides, keeping your heart rate low and allowing you to enjoy riding your bike. It’s a mistake made all too often that people go out with their group ride on the weekend and go full gas for a few hours! Sometimes, chilling out and stopping for a coffee and cake is what the body needs. It can also improve your fitness in the long run. Plus, who doesn’t like a coffee stop?!

3. Make sure you take your rest days

This may seem counter-productive, but if you’re pushing your body hard in training, it will need days to recover as well. You can’t expect yourself to be ready to train hard every single day! If you like, you can incorporate yoga, pilates or swimming into your schedule if you don’t want to take complete rest days. In fact, an activity like yoga that includes stretching can help you get through your preparation for the event injury-free.

4. Get used to drinking and eating enough on the bike

In an endurance event such as the Škoda Ring of Clare, you can be on the bike for over 8 hours. It’s really important to fuel yourself enough in that time, as you’ll be burning lots of calories. Although there will be food stops, it’s a useful skill to be able to take a gel or energy bar on the bike as you never know when you might ‘hit the wall’. It’s also a good idea to try out the gels on training rides in the run up to the event – you don’t want to take something for the first time on the day in case it doesn’t agree with your stomach.

5. Do some training rides in a group

An important part of any sportive preparation will be getting used to riding in a group. At the start of the event, it can be daunting even for an experienced rider to ride in a large group of people. A good way to alleviate that stress on the day is to practice riding in a group before the event. Most local clubs will meet on a Saturday or Sunday for an endurance ride together. If you’re finding the endurance rides tough or boring, a group ride can be a great solution – the camaraderie, the coffee stops and the fact that you don’t have to be on the front fighting the elements alone all the time, can make training miles go by a lot faster!

6. Try out the turbo trainer

If you’re trying to balance preparing for a sportive with your own work and family commitments, chances are you are limited for time on your weekdays. During the colder winter months, it might not be possible to get out for a ride midweek, but it’s important to try to keep active in some way from Monday to Friday. If you have a turbo trainer at home, you can easily hook up your bike and get some quality training done without being on the bike for hours. If the thought of being stuck indoors on a bike for an hour reduces you to tears, there are programmes such as Zwift to help with that!

7. Make sure you are comfortable on the bike!

When you’re going to be spending upwards of 8 hours on a bike, you need to make sure you are comfortable. Small things like adjusting saddle height, changing your saddle or altering the angle of your handlebars can make a huge difference to how you feel on the bike. You can also get your bike fitted by a professional, in case you’re afraid to make those adjustments yourself. Be sure to keep on top of your bike maintenance too! Little things like washing off your bike after a ride and applying some oil to the chain can make your cycling experience so much more enjoyable.

Don’t miss out on the next instalment of ‘Going the Distance with Imogen Cotter’. Until then, happy cycling!