Preparing for the Cycle

Is the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle too difficult for me?

If you are in general good health and committed to a suitable level of participation you need not be afraid of the challenge presented by the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle.

Thousands of ordinary people who didn’t consider themselves ‘proper cyclists’ have been doing it every year for over 30 years and this ‘having a go’ attitude contributes greatly to the unique atmosphere of the event.

Apart from a helmet, you do not need any special gear or special bicycle. Also, a big army of volunteers are in place on the day to help everyone participate safely and enjoyably.

The ethos of the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle is not about speed or competition. Rather, it is a great collaboration between charities, cyclists and volunteers, with the aim of raising much-needed funds for charities and giving the cyclists a memorable experience.

This ethos and the festive atmosphere of the day, along with the beautiful landscape of south Kerry, help to make the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle unique in the world of cycling.

The event is not so suitable for those with performance in mind – for example, those wishing to do the Ring of Kerry in a personal-best time. With up to 10,000 cyclists on the road there will be times when you just have to relax, take your time and relish the comradery, beautiful scenery and wonderful atmosphere of the day.

Monthly Preparation Advice

Taking a steady, regular and progressive approach to your preparation will ensure that you can complete the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle.

Everybody is at a different level of fitness, has various daily routines and different expectations. Therefore, these are basic monthly guidelines that you can adapt to suit your particular circumstances.

The two key principles to keep in mind at all times are:

  1. Consistency – ride you bike as much as possible
  2. Progression – begin at a level comfortable for you and progress slowly but steadily.

 

April

If you don’t have a good fitness base:

  • This month is all about building basic fitness – slow, steady miles at a pace which is comfortable enough to conduct a conversation;
  • Try to ride at least four times per week;
  • If you have to take a break for any reason don’t let it discourage you – just get back into your routine as quickly as possible;
  • Don’t let a bit of rain put you off – you might enjoy it!
  • Practice using gears regularly and keeping your cadence high;
  • Focus on spending time on the saddle rather than on average speed;
  • Aim for one long ride per week, beginning at an hour and aim to complete 40K in one ride by the end of the month – one of the fours chunks or segments of the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle;
  • Get you saddle height checked and learn the feel of correct air pressure in your tyres;
  • If you are going for weight-loss, eat well and sparingly and aim for a 4lb. (1.8Kg) loss for the month;
  • Expect mild aches and discomforts as the body adopts but distinguish these from niggling or developing injuries which should be checked;
  • If you are feeling particularly tired for any session, still try to motivate yourself to get out but go at a very slow pace – think of it as going for an easy walk on your bike – and you will still get benefit from this.

If you are starting with a good base of fitness but are not so used to cycling:

  • Do all of the above for the first two weeks;
  • On the third week include a harder session with some intensity as described under the Fitness heading;
  • Extend your long ride to a distance you are capable of.

Sample Weekly Training Programme

The following sample training programme can be adapted to suit your particular level of fitness and experience, and the days that you have available to train. It is based on the two key principles of consistency and progression. It also provides targets for you weekly long ride that will help ensure that you can complete the cycle.

training-table

General advice on preparation

These notes are to help you prepare for the event and are aimed at those who are relatively new to this level of cycling challenge. If you have participated before you will know what to expect and what your standard is, but this advice may also help you to be better prepared and to make the day more enjoyable.

Everybody is at a different level of fitness and has different personal circumstances, so it is very difficult to prescribe a day-to-day training programme that would work for everybody. Therefore, some general advice is initially given here, followed by more specific monthly advice for the three months leading up to the event.

You can adapt this, relative to your level of fitness and experience, along with demands of your work, family and other commitments.

The single biggest mistake made in long-distance events like the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle is to go too fast too soon.

You will be excited at the start, anticipation and adrenalin will have built up and you will be ‘rearing to go’. Some get carried away in this atmosphere or can’t resist trying to keep up with riders who are passing them. However, if you start too enthusiastic you will pay the price later and finishing may end up as an unpleasant struggle.

Aim to finish with a smile on your face and this involves spreading your energy over the day. You should practice this in cycles during the months leading up to the event. A good rule of thumb is to ride at a pace where you are comfortable having a conversation. While the effort may increase a little on the climbs, you are definitely going too fast if you are panting and struggling to talk.

You will need enough endurance to ride 180 Km. (112 miles) and the key preparation for this is to spend as much time as possible riding your bicycle. Aim for at least three sessions per week but four is the ‘sweet spot’ – when you get most return in terms of fitness for the number of sessions you put in.

There are a number of other key principles to keep in mind in your build up:

Fitness is built gradually as the body adopts to increased levels of effort. Therefore, build gradually and also allow time for the body to adjust to the increasing effort – i.e. for fitness to develop. In other words, you need to take rest days too.

A big mistake is to be too ambitious and enthusiastic at the beginning and do too much too soon. This will lead to tiredness, soreness, lack of motivation and perhaps injury. The general guideline is to add no more that 10% mileage or time per week.

Don’t struggle through if there are times when you are feeling overly-tired or if life is just otherwise too busy or stressful – take a short break. However, consistency is important – get back on the saddle as soon as possible if you are forced to take time off.

Include one long steady ride per week and gradually extend this month by month. On this key weekly ride practice your pacing, nutrition and technique, and also get used to your equipment. This should include some riding in the rain in case you experience it on the event.

Most of your training on the bike should be at a comfortable endurance pace – for example, you could carry on a conversation relatively easily. However, in the monthly advice below we encourage you to add some harder efforts once you have a basic endurance base. It is wise to get the go-ahead from your GP if you are not used to this.

Adding this intensity once a week at least will pull up your fitness – aim for efforts that make it difficult or impossible to talk. There are various ways of doing this:

  • Ride with somebody who is faster, or in a fast group
  • Make an effort on hills on one of your normal routes, with a normal pace in between
  • Ride a short, familiar route faster than you would normally.

On the other hand, if you just don’t like this type of effort you can ignore it as you will build sufficient fitness with steady, aerobic riding.

To make the challenge seem less daunting it may help you to think of the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle as four separate segments or chunks of approximately 40K (25 miles) each, and you can take a good break between each. Therefore, your first main target is to cycle of 40K (25 miles) and you should achieve this relatively easily with the proper preparation.

Your second big target is 80K (50 miles) and, when you can do this in the timeframe set out in the monthly guidelines below, you can be confident that you will finish the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle.

People do the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle on all kinds of bicycles – some use any old bike that has been lying in the back of the shed for years while others ride expensive, lightweight carbon-fibre racing machines. However, it is wise to avoid mountain-bikes with chunky tires as these will eat up energy.

Hybrid-style bikes with straight bars are ideal for novices, or you can move on to a sports-bike with drop handlebars if you have some experience or intend to continue cycling regularly.

Make sure your bike has a bottle cage as you will have to keep well hydrated on those long rides during the summer.

A good saddle is always a worthwhile investment – and women should get one specifically for females – but nothing beats time on the saddle for easing any initial uncomfortableness in your sit-bones.

If you are a relative beginner don’t be surprised if you experience some discomfort while the body gets used to time on the bike – for example in your hands, shoulders and bum. These will ease with a little time.

As you get more confident, or if you are committed to regular cycling on a long-term basis, there are many further upgrades that you can get and there will be no shortage of suggestions from more experienced cyclists!

You should, of course, ensure that your bike is always in good mechanical order, especially the brakes, gears, chain and tyres, and make sure these have the recommended air pressure.

Whatever type of bike you use, ask your friendly bike shop or an experienced cyclist to check that your saddle height is correct. This is a common mistake and can lead to sore knees and other problems. Similarly, check for reach – the distance to your handlebars – but this is not so crucial.

You do not need any special gear apart from a helmet but having suitable kit may help make your riding more comfortable and enjoyable. Make sure your helmet fits and is worn correctly.

If considering gear to buy, a pair of good cycling shorts should be first on the list. A cycling top has useful storage pockets and a pair of padded cycling mitts will ease pressure on your hands.

There will be times when you will need a light rain jacket or windbreaker and being able to stuff this into a pocket is a bonus – never hang clothing around your waist as it is dangerous.

These basics will make life more comfortable but there is, of course, no end to what you can get. Make sure everything fits snugly for comfort and to prevent flapping in the wind.

Cadence is how fast you pedal, usually measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). Cycling with too low a cadence, or in too high a gear, is a common mistake made by novice and even experienced cyclists. This is uncomfortable, makes the muscles tired and puts undue pressure on the knees.

For example, it is common to see cyclists, especially in the spring, rocking from side-to-side as they slowly grind up hills in a gear that is much too high. People also tend to use too low a cadence when riding into a wind.

A average cadence of at least 90 RPM is recommended but this takes experience and persistence for some to learn. Think of spinning the pedals rather than pushing, and change into a lower gear when you begin to push too hard. If you observe very experiences cyclists you will see that they ride with a smooth, fast cadence that looks stylish and appears effortless – aim for that look!

Learning to ride at a suitable cadence will make life easier and is especially important whenever the road goes up. The hills on the Ring of Kerry are not very steep and you will find them much easier if you use your gears to maintain a high cadence and steady effort.

As you get experience you will naturally learn many other skills and techniques.

Learn to hold your position on the road and don’t ride too close to the ditch as you will have less difficulty in avoiding holes, debris and overgrowing hedges as traffic passes.

Be especially careful of your braking when it is wet or where there is gravel on the road.

Try to practice riding in a group and tell a more experienced cyclist that you will welcome advice on your positioning and general cycling etiquette. Joining a suitable club will be useful for this.

Wearing high visibility clothing will give you confidence on the road.

On the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle it is best to eat often and lightly so that your body gets an even, regular supply of food that can be digested easily. Aim for something like a banana or similar quantity of good food at least every hour, but eating smaller amounts every half-hour would be even better.

Do this from the beginning even though you might not feel like eating for the first hour or two.

With the relaxed speeds that are normal on the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle there is generally no need for specialist supplement products or for ‘carbo-loading’ – a normal good quality dinner the evening before and a good quality breakfast will ensure that the system is fully fuelled before you set out.

There are two substantial food-stops on the route and participants enjoy taking a break at these. However, don’t be tempted to over-eat: there is a limit to how much nutrients the body can absorb in one sitting and indulging too much before hitting the road again can let you feel bloated and sluggish.

Drinking regularly is also important especially if it is hot – aim for at least a bottle per hour. Plain water should be sufficient but, if you do feel like it, indulge yourself in a cool, sugary drink to give yourself a pep for the last section of the route.

Along with helping charities and a personal challenge, many see the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle as a means to improve general fitness, health and sense of wellbeing. A weight loss target is often associated with this and dropping excess weight will certainly make the hills easier.

However, many make the mistake of eating too much for their regular training spins. There is no need to eat anything extra for cycles of between 90 minutes and two hours when done at an easy pace. This is because enough glycogen, or energy, is naturally stored in the system for this period of steady exercise.

You might find this a little difficult at first, especially if the body is used to a regular supply of sugars in various forms. However, if you persist it will become easy.

For rides longer than 90 min. to two hours, adopt the eating system that you will use on the event itself – eat lightly and often and start in the first hour.

If you eat healthily, cut down on sugars and carbs, and reduce portion sizes a little, you will find that you will lose weight naturally with the additional exercise. A target of 1lb. per week is sensible and sustainable and amounts to almost a stone (6.3Kg) in total over the three months of preparation.

The Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle has an unparalleled level of volunteer support for participants, including 10 bike-repair points and transport to the finish if needed. Therefore, you need not worry that you could be left stranded.

Nevertheless, it’s best to take all precautions to avoid difficulties and punctures are naturally the most common. You will get help if you can’t repair one yourself, but it may take a little time which will involve delay for yourself and for your friends if you agree to stick together.

Volunteers fix a large number of punctures and the most common causes are:

  • Embedded debris in tyres, such as tiny pieces of glass or stone – check your tires beforehand
  • Tyres not inflated correctly – make sure they have the recommended air pressure
  • When punctures occur, the inside of the tyre is not inspected and whatever caused the puncture is not removed, resulting in the replacement tube puncturing again – check the inside of the tyre before replacing a tube.

If you can’t change a puncture yourself at least carry a spare tube and the means to take off your wheel if you don’t have quick-releases. Somebody is likely to help and spare you the wait for a volunteer support crew.

Other types of mechanical problems also occur and it’s often not possible to fix them outside of workshop. So, get your bike thoroughly checked to help avoid having to come back in a support-bus!

For medical contingencies there are 12 first-aid points on the route, three medical centres and numerous ambulances. All staffed by fully-qualified volunteers, so you can be assured of support in the very unlikely event of it being needed.

Other difficulties can arise from the weather, either good or bad. On hot days, for example, not drinking or lack of sun-protection can lead to problems. Similarly, rain and cold wind can cause difficulties if not prepared.

The vast majority of participants enjoy the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle without any difficulty but, if you do have an unfortunate problem, you can be assured of support from a large, experienced and qualified team of volunteers who have years of experience helping people through the event.