Training For Your First Sportive (Not As Difficult Or As Time-Consuming As You Might Think)

To finish a long sportive, and finish it well, you only need to train three times a week. The same applies for a shorter sportive over a hillier course.

What, you thought you’d have to do more? Well I’m pleased to be the bearer of good news.

If you can fit in an extra session per week then great, it’ll help. But you lead a busy life. You work long hours. Your family wants to see you on a weekend.

Three sessions is enough. More than enough…. provided you follow a structured training programme.

Ah, you knew there had to be a catch…

Don’t panic though.

Designing and following a cycling training programme is entirely within your capabilities. In fact, I reckon you’ll find it extremely satisfying. And the results, versus implementing the random training method adopted by many novice sportiveurs, will be so much better.

Now, where do we start?

Start With Why

Why is training important?

“Stupid question”, you scoff. But you see a lot of people attempting challenging sportives that they haven’t trained for. I’m sure the resulting experience is neither pleasant nor satisfying.

You train because you want to remove the possibility that you won’t successfully finish; you want to put in your best performance on the day; you want to have a fun experience on the day.

Keeping in mind the ‘why’ will keep you motivated to follow your training programme.

Get ‘Buy In’

Before you embark upon a series of activities that will potentially take you away from other responsibilities, it’s worth getting agreement from other interested parties (which I suppose is mainly a euphemism for your wife/husband/partner/canine companion).

Even if you don’t need permission from them (or you think you don’t), getting the nod in advance at least gives them fair warning and implies a desire to be flexible. Whether you intend to be flexible is another matter.

You may be of stronger character than I, but if a planned training session is due to take place in driving rain, having to overcome my wife’s disapproval as well as the weather makes me more likely just to drop the training.

Then Think About Where

Not ‘where’ as in ‘where are you going to ride when training’.

‘Where’ as in ‘where will I erect a physical copy of my training programme’ (and ‘erect’ is the correct verb because ‘stick’ just doesn’t befit the magnificent significance of a well thought out training schedule).

I stick erect my homemade training programmes on the same hook upon which we hang the family calendar (yes, we resist the digital age). In fact, my programme is deliberately hung in front of the calendar so:

  • It ensures that I remember that I’m doing a training programme (easy to forget these things…)
  • I have plenty of opportunity to spot clashes with other commitments and tweak the training schedule accordingly (or tweak the other commitment)
  • I am reminded, and therefore encouraged, by my progress through the schedule (I tick off each session as I do it)

Finally, and probably most importantly given my ‘buy in’ point above:

  • It serves as a constant reminder to my wife that I have my training to do. At the very least, she will be aware of my chosen training slots when putting other things in the diary. If she’s feeling particularly magnanimous, she might even proffer occasional encouragement to stick to the plan (every little helps).

Characteristics Of An Effective Training Programme

I’ve found that the best training programmes for me (as a perennial novice road cyclist) tend to be based around the following principals:

  • Simple and easy-to-follow – if it’s too complex, I’m less likely to follow it;
  • Realistic and achievable – there is no point planning to exercise 5 times a week when you know that you just don’t have the time. Better to create a programme with modest aims and then complete it than download an Olympic schedule and fail to get through week 1;
  • Each session has an objective – so that you know clearly, in advance, whether today’s session calls for short intense efforts, a sustained tempo ride or an easy recovery ride. Randomeurs (purveyors of the random approach to training) tend either to do too much (because every ride becomes a balls-out effort) or too little (because every ride becomes a lazy tootle in the country);
  • Specific to the requirements of the event – Sportive = (cycling + hills) x time – the majority of the workouts should take place on the bike, not on the treadmill;
  • Plenty of rest – I like loafing as much as the next man (or woman) and the good news is that rest is needed for fitness to increase after a hard session;
  • Slow and steady increases – both in terms of intensity and in the target fitness improvement. Going all out for a quick gain in fitness can lead to injury or illness.

Grimpeur Guide For Novice Sportive Riders

I cover sportive-specific training for novice road cyclists in my new ‘Grimpeur Guide’, which I plan to publish next month (although I’m not sure whether I’ll keep that name).

UPDATE! My book is available now, entitled ‘Sportiveur: A Beginner’s Guide To Training For, Completing And Enjoying Your First Sportive’

The guide takes new road cyclists from total beginner to successfully completing their first sportive within a matter of months.

My aim is to provide all you need to know (including the whys and the hows), without overwhelming you with unnecessary detail.

Seeking training advice can sometimes be intimidating, learning from athletically-blessed coaches that can’t really understand the needs and insecurities of novice cyclists. My athletic ‘gifts’ mean that I am destined to remain a mediocre cyclist. I feel your pain.

–> Click here to find out more and to purchase my book <–

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

8 thoughts on “Training For Your First Sportive (Not As Difficult Or As Time-Consuming As You Might Think)”

  1. I enjoy reading your posts Mr Grimpeur. I subscribed to your list after reading your review of the Domane… Coming from mountain biking I have been lured towards road biking by the “need for speed”. I hopped on a friend’s road bike recently and instantly felt at one with the world. Picking up my Domane 4.3 today… Just over a week and I’ll get to ride it (need to transport it back home).
    Thanks for your advice and the laughs.
    Happy riding!
    GuinnessMan – Australia

  2. Well, I was preparing for the prudential (injury stopped that) and came across your blog or is the terminology ‘stumbled upon’ ? Which I have found has been a real help for tips, not too much ‘technical’ detail, helpful for the novice and useful I’m sure to those who ride regularly.
    Love the comments, advice and humour.
    Sue, BaroloB – Italy?

  3. Have signed up, and splurged 2GBP on “Sportviveur” – where do I get toolkit? (I need all the tools I can get my hands on…)


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