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Endurance cycling helps you stay fit and have fun too

Ravi Ranjan (32) is, by his own admission, " a regular guy", who took to running six years ago when he found himself doubling over with a stitch in his side after a brisk walk. Photo by AFP

travel Updated: Feb 06, 2010 12:01 IST

Ravi Ranjan (32) is, by his own admission, " a regular guy", who took to running six years ago when he found himself doubling over with a stitch in his side after a brisk walk. A year and an Ultra Marathon later, the Bangalore-resident bought himself a bicycle to add some variety to his exercise routine. "I eventually gave up running all together," he said.

"I began cycling 42 km daily to work and back. I also went for long rides out of the city on weekends."

Many others like him seem to be taking to endurance cycling in a big way.

On February 21, Mumbai will not just play first-time host to the Tour de Mumbai, an international cycling competition like the famous Tour de France, but will also see city
cyclists take part in a 24-km cyclothon. "Within a week of opening registrations, we crossed 1,000 participants," said Satish Menon, CEO of Sports18, one of the companies organising the event. The registration, which began on January 15, is currently open. Last October, in Bangalore, over 6,000 cyclists participated in a cyclothon that also comprised a 65-km long ride.

Training for endurance cycling requires practice for at least three days a week. Gareth Harrington, a consultant member of Elite Athlete Performance and an international level triathlete, advises cyclists to focus on improving their time and intensity rather than speed or distance. Like in marathon training, it is important to start well in advance and taper your programme as the event approaches to make sure your muscles are well rested. (For tips on how to train, see box.) But for the likes of Ranjan, training becomes more enjoyable when the ride is both challenging and fun. In 2008, Ranjan and three other friends set up what is now considered to be one of the toughest cycling tours in the country -- the BSA Tour of the Nilgiris held annually in December. "We rode 900 km in eight days, from Bangalore to Mt Doddabetta in Ooty and back." The cyclists covered a distance of 130 km a day, riding through jungles, coffee plantations and a 92-km-long ascent. "For an endurance cyclist, the ride is not a race. The journey is what matters."

Mumbai-resident Gopal Rao, 31, agrees. He recently rode to Goa in four days and can't wait to go on his next out-of-town ride. "These long distance trips not only keep me very fit, but also make me push my limits," he said.

Expert Advice
Want to go on a long ride or take part in a cyclothon? Then it's a good idea to start with short distances to get your body conditioned. Gareth Harrington, a consultant member of Elite Athlete Performance and international triathlete, tells you what to do.

Begin with three rides a week on a flat terrain -- 2 during the week (for an hour each) and a longer ride (of 1.5 hours) on the weekend. Spread the rides out across
alternate days.

To progress, add 10 minutes a week on weekday rides till you reach 1.5 hours and add 20 minutes a week to the longer rides till you reach 2.5 hours. If there's a particular event you have in mind, build up your long rides to a 3-hour duration gradually.

Measure your progress through ride duration and heart rate instead of distance and speed. If it's a very windy day speed and distance will be affected, and your heart rate and ride duration will give a better estimate of your progress.

To prevent injury, pay attention to your riding cadence, which is the number of times you turn the pedals per minute. To start with, keep the cadence at around 90- 95 revolutions per minute, as this is the ideal range for efficiency as well as preventing injuries. Low cadence and "grinding" gears leads to a lot of the injuries in beginners.

Always stay hydrated, especially in hot climates. Aim to consume about 500-800 ml of fluid every hour. On longer rides, take small snacks like bananas, an energy bar
or peanut butter sandwiches.

Add hill climbs or some interval riding into your routine, as you start getting closer to the endurance ride.That involves alternating between periods of high and low effort during a ride.

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