At midday on the 24th June 2012, I set off on a challenge with four mates – one being my Dad who was 56 at the time. I’d ridden with my Dad a fair bit over the years, including from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) when I was 15. This one was a bit different though.

We were riding 290 miles in 24 hours – from the Millennium Bridge in London to the Millennium Bridge in Newcastle. It sounds horrendous now, and to be honest it did then when I thought about it too much, but thankfully our 24 week training plan had prepared us well (there’s definitely a 24 theme here!).

team london

Ready to go. Anxious cyclists in the foreground – St Pauls in the background

riding over bridge

23 hours later – rolling over the Millennium Bridge in Newcastle

The photos give it away – we made it with some time to kill, and we’d raised just under £10,000 for our nominated charity Road Peace who do great work to help families of cyclists killed on the roads and fight for road user equality and justice.

I am sharing our 24 week training plan in the hope that it’s useful for anyone riding the Rapha Manchester to London challenge (which conveniently as I write is just under 26 weeks away) or any other long distance ride. The training and preparation is what carried us to the end with an hour to spare, avoided injury, and kept us focussed during those dark delirious moment in the middle of the night. If you haven’t taken on such a challenge before, I really would recommend you create a plan of your own in good time.

A quick disclaimer – I’m not a professional trainer or nutritionist. I am sharing this on the basis that it worked for our group of riders – we got to the end in the target time and without injury. If you do use a similar format, I hope it works for you too but depending on your current fitness, distance being ridden, current or previous injuries and time availability it will need tailored to suit. The book I mention below will help with this.

‘The’ book

I was given an excellent book which became my #1 resource for reading up on the science behind how your body responds to long distance cycling, how you can work with your body most effectively and perhaps most importantly how to train for the event.

The book is called Distance Cycling and is written by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach. It’s a bit old school and you won’t find crisp, inspiring imagery (à la Rapha) but it’s a complete resource and gets you off the screen. The book is on Amazon here for about £16 – and no, I don’t get commission and John Hughes is not a mate of mine!

Distance Cycling: by John Hughes & Dan Kehlenbach
Distance Cycling by John Hughes

There may be better books out there with more aspirational photos and professional design, but if you’re looking for substance over style then this may be for you.

4 phases of training

Our 24 week plan started in January (yes, that was brutal). I was starting with a base of moderate fitness – for me this meant that I could ride and ride, but anything over 50 miles was an effort that I’d probably feel the next day.

There were 4 phases to our training plan:

Base = mildly uncomfortable aerobic efforts with increasing distance to slowly build up to 50-75% of the total distance
Speed = maintaining 1 long ride per week but include a shorter high-intensity training ride too
Peak = with increased strength and endurance this phase includes greater distances to learn to manage fuel and tiredness
Taper = reduced efforts to consolidate on the training and prepare for the challenge

When I rode in the week, these would be shorter to fit in with work and commitments, and the single rides at the weekend started manageable but increased in duration each week (from 4-18 hours in our case). The long training rides did take over the weekend a bit, but I think this is essential to avoid injury and enjoy the challenge feeling prepared.

We scheduled in group rides too most months to get used to riding together in a group and boost morale. This was great as we’d combine it with some food, a few beers and riding new territories as we were spread around the country.

As well as time on the bike, I did mid-week spinning and weights sessions to build strength and improve general fitness.

So on to the plan.. warning – it is quite daunting, but I must confess that we didn’t follow it religiously. I would say we completed about 85% of the training – social and work commitments sometimes got in the way. We also never managed an 18h ride, but I think we got up to around 15h.

The 24 week plan

As you read this, note that it is designed for a 24 hour ride and 290 miles, so it’s a little further than the Manchester to London challenge, but if I was taking part I would use the same concept again and scale it down to (say) 75% of the distances – possibly even reducing to 18 weeks or so.

 Week Phase  Weekday training Weekend ride (hh:mm/miles)  Split / pace 
1 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 04:11 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
2 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 04:38 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
3 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 05:09 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
4 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 05:44 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
5 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 06:22 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
6 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 07:05 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
7 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 07:52 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
8 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 08:44 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
9 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 09:43 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
10 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 10:48 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
11 Base 2 sessions (spinning / weights) 12:00 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
12 Speed 3 sessions (25 mile time trial / weights / spinning) 12:00 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
13 Speed 3 sessions (25 mile time trial / weights / spinning) 12:00 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
14 Speed 3 sessions (25 mile time trial / weights / spinning) 12:00 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
15 Speed 3 sessions (25 mile time trial / weights / spinning) 12:00 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
16 Speed 3 sessions (25 mile time trial / weights / spinning) 12:00 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
17 Peak 50 mile time trial and weights 12:00 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
18 Peak 50 mile time trial and weights 200 over weekend (13-15 mph)
19 Peak 50 mile time trial and weights 12:00 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
20 Peak 50 mile time trial and weights 200 over weekend (13-15 mph)
21 Peak 50 mile time trial and weights 18:00 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
22 Taper 30 mins speed work 125 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
23 Taper 30 mins speed work 100 single ride at weekend (13-15 mph)
24 Taper 50 miles easy and 30 mins speed work RACE DAY

Using the advice from the Distance Cycling book, I put the plan into a spreadsheet and it was used by the whole group.

You can download my spreadsheet below, which includes the overall plan plus the weights training sessions. Feel free to use it and you could tweak the riding durations and distances to suit. I woud love to create a plan for your challenge but I’m not qualified to be doing that.

Rob’s training plan

Weights training

I found the gym work helped a lot to keep strength up, and manage fatigue and lactic on the ascents. Without this, I think it would have been much more painful when asking your legs to respond to a kick, or to catch up to the group following a feed or pee – especially after riding for 18 hours already! The book gives you the science behind this and will give you the knowledge to tailor the training to your challenge.

Nutrition

We weren’t too scientific with food, but used common sense and what felt right. This meant eating as normal the day before big rides, making sure to include carbs such as rice, pasta or potato. We tried not to eat too late (before 7pm) so that digestion didn’t affect our sleep.

Meals would usually include some protein, but usually easier to digest meats or fish like chicken or salmon. We definitely didn’t cut out beer or treats!

During long rides, we’d always be sure to take ‘normal’ foods as well as energy bars / gels which can make you feel sick if it’s the only thing you eat all day. For me, I’d eat sandwiches (peanut butter and jam, or cheese, ham and pickle), bananas, some pork pie and nuts – usually something a bit salty as I always seem to crave salt during long riding days. Then we’d have a selection of bars and gels for quick hits in between the more substantial feeds.

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Feeding time at one of the stops every 35-40 miles

During the 24 hour ride, we ate ‘proper’ food every 35-40 miles – usually spaghetti bolognese made with quorn and beef mixed (homemade by my Mum!), sandwiches, fruit and nuts. In-between, we’d eat whatever we’d grabbed from the stops including nuts, sweets or gels. I did start to feel sick towards the end, as you may do too, but as hard as it is you have to keep eating.

During the Rapha Manchester to London ride, you will have feed stations every 50 miles or so and I’m sure there will be everything you need to keep going to the next one. The stops really help by focussing on the next one, therefore breaking the unimaginable distance into chunks that are more manageable.

Get covered

We only had one incident involving wheel contact in the night, and luckily nobody was too badly hurt, but you may want to think about taking out insurance to cover yourself, and your bike before and during the Rapha Manchester to London challenge.

We at Bikmo specialise in cycle insurance for all types of rider, and cover includes riding in mass participation events like this as standard. Getting covered is straight forward, and includes accidental damage and theft plus other benefits.

We’re offering a special rate for all Manchester to London riders:

  • £10 off your Bikmo policy
  • £10 donation to Ambitious about Autism (through your Just Giving page)
  • A bundle of kit vouchers (up to £50 value) for clothing, nutrition or security

Just use the promo code M2L or get a quote using the link below to redeem the offer.

Get a quote

Best of luck as you start your own training plan and preparation for what looks like it will be an awesome challenge.

Enjoy the ride!

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