The Rapha Festive 500 (opens in new tab) is back for its 13th year, as cyclists around the world aim to complete 500 kilometres in eight days.
The event has gone from strength-to-strength since its inception in 2010 with over 65,000 cyclists going the distance last year. Rapha hopes that this number will be greater still in 2021.
Hosted on Strava the challenge is simple in concept: cycle 500 kms between 24th-31st of December. But fitting the rides around a busy calendar packed with Christmas meals and festive drinks as well as the winter weather is anything but straightforward.
During the heights of the Covid pandemic, getting outside to ride wasn't always possible. Various lockdowns and restrictions imposed by different countries prevented people from getting outside on their bikes, so Rapha added the option of completing the challenge virtually on Zwift.
It was still possible to use Zwift for the challenge in 2021 and that will remain this year.
Year upon year, hundreds of participants have chosen to document their experiences of completing the challenge via various creative methods.
Riders have produced photo albums, poems, paintings and even songs to commemorate their suffering.
GETTING IT DONE
Unless you have unlimited time on your hands you'll probably want to strategise how you get the kilometres completed. Getting a big ride in early to take off a chunk of the total is a good way to get started, and means you'll be able to take Christmas Day off the bike to really celebrate. Of course you can always approach it day by day, and ride 62.5km over each of the eight days to get it done.
Whichever way you approach it, here are some of our top tips to nail the Festive 500.
1. Dress yourself and your bike for the conditions
Dressing poorly for the weather where you live is a sure-fire way to end your ride early, and possibly keep you off the bike for a while after.
Low temperatures, rain (even snow), and high winds are all factors in winter riding but barring extremes these can be negated by well-chosen kit.
Keep the rain out and your skin dry to retain body heat with a decent rain jacket. A pair of high-quality overshoes will keep you comfortable and your toes toasty. Pull on a pair of bib tights and your legs can stay warm all day. A warm and comfortable pair of gloves will keep you able to brake and change gear properly and generally enjoy the ride.
Dressing properly for the conditions allows you to cover the intended distance in relative comfort and not be put off getting out on your bike day in, day out.
If you're lucky enough to be having a warm Christmas in the southern hemisphere, make sure you're prepared for the warm summer temperatures and plan where you'll top your bottles up.
Once you've kitted yourself out, what about your bike? Winterise your machine and you'll soon be munching the mileage problem-free.
2. Pace yourself
Heard about the local chaingang going out for a 22mph smashfest around the lanes on Christmas Eve but feeling a bit under-trained? Probably do your own thing and catch-up with them later in the week.
Putting yourself right in the red on the first day will not stand you in very good stead for the rest of the challenge.
Think about the mileage you want to cover on each ride and the speed at which you can cover that distance without over-stretching yourself ahead of the remaining rides.
3. Plan a day off for Christmas
It's important to enjoy your Christmas as much as possible. 'Tis the season after all.
You may need to put in a couple of pretty big days to make up the kilometres, but giving your body and your mind the freedom to enjoy Christmas Day and Boxing Day shouldn't be abandoned just to keep a daily total going. Your family will probably appreciate it as well.
Taking the time to enjoy the season should leave you fresh and raring to go when you pick up the challenge again after Christmas. Just don't go too overboard on the Quality Street.
4. Find an easier route
Huge elevation gains and tricky cobbled routes are great, most of the time.
But what about when it's New Year's Eve, it's forecast to rain at midday and you've got 70km left to complete the challenge?
Climbing can be an enjoyable challenge but with 400+km already in your legs and a bit of added Christmas weight sitting heavy around your middle, you might not fancy dragging yourself up that local 20 per cent killer ramp.
Stick to the lowlands, use the wind to your advantage and you'll be home and done before you know it.
5. Don't take risks
It's often hard to admit but sometimes cycling just isn't a safe or sensible option. Hit a patch of black ice and that could be your spring racing and sportive season out the window, let alone finishing Christmas week with some decent miles under your belt.
If you've planned your riding well, then there should be plenty of spare capacity in the week to extend a couple of the other rides or get out on New Year's Eve even though you thought you'd be done by then.
What's more, if the conditions are completely unsafe and you don't complete the challenge then it really doesn't matter. The following weekend could be wall-to-wall sunshine and ice-free roads.
Come the spring your legs won't know if you completed the challenge or not, so long as you get the miles in over the winter as a whole.
Of course this year you can also ride indoors...
6. Ride indoors
For the second year in a row, you'll be able to count indoor kilometres towards your total.
The spirit of the challenge might say you should take it on outside if you can, but for many riders the only option is to ride indoors.
Riding indoors presents its own challenges. A fixed position as you'll get on the turbo isn't as conducive to long rides, so you'll need to make sure you're getting out of the saddle regularly and wearing good quality, comfortable shorts to prevent any chafing or saddle sores.
Psychologically, completing 500km inside your living room isn't easy but using platforms like Zwift to take on interesting routes or group rides with friends will go a long way to helping tick them off.
Make sure you've got your setup dialled as well. A decent fan will stop you from overheating and a towel is a must to mop up the inevitable floods of sweat. Don't forget to keep fuelling as well; it can be easy to forget riding indoors that you still need to eat and drink regularly to keep yourself going over long rides.
On the bright side, you'll be able to avoid the rain and cold if you're in the north, and you'll also be able to ride whenever you like, day or night.
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