Six tips to nail the Rapha Festive 500 on Strava

The Rapha Festive 500 returns to Strava in 2021, so here are our top six tips to complete the distance challenge

Rapha Restive 500 2021
(Image credit: Rapha/Jacob Colton)

The Rapha Festive 500 (opens in new tab) is back for its twelfth 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. 

In 2020 getting outside to ride wasn't possible for everyone due to the global pandemic and the subsequent restrictions imposed by different countries. In response Rapha added the option of completing all or part of the challenge virtually by partnering with Zwift.

This year the Christmas period should prove less restrictive, however, the option to rack up the miles on Zwift remains. 

Everyone who completes the challenge will get a digital roundel for their Strava Trophy Case, as well as entry into a prize draw to win a Cannondale bike. 

There are more prizes to be won in conjunction with 'Spirit of the Festive 500 Awards'. Year upon year participants have chosen to commemorate their experiences creatively, from compiling photo albums from their rides to writing poems as an ode to their suffering. This year Rapha will be giving prizes from Wahoo, POC and Whoop to the most inventive entries.

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

(Dan Gould)

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

Planning a rest day over Christmas will keep you mentally fresh for the challenge (Dan Gould)
(Image credit: Dan Gould)

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

Plotting an easier route will take the sting out of the challenge (Dan Gould)

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

(Photo: Andrew McCandlish)

Sometimes missing a day is the best option. Photo: Andrew McCandlish
(Image credit: Andrew McCandlish)

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

Indoor kilometres will count towards the Festive 500 for the first time in 2020(Dan Gould)

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.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Luke Friend has worked as a writer, editor and copywriter for over twenty years. Across books, magazines and websites, he's covered a broad range of topics for a range of clients including Major League Baseball, the National Trust and the NHS. He has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and is a qualified bicycle mechanic. He fell in love with cycling at an early age, partly due to watching the Tour de France on TV. He's a passionate follower of bike racing to this day as well an avid road and gravel rider.