How to start exercising, Sportives

Proof of your accomplishments

Hi and welcome back!

This article shows how to use Strava to measure your cycling activity, how to find cycling clubs and places to cycle, and lastly Sportives – what they are, why you should try them, how you enter and what they’re like to take part in.


Strava is a GPS based measurement app used to record cycling and running activity, and I wouldn’t think of not using this app when I’m cycling now. The orange themed app is downloadable on Android and at Apple’s App Store.  The following images have kindly been provided by the Strava app on phone or on their site.

Once you’ve installed the app and registered for free, launching it displays your dashboard.

strava dashboard

URL for Strava Dashboard

This is where you can start what they call a feed, to register distance and direction in figures and map display.   This auto pauses if you stop your bike and restarts once you get going again.  You have to stop it though, at which time you can decide whether to sync and save the run.

strava trip 2

Initial Strava screen

Once recorded and synced with your account you can review your miles online at .

Strava detail 1

Strava Dashboard

Its a lot easier to use and review progress on Strava if you get a mount for it.  I use one from Topeak.

photo of topeak phone mount on stem of racing bike

Topeak Mobile Phone Mount

If you set your phone to permanent display, you’ll have a readout that’s on all the time.  It consumes 30% of battery power over an hour on my iphone – just check that you’re charged up before you mount it, or if you’re out for a while, connect up your battery pack.

Strava allows you to see sections of road on your runs, and your relative performance against other people using Strava who have navigated the same stretch of road, giving you a ranking (mine as you’ll see is miles down the list).

Strava detail 3

It also gives you metrics on height, speed and power during a run, which is useful if you want to see your relative performance on different elevations.

Strava detail 4

There is much more to Strava including a video they send you annually of your achievements throughout the year, and premium contracted services offer a further tier of services for those who take cycling seriously.

Cycling Clubs

The fastest way of finding cycling clubs in your area is  to use the internet.  Three useful sites are Meetup, British Cycling and Cycling UK.

Meetup is an online organising tool for people with similar interests and was founded in 2002 by Scott Heiferman, Matt Meeker and Brendan McGovern as a direct response to the 9/11 attacks, in order to bring people closer together.  You can search for cycling clubs in a radius from a given town, and hotspots to local clubs allow you to see their meetup pages, e.g.

meetup 1

Image kindly provided by Meetup.

British Cycling was mentioned in the last article and besides its wealth of information on cycling in general, it allows you to pinpoint clubs and cycling events near you.

Cycling UK also dedicates part of its site to finding and joining clubs in your area.


So you’ve put in all the cycling miles to lose weight.  If you want to have a go at a non competitive race to see how you’d do over a longer distance against the clock, perhaps you’d like to try a sportive? Want some visible proof of your accomplishments? Read on.

I suspect you’re wondering why its a race if it’s not competitive? Technically its not a race but get yourself in amongst hundreds of riders and its difficult to resist the competitive spirit, even if there aren’t prizes or ranking position points which are the requirements for an official competitive race.  They actually contain 2 or 3 separate ‘races’; short routes of around 25 miles, one for 50 miles plus and a longer one of 75  miles plus.

Sportives do allow you to meet other riders, tackle distance you may not have had time to do before, have a ride out with a large number of riders, and provides freebies for entering.  Normally you’re presented with a medal, and free products from companies using the race for marketing.  Sometimes t-shirts, bandanas or socks are given away.  Most sportives cost from £25, depending on distance, and results are displayed after the race on the organiser’s website.  There are normally photographers on the course taking snapshots of every rider which you can buy online a couple of days after the event.

I’ve competed in six sportives throughout the South East in the Wiggle series, but this isn’t the only series.  The text following describes prep and race on one of Wiggle’s runs.

Entry is online, and they’ll add you to their list of riders for the event and send you confirmation of entry details, including route.


I prepare the night before as its usually an early start, and if the race is some distance from you you’ll obviously need to take this into account when determining time to set off in the morning.

I usually check the bike over; tyres, drive train, lights etc, and then because I’ve got a small car, remove the wheels and pack the bike so its one less thing to do first thing.

I also check the weather forecast on the BBC to see what it’s sensible wearing first thing.

Packing List

  • Printed entry confirmation and route map.
  • A spare tube or two and rim removal tools.
  • A mini pump.
  • Waterproofs that are small enough that you can carry them with you.  Legs are not as important as upper body so if you’re packing only one take the top.
  • A thermos for coffee/tea. (Race organisers do have catering at the race but its normally a distance from the car park).
  • Headgear.  (This must have a US Snell B90/B95 or European standard CE test label).
  • Portable USB charger (for lights and phone should they run low).
    Water bottle(s).  If you can take two do so.  Better to need water and have it than the other way round.
  • Dry clothing including socks (for when you finish).  (Drive to the event in your race gear).

On the day

Plan to leave contingency time for bad traffic.  You can start the ride after the start time periods (there are different ranges of time for each of the rides) but if you finish the race after the organisers have packed up their marshal stations, you won’t have an official finish time or be able to collect a goodies pack.

When you get closer to the race, you’ll see signposts for car parking.  Once you’ve parked up, leave the bike where it is, pick up your headgear and go and register.  You’ve entered, but the organisers will need to tick you off on their lists and slap a self adhesive transponder sticker with your race number barcode for their tracking mechanisms on your headgear.  If you enter late, you may not be on their list.  If this is the case, go to their ‘on the day’ race entrance table, and they’ll issue your headgear barcode.

With some races, dependent on whether you entered weeks in advance or signed up for particular deals, they’ll also give you whatever you’ve also bought or become eligible for, e.g. water bottles, energy bar packs.

Once you’ve registered, the time is yours to use as you wish before the race, remembering to leave enough time to get your bike assembled, your riding gear on and race number attached.  Organisers usually have bike gear and clothing stalls on site, and there’s catering of some sort if you’ve not had breakfast.

The Race

Join the other riders at the start line, listen to the race safety briefing, set Strava on if you’re using it, and you’re off!


If its a longer distance than you normally cover, its best to pace at the start, and adjust your speed depending how you feel after a mile or two.  Its not a race but they’ll be riders who are moving at a fair rate to beat personal times (or friends).

Depending on the length of race you’ve selected they’ll be a number of refreshment stations where you’ll get free drink and energy food, and facilities if you need them.

If you’re calorie counting and its food that isn’t packaged, you can note down roughly what calories these are.  If you have a diet app, this makes this easier.  Personally, I figure that its unlikely I’ll break my diet limit as the 30 mile races I enter use about 750 calories, so I don’t usually count on race days.  It does give you a bit more freedom about what you can sensibly eat before and during the race.

Race Etiquette

  • Its normal to overtake on the right and warn people if there trajectory looks like you might collide.
  • If you can, on less busy roads, warn other grouped up riders ahead of you if there’s a car coming.
  • Ride singly where you can.  A fair proportion of the race will be on normal roads.  I find that riders double up on narrow double white line stretches because it forces traffic to overtake sensibly.
  • You’ll find that riders stop for puncture repairs and to rest.  If you see another rider in obvious difficulty, ask them if they need assistance.
  • Don’t stream riders you don’t know.  Streaming is riding close up behind someone else to benefit from their slipstream and reduce pedalling effort.  This should only be necessary and done by groups of riders who are taking turns whilst in a competitive race.
  • Queue at the start and at junctions.

The end of the race

wiggle medalCycle through the finish line to get your time recorded and be presented with finishing medal (and usually goody bag).

Stop Strava and save the session.  Relax, and congratulations for finishing!   Maybe mutter ‘Never again!’ but weeks later register for your next event.

If you’re calorie counting, add the event’s calorie count to your stats.


If you think you’re going to get into sportives, waterproof overboots are invaluable, as is a neck warmer for downhill segments.  You only need one puddle to get drenched, and in a long race high speed gets your face and neck cold very quickly.

Take a break from exercise on the following day or two days.

Next Time

All about gyms.  How to find one, what they cost, what you can expect and how you can use them as part of your calorie controlled diet.

Thanks for reading, and if you think this article is useful, please like the page, and choose follow if you’d like to be advised when new blogs are available.  There’s a short registration process with WordPress.


How to start exercising

How to start exercising Part 2

Welcome back!

In the last article I showed you my take on how you can use walking for exercise, including tips on preparation, how to find where you can walk, mobile apps to assist you and what to do with the calorie count you’ve expended.  This time we’re looking at cycling and what the ‘bank’ in Bank Diet is all about.  I was going to include information on Strava but this is now going to be in the next article.


If you want to go a little further with your exercise as part of a calorie controlled diet, cycling will allow this, but how do you start?  Is it simply a case of dusting off the bike and taking to the roads?


It all depends to start off, with whether you have a bike.  If so, half your decisions are already made for you.

If you have a mountain bike or MTB for general riding, you can do road and forest, though your speed on the road will be compromised because of the weight of the bike.  Saying this, MTBs are not standard and vary greatly on gearing and width and tread of tyres.  Optimum tyres in a forest are wide with a lot of tread, which gives better handling in slippery conditions.

These are not however good for the road because they use greater surface area and slow you down since more of your bike is in contact with the road.

If you have a racing bike, odds are that you are already using it on the road.  If you’re dusting it off, you’ll no doubt already be aware that it is ill fitted to forests because of its gearing, handlebars and thin tyres.


If you are lucky enough to own a hybrid bike you can do both forest and road without too many disadvantages, but you’ll miss out the better performance of road or MTB bike in their favoured environments of road and forest respectively.

If you don’t own a bike, how do you go about getting hold of one?

Unless you know the exact specifications of the bike that you need or have enlisted the aid of a bike fitting service, I’d say that you’re better off going to a cycle store as opposed to ordering online.  The cycle store staff will be able to assist in selecting a bike type and size to match your requirements, and if you have problems, you can take the bike back and show them in person what is wrong.

One thing chain stores don’t tell you is that there are specific times of the year when prices dramatically drop.  I am talking by 60%, where they need to clear last season’s stock in anticipation of next year’s bikes.  (Bikes are like the current season’s shirts in premier league – they go out of fashion and sometimes only because they’ve changed the colour or there’s been some equally inconsequential change which fanatics cannot do without).  I bought my Boardman bike for 60% of the standard price and got £100 of free goods as well, so it pays to pick your time.

Also … If you’re buying from Halfords or Chain Reaction Cycles, join British Cycling first!  Their membership card or proof of membership will get you 10% off ALL prices in store, not just cycles and equipment, along with:

  • Liability insurance and legal support (Race Gold, Silver & Ride) for daily cycling
  • Get 10% off purchases at Chain Reaction Cycles
  • Discounted bike insurance
  • Priority access to tickets for major cycling events
  • Save 10% with Direct Debit


This is down to personal choice of course but I’d recommend that you try to wear light or reflective clothing, or at least a reflective bib.  This may seem overkill but motorists simply don’t see you until the last moment.  Just about the only thing that motorists easily see on their side of the road is a parked car.  I read somewhere that motorcyclists are involved in head on collisions more often than cars because drivers are not looking for something the width of a motorbike, despite bibs and headlight.  From my experience it really isn’t that different for drivers coming up behind a cyclist so the more visibility you can create the better.

If you buy a racing bike, I’d advise that you buy racing bike clothing, both to stop trouser material ending up in the crank, and because it will make you feel more comfortable from the perspective of having breathable material which will cool you down efficiently and because you will look and feel like a race bike rider, which if you don’t use the race bike to commute to the shops and work, is what you now are.

If you’re riding a mountain or Hybrid, and don’t have narrow legging trousers, I’d recommend using a bicycle clip (at least on the right hand side).




Ok its daylight – what do I need lights for?  The lights aren’t for you to see but for others to see you.  The more high intensity the better.  My front lights put out 150 lumen (measure of the total quantity of visible light) which is about 1/2 of that of a car headlight.  (I have these for forest riding in the evening, and its like daylight).  You don’t have to go to these lengths, but the more costly the lights, usually the higher lumen they are and the better you will be seen.  In daylight use both front and back lights in flashing mode if they have it.  Try to lower the lights so that they aren’t shining directly at opposing direction car drivers.

If you have lights on (flashing during the day) it also means that there’s less chance that opposing drivers will try to overtake a vehicle coming towards you, forcing you in to the side of the road.

What to carry with you

You should carry as a minimum:

  • Water or other drink.

In case of puncture:

  • A pump.
  • A spare tube.  (Its far easier to fit a replacement tube than to try to fix a puncture on the side of the road).
  • Tyre irons or levers. (To prise the cycle tyre off of the rim to let you get to the inner tube.


  • Spare clip lights in case your light’s power source runs out.
    A gas kit.  If you don’t fancy all the pumping (especially to get race bike tyres up to 100 psi).
  • A mobile phone with map app downloaded or an O/S.
  • Chocolate or sweets in case you get really tired.
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers.  (The ones that bundle up to take up no space at all).
  • Either a backpack or a small carry bag on the bike.  I’m not talking a saddlebag here – more small bag which fits below the seat, or a triangle bag which fits below the stem.
  • A small first aid kit.  (it might not be you that needs it).

Road Safety


It is inevitable that you’ll have car drivers pass to close.  Its unlikely that they’re going to hit you but it is unnerving when they get really close.  I’ve found that flashing high visibility rear lights help, but what makes a difference is carrying a camera, e.g. a Go Pro.

If you have a camera, mount it so that it is facing rearward.  Drivers behind can see the red running light and will work out that you have a camera, and are slightly more likely to treat you considerately when passing.  Also, if they have managed to hit you or your bike a forward facing camera won’t pick this up – only what happens afterwards, so your ability to provide corroborating evidence to the Police and insurance companies is compromised.

I actually found by happy accident (when I couldn’t find my Go Pro) that all you need to get passing traffic to give you more room is a camera sticker – similar to the ones you see a few hundred yards before speed cameras.  You don’t need to have a Go Pro on you at the time – the sticker is enough because drivers don’t know you don’t have a camera and they have become conditioned to pay attention when they see the camera sign.  You put the sticker (which you can get off of Amazon or Ebay) on the back of your backpack or jacket).

In the country, if you’re turning a left bend, ride slightly further out in the road than normal.  Following motorists will spot you quicker as they follow you in to the turn.

Be especially careful on dual carriageways.  If you can avoid them do so. Your visibility to fast moving traffic is considerably reduced, especially during the day and at rush hour.

On other roads, if you’re turning right and it looks like you’ll probably have to wait for oncoming traffic, its better to pull over to the left and walk or ride across when traffic is clear from both directions.  You may be in the right as far as the highway code goes, in positioning yourself in the extreme right of your lane, but its dangerous (for you) to stop there and its no consolation if following traffic doesn’t see you in time.  Better to wait until the road’s clear and get to your destination late than not get there.

From my experience the fact that you’re in the middle of the road can exasperate drivers behind you, even though its perfectly legal, even though ordinarily they’d have no second thoughts about flying past you when you’re taking up the same space on the left hand side of the road.


If you decide to take up cycling more seriously as a training tool, you might want to invest in a pair of cleat shoes and pedals.  Basically, the shoes and pedals have a connecting apparatus which you click in similar to skies.  They’re really odd to get used to but you get 30% more drive when you’re pedalling so they’re well worth it.  I bought cleat shoes and then fitted full cleats to my racing bike and half cleats to my MTB.  Half cleats have the cleat on one pedal and normal pedal on the other side.  When I was learning to use cleats it gave me flexibility on whether to use cleat shoes or trainers on runs out.   Do remember to disengage at least one foot at traffic lights.  I thankfully haven’t done this but I have seen riders fall over when they forget.


One advantage of cleats that I wasn’t aware of is that you can get extra drive off of them when you’re going uphill, by slightly lifting your feet off of the pedals.  You’re still connected, but it concentrates power on the downstrokes.  I haven’t found the technique works on the level or when going downhill.   If you’ve never tried this, have a go – you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.  If anyone else has come across this I’d be interested to hear what your experience of it was like.

If you’re using cleats on an MTB, and you ride in the forest, you may them difficult to get used to, especially when disconnecting for obstacles and tricky ascents.  I’ve found it was better to preempt these by disconnecting well before, otherwise you’ll be off the bike before you know it, and its all the more agonising when you feel yourself falling and it takes ages, because there’s nothing you can do but look forward to hitting the deck.

Measuring your time on the bike


I use Strava to measure distance covered and calories consumed.  It is downloadable on Android and there’s information here on the Iphone equivalent which you can download off of their App Store.

If you don’t have a mobile phone that will allow you to use these apps, an alternative is to count 35 calories for every mile cycled. E.g. An 11 mile cycle will have used (roughly) 385 calories.   Apps like Strava assess calories consumed more accurately because they take advantage of your GPS to give both accurate distance and climb and descent information, for a 2 dimensional perspective.  There’s more in the next article on Strava).

When you’ve finished


Relax, put your feet up, have a cup of tea etc and then establish how many calories you’ve burn’t by cycling.  When you have the figure, add this to your allowed calories.  You wouldn’t expect to run your car without adding fuel and you’re just the same.  You have to pay (in calories) for that exercise.   The nice bit about the paying in this case is that you get a bunch of calories that you can add back into your diet.  Don’t worry – the diet will still work – you’ve used the energy already and now you’re putting it back.

e..g If you have a calorie limit of 1800, and have cycled 10 miles, you’d add roughly 350 calories which then gives you a new limit of 2150 calories.  Don’t forget to take off any snacks you’ve consumed while cycling.

The ‘Bank’ in ‘Bank Diet’


Ok, I called these slimming guidelines ‘The Bank Diet’ because using these techniques, you can add calories from exercise in to your limit, and either consume more calories to cover what you’ve expended, or  bank the calories for the next day.

As an example, say you ride 10 miles which will consume roughly 350 calories.

Now you have a choice, either add the 350 in to your limit, so if your limit is 1800, this would become 2150, or you can take the 350 and add it to tomorrow’s limit.  A third alternative is that you don’t add the calories and consume 350 less calories that day, but I wouldn’t recommend it – I did try this and found that I became hungrier as a result.

As with all banks, you can go overdrawn – say your limit is 1800 and you eat 2000.  You can accommodate this by subtracting the ‘overdraft’ from your following day’s limit, so in this example, this would mean that the following day you eat only 1600 calories.

It really is down to you because everyone’s bodies work differently, but you may find that ‘banking’ will give you more flexibility with your diet.  If you know that you’re not going to be able to calorie count the following day, try banking some calories in preparation – if you can do this off of calories consumed by exercise, this won’t affect your (current) day’s limit.

Next time

What its like to use Strava to measure your cycling activity, how to find cycling clubs and places to cycle, and lastly Sportives – what they are, how you enter and what they’re like to take part in.

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Happy slimming!