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Cyclosport's Caven O'Hara Attempts the Rapha Festive 500

by Caven O'Hara

If you like your challenges on the tough side with a mix of unpredictable weather conditions, then you need to get involved in Rapha's #Festive500. Devised in 2010 it lays down the gauntlet of riding 500Km in the 8 days between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

The riding is enough on its own but throw in the twin troubles of totally unknown weather factors and festive celebrations and you have a recipe for a mammoth round of riding and delicate family visit negotiations. 


For many of the above reasons I had never signed up previously, citing various excuses as to why I couldn't. This time as Christmas approached the perfect storm of work or lack of time at work and family commitments meant this particular well was empty. So I caved when approached to ride and review the latest version of the #Festive500.


When you break it down, 500Km over 8 days is 62.6Km a day. The equivalent of my daily commute total. On paper this seemed an acceptable amount. So with a reasonable spring in my legs the challenge began. There is plenty of sage advice when it comes to tackling Rapha's festive challenge. Unless you particularly want to then keep your chosen routes on the flatter side, vary those routes and try and enjoy the experience. The legs may be strong but so must the mind to see this one through. In the Northern hemisphere you are battling limited daylight hours on top of everything else, so no need to make it harder. That said, I had to squeeze in some dark rides in which case sticking to roads I knew but rode in different directions helped.


The 2016 edition started with temperatures starting the right side of freezing before the mercury plunged as early rides had to be squeezed into tight visiting schedules. Christmas Eve saw a two hour ride slotted in around last minute shopping and festivity prep. However the distance was below the daily average. Whilst not disastrous the mind then starts to re-calculate what is needed and this is where a lot of energy can be used up! On the plus side the average temperature was 5c. Ride 2 hit the barmy heights of almost double digits, temperature wise and the added advantage of hitting the required daily mileage. The key to any multi day challenge is keeping matters in perspective, breaking it down into manageable chunks. 


With a bit more leeway on the festivities rides 3-6 saw an opportunity to extend the time on the bike including a day at work which meant commuting. It is funny how when needs must, a commute can become something you need to do because you need the miles! You won't hear that said very often. With the daily mileage increasing I targeted Thursday the 29th as my day. To break the back of the challenge and feel as if the end was getting closer. The forecast wasn't great, the week had progressively got colder, frostier with a decent covering of mist for good measure. With one of my riding companions working I chose to get out early and ride with him to work and then head back via a circuitous route.


Part of my master plan was to hit the 100Km mark and complete the Strava December Gran Fondo challenge - method in the madness. What started off as a dark, cold ride ended in sunshine, still cold but everywhere was encrusted in a heavy frost. Heavy going initially but visually stunning by the time the sun had put in an appearance. After 4 hrs with target achieved it was time to head in doors and defrost.


After Thursday's efforts I was now left with my shortest ride of the week to complete the Festive500. Forty-three kilometres stood between me and my goal with two days left. As it turned out, it proved to be the hardest of the week. Whether it was a combination of the limited mileage left, the finishing line in touching distance, the cumulative effort - I don't know but it was tough going. 


Lessons learnt: break the challenge down, it makes it easier physically and mentally. Don't beat yourself if the weather turns against you, not point in taking unnecessary risks it is winter for most of those in the Northern Hemisphere. Get creative with your routes, ride somewhere different or just do it in reverse, anything that keeps the mind fresh. Get all your gear ready, you never know what you'll need. Rope your mates in, riding on your own is tough.


The Festive500 is a tough challenge but with good preparations and with the weather gods on yours side it can be beaten.

Read more about the Festive 500 at http://pages.rapha.cc/feature/festive-500





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