So you've decided to attempt the Rapha Festive 500? Good on you. It's a tough challenge and a fun thing to do over the Christmas period. However, due to many circumstances that can pop up over the 8 days, it can be very hard to complete the Festive 500. As someone who has attempted the challenge about five times, and completed it a grand total of zero times, I can confirm that it is pretty tricky. Why are you listening to my advice, I hear you ask? Because by getting it so very wrong, I can hopefully help you to get it right. Or something like that.
If you're still unsure as to what exactly the Festive 500 is you can read our handy guide here. If you haven't yet signed up for the challenge I can highly recommend it. At the very least it gets you out of the house on Boxing Day when Uncle Bob starts arguing with Aunty Maude and Mum is suggesting another Dad's Army marathon.
If you have signed up and are ready to go, then please read on for my top tips on completing the Festive 500. However, please be warned that I've gone ahead and assumed you're not an idiot. There is no 'wrap up warm' tip. It's December, it's going to be cold, you know to wrap up warm. If you do need some help with what winter cycling kit you really need, please read our guide for how to dress for winter riding.
In addition to this, I've made the assumption that you are the smart, sensible and switched on human that I know you to be. Here I'm talking about severe weather conditions. If it looks really bad outside (high wind, heavy rain, ice, snow etc.) then please just stay indoors. You're not a badass if you ride in a blizzard, and please no mentions of rule 5. No challenge is worth injury and illness, and being safe is the new sexy. Discretion, valour; another mince pie!
Rapha are also accepting indoor miles this year (because 2020), so if the weather is really bad and you have a trainer, then be sensible and make use of it. If you want to do all 500km on the trainer then that's totally fine, but rather you than me!
A challenge like the Festive 500 is hard enough, but doing it solo is nigh on impossible. When you're staring down the barrel of 80-90km on the 27th of Dec, rain spattering the window - the ability to say 'ah, I'll just add a bit on tomorrow' is incredibly tempting. This is how the Festive 500 gets you. Before long you've got 250km to do in 2 days, and it's all out the window.
However, if you've agreed to go out riding with a mate or you've joined a group ride, then the ability to bail is lessened. So join a group ride, press gang some mates into taking on the challenge with you and make it more fun and more achievable. Not least, you'll have someone to chat too whilst you fix the 3rd puncture of the day, and your loved ones will feel happier that you're out with others.
'Ah, but I can just do it indoors', I hear you cry. This is very true, but let's see how you go when you've got 90km to do on Zwift, with the sofa/fire/family/quality street all calling your name in the other room! #ridewithmates applies to turbo time too - get a group or friend to ride the session with you to help you through it.
Join the Dirty Wknd community to find other members who are taking on the challenge, and will happily ride with you, indoors or out. Join the community to check out the rides and join the fun (30 day free trial for new members).
2. Plan ahead & prioritise
It's game of numbers, isn't it? 500km in 8 days is 62.5km per day. If you skip Christmas day, then that's 71.4km per day. Plan how many KMs you're going to do each day as best you can, and ideally stack up the big rides early on (Christmas eve) to really get things started. However if you've got loads on and can only get out for one hour on Boxing day, then absolutely do. It all counts, and you really don't want to be left with a big chunk to do on NYE.
Anecdote #1. Christmas 2017 (gosh wasn't that a simpler time?) I decided that I would complete the challenge in 2 rides by cycling to Bruges and back. I was going anyway, so why not cycle. All was going well until I got off the ferry in the UK on the way back (on the 28th, I think). I was greeted by the most biblical storm, and hopped on the train back to London, telling myself I'd make up those 150 or so KMs later. Due to poor planning that time never came, so despite riding to Bruges and half way that way back, I did not complete the challenge that year.
Moral of the story, I think, is plan ahead and contingency plan for good measure. If you do decide to do the whole thing in a few mega rides then make sure you have a back up plan. It's a great way to do it if you get the chance, but it didn't work out for me as I didn't think it could go wrong. Little and often, as with so many things, is a much better way of ensuring you complete the challenge.
3. Get your family & friends on side
Springing the Festive 500 on your partner or family the night before Christmas Eve, might not be the best idea. Both if you want to complete the challenge, and if you want a happy home life. Hopefully you've already told your family (do it now if not) so you can get them used to the idea. And remember that if they get cross, it's because they love you and they want you around, not because the don't want you to go out and have 'fun'.
Make sure you tell the family now and get everyone on side for this amazing personal challenge. You're getting fitter, pushing your boundaries and, most importantly, will be out of the way for a few hours at a time! If that doesn't wash, then do the Festive 500 for charity. Raise some cash for the charity of your choice, and guilt trip the family into not giving you a hard time about riding your bike. Win win!
4. Smart route planning
Tempting as it may be to be able to say "yeah well my Festive 500 was much harder than yours, because I did loads of hills too", I'd advise against it pretty strongly. Actually, it's really not that tempting, is it? For one, you'll sound like a bit of a dick, and two you'll have done a load of extra work on an already tough challenge. Remember, nobody likes a dick!
Whilst I am the last person who would ever advocate planning a flat route, at this time of year and during the Festive 500, it really does make sense. Hills add time, hurt your legs and mentally fatigue you. Normally, all of that is great fun, but for 8 days of riding, when time can be very tight, it's best to be sensible. Windsor ride x8 it is then!
All joking aside; plan your routes carefully. As few hills as possible, whilst not being too boring. Also try and stay away from tricky descents and tiny roads - they can be treacherous if the weather turns. I would recommend adding as much variety as possible to keep yourself sane, but the Festive 500 is not the time to try out a load of new routes. Stick to what you know and make life easy on yourself. Head to the members app to make use of our tried and tested route database.
Annecdote #2 Christmas 2018, I decided to attempt the Festive 500 around a family trip to the Lake District. Even if you know absolutely nothing at all, you'll know the Lake District isn't exactly flat. Armed with a few 'choice' routes from Cold Dark North, all the winter kit in the world and a good attitude, I set off to do Hardknott, The Struggle and all the other 'Hollywood Hills'. One day of that was enough before I gave the whole thing up as a bad idea. In hindsight it was foolish to attempt the challenge in the lakes, whilst on a family holiday. If you want to do turbo charged version of the 500 like this, you need all day every day to get it done. I had maybe a few hours each morning before 'family time' kicked in. I hadn't even checked sunrise times, and I didn't have any lights. Not a well planned year, I think you'll agree!
5. Be flexible
It's not ideal to switch your morning ride to an afternoon one due to rain, but sometimes it's necessary. Being flexible can be the difference between success and failure here, so be prepared to give a little. For some this won't be possible, in which case you'll have to get creative, but if you can shuffle things around a bit it will help.
If you have a change of plans and can only go out for an hour on one of the days, don't sack that day off and add it all onto the next day. Go out for the hour and get as much as you can done (ideally somewhere relatively traffic free like Regent's Park where you can chip away the KMs.) Then try and split the rest over the remaining days. If you lose a day for whatever reason, don't despair, just readjust your plans and carry on.
And there you have it, my tops tips for doing the Festive 500. Good luck, be safe and have fun. Please tell us how you're getting on by tagging @dirtywknd in your social media posts. It's a hell of a challenge and one that you can brag about for years to come. Also, once you've done it once...
Sign up for the Festive 500 - Join The Challenge Here
If you're taking on the challenge and want some company then join the community and head to the members app to meet other cyclists in your area and join a group or find a ride buddy.
Enjoy the ride and good luck!