As cyclists we absolutely love a challenge, whether we are striving to improve on our yearly distance stats, climb up a specific hill faster or set a personal best on the Club Time Trial Circuit, we are always looking for improvements. That makes perfect logical sense, even to non-cyclists.
Sometimes, we set ourselves less quantifiable challenges that even other serious cyclists may question the sanity of. These typically fall into the accumulated fatigue and hyper endurance spectrum, looking to answer just one question: Can we actually do it?!
Cycling during the festive break has become synonymous with a particular challenge; The infamous ‘Rapha Festive 500’. Simply put, this challenge is about riding 500km in 8 days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, ideally without upsetting the family with your noticeable extended absence over Christmas!
We needed a victim volunteer to undertake this dual focused challenge of endurance and home harmony preservation, and thankfully our very own Club Membership Secretary, Angela Dyson obliged.
“The Rapha Festive 500 was originally created in 2010 and I was attempting it for the first time in its 13th year. Former Rapha designer Graeme Raeburn rode a ridiculous 1,000KM but (correctly) realised this was twice as much of a challenge as it needed to be, so unleashed the 500KM challenge on the world.
After riding outdoors last winter and then doing very little in the saddle since last spring, I thought it was about time I got myself into the Rapha 500 challenge. Like ‘sofa to 500KM’! I was hoping that kick-starting my fitness would also make me fall back in love with cycling.
Previously only outdoor rides counted towards the challenge but as the acceptance of Zwift has increased in the cycling community and encouraged by the lockdowns during the pandemic, Zwift mileage can be included too, with Zwift even promoting the challenge themselves this year. This was going to be my method of taking on the challenge.
Day One – Christmas Eve
My plan for the challenge was to aim for approx. 100KM per day with the goal of completing this before I returned to work on the 29th. This gave me just 5 days out of the 8 available to get this challenge done.
I opted for an early start of 8AM & arranged a group ride with fellow club members Giles, Ben & Bob. Members understandably dropped off one by one to start enjoying their Christmas holiday, leaving Giles and me to complete 50KM by 10AM!
We couldn’t get enough of it and when Giles messaged me later about getting back on Zwift at about 3PM to do another 50KM, that was all the persuasion I needed. 50KM later & I’m buzzing with excitement from completing 100KM on day one! I was thinking, ‘wow, this is super easy’ and ‘I will totally smash my target over the next few days… Sofa to 500KM, here I come!’
Day Two – Christmas Day
Another 8AM start. I wake up the next morning and my thighs are definitely feeling it; That will teach me for going big on the first day! However, as soon as I’m warmed up and back on the trainer my legs start to feel much more normal. I was greeted with many Christmas well wishes from Giles, Ben and Chris, we were again done by 10AM, completing about 50KM.
I finished my Christmas dinner and while the temptation to indulge in some festive tipple was undeniably strong, self-control ultimately won out and I dragged myself back to Zwift aiming to complete another 50KM. I got back on the saddle at approx. 6PM and completed my second 50KM of the day at 9:30PM. I totally messed the evening up by naively selecting an incredibly hilly route at 7PM… ‘Climber’s Gambit’ which is totally flat all the way until the last 7KM of the route, which then takes on the ‘Epic Mountain Reverse’. These last 7KMs took me over an hour to slog through.
Drained and exhausted by this point, I grabbed the tablet to put something on to watch. I was recommended ‘Traitors’ by Chris and it did help keep me distracted for the scale of the task. As I approached the end of the ride, I started to feel incredibly deflated and tired having completely underestimated the last mountain. By the end, I must admit I felt completely broken, I’ve done many 100 mile rides in the past without ever coming close to feeling as bad as I did at that moment. I made myself the worst turkey sandwich, struggled to get into the shower and went to bed, dreading the thought of getting up and starting again the next morning. On a positive note, I had completed 40% of the Rapha challenge and I made it to level 34 on Zwift!
Day Three – Boxing day
Oh my goodness, this was the worst day so far! I slept incredibly badly, my thighs were just all over the place and felt like they were going to burst. Regretting the previous evenings ride, I’d briefly considered taking a rest day to recover. No chance, I can’t let myself or my Zwift partners down! Today’s ride was with Giles, Bob & Ben. As a group we all completed 44KM on the ‘Turf N Surf’ route. Giles and I continued on with our indoor challenge and by 10AM we had completed 62KM.
Of course, I couldn’t keep away and got back on at 8PM and by 9:30, I had reached my daily 100KM goal! Considering how terrible I’d felt at the start of the day, my thighs were feeling much more normal and less fatigued by this point. The warming up definitely makes all the difference. That’s now 60% of the Rapha challenge completed!
Day Four – 27th December
As usual with the 8AM start, I was greeted by Giles and it was the first time Ben P joined us for his first Zwift group ride. This was a very positive ride considering how drained I felt. One of the benefits of riding with faster riders in a group ride is they pull you along as if you’re drafting and 27KM later, Giles and I flew through the ride with the help of Ben. (Ben you are welcome anytime – haha!)
Another evening session started at 6:20PM and 4 routes later I’d completed 100KM by 8PM. 400KM in the bag – Yes!! I’m getting there but now I can feel the urge to just get it done and out of the way as the saddle was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Was I feeling strong at this point; I don’t think so! But with 80% of the challenge done the end was in sight.
Day 5 – 28th December
Today was my first morning riding on my lonesome without my partner in crime Giles. To be honest, I couldn’t blame him for wanting to take a break – I was feeling drained myself and the saddle wasn’t getting any more comfortable either, so I knew it would be a very long and difficult day to get the last part of the challenge done.
Just 7 more Zwift routes left and the challenge would finally be complete. I was mentally and physically exhausted but powered through to get them done and finished. Was I on an endorphin high? Nope! I knew at this point I had to get the course complete before returning to the reality work the next day. I warmed down after finishing the 500KM with a dog walk.
I have to admit, I didn’t feel that great a sense of achievement at first. I considered that I had completed the challenge from the comfort of my home and that this somehow made it easier, only to be reminded by very supportive club members, that riding indoors is a challenge itself, at times an incredibly boring and brutal one, this was an achievement, nonetheless.
So now it’s finished, would I do it again? 100% yes! Its motivating and it kept me going over the Xmas holidays instead of the easy option of lounging around, eating & drinking too much. The buzz of getting a challenge completed, was absolutely enjoyable. It was hard at points, but I feel it has kicked on my fitness ready for a new year riding with my cycling club (East Grinstead Cycling Club).
Ideally next year I would like to do this outdoors, subject to weather conditions. If I do it again on Zwift I’d certainly pick the flattest routes for every ride and join the fast, large group rides. This time I was focused on collecting route badges on Zwift and some routes I needed were incredibly hilly, hence my brokenness on Christmas night!
All-in-all I would strongly recommend a challenge like this to any cyclist looking to push themselves. It’s kickstarted the New Year fitness plan and I’ve rediscovered my love of cycling.”