Great to hear you’re down for Etape! Good skills!
The good thing is you have eight months in hand to work on your training and preparation to ensure you get the most out of yourself (and the ride) come July. From experience I’ve found that the most important thing for endurance events like this is to be able to go the distance, so building a solid fitness base will be the key. First things first though, when trying to implement a training plan I would start by making a note of all of your commitments (work, family, social time etc) so that you can realistically identify how much time you have available for training. At this stage do not forget that you also need to factor in time for recovery as well. Your body will only adapt to the training loads when you let it recover (and that can be recovery from training or stress from work) so try not to overlook that.
Depending on your current level of fitness and the amount of time you have available each week for training this will help to set a realistic goal (perhaps your anticipated finishing time for the Etape) that you can work towards. You will then be able to focus your training on where you are now and what you need to do to reach that goal.
Moderation is the key to progression. Start slowly with your training and monitor how you feel. It’s important to build fitness slowly, increasing the length of your ride or time in the saddle gradually over several weeks (again, allowing time for recovery). At this time of year, when the weather is less than perfect, this is when a turbo trainer can come in useful. With your holiday in April, try to time your training so that this is in a recovery period (e.g. build your workload up to this point knowing that when you go on holiday you’re there to let your body adapt to the training). If you’re able to get some gentle walking or swimming in then both of these are great activities to get the heart rate up without over stressing your body. During this time it is important to remember that you are on holiday! The Etape is important but it shouldn’t be the only thing in your life! Stay relaxed, keep things in perspective. Fear and nervousness is natural, and to be honest that’s a good sign. It’s a trigger reaction that gets your body and mind into a state that’s ready for action! Don’t think of it as a negative, turn those feelings into a positive.
One of the biggest points that I can make is to never underestimate the strength of your mind. I’ve learnt a huge amount about this through my personal experiences over the years. It’s your mind that often tells you what you can or can’t do, that plants the seeds of self doubt, and tells your body to stop. Endurance is a lot about your mental strength, just how much you really (really) want it. Again, try to keep perspective on the situation. We all go through bad moments (in training and actual events) so it’s important to understand these, take a deep breath and be ready to respond int he right way mentally.
Since we are all unique and without knowing your current fitness levels and available training time it is difficult to give a set plan to follow. If this is the first time you’ve done something like the Etape then it would be useful to speak with a professional coach who will be able to assess your fitness condition and tailor a specific training plan based on your lifestyle. They’ll also be able to give advice on things like heart rate monitors and power meters so that you have a better understanding of each. Having the tools is one thing but knowing how to use them properly in their basic form is important so that you can get the most from them. The guys at Torq Fitness have been a great help in the past giving me valuable advice on training and nutrition to help me achieve my goals. I’d highly recommend them. Cramp can be a number of things, fitness, injury, electrolyte imbalances. This is another area where a specialist company like Torq could offer some advice based on your personal situation, identifying exactly where and when the cramps are occurring. I used to suffer with terrible back / leg spasms which eventually I found was caused by a super tight piriformis muscle. A regular stretching routine for this has made the world of difference to me.
I’ve written a number of articles here that may have some sections that you’d find interesting.
Ultimately whatever happens on the day you have to remember three very important things. (1) For sure it will hurt but do not forget to ENJOY the whole experience (2) BELIEVE IN YOURSELF and (3) KEEP PERSPECTIVE at all times.
I hope this helps to set you on the right track Brad!