You may have read about our upcoming 2016 Tanzania Cycle Challenge Event that is currently open to registrants. In a bout of nostalgia, we are sharing some stories, tips, and lessons learned from our 2014 Cycle Challenge event – starting with my own personal experience in both participating in and planning the 2014 event. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you some insights from my own experiences and hopefully address some of the more common questions we get about the trip.

In November 2013, Bread and Water for Africa UK launched its first Cycle Challenge event to take place from 1st Nov – 9th Nov, 2014 in Tanzania – consisting of five days of cycling from the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro all the way to the gate of the Ngorongoro Crater Reserve.

In November 2013, it had been at least seven years since I had ridden a bike.

Nevertheless, I felt that – as this was the charity’s first challenge event – I should step up to the challenge alongside our other participants and experience our Cycle Africa challenge firsthand as a cyclist and fundraiser.

After registering and boasting my participation enough as to make any decision to back-out utterly shameful, I began planning out my survival plan.

Step 1: Acquire a bicycle.

You don’t need a fancy bike to start training. I registered in March for the Cycle Challenge and began borrowing a friend’s bike just to get around and get used to cycling in the city. In May – once I became comfortable with the idea of cycling to work and taking longer rides on weekends – I went to a local bike shop to purchase a bike of my own. Based on my lack of experience and the types of trails I would be riding on, it was recommended that a sportier version of Hybrid bike would be ideal for my current skill level and training goals.

If you already have regular access to a road bike or mountain bike, you could probably make do with either. A hybrid is considered an in-betweener (hence the name) and isn’t as speedy (or as expensive) as the road bike nor is it as wieldy as a mountain bike.

As far as other gear, I also purchased a helmet (safety first!!) and a tire pump. I really didn’t use any other special gear throughout my training. I had a regular backpack that I packed a bike lock, change of clothes, and water/fuel in. Once I started packing for the actual Cycle Challenge trip, I did end up buying cycling gloves to use in Tanzania – which I HIGHLY recommend. You may want to test a pair of cycling shorts and technical t-shirts during training so that you are already comfortable with all of your gear once you arrive in Tanzania.

Step 2: Check your calendar and sketch out a rough training plan.

As I mentioned above, I had no real cycling experience, much less experience with a training plan. Luckily, our trip partners at Global Adventure Challenges provided some sample training plans at the beginner, intermediate, and expert level. I adapted the beginner plan and also built in two personal milestones I knew I wanted to achieve before the challenge: 1) complete a ride equal to the longest distance we would ride in one day on the challenge (approximately 98km), and 2) complete three consecutive days of long distance rides to get used to being in the saddle even when sore.

I had five months to train, and I built my training plan backward from the last available training week before the Cycle Challenge was taking place. I planned around any weeks I knew I would be travelling. While travelling I knew I wouldn’t have access to a bike but tried not to stress about it and if there was a gym available then I would use a stationary bike, and in a worst case scenario I would just go for a run to at least keep some cardio on the books.

A typical week of training might look different for everyone depending on your schedule. I planned my week around three core outdoor rides, with my longer ride (anything over 50km up to the 98km mark) planned for the weekends and two mid-distance rides during the week – usually to and from my office, about 30km. Occasionally, I would add in a spin class for more saddle time, but I tried to make sure that my three core rides were quality.

Step 3: Enlist some friends!

While the serenity and peace of a solo ride can be the perfect way to unwind from a hard day’s work, once you start spending a large chunk of your weekend on a bike you may find yourself wishing for a little company. The cycling community is wide and very welcoming to various skill levels. You might find that your local bike shop offers weekend rides or has a group that meets up regularly. Or, when you’re in the early stages of training and the distances aren’t too daunting, convince a friend to rent or borrow a bike and join you on a casual ride out to a new lunch spot and make a full day of it!

Better yet, why not get a few of your friends to sign up for the Cycle Challenge with you?? You know what they say, the more the merrier, strength in numbers, misery loves company, etc. etc.

Step 4: Ask questions

You may not know what to expect from your training experience and what gear you will need. But that’s no reason to get overwhelmed! Not only is there a team here at Bread and Water for Africa UK and Global Adventure Challenges to provide answers and information about the experience, but there are many resources that you may never have needed to tap into before. For example, you can visit your local bike shop for regular bike tune-ups, companionship on your first longer rides, and to tap into your local cycling community. Or, you can ask around the office or any existing groups you are a part of – there’s a good chance that someone may have some cycling experience and would be happy to offer some support or join you for a ride after work or on the lunch hour.

And if you have concerns about whether your training will stack up against the challenges in Tanzania, we’re here to help you through those questions. We might be able to recommend some pre-challenge local rides that will help boost your confidence, or advise you on the conditions or gear you should prepare for. My own training did not have any off-trail or massively hilly rides built in to mimic the conditions of our Cycle Challenge route. But the truth is, once you arrive in Tanzania and you’re surrounded by a team of similarly motivated individuals, you really find a lot of hidden inner strength and external support to power through all of the new experiences you’ll be facing!

I hope this convinces every beginner cyclist that they too can complete a Cycle Challenge event – or at least take the first steps – with the right amount of motivation and just a little bit of planning. Stay tuned for more ways to prepare for your Cycle Challenge experience, how our team reached our fund-raising goals, and stories from our 2014 trip. Or if you’re sold on the experience already, read our official event page and register for your spot on our 2016 trip today!

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