According to the interwebs, “Gran Fondo” roughly translates to “big ride” in Italian. These cycling events, which are increasing in popularity all over the world, are usually at least 120km (70ish miles) and cover lots of scenic terrain.
This isn’t a four-loop course like you might encounter in a triathlon (thankfully). Think mountains, ocean views, peaks, valleys, and everything in between. For a nature lover like myself, it’s a dream 😍
I’ve had my eye on the Whistler GranFondo since 2012. I remember the morning perfectly; I hopped off the Canada Line at West Georgia and Granville, the station closest to my job at the time, and I was met with thousands of cyclists milling about.
Lots were chatting, some were tweaking with their bikes, and some looked like they were questioning what they were about to get themselves into. I had no idea what was going on, so I asked one of the solo riders.
“It’s the Whistler Fondo! We’re all riding up to Whistler today.”
It wasn’t so much the idea of riding a bike to Whistler that intrigued me. I don’t think I even owned a bike at that point.
What fascinated me was the nervous, excited energy that hung in the air. It was almost like I could feel the thoughts that were going through the cyclists’ heads.
“Did I train enough?”
“Did I eat enough?”
“Did I forget anything?”
“This is going to be SO epic!”
The world of endurance sports was so new to me at that time. I had only run one 10km race, and I hadn’t even spectated a half marathon, let alone contemplated doing one.
There was something about that morning that stuck with me. It’s like it was a foreshadow of all the early morning pre-race jitters I was about to experience in the 5 years that followed.
I forgot about the Whistler Fondo for a couple of years after that morning, reminded only when the hotel would begin to fill with guests who had made the long trek to Vancouver so they could participate.
It wasn’t until 2015, when I had really started to fall in love with the sport of triathlon, where I began to toy with the idea of participating in the Whistler Fondo. I began looking up training plans, tips to help you get through the ride, and I even tried to convince Jordan to sign up with me in 2016.
But each year, triathlons took precedence. My training was always focused on swimming, cycling, and running, and all the fondo training plans I’d found asked too much cycling of me. In the years I gave myself the opportunity to decide after my racing season was over whether or not I wanted to participate, I was always too burned out from triathlons by the time September rolled around to even consider riding my bike to Whistler.
I’m not exactly sure when the idea to do the Fondo this year popped into my head. With this being my year of less, I had no races on the agenda, no crazy amounts of training to commit to, no big business ordeals to deal with…so doing the Fondo seemed like the obvious choice 😉
But even though I was toying with the idea, I didn’t want to sign up early. I didn’t trust myself. I knew that if I did register in May, June, or even July, I’d put a ton of pressure on myself to train properly. Which like, theoretically, is not a bad thing. It’s just not how I wanted to approach life this year.
So I didn’t train. I kept the Fondo in the back of my mind, and commuted by bike as often as possible A) to save money on gas, and B) to ensure I had at least spent some time in the saddle in case I did decide to register.
So: can you complete a GranFondo without training?
Before I answer that question, let’s get clear on what “training” actually means. When we talk about training, we’re talking about completing workouts with the intent of achieving a particular goal.
It’s not a “hey I’m gonna go to the gym and see what I feel like doing” kind of situation. It’s a “this is my end goal, and these are the specific types of training sessions, frequencies, and intensity levels that are going to help me get there“.
So yes, technically you can complete a GranFondo without training. I know, because I did it 😛
The Whistler GranFondo was Saturday, September 8. I registered on Thursday August 30. My prep consisted of my cycling commutes from May onwards, which was anywhere from 40-100km per week, a 60km leisure ride around Galiano Island with a friend, a ride up Seymour, and two rides up Cypress. I also teach two spin classes a week.
My commuting distance is around 10km each way, but on some days I commute twice, and other days I’m commuting between a few different places.
My strength training has consisted primarily of shorter, higher-intensity workouts with some (but not a lot of) plyometrics, and some moderate strength training. I’ve been laying off the super heavy stuff because my back has been giving me some grief, but I’m also not playing around with 5lb dumbbells most of the time.
In the week between registering and the event itself, I started to realize just how incredibly unprepared I was. The event was 122km, and my longest ride ever was 94km, and it took place during my half ironman in July of 2017. The only long-ish ride I’d done since then was the 60km Galiano trip I mentioned above.
I had a few saving graces: I’m really strong on hills, I’ve got a great mental game, and I was going to be well-rested due to all the training I didn’t do 😂
Without going into a full race recap, I’ll share that I ended up finishing with a respectable official time of 5:21, and actual cycling time of 5 hours on the nose. I took one longer break at Britannia Beach for some coffee and a waffle, a quick stop in who-knows-where to stretch my hamstrings, and one more stop 10km from the finish to down a glass of Coke.
Having never done anything like this before, I figured it would take me around 6-7 hours to complete, so I was super happy with my time. As I was riding, I was wondering whether doing some proper training would help me finish faster, or if I’d wind up burning myself out from taking it all too seriously as I have the tendency to do.
I forgot to put together a fuelling strategy in the days leading up to the event (again, whoops), but thankfully I’ve logged enough long-distance training sessions and events in the past to get a good idea of what my body needs. I have no problem digesting food on the bike and could probably down a pizza if given the opportunity, so I made sure to regularly snack on bits of chopped up Solo Bars that I kept in my bento box, as well as gels and the aforementioned waffle. The weather was rainy and overcast which, in my opinion, makes it harder to remember to drink, but I took every flat road as an opportunity to grab a sip of water or Nuun.
Overall, it was a fun, if not slightly uncomfortable, experience that I’m looking forward to taking on again.
A few key takeaways to consider if you’re planning on doing a Granfondo with minimal training:
- Be safe. While I never recommend anybody do a half marathon without ANY training, it’s also something I know can be done, because worst case scenario you just walk the thing. Cycling events are different. If you aren’t comfortable riding a bike or riding in a group, consider the safety of both yourself and others before taking on an event like this.
- Be cognizant of your fitness level. Look at the event you’re signing up for; realistically, is it something you think you could do? If you have to do it slow, no problem. If there’s a possibility you’ll be last across the finish line, no problem. But the question is – can you safely make it TO the finish line?
- What you do most of the time matters more than what you do some of the time. While I didn’t do any specific training for this event, I’ve been consistently active for about 7 years now, with the last 5 years being heavily-focused on endurance training. While the gains have been slow, it’s that consistent effort that allows me to do these things a little more ill-prepared than I probably should.
- Log some longer rides. When you’re going to spend a lot of time in the saddle, your body should be prepped to spend a lot of time in the saddle, even if it’s been at a lower intensity. The last 50km of the ride were tough, with the last 35-10km the hardest. My legs felt like shit, and I know that’s simply a matter of not having those longer rides under my belt.
- Train your brain. During said shitty times, I was able to keep my mind from going to those dark places that are often visited during the challenging portion of endurance events. Not once did I think “why the fuck am I doing this?! Never again!“, which I can attribute to my regular practice of meditation and positive self talk. Occasionally I would talk to myself out loud: “Let’s go legs, you can do this!” kind of thing. Other times I’d get into somewhat of a meditation and not really think about anything.
- Remember why you’re doing this. If you signed up for this event without much training under your belt…why? Did you do it for the challenge? The scenery? To have fun? Keep the reason why at the forefront of your mind, and remind yourself of it when things get hard. On the few occasions some negative thoughts slipped into my head, I reminded myself that the only reason I was there was to have fun, and I gave myself the permission to stop and rest if I needed. That alone was enough to get me through it.
Have you ever completed a longer endurance event without much training? If so, what tips or takeaways do you have to share?