Adventure Challenge: London to Paris by bike
Essential Journeys is delighted to have on board renowned Exercise Physiologist, Tom Cowan, from the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP). In a new series of EJ articles, Tom will introduce you to a different exercise-based adventure, offer guidance on how to train towards it and how to prepare for the day. He begins with a challenging bike ride from London to Paris.
Tom has had his own fair share of adventures, beginning with a solo round-the-world trip, aged 18. After having suffered from food poisoning on his first night in Hong Kong, which left him bed-bound for four days on a wafer-thin mattress on the 16th floor of a dilapidated tower block, fortunately, things quickly picked up. He learnt to scuba-dive in Thailand before moving on to Malaysia to dive with turtles in the idyllic Perhentian Islands, and trekking overnight through Taman Negara, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest.
“I went diving on the Barrier Reef before arriving in New Zealand, the adventure capital of the world, where the fun was only just beginning. I jumped from the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, Auckland’s Sky Tower, hiked the Tongariro Crossing, sky-dived, skipped a heartbeat or three doing the original Bungee Jump, and trekked the Franz Josef Glacier, all before flying to Fiji to play professional Premier League football; not to forget a quick stop in Hawaii for a surf on Waikiki Beach. Each day became its own micro-adventure. Hopefully, that has wetted your appetite for your own adventure.”
London to Paris by bike: What does it involve?
At a distance of 164 miles (265km) the answer, of course, is a fair bit of cycling. There are several routes, but the shortest involves setting off from Trafalgar Square, cycling to the south coast and taking a four-hour ferry crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe on the Normandy coast, an overnight stop in Beauvais and ending in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower (with obligatory photo as evidence!). There are companies that run London to Paris as an organised event, such as Skyline Events (skylineevents.co.uk/events/london-to-paris-cycle/), but for Essential Journeys readers, the following three-day plan is suggested by www.london2paris.co.uk, with the ferry taken at either the end of the first day or at the beginning of the second day:
- Day 1 – London to Newhaven – 56 miles (90km)
- Day 1/2 – Newhaven to Dieppe – Ferry
- Day 2 – Dieppe to Beauvais – 62 miles (100km)
- Day 3 – Beauvais to Paris – 46 miles (75km)
For the more adventurous amongst you, there is a 24-hour challenge, for which you would need to take the overnight ferry (cabins available). DFDS Seaways operate the crossing and require check-in 90 minutes before departure. Single tickets with a bike (unless of course you intend on completing the return leg!) begin at £30.
Now for the easy part… taking the Eurostar back from Gare du Nord to St Pancras International, which, at 186mph, is likely to be a slightly quicker and easier ride home, even if you are the next Geraint Thomas. Tickets (with a bike) start from £84.
To complete the London to Paris three-day ride, you will need to be able to comfortably cycle up to 62 miles (with inclines) in a day and be able to do so on consecutive days. Set a date for the ride that realistically gives you enough training time to improve your current fitness levels to those required to meet these demands. Bear in mind a key principle of training known as ‘progressive overload’, which suggests that your training should increase in volume (weekly total distance) gradually, rather than a big jump, from one week to the next. This will allow your body to become accustomed to the increasing demands that you are placing on it and lead to improved levels of fitness, whilst helping to prevent injury and overtraining. The fitter you are, the more comfortable and enjoyable the experience will be.
Your training schedule should include a mixture of shorter and longer rides, as well as complimentary strength and conditioning, including exercises to help prevent neck pain, flexibility exercises and rest days each week. The longer rides are to be performed at a lower intensity and are perhaps most easily scheduled for the weekend. Once your fitness levels have improved sufficiently, include hills into some of these longer rides and also attempt longer rides on two consecutive days. Your shorter rides can sometimes be low intensity, such as a commute to work, but you should also include some higher intensity interval sessions, which will help to improve your performance and your ability to tackle hills along the route.
Ensure that some of your long rides are performed on the road to allow you to become familiar with using gears, bike handling and cycling in different weather conditions. You can also train using an exercise bike or take part in a spin class, which will count as a high intensity interval session. Training with others can help with motivation. However, always be sure to go at your own pace.
Every training session should begin with a warm-up and finish with a cool-down and stretching. For your long rides, be sure carry a full kit, including first aid, spare inner tubes and a bike multi-tool, and also take fluids and snacks, which you can practice consuming during the ride to see what works best for you and avoids you discovering on the big day that gels don’t agree with you and cause you gastrointestinal discomfort, for example. Know how to fix issues with your bike. There are many good tutorials available online.
In the couple of weeks leading up to the ride, taper your training by reducing the frequency of your high intensity interval sessions, hill sessions and heavy strength training sessions, and cut back on your total distance. In the week before, keep to short, light rides so that you go into the adventure in peak condition.
There are example training plans available online if you join an organised ride or if you search for London-Paris training plans that other cyclists have posted, but in both cases you will need to adapt these to fit your own particular needs. A cardio-pulmonary exercise test (CPET) can be performed by Physiologists at The Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP) if you wish for your own personal training zones to be calculated and a bespoke training programme created.
On the Day
Your bike should already be appropriately set up, serviced and in good working order. Be sure that you have packed the necessary kit including a pump, spare inner tube, appropriate clothing, first aid kit, directions (with plastic sleeve in case it rains), mobile phone and adequate food, water and sports drinks/gels. Wear padded shorts and use chamois cream to ease chafing. Calculate the length of time it will take you to cycle the planned distance and then schedule breaks for rest and refuelling. Have breakfast at least a couple of hours before your ride, such as porridge, which contains some carbohydrate. Perform a warm-up and some dynamic stretches before getting on the bike.
Remember that this is an endurance event rather than a sprint. Once on the bike, keep to a steady, consistent speed throughout the day, which will be interrupted intermittently by hills and gentle inclines, which will briefly increase the intensity. Consume food and sports drinks/gels during the day to keep your blood glucose levels topped up and to help delay fatigue, and drink enough fluids to remain hydrated, both of which will help to maintain your performance on the bike. Help to prevent neck pain from developing by mobilising your neck frequently whilst in the saddle.
At the end of your ride, you should cool down before performing static stretches. These will be critical to your recovery and being ready to go again the next day, as will re-fuelling with a meal containing carbohydrates and protein. Research has shown this combination to positively affect subsequent exercise performance, as it stimulates insulin release and replenishment of the glycogen that you have utilised that day. Consuming protein will also stimulate muscle protein synthesis, helping to repair your muscles.
Remember to share your micro-adventure stories and Eiffel Tower photos with me on Twitter and Instagram (@thomasjcowan). I will be selecting a few of your stories to mention in the next issue, when I will introduce another adventure. Bonne chance et bon voyage!
Tom is leading the London to Paris 24-hour cycling challenge for The Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP), friends and family on Friday, October 4. Setting off from CHHP on Harley Street, Tom and the 20-strong team of cyclists will be following the Newhaven-Dieppe route described above before reaching the Eiffel Tower on the afternoon of Saturday, October 5. You can follow the story of the team’s training and the ride on Twitter and Instagram (@thomasjcowan @chhplondon). The Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP) are cycling to Paris in aid of Near Naked Man, a male cancer awareness campaign. Donations are gratefully received by the team and can be made at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/teamchhp
- The adventure described is intended only for individuals fit and able to partake in such exercise. The bike ride involves physically demanding exercise and it is always advised that you check with your doctor before attempting any training or the event itself.
About Tom Cowan
Tom studied Sport and Exercise Science at Loughborough University, attaining First-Class Honours. He then worked as an Exercise Physiologist and Sports Scientist, initially as First Team Sports Scientist for Chelsea Football Club, before moving to Harley Street six years ago, where today he is recognised as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist, specialising in exercise prescription for cancer and cardiac patients. Tom’s work has been recognised by The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine and also Public Health England, who selected him to become a member of their expert panel for their Cancer and Exercise Moving Medicine project. He has presented research into preventing cardiovascular disease at international conferences, and holds regular clinics at the world-leading Harley Street clinic, The Centre for Health and Human Performance (chhp.com). Tom works with international sports stars, amateur athletes and those individuals entering a physical challenge for the first time, advising and coaching them to improve their fitness levels and train them specifically for their own challenge.