Training for a Century

Commonly called a century, a 100-mile, daylong ride is one of the most significant and challenging experiences for a cyclist. Yet centuries are accessible to riders of all levels, and even the most recreational of riders can conquer a century with the right planning and preparation.

Your Eight-Week Plan for a Century

This article by Chad Butts of enduranceWERX was written for the Program of the 2010 TD Five Boro Bike Tour. It assumes that you’re starting with the ability to ride 40 miles, the distance of the Five Boro. (To get to that point, see Preparing for the Five Boro.)

Whatever your motivation for doing the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, there is a great sense of accomplishment that will come with completing the ride. If you find yourself at the finish line this May still thirsting for more, consider an event that really goes the distance–100 miles, to be exact.

Commonly called a century, a 100-mile, daylong ride is one of the most significant and challenging experiences for a cyclist. Yet centuries are accessible to riders of all levels, and even the most recreational of riders can conquer a century with the right planning and preparation.

With summer fast approaching, now’s the time to prepare for your 100-miler. Whether you’ve completed a century in the past or are completely new to the concept, here’s a plan that will get you ready to ride.

What’s Your Pleasure?

 

First things first: Which century should you plan for? Of all the rides to choose from, narrow down the list by considering key factors like travel to the event, terrain, prevailing weather conditions, event history, and quality of event support.

For example, some people like hills, while others favor a flat ride. If you prefer the latter, look for an event with less than 3,000 feet of total climbing. (For perspective, a typical hilly stage of the Tour de France can climb more than 11,000 feet!)

If you are traveling to a warm climate for an event, or tackling a long ride early in the summer, make sure you are prepared for the weather. Heat and humidity can drastically affect your fuel and hydration needs. In 90-degree heat and high humidity, you can lose more than 1.5 liters of water an hour–that’s three water bottles every hour! Taking extra supplements such as salt tablets during these events can help replace the essential electrolytes lost in sweat.

Finally, research the organization of the event. As a century rider, you’ll rely on the support of volunteers and race officials to buoy you from mile to mile. Poll your friends or look online for reviews or comments from past years to see how well the event was run. Research everything from the distance between rest areas to the availability of mechanical assistance to how clearly the route is marked. You’re spending time and money to prepare for an event, so ensure that the event organizers will make your effort worthwhile.

Putting in the Miles

 

While a 40-mile ride is a challenge in itself, there are plenty of people who complete the Five Boro without any special training. Adding more than 50 miles to the task will require some additional preparation, no matter your age or equipment.

In a nutshell, you’ll need to put in time on the bike and slowly increase that amount each week. Ideally, you should set aside 8 to 12 weeks to adequately prepare for a century. This will allow you to increase your fitness without a high chance of injury from riding too much too soon. With the extra time needed on the bike, it is also very important that you be well-fitted to your bicycle. If you are unsure about your position, get checked out by a bike-fit professional before you start logging the miles. It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor before ramping up your physical activity.

Be sure to consider equipment choices as well. You may not be able to buy a lot of new gear, but changing to a triple chain-ring for a hilly century or investing in a bike fit for an aerodynamic position on a flat century can pay off big in terms of enjoyment and finishing time.

Count the weeks back from your event date to figure out the amount of time you should devote to training. Your long ride and total increase in mileage should not grow by more than 15 percent from week to week. The longest ride before your big event should be about 70 to 75 miles and take place two weeks prior.

The week leading up to your century, drastically reduce the training volume, by 70 to 80 percent, to assure that your legs are fully recovered and fresh for the ride. Take a day or two off during the week, but go for an easy 10- to 15-mile ride the day before for a quick pre-ride warm up.

Training for a hilly event requires–no surprise here–training on hilly terrain to get the most specific adaptations possible. If you live in a flat area and plan to do a hilly century, low-cadence efforts can help simulate the low-cadence, high-torque pedaling used during climbing. However, the most important factor affecting your century experience will be weight. Try to lose as much unnecessary weight as possible, on both rider and bike. A difference of 10 pounds will cause you to lose about 17 seconds of time for every mile of climbing an 8 percent grade. [Tackling Hills >]

Nutrition for Success

 

Here are some quick, worthwhile tips for nutrition leading up to and during your century.

  • Focus on hydration. Throughout the week prior to the event, drink up to 3.5 liters a day.
  • Do not eat a lot of fiber-rich foods the two days before the ride. Fiber can cause the body to retain water and leave you bloated.
  • Eat a big breakfast about 2 1/2 to 3 hours before your event. It needs to be this early to avoid stomach cramping and digestion problems.
  • Drink often during the ride. Feeling thirsty means you are not keeping up with your body’s demands. This is especially important in hotter climates, where you may need to drink up to three bottles of water per hour.
  • Take some energy bars, bananas, or any other fast-digesting carbohydrate with you just in case. Use these foods during your training as well so you can tell how your body will respond to them. On the ride, try to avoid foods you have not experimented with during your training.
  • If you stop to eat lunch or take a break, try to not eat too much, and avoid high-fat and high-protein foods. Your body needs carbohydrates to exercise. Give it what it needs!

Final Advice

 

  • Get your bike tuned up one to two weeks prior to the event.
  • Get your equipment ready the night before the ride. Bring ID, medical alert, and insurance information.
  • Ride with a friend. You will enjoy it more, and the miles will fly by.
  • Start early. It is not fun to finish in the dark.
  • Do not start too hard. Use the pace developed on training rides, and pace yourself throughout the day.
  • Try not to stop longer than five to ten minutes at a time.
  • Know your bail-out options just in case. For example, if the forecast is bad and you’d like to switch to a shorter distance, know where you can make the cutoff.

At the end of the day, be sure to reward yourself for your accomplishment. Stay overnight in the area of your ride so you can rest up. Enjoy your favorite foods and drink for dinner, get a massage, or treat your bike to something it needs–so you’ll have motivation to keep riding.

You have the whole summer ahead of you. Take some time to savor the experience of the Five Boro and give your body a rest, but do not kick back for too long. A century is waiting!

8-Week Training Plan
Week Long Ride (mi) Total Miles/Week
1 24 68
2 27 75
3 34 83
4 41 92
5 56 101
6 63 112
7 70 122
8* 21 36.6

*Century mileage not included here. Your century ride should fall at the end of week 8.

Week 5 Sample Training Schedule
  • Mon: Day off
  • Tues: 1 hour, 15 miles, 2 sets of 3x3 minutes as hard as you can go, 6 minutes of recovery between efforts, and 10 minutes recovery between sets
  • Wed: Day off
  • Thurs: 1 hour, 15 miles, 4x5 minutes of low-cadence efforts at 60 to 70 RPMs
  • Fri: Day off
  • Sat: 1 hour, 15 miles, 6x3 minutes of fast cadence drills spinning at 110+ RPMs
  • Sun: Long ride, 56 miles, ~3.5 hours, on hilly terrain if you are planning on a hilly century
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