How to prepare
For the recreational rider who has never ridden a century, the idea of 100 miles in one day can seem an impossibly forbidding task. Typically, the average rider thinks, "there is no way I could ride that far" or "you must have to suffer," yet the fact is that virtually anyone in good health can not only complete a century ride, but can complete it without pain or suffering. If you follow common sense and a few simple principles - and listen to your body - you should have no problems.
Here are a few of the common questions about century riding and my responses:
How many days a week do I need to train?
On an average, I feel that three days a week is the minimum amount necessary to prepare for a century. Any less just isn't adequate training for such a long distance. This doesn't mean that you have to abandon your goals if you have a week of bad weather and only get on the bike once. Just make sure that you get in plenty of riding the next week.
Riding four days a week is better than three, and an excellent goal for most riders. Five days may be slightly better, but certainly not necessary. Most of us don't have the time to ride six or seven days a week, and the benefits of such a schedule are negligible for all but the most serious and committed athletes.
If you do habitually ride 5, 6, or 7 days a week, either because you commute, or just like to, make sure that you generally don't ride hard more than four of those days. I've never averaged more than four days a week during the riding season, and I've ridden several sub-five hour centuries, so don't be intimidated by schedules showing that you need to ride six days a week!
When do I need to start preparing?
The length of time involved in preparing for a century will vary considerably from individual to individual. Someone with a relatively low state of physical conditioning should allow about three months of very gradually increasing length and intensity of rides. A rider in better physical condition can allow less time.
Remember, however, that the endurance required to ride 100 miles without suffering is something that is gradually built up over time. Rushing endurance doesn't work. Either way, the key is to allow enough time to gradually increase your base of fitness week to week.
How far do I need to ride?
|Ride Miles||Km equivalency|
Ideally, you should work up to about a 75 mile (121km) ride about two weeks before your century. In my opinion, 65 miles (105km) is a minimum. Anything less is to court trouble. I don't think it is necessary to ride more than 80 miles to train for a century. You should try to ride one long ride each week, and progressively increase the distance.
Let's say you have never ridden more than 40 miles (64km), you are going to take 10 weeks to prepare, and you plan to ride four days a week. Your schedule might look like the table above. Obviously, I don't expect that everyone will be able to be this systematic in their mileage totals, but the more carefully and gradually you increase your workload, the better your chances of avoiding over training and injury.
How fast should I ride?
Generally, you should ride your longer rides at a comfortable endurance pace, and the same pace that you plan on riding the century. If you ride three or four times a week, you should push yourself a bit on the shorter rides, and ride them faster than your endurance pace.
If you ride 5, 6, or 7 days a week, you generally shouldn't ride hard more than four of the days. The easy days are just as important as the hard days, for it is only by combining rest and work that the body gets stronger.
How can I avoid injury?
Don't make sudden, big changes in intensity or mileage. Make sure that you have a good riding position on your bike; if your seat is too low or too high, you can injure your knees. If you use cleats or a pedal binding system, make sure your cleats are properly adjusted - get a 'Fit Kit' at your local shop if you are in doubt or you feel discomfort.
If you make changes in your equipment or riding position, allow for a few short rides to assess the changes. The best time to make equipment changes and adjustments is in the early, low mileage part of a training program, so your body has time to adjust. If you do develop problems, don't force a recovery; allow your body time to heal. It is much better to postpone your century to next year than to try to stick rigidly to a training schedule when you have an injury.
How should I prepare in the last week?
During the last week, you should decrease the length and intensity of your rides. If you don't have the miles by now, this isn't the time to do anything about it. Don't ride hard for the last three or four days before the century. You might want to take the second to last day off, then ride an easy 10 miles or so the day before the event.
Try to get enough sleep during the last few days, but don't worry if you have trouble sleeping the night before. Don't worry about any exotic diets, but do eat well, and have a very generous, high carbohydrate meal the night before, and drink plenty of water.
What should I eat the day of the century?
Eat a generous, high carbohydrate breakfast, but allow plenty of time for digestion.
It is very important to eat and drink enough. Bring two water bottles and drink regularly. If it is hot, it is virtually impossible to drink too much. I generally keep one bottle filled with plain water and one filled with an energy replacement drink such as Gatorade.
Eating is one of the most underestimated factors in riding a century. Don't stop for one long lunch break, but snack throughout the ride on carbohydrates such as bananas, granola bars, raisins, etc. It is much better to make five fifteen minute stops, grabbing a snack each time, than to make one stop of 1 1/4 hours. Short stops will keep your energy reserves high, and keep your body from 'cooling down.' Unless the ride is unusually well-supported (such as the Boston to Provincetown Ride), you should plan to carry food with you in a saddle or handlebar bag. If you do 'bonk', stop, get enough to eat and drink, and when you feel sufficiently recovered, continue. If you follow these recommendations and train sensibly, you should be on your way to an enjoyable and comfortable 100 miles. Perhaps, as you finish your first century, you'll already be looking forward to your next one!
by John Tobin