So You Want to Pedal the Big 100: training for your first century ride
by Asa Salas
There comes a time in the life of just about every cyclist when that little voice inside your head says "you can ride 100 miles, why don't you sign up for a century?" For whatever reason, 100 miles is a magic number for cyclists. We all want the 100-mile badge, and the bragging rights that go with it. Of course, your first century will require preparation, both physical and mental. Whether you are an experienced cyclist, or a relative newcomer, this guide will help you prepare to go the distance.
CHOOSE AN EVENT
So you have decided to listen to the little voice, now what? Well, if you have not chosen a particular event, ask around on group rides, at shops, or even on line to find a century that suits your schedule and your needs. Choose one that allows you ample time to train, and perhaps pick a century that does not involve 20,000 feet of climbing for your first venture into distance cycling. You are the best judge of your own capabilities!
FIND A BUDDY
Once you have chosen an event, one of the best things you can do to prepare for it is to find a riding buddy. Odds are, you can find someone who is willing share the century experience with you. Nothing makes the miles fly by faster than riding with a friend, and riding buddies are excellent motivators. Just knowing that someone is counting on you makes it much more difficult to wuss out on a training ride. Also, since most distance training will involve many miles of lonely road, it is much safer to ride in pairs. If you cannot find a consistent riding partner, your local bike shop should have info on clubs and group rides that may suit your schedule.
GAUGE YOUR FITNESS LEVEL
OK, a plan is beginning to form. The goal is to ride 100 miles, preferably with minimal discomfort, so in order get an idea of how to train for a century; you need to gauge your current fitness level. Now you will have to answer some questions. How often do you ride? What distance are you currently comfortable riding? What is the longest ride you have completed? How did you feel afterward? Obviously, the answers will vary, and no single plan is practical for every individual, so rather than attempting to formulate a rigid training schedule, I feel it would be more helpful to offer training tips that are useful to riders of all levels.
I have a friend who is an excellent rider. I once asked him how he could ride so fast for so long, and he said, "TITS."
"TITS," he said, "Time In The Saddle."
Crude though it is, a truer statement has never been uttered. To ride 100 miles is going to require some serious saddle time. It is very important to give yourself enough time to bring your fitness up to century level. For example, if you currently ride once or twice a week and your longest ride ever was twenty miles, you will need 3 to 6 months to train for a century. On the other hand, if you ride 5 days a week, and 50 miles is not unusual for a weekend ride, you could be ready in a month or so. Either way, give yourself that time, you will be much happier on the BIG DAY.
BREAK IT INTO TRAINING BLOCKS
Once you decide how much time you need to prepare, breaking down that time into "training blocks" will help focus your time in the saddle. Basically, a "training block" is one month; three weeks of gradual increases in distance followed by one week of easy recovery riding.
Each week should consist of several short rides with one long ride. Distances should be increased in very small increments! The long ride of the week should be no more than 5 to 10 miles or so farther than the week before. It is extremely easy to get carried away and end up over trained. Avoid this by paying very close attention to your mind and body every day. On the bike, take notice of your energy level; does it stay constant day to day? Be aware of any pain -- muscles should burn, joints should not!
You will become quickly aware of any bike fit issues as riding distances increase. Have these issues addressed right away. Off the bike, pay attention to your moods, sleeping habits, and enthusiasm. If you become irritable, grouchy or otherwise unsociable, or have trouble sleeping, take a couple of days off the bike. Also, if you have a day where you just don't feel like riding, don't. Missing a few days of riding to recover can be a very effective training move, since we get stronger when we rest, not during the ride.
Keep a training log, and keep it simple. Record distances, ride times and performance observations, this will make tracking your performance a no-brainer. If all goes well, by the time the big day arrives, you should have completed a ride of 75 miles or so during the preceding weeks. Plan on taking your recovery week just prior to the Century, that way you will be fully rested and ready to go.
BE PREPARED WITH THE RIGHT GEAR
Obviously, it is a good idea to know some basic bike repair, since it can mean the difference between pedaling on, or sitting on the side of the road waiting for the courtesy wagon. Even if your equipment performs flawlessly, someone else may not be so lucky, and you could save the day! Logically, your bike should be as prepared for the journey as you are. Make sure that it is tuned up and that all the worn parts are replaced two weeks before the event, this will allow ample time for any problems to surface. Also, keep in mind that the day of the century is not a good time to try out a new saddle, gloves or shoes. Make any changes to your equipment weeks in advance. Happiness is a familiar bike.
Fitness of bike and body will surely help make your 100-mile adventure a pleasurable experience. Knowing yourself, and training accordingly will take care of the body, maintenance will take care of the bike. Is this your year to complete a century? Perhaps it will be the one and only, perhaps it will be just the first of dozens. Either way, I hope this brief guide will help you attain your 100-mile goal. The little voice says, "you can do it!"
Asa Salas is an expert-ranked cross country and DH mountain bike racer. Her sponsors include Indpenedent Fabrication, Truvativ, Suga Clothing, Velocity Gear and Cycle Path. She is also an avid road cyclist. Asa has worked as a mechanic at "The Bike Shop" in Fair Oaks, California for six years, and has been training and riding competitively for eight.