Riding 100 miles in one day on a bicycle is a daunting but rewarding experience. Learn about the 8-week schedule that one rider follows to prepare for a bicycle century.
A bicycle century is a 100-mile bicycle ride that is ridden in one day. For many, completing a century is the ultimate cycling goal. Others, not so much. I find preparing for a century to be a big part of the fun. It adds structure, discipline, and a sense of purpose to my life. Just like my cats.
While factors like weather and elevation can make a century more or less difficult, the experience is always memorable, challenging, and rewarding. Like the time my riding partner wore cotton underwear under his chamois and rubbed his butt raw before mile 30.
As with preparation for running a marathon, proper training for a bicycle century can increase your chances of finishing the ride in comfort and joy. Comfort and joy.
I, myself, have only completed a few centuries. Some have gone better than others. I have ridden centuries with little preparation and have finished them in pain and agony. My best century experiences began with about an eight-week training regime. For me, the key is getting on the bike a couple of times per week and slowly building up to the distance goal of 100 miles.
When training, I like to follow a predictable schedule with plenty of time for rest and recovery. I put my training rides on my personal calendar to give them priority in my life. Like Burger Night with my friends. A typical training week may look like a short ride on Tuesday, another short ride on Thursday, and a longer ride on Saturday.
I have found that my muscles recover best when I have at least one rest day between rides and two rest days after longer rides.
Here's what an ideal training schedule looks like for me as I prepare for a bicycle century:
Week 1: Tuesday = 20 miles / Thursday = 20 miles / Saturday = 20 miles
Week 2: Tuesday = 20 miles / Thursday = 20 miles / Saturday = 20 miles
Week 3: Tuesday = 20 miles / Thursday = 20 miles / Saturday = 30 miles
Week 4: Tuesday = 20 miles / Thursday = 20 miles / Saturday = 45 miles
Week 5: Tuesday = 20 miles / Thursday = 30 miles / Saturday = 65 miles
Week 6: Tuesday = 20 miles / Thursday = 30 miles / Saturday = 40 miles
Week 7: Tuesday = 20 miles / Thursday = 35 miles / Saturday = 75 miles
Week 8: Tuesday = 20 miles / Thursday = 40 miles / Saturday = 100 miles
I often make the mistake of taking a full week off after the century and find that it is hard to get going again. So it's probably not a bad idea to schedule a 30 mile ride during the week after the century to keep your muscles moving and engaged.
While I believe that putting in the miles is the most important component of training for a century, bicycle fit, bicycle maintenance, proper attire, nutrition, hydration, and even sleep and riding pace are all critical to the success of a ride. Read on if you care about any of these details.
No matter how much you train, a bike that is not properly fit to your body will lead to discomfort on longer rides. Most good bike shops can help you to select the right size frame, but the nuances of alleviating specific issues such as numb hands and a sore butt may require the input of a professional bike fitter. We often blame our saddles for discomfort, but selecting the right saddle is only part of the equation. The position of the saddle relative to the pedals and handlebars is just as critical if not more critical than the shape of the saddle itself. Expect to pay good money for a multi-hour session that will analyze your body position on the bike to properly adjust the position of the saddle and handlebars for maximum comfort.
I always tune my bike and oil my chain immediately before a century. A clean and properly tuned bike is always more efficient and enjoyable to ride than a creaky old bastard. It's that simple. I also carry a basic tool set with me on the ride to repair flats and make drivetrain adjustments as needed during the ride.
In addition to a proper bike fit, I find showering before and after every ride and wearing a clean chamois to be the best way to avoid saddle sores. Some people don't know that bike shorts are designed to be worn without underwear. Underwear will bunch up between your chamois and sensitive bits and cause unwanted chaffing. It's also a good idea to carry any layers that you may need to adjust to changes in weather during your ride.
I eat a bowl of steel cut oats and two eggs for breakfast before every ride over 50 miles.
On long rides I eat a chocolate nut bar every 25 miles plus normal food on meal schedules. I like simple meat and cheese sandwiches with salty chips. I find fruit and vegetables difficult to digest while riding.
I like to eat a big breakfast an hour before starting a century with a normal lunch four hours into the century. I start drinking coffee at least two hours before a big ride to make sure I get a good poop in before I leave. I usually eat a large meal the night before a century to fill my body with calories that are already digested.
I always drink a pint of water immediately before and immediately after every ride. Drinking at home is valuable hydration that I don't have to carry on the bike and it is easier to drink when I am rested and standing still than it is to drink while riding and gasping for air.
I try to average 20 oz. of water every 15 miles during a ride. More if really hot outside, less if cold. I actually use a Camelback for regular water and a water bottle for sugar water.
Sugar water taken slowly can be my friend during a big ride, but I don't take in a lot of sugar at once. Gel packets never make me feel great. I try to drink more regular water than sugar water, particularly when hot outside.
I don't like taking rest breaks on long rides, my legs start to cramp up. Better to just ride at a steady pace that I can sustain. I'll stop and sit down to eat lunch but it's hard for me to get going after anything longer than 20 minutes.
I do NOT attack hills on rides over 50 miles. It always leads to cramping. Bottom line is that if I feel heat in my legs during a long ride, I back off. Once muscle tissue is torn and inflamed, it can be difficult to recover. My body is happiest when I train properly for a century and listen to my body during the ride. The pain comes when I bite off more than my body is prepared for.
So yeah, that's pretty much my approach to training for and pulling off a century. I'd love to hear about your experiences and what works for you in the comments below. It's always interesting to hear about how other people train and what they eat before and during a ride. If you have any questions about preparing for a century or anything else mentioned in this article, feel free to ask them here. I'd be happy to answer what I can.