Riding your first Century (100 miles) – a guide for normal people.

Intro

If you’re a normal person, and providing your goal is to do it comfortably rather than set any records, then you might just find a lot of the “training for a century” guides and advice you’ll find on-line are overly complicated – they’re written for people that are athletic, are already fit and who have a good understanding of training plans and nutrition.

That’s not me. I’m just a normal bloke with a bit of a belly that likes very long bike rides. I’m not an athlete, I’ve never been into sport, I don’t really know anything about nutrition or muscles. I have however done a lot of 100+ mile bike rides, and these are my thoughts on them.

Training

Even in my simple world, I understand training is very important, but for me it’s just about getting miles in on the bike. 3-4 rides a week is ideal and most people can manage this around job/partners/life. 3 for most of the training schedule, 4 later on. 2 rides will be mid-week of 1 hour/20 miles or so (you decide if you prefer to limit by distance or time, though I suggest time is better), the other 1 or 2 rides will be longer ones at the weekend.

Note that my big rides are 100 miles per day for 2 or 3 consecutive days, so practising back-to-back long rides is important. If you’re doing a single century and can’t fit in 2 rides every weekend then it’s not the end of the world.

You increase the effectiveness of the shorter mid-week training rides by doing “intervals” – in other words have some bursts of high-intensity-until-you-can’t-do-it-any-more in the ride. At the start of my training I might just about manage 3-4 of these intervals and last about 30-60s each. By the time I’m match fit, I might do 5-6 of them and each lasts 1-3 minutes. I do them both on the flat and up short hills.

By doing intervals you can keep the mid-week rides to 1 hour(ish). The weekend rides should be done entirely at an aerobic pace (i.e. what you can normally maintain), increasing in distance as the training schedule goes on.

Eating on the ride

As the distance increases any newbie to long distance rides will realise that they’re not taking on enough water/food. Increase consumption of both bit-by-bit and you’ll start to learn what you need (because you’ll feel better; too much and it won’t make any difference or you’ll feel worse). In many ways learning to eat/drink the right amount of the right things and learning to predict when you need more, is the single best thing you’ll get out of your training.

Your body needs energy to process any food/water you consume so you need to learn to eat before you get hungry and drink before you get thirsty. If you don’t then you’ll still run out of energy despite eating, because you’re simply too far gone for your body to process the new fuel quickly enough. If you run out of energy completely, known as bonking, it can take hours or even days to recover usually meaning it’s ride over.

I maintain that real food is way better than energy bars and gels, for normal people. My favourite snacking-as-you-ride foods are jaffa cakes for a quick burst and high-calorie high-quality cereal bars or flapjacks to keep the energy topped up. There’s loads of really good quality cereal bars and flapjacks on the market now or make your own. I keep them in a top-tube mounted bag – some people say these “spoilt the lines of the bike”, but I’m riding it, not looking at it and I like the food easy to access, plus it gives me a great place for my phone etc.

A good starting point is every, say, 10 miles or half-hour eat something, just a jaffa cake or a couple of jelly babies and see how that helps (or doesn’t) and you can go from there.

On a long ride I stop for proper lunch if possible, I’m not in a race so why not? Especially as my big rides are usually on the continent where I find hotel breakfasts provide inadequate cycling fodder. Over the years I’ve learnt what’s good for lunch and what’s bad; spag bol is good, cheesy-chips are bad! But you need to experiment and see what’s good for you.

As for what to drink, I find water perfectly good enough, though if I’m doing a long ride and/or it’s very hot then I find using electrolyte tabs is better for me than plain water. I know some people that have found, through their own experience not marketing hype, that they need electrolyte tabs on every ride. So again, experiment during your training rides and you’ll soon be ready for your big ride.

Before the ride

There’s loads spoken about what to do leading up to an event – carb loading, tapering etc. At my level this is really simple: a couple of short, easy (spinny, no intervals) rides during the week before the event, followed by a few days off immediately prior to the event. Eat well but normally on those days off, just avoid foods that make might make you feel bloated or potentially upset your stomach. Avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water so you don’t start the ride dehydrated.

Blagging It

Every year on our big charity ride we get people that haven’t done anywhere near enough training (some have done virtually none), they try and blag it and it’s never pretty!

That said, I understand you might not have time to do a century ride as part of your training, so I’d say if you can do 75% of the distance comfortably, then you can probably blag the rest without too much trouble.

Enjoy!

Hope that helps! Let me know your tips, thoughts and experiences via the comments below.

17 Responses to Riding your first Century (100 miles) – a guide for normal people.

  1. Pingback: 19th April 2012

  2. Jam sandwiches, wrap them loosely in cling film (or brown paper which was what my Dad did when he was pedalling in the 1940s & 50s), they slip nicely into your cycle top pocket. Ok they might get a bit crushed, but hey, who cares, we ain’t doing Masterchef where we need presentation points!

    When I did my Centuries a couple of years ago I just pedalled to work everyday, did a 50 miler once, went MTBing regularly and went for it.

    If you’re not out to break records then you’ll do it. I averaged 14.5 mph on the 2 Centuries (which were a fortnight apart) and didn’t kill myself. Just remember to stretch off afterwards and go for a spinny recovery ride of about 10 miles the next day to keep your legs usable!

  3. forgot says:

    My friend John rides a lot (well over 10,000 miles per year) and he agrees with the above – have a look at his response here: http://www.johns-cycling-diary.co.uk/?p=7021

  4. Toby Field says:

    I’m the other way around. I prefer to use energy bars and gels and I plan in advance. Maybe I’m scared I won’t find somewhere to stop and eat when my body wants it.

    Either way, the best thing is to try and find someone to do your training rides with and the time will pass very quickly indeed.

  5. forgot says:

    Some great thoughts on eating by Jens Perstat:

    Don’t carb-load until you have experience with it. Otherwise, you will just feel bloated. In general, it’s best to not experiment on the night and day before. Use food you are comfortable with. If you are taking it slowly and make regular breaks, you can basically eat what you want.

    If you go faster and want to minimize breaks, planning your calorie and fluid intake becomes more important. Make it a habit to eat and drink regular even when not hungry, i.e. every 30 or 60 minutes. You can easily forget about it once you’re in the flow. Sugary stuff in small portions is best (e.g. jelly beans, haribo) – I always keep some in my top bar bag and eat on the go. Gels are OK if you are used to them – wash them down with lots of fluids. Bananas and dried fruits are also good, but try them out during your training rides.

    In general, energy obtainable from body fat, fatty foods and protein is insignificant during the ride.

    Leave the high-fiber foods for the finish line. The finish is also the time to get proteins from different sources (e.g. vegetables and meat). It will help your muscles to repair the damage. A good ‘finish drink’ is a bottle of chocolate milk.

  6. MY rule of thumb is be able to do the distance in a week of rides, two weeks prior to the event, then have an easy week . Got a 205 mi one in June so a nice gradual build from now until then 100, 150 200 in the weeks leading up and I’ll be just where I need.

  7. I’d like to be able to ride 118ish then back again after a rest day miles because that’s the distance from my parents house to my house and I can’t drive and public transport is soooo expensive so I’d like to be able to visit them on a whim via the bike (obviously the kind of a whim that still takes a long time :P)

    Is this an achievable goal? How would I go about making it a reality? What I am scared of is I try it when I am not ready and end up getting half way to my parents, totally exhausted and can’t go on but being stuck in the middle of the countryside on some mountain with no means of actually getting back to civilisation šŸ˜›

    • forgot says:

      Sounds like a great plan, I’ve ridden to my mum’s house a few times now and it’s a great choice of destination (parents houses generally, not specifically my mum’s house!). Your parents and others will think you’re nuts and awesome in equal measures but you will feel fantastic.

      Having helped organise a 200-miles-in-2-days (minimum) event every year since 2008 and been a ride leader/chaperone on several other 100-mile-a-day multi-day rides, I’ve seen hundreds of people manage it, so I can say with confidence that it’s an entirely achievable goal. However, note “blagging it” above; this is something you need to prepare for especially as you’ll be unsupported.

      Most of my advice is above; train for a 100 mile bike ride to learn that it’s not a race and what pace suits you, and what nutrition your body wants before it’s too late. Aim to do a 90-100 mile bike ride beforehand, perhaps as short loops near your house so you’re never too far from home to build up confidence. If you can do 90-100 miles, then you can stretch to your parents house.

      As you’re riding unsupported I’d also recommend planning a route and having something that navigates for you, even if that’s your phone with an extra battery (RideWithGPS is awesome and has a great app now) as that will remove a lot of stress. Don’t be too obsessed with total mileage, be more obsessed with a nice route – 125 miles on pretty roads is far easier than 118 miles on busy A roads. Split your ride up, for that distance at your level I’d recommend stops at 40 and 80 miles – supermarkets are ideal as they allow you to buy anything you need and have a proper toilet. Make sure you can fix a puncture and fit a quick link in your chain, and have the necessary tools/parts to do so. These are the two things most likely to halt your progress but are both really easily fixed at the side of the road.

      Most of all remember that it’s as much about the journey as the destination so enjoy it.

    • cycletrekker says:

      It’s a great plan , take it steady , eat and drink often and go for it !
      I regularly ride to my children’s homes some 250 ml in two days , they think I’m mad , the Grandkids think I’m cool !

  8. cycletrekker says:

    Great advice ! Thank you !

  9. keith says:

    Good advice mate, I’ve just completed my first century ride today. It wasn’t fast but it was really enjoyable and that’s what I was hoping for.

    I’m gonna have a few gentle shake outs over the next couple of weeks and then London 100 on the second of august..

  10. John says:

    How long would you suggest on a spin bike if the weather is poor? Still an hour 2 X a week or longer as its a false environment?

    • forgot says:

      Beyond my area of expertise. However, I know that time on an indoor bike is better than no bike šŸ˜‰ Also, in my experience there’s a lot of “leg-waggling” in spin classes/gyms – you have to make it count! Have a look at Sufferfest videos or try and find a class that’s aimed at improving (real) cycling fitness.

  11. Josh says:

    Thanks for the great article. I’m riding 250 miles over 3 days for charity in March and I’m slightly worried because I have never done anything like it before. The first day we ride 110 miles, then 80 the next day and 60 miles on the third day. I have ridden several centuries when I was much younger but now at 50 and after spending 20 years desk-bound I fear that after the first day I maybe too knackered to carry on.
    I’m quite fit for my age and not at all overweight as I train 4 times a week at the gym – only do cardio workouts on cross-trainer and spin-bike. My worry is recovery at the end of each day to be able to carry on the next. Any tips on a quick recovery?

    • rafe says:

      Sorry for the slow reply – your comment had been flagged as spam.

      I think you’ll be absolutely fine. If I was to think of the biggest mistakes I see people make, I’d advise:

      • Starting each day at the same pace as you think you’ll finish – i.e. don’t race off at max speed because you’re all fresh, think about your comfortable cruising speed and aim for that all day.
      • Ensuring you drink enough each day and during the day, otherwise you risk starting the next day dehydrated and never really recovering. Beer and partying between days is fun, but rarely a good idea, so save it till the end!
      • If you’ve got time, definitely do a 50-60 mile ride on adjacent days as part of your training. I believe (and lots of other people have said the same to me) it’s an incredible very valuable bit of training because your body will find it a shock the first time! Don’t be put off if that hurts though, because your body won’t be in such a shock when it comes to the actual ride.
  12. Ben Anderson says:

    Good advice above. I’ve done plenty of short mid week rides with at least one 40- 60 at the weekend. Today (despite the wind) I decided to go for it, doing three loops so I could bail out if not up to it. Kept eating and drinking – flapjack, jelly babies and water. It’s my first century for about 30 years and it feels flippin’ great. Like a poster above I do a sedentary job and I had convinced myself that the days of long rides were behind me. Turning 50 – mid life thoughts etc …..
    Thanks for the advice which I read a few months ago when I was contemplating this- really useful.šŸš“šŸ½

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