How to ride and how not to ride a 100-mile time trial

A first timer's perspective

How do you approach your first 100-mile time trial? If my experience in the WTTA 100 last weekend is anything to go by, with caution, a lot of water, a comfy saddle and a vat of chamois cream.

100 miles against the clock. It sounds like a lot and it is. And yet it's not even close to a 12-hour, which is considered by many on the British time trialling scene as a proper distance. You're not a fully fledged tester unless you've done one, it's reckoned.

But I have decided to earn my stripes gradually. First year, I went up to 25 miles; second year, I did a 50; and this year I had a crack at a 100. As for a 12-hour, maybe next year...

100 miles is still a serious distance and it requires a lot more planning than a club 10. How much to drink and eat, how fast to go, and – quite important but often neglected – how to remain comfortable if you're riding in an aero position for a long period of time.

Despite a generous offer to hand me up bottles, I decided to ride it unsupported, which meant I had to carry everything I needed with me. I opted for a Camelbak Racebak underneath my skinsuit with 2L of half concentration energy drink, an aero bottle with half Coke/half water, three Zipvit gels and one High5 gel.

In hindsight, I should have accepted the offer of help but that's what these things teach you. My aero bottle with Coke/water was useless as it jumped out when I hit a hole on the first lap. And I wouldn't have been able to drink it anyway – I really really needed plain water on the last lap.

The Racebak was fine for drinking out of, but because of the long tail on my aero helmet, it did push my head down, making it hard to look far up the road. The gels were also fine, but I needed more water to wash them down with.

Tip: Use a normal bottle cage and get someone to hand you bottles. Take two bottles if you can fit them.

Winner James Wall takes a big swig from his bottle (Photo: www.charleswhittonphotography.com)

Pacing. This is a tricky one. I've ridden 100 miles at endurance pace before. I've done 100-mile sportives at a slightly harder pace. I've even done a few 100-mile road races. But I've never attempted to ride 100 miles solo, as hard as I can.

I race with a power meter which in theory makes it easier to stick to a set output level. But in practice, power tends to jump all over the place compared to say, heart rate or speed, so it's difficult to ride to a set power unless you're glued to the display. It is advisable to watch the road, focus on your own effort and keep an eye on the numbers from time to time.

So I took an educated guess, based on how fast I would like to go and roughly what sort of power and heart rate I thought I could sustain for the best part of four hours. Starting was hard, because I was itching to go faster. I made it to halfway still feeling good, but was a minute down on my rather ambitious sub-3:40 schedule.

I then made the cardinal mistake of winding it up on the third of four laps (against all pre-race advice) and although I got back on schedule, the last lap was a bit of a disaster. With about 20 miles to go I started to feel ill, couldn't eat my last gel, didn't have any plain water and was forced to drop my pace substantially. I ended up scrubbing off 35 watts, my heart rate dropped nearly 10 beats and I just managed to make it to the finish without a major bonk. Finishing time was still a very decent 3:41:22, enough to come second to James Wall by 1'07.

I was lucky that my aero position prevented me from losing too much time. My last lap was not much more than a minute slower than my second, and around two minutes slower than my third. Had I held back on the third, then I would have had too much work to do on the last lap anyway, so I'm not sure how much of a difference it made.

Tip: No matter how good you feel, do not get carried away until the last hour.

Women's winner Lynne Taylor demonstrates the importance of being aero and comfy (Photo: www.charleswhittonphotography.com)

The third difficulty was sitting in an aero position for that long. Your neck hurts, your legs hurt but above (or below) all, your perineum hurts. It's an aching numbness and even moving around the saddle can be painful.

The only solution I had available was to get out of the saddle and stretch for a few pedal strokes, then gingerly re-assume the position. As the miles ticked over, I had to do this more often. Sometimes it was agony, sometimes I didn't notice it for long periods.

I'd taken some precautions: a liberal smearing of chamois cream and a padded bandage along with my Specialized Tritip saddle, which has a soft, bulbous nose for extra comfort. But these things help prevent chafing and saddle sores; they don't really alleviate numbness. There is no way I could handle a 12-hour with my current setup.

I would now really like to try an ISM Adamo, which has a gap all the way to the tip of the saddle and should, in theory, reduce the pressure on the undercarriage.

Tip: Make sure your saddle and position are comfy if you're going to attempt a longer distance time trial.

I did do some things right, however. I checked out the course beforehand and was made aware of the fact that there was a fair sized (in time trialling terms) hill to climb each lap. Also, there was one roundabout that you entered or exited in four directions. It was important to know which one to take and when.

I also did some training. I made sure I knew what it felt like to ride 100 miles on a time trial bike, carrying lots of water on your back. Twice.

I didn't do too much in the three days leading up to the race. Twenty-five miles easy each day, to make sure I was fresh for the big one.

Finally, I even had dinner early the night before, because I knew I had to get up at 4m, shove down some breakfast and meet the kind Mr Davies, who was driving me and his sleeping wife and kids up to the race. Digestion is key, as I learned.

Bath CC's Peter Wilson sets off shortly after 6am (Photo: www.charleswhittonphotography.com)

Despite the pain involved, it was a great event. There was a sizeable crowd in the feedzone near the start/finish, and you got to see them twice per lap because of the layout of the course. Always good for the motivation. And afterwards, there was a good atmosphere among my clubmates and fellow competitors, who all agreed that it was a very good result for a 100, first time or not. That helped ease the disappointment of finishing second, especially the free tea and cake I got at the clubroom a few days later. It's surprising how many people remember Ray Booty breaking four hours for a 100 for the first time.

So I'm itching to have a go at another 100 and get it right, but it will have to wait until next year.

See also my report on The Beacon RCC Little Mountain time trial.

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