23 tips for century success

Gearing up for a big ride? We reveal the secrets to smashing your first 100-miler

So, you've set yourself the target to ride 100 miles, but where do you begin and how do you structure your training? Here are 23 tips on tackling your first century ride as well as some bonus tips on what not to do and how to stay fuelled.

1. You don’t have to do 100-mile training sessions

“There’s no need to ride 100 miles before your first 100-mile sportive,” says Simon Jobson, professor of sport and exercise physiology at the University of Winchester and co-author of Ultra-Distance Cycling: An Expert Guide to Endurance Cycling (Bloomsbury).

“If you’ve done a 60- or 70-mile ride you’ll probably find you have what it takes on the day to go the extra miles.”

2. You can get the ‘experience’ in one weekend

“If you’re struggling to find the time to do long rides, try doing two shorter rides on successive days, for example 60 miles on Saturday and 40 miles on Sunday,” says Jobson.

“The Sunday ride will help you get used to the sensation of riding when you’re tired, which is how you’re going to feel at the end of your big ride.”

3. For a long ride, two lots of 20 is plenty

“One decent ride of at least 40 miles a week (20 miles out and 20 miles home again) should be enough for a “long” ride, as long as you’re managing to do some shorter, harder sessions during the week,” says Jobson.

4. Don’t neglect the short stuff

There is a lot of evidence that doing a few very hard short rides can be as beneficial to your fitness as one much longer ride.

“Try short, hard rides which include hill reps — where you really go for it up a hill,” says Jobson. “The sensation should be of working very hard for 5–10 minutes at a time. Do three or four of those with five minutes recovery between repetitions to really help not just your strength, but your overall fitness and speed too.”

5. Stay at home

“Use online training tools such as Zwift or TrainerRoad, which have a whole range of pre-planned harder sessions to try,” says Jobson.

“These virtual training tools are great for providing measurable impact sessions, especially when the weather conditions are poor or when time is short. You can get some high intensity training under your belt too. Just be aware that they don’t offer the real-world experience you need to complete your first ultra-distance ride, such as riding into a headwind, developing road skills or getting up to speed with fixing a puncture.”

Start out early or ride out late in the day to get your miles in
Start out early or ride out late in the day to get your miles in

6. We ride at dawn!

“One way we’ve found to get in the big miles is to get up early and do a few hours then do another ride in the evening,” suggests Jobson.

“It’s extreme, but if you get up at 4am at the weekend, by lunchtime you have already squeezed in an eight-hour ride and still have the rest of the day to do all the other things you’re expected to do. You don’t have to go to quite these lengths, but an early start can see you get a couple of hours of good riding in before the rest of the family are up.”

7. It’s longer than you think…

“Completing your first 100-miler from scratch is a big milestone in any serious cyclist’s journey, and as a result it shouldn’t be underestimated,” says Rob Wakefield, cycling coach with Propello.bike.

“It’s a seriously long way and could take a novice rider up to nine hours to complete.”

8. …But you’re laughing if it’s 12 weeks away

“With no experience it will take around three months to prepare for a 100-mile ride that you enjoy,” says Wakefield.

“Train consistently for a minimum of three days per week. If you’re a novice aim for two 45-minute workouts, maybe on a turbo trainer or at a spin class, and then one main ride starting at 90 minutes.”

9. Junk miles do exist… and they don’t help

“Junk miles are rides without structure or purpose,” warns Jobson.

“They create an illusion of making progress when in reality they waste precious training time, so think about what you want to achieve from each ride before you start. It will help with motivation and ensure every training mile counts. Simple measures, such as setting a time goal, help give every ride a purpose. Don’t be reliant on speed as a measure since it can vary according to the conditions. Whether it’s to train for hills or complete a circuit in three hours, have a goal in mind, that way you can eliminate the ‘junk’ element.”

Set yourself a goal on each ride to avoid junk miles
Set yourself a goal on each ride to avoid junk miles

10. Big miles needn’t be boring

“Plan routes that take you on roads you’ve never ridden,” suggests Dominic Irvine, winner of Ultracycling Dolomitica [606km non-stop bike race in Italy] and co-author of Ultra-Distance Cycling.

“Techniques I’ve used are to ride every road within a 50-mile radius of home. It was fun colouring in the map of roads I had ridden.” Irvine also suggests:

11. Keep it interesting

“Designing your rides to go past places of interest. One training ride took in all the White Horses in Hampshire and Wiltshire.”

12. Set goals

“Setting mini training goals within a long ride. Ride the first 10 minutes of every hour hard and then relax for the rest of the hour, or ride for 10 minutes at a brisk pace then ride for 10 minutes at an easier one.”

13. Coffee and cake

“Planning routes to your favourite coffee shops. This breaks the ride up and thinking about coffee and cake keeps you going.”

14. Ride in a group

“Riding with others. A good conversation soon makes the time pass.”

15. You can train too hard

“Most cyclists ride too hard on their long rides and not hard enough on the short ones,” says Irvine.

“Short, hard rides are great, they target different parts of your physiology that long slow and steady paced rides miss. The combination of short and hard and long and steady is best of all. If you’re limited on time, opt for the shorter harder stuff.”

16. Stick to what you know

“Use food that you have tried during your training. While the latest gels and sports bars may seem very appealing, after a while the super-sweet taste can begin to pall,” warns Irvine.

“When you’re tired, having ridden a long way, it’s much nicer and easier to eat ‘proper food’ such as a jam sandwich, or a small piece of fruit cake.”

17. Get more bike into your life

“Finding the time to do long rides means not doing something else,” says Irvine.

“Things that can help are to ride the bike while the rest of the family go by car, take your bike on holiday and go out before everyone is up, which is a great way to sightsee and get fit. If you have to go somewhere for work, ride there. Local leisure centres will often allow you to use their showers for free or a small fee.

"Find out where the nearest one to where you have to be is, give them a call and see if you can use their changing facilities so you arrive at your destination fresh and ready for work.”

Keep training intensity low as you build up your time in the saddle
Keep training intensity low as you build up your time in the saddle

18. You can build up to decent distances easily

“Keep the intensity of your long ride relatively low, say at around five out of 10 in terms of perceived effort, and build the time on the bike by 20 minutes every week,” suggests Wakefield.

“In six weeks you will be able to ride for 3.5 hours, in three months you will be able to ride for 5.5 hours, which is plenty long enough for a good last training ride before the big 100-mile ride.”

19. Take short cuts

“If you’re struggling to get the miles in, break it into much smaller chunks,” says Jobson.

“Aim to ride 20 miles and then take a short break to refuel and recover. Repeat until you get to the end. Ride at a steady pace — if you push it you’ll burn out long before the end. Ride at the same level of effort whether you’re going uphill or down, this is the secret to long distance riding. Don’t think about the distance you have left, just focus on getting to the end of the next chunk.”

20. You can take a few days off

“Build some consecutive rest days into your training so that every three to four weeks you take three to four days off training,” says Wakefield.

“This will help alleviate fatigue and allow your body to recover and get stronger.”

21. Think drink

“Drink something with electrolytes in it,” says Irvine.

“Ideally make your own sports drink and eat some salty food. However you choose to do it, feed your muscles and replace the salt lost through sweat.”

22. Pack your pockets

“When carrying food, make sure it’s really easy to eat,” says Irvine.

“Open the wrappers on bars before you start riding. Wrap sandwiches simply and in foil so they can be unwrapped easily. Use a top-tube bag to store your food, as it’s often easier to get your sandwich out of one of these than a pocket.”

23. First 100: a pro’s view

Former One Pro Cycling rider and ambassador for cycle clothing brand Le Col, Yanto Barker, offers advice:

“It is possible to get through a 100-mile sportive without training much, but it will hurt more than necessary! The more training you do, the more you can enjoy the event. If you don’t train lots you need to keep your gears down (small) because you won’t be prepared to push big gears for 100 miles, and you’ll pretty much have one pace.

“Many long-ride novices don’t eat enough and don’t understand how to project the effort into the future to understand how they will feel in one, two or three hours time if they keep trying to push on at the current speed. You need to understand the trajectory of your effort and how it will affect your ability to ride at the correct pace. This takes practice, is very personal and changes over time.

“Check the weather forecast and make sure you dress appropriately, and take a pump, tube and Allen key set to help get you out of most mechanical problems. If not a debit card will do!”

Don’t make the same mistakes

Five long-ride rookie errors and how to fix them

1. You set off too fast and feel wrecked

Ride easily for a few miles until you feel recovered.

2. Your bike breaks down

Get it serviced before your ride. You’ve trained hard and want to be able to enjoy it. Poorly adjusted brakes or gears, worn and/or damaged tyres can wreck your plans.

3. You never usually get a puncture

It’s a given it will happen this time. Make sure you know how to and have the kit to repair a flat — and don’t forget to check for what caused the puncture before replacing the new tube.

4. Slowing down gets you down

Stay positive if you find yourself near the back. Every pedal turn will take you closer to the end.

5. It’s a 100-mile chafing session

Don’t ever start a ride in brand new clothes unless they are exactly the same as the outfit you have worn in training previously. Make sure you wear what you know is comfortable.

Feeding The 100

Simon Jobson’s tips for fuelling your big ride:

  1. Have a breakfast of porridge and perhaps a banana two to three hours before you start.
  2. Prepare a protein-rich snack to eat straight after the ride to aid recovery. It could be a recovery drink, or a sandwich with some protein in it. Stash that in your changing bag ready for the end.
  3. 20 to 30 minutes before the start have a banana, a couple of jelly babies or a gel.
  4. During the ride eat small amounts every 20 to 30 minutes rather than stopping after two hours and eating lots.
  5. After the ride, enjoy your snack and then have a meal with vegetables or salad, rice, potatoes or pasta and some form of protein.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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