The century ride, or 100 miles for the uninitiated, is a true test of endurance for cyclists.  Completing one becomes a bucket list entry quickly after a cyclist swings their leg over the top tube for the first time and begins seeing just how far they can push their body.  I know whenever I see my cycling computer tick over from “99” to 💯 miles, I accomplished something fantastic that day (or night on a few occasions).  I have thrived during a century ride, and other times barely finished dragging my tired, dehydrated, and sun-burnt body across the mark.  This blog post will serve to help you NOT make the myriad of mistakes I have made in preparing my body for a century ride.

Preparation

A century ride can take anywhere from 4 hours to well over 10+ depending on the terrain, elevation, and your current fitness to name just a few factors.  So, being realistic about what you are getting yourself into is paramount for preparing properly.

Ride Difficulty

Difficulty is subjective and hard to quantify, BUT riding a flat century is going to be far “easier” compared to one that includes 10,000 feet of elevation gain, and an athlete training for the latter must adjust their ride duration, intensity, and overall training volume accordingly.  Therefore, before you even start preparing for a century, make a conscious effort when selecting one that will be a slight overreach, but not impossible to complete.

bicycle-1280443_1920.jpg

Far too many times I have seen an athlete sign up for something way over their head, fail at it, and then blame themselves as a result.  This is obviously not ideal and can easily be avoided if you take smaller bites before going after the “big one”…Be like the gentleman above and sit and contemplate your event before pulling the trigger, gazing off into the distance can really help here too 😜

Designing a Training Plan

Okay great!  You’ve picked a century that is going to be a challenge, scares you a little, but you are confident in yourself and know you can complete it with some hard work, dedication, and consistency…Now what?  Time to get your body (and mind) ready!

cycling-659740_1280.jpg

It could look something like this…

  • PART I // Base phase // Goals:
    • ⬆️ aerobic fitness (the ability to transport and utilize oxygen) and ⬆️ endurance (being able to perform more “work” without fatiguing).  Traditionally, this was done via progressive training loads with time mainly spent at Zone 2.  However, I always argue that you need a lot of training time available to reap the benefits of Zone 2 training.  Most everyone I work with currently has a full time job, a family, other hobbies, etc. that all take valuable training time away.  As your training availability reduces, your overall workout intensity needs to increase accordingly to see improvements – Hence, sweet spot training.
    • ⬆️ the amount of force you can apply to those pedals.  This can be done in the gym as well as on the bike with things like force reps and muscle tension efforts.  Remember, Power = FORCE x Velocity
    • Throw in some pedaling drills // cadence work to improve the VELOCITY component of the above power equation.
  • PART II // Build phase // Goals:
    • Maintain the VELOCITY component of the equation with some pedaling drills thrown in here and there, especially at the beginning of the build phase.
    • ⬆️ muscular endurance: This is typically accomplished by extensive (10-30 minutes) and moderately intense (Z3/Z4) intervals.  I also like to add in some over/under type workouts towards the middle to end of the build phase to improve the athlete’s lactate (pain) tolerance.
      • Specificity is key: If you know you will be climbing some big ole mountains during your event,  mimicking the duration, and goal intensity, of said climb/s is a key muscular endurance goal for you.  If your longest Z3/Z4 interval is only 10 mins long in training, and you know the longest climb of your race is going to take ~60 minutes to summit, you’re not going to enjoy the day very much…
    • ⬆️ anaerobic endurance: Think short (30 seconds to 3 minutes) and sharp (Z5/Z6) intervals.  These intervals should REALLY not feel good and labored breathing is a must here.  DO THE WORK!
      • “A rising tide lifts all boats” is something I subscribe to with the athletes I coach.  A typical century ride is going to feature VERY little Z6 (anaerobic) work, BUT that doesn’t mean it’s not important for you to focus on.  Having a greater anaerobic capacity will help to improve your FTP (which is the bottom line here), and will also enable you to power over the shorter and steeper climbs, close gaps in a paceline, have some fun over a Strava segment, sprint to the finish, etc.
    • ⬆️ aerobic endurance: There are 2 ways I have found to best accomplish this…
      • 1) Perform intervals in the 4-6 minute range at Z5 (VO2 Max) with the rest intervals decreasing as you become more fit.  So, you may start off with a 1:1 ratio, and eventually achieve a 2:1, or even 3:1 ratio.
      • 2) Steadily increase the duration of your long rides, keeping the focus on a steady effort between Z2/Z3.  With specificity being key here, a great goal would be able to ride at this intensity range for as long as your event is going to take you in DURATION not MILES.
    • Don’t forget about recovery: Typically, the build phase comes alongside the warm weather and group riding season.  This can be great for motivation, but not so great for allowing the body to regenerate and supercompensate for all the training stress featured in the build phase.  Listen to what your body is telling you, and even better utilize a service like TrainingPeaks to accurately track TSS, fatigue, fitness, and form, etc.
  • PART III // Taper phase // Goals:
    • Maintain fitness while letting fatigue decrease, allowing form to rise.  The amount of training depends on the length of the taper, so if you are feeling pretty darn tired take a longer taper period, and vice-versa. (1)
      • Week 1: ⬇️ Volume by 30% ⬇️ Frequency by 25% ⬆️ Intensity: 40/20s | 30/30s
      • Week 2: ⬇️ Volume by 50% ⬇️ Frequency by 33% ⬆️ Intensity: Microbursts (15/15)
      • Week 3: ⬇️ Volume by 70% ⬇️ Frequency by 50% ⬆️ Intensity: Tabatas (20/10)

Training for a century ride doesn’t have to be overly-complicated if you break down the aspects into manageable pieces, and dedicate time to developing each one.  Of course, what works for one athlete may not work for another, so experiment, try new training approaches, mix up the intervals, etc.  Just be sure to keep your training consistent, enjoy the journey, and strive to get to the ride stronger than ever before!  And, if you feel like your wheels are spinning, but you’re not really going anywhere, GC Coaching is here to help 🙂


References
(1)  Mcneely, E., & Sandler, D. (2007). Tapering for Endurance Athletes. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 29(5), 18. doi:10.1519/1533-4295(2007)29[18:tfea]2.0.co;2

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

Leave a Reply