Whether you're a newbie to cycling or more experienced, completing your first century ride is like a rite of passage for many riders. It's almost like the marathon equivalent for a runner, and it is a big achievement on the bike.
A century ride is one of the most popular lengths of cycling challenges people like to complete - whether that be in a sportive, an event, or on your own. But how do you get yourself into a position where you can complete a century ride? Or, even, how do you train yourself so you're comfortable cycling 100 miles?
In this article, we'll discuss basic training principles and suggested training rides, including hih intensity interval training, how you should fuel your ride, the type of mindset you need to succeed and what equipment you need to finish a big ride like a century.
Completing a long ride like 100 miles takes more than just endurance, although that is still a key part of it. To be physically ready, you need to have completed a long ride of about 85 miles, but we'll get into that soon.
For the actual event, let's break it down into more manageable chunks. In this case, it's a good idea to aim for four 25 miles sections. Each one is roughly 1.5 hours (more or less depending on terrain and fitness), and suddenly a century ride feels a bit more manageable.
The first quarter will be like your long training rides, keeping it steady and making sure you ease into it. If you're riding your century ride as part of an event, it's easy to let the atmosphere of the start line and the speed of everyone else make you ride faster - but try and stick to your own pace here, otherwise you might struggle towards the end.
The second quarter might start to get a bit more tricky but should still be manageable as you hit the halfway mark. The third quarter is where you might start to feel the fatigue, and you need the confidence of your previous training to get you through it. This is why long rides and a structured training plan is important. If you perform well in your training, then you'll mentally have more confidence in your ability to finish the event.
Finally, the final quarter. If you've fuelled well and done a long distance ride or two you might still be feeling good - or at least feeling confident you'll finish. If you haven't, now is the time to start repeating mental affirmations and focusing on even smaller milestones.
The physical demands of a century ride is not just about completing endurance rides. Sure, these help to develop your aerobic base, but spending four hours on the turbo trainer when you could be performing more time efficient training rides like sweet spot training, for example, may not be the best use of your time.
Fitness benchmarks like functional threshold power (FTP), or one minute power are all important no matter the type of cycling you do. However, different benchmarks are more important depending on the terrain you'll be hitting. For example, if you're riding an alpine sportive like the Haute Route events, completing a steady ride three times a week on flat terrain isn't going to help - you need to focus on improving your FTP as well as your Vo2 max for some of the steeper climbs and shorter efforts.
It's important to note, however, that things like the FTP aren't the be-all and end-all of cycling fitness. It's great for gauging where your fitness is at, and can be incredibly useful for setting your heart rate or power meter zones, but if you're merely trying to get round the 100 miles, it's not going to be an intensity you hit very often.
Completing a full FTP test with a 20 minute effort can be a good indication of fitness as it's the longer form of effort that you can't bluff. You need base in the legs to perform a good power/time. While the 100 mile is a lot longer than the FTP, if you can test yourself over longer durations, go for it! But when you ride the 100 mile event you're aiming to avg. around your top end Z2.
If it's your first century, it might be helpful to get yourself a century training plan - there are plenty of static (aka not tailored to you) plans out there, and for beginners they offer a great way to discover how you should be spending your time on the bike.
While you might not see the results you would with a tailored century training plan, these are good options for those getting into the sport. Once you have a bit more knowledge about the types of training you should be doing, the training blocks and the like, you should really look for a more personalised approach. We discussed this in more depth in our article on tailored versus static training plans here.
"Spoked fits around your lifestyle and riding. Spoked is free for the first 14 days so you can download the iPhone or Android app and create a plan today.”
Everybody is different - everyone has a different fitness history, for example, and different strengths on the bike. So take our advice with a pinch of salt - apply what will work for you, and throw away the rest.
Ideally, you'll have a good aerobic base before you start training for a 100 mile ride. If not, then allow yourself a minimum of 12 weeks/3 months to get some quality training in. If you've got more time before your event, then you can really build on your aerobic fitness and see bigger ganis - the fastest people aren't the ones that pick up the bike two weeks before the event and do a weekend ride or two, preparation is key - unless of course, you have a fitness base like Chris Froome or Annemiek van Vleuten.
When looking for training plans, try to find some that include some relevant variety. We're not saying go mad for high intensity interval training every session, but look for something that contains some intensity during the week, topped off with longer rides at the weekend. For the longest ride, try and complete a few 85 milers prior to the big day. If you can complete these, you'll feel far more confident in your abilities, and know you can push through the final 15 miles during the big event. Remember, cycling is as much mental as it is physical, and your mind is far more powerful than you likely give it credit for!
The amount of hours you train per week will depend on your personal schedule and your fitness. Don't go from zero to 20 hours - this can lead to burning out and overtraining. We do suggest that as a minimum though, aim for 2-3 hours between Monday and Friday and then an endurance ride at the weekend. These should be at an intensity of easy rides, but buildingon your long distance rides and endurance.
For your first century, getting round is most likely your priority. But if you're training using a power meter, you might start to think about what level your FTP or power to weight should be at. We'd never suggest anyone needs to lose weight unhealthily, or just for a target event. But if it's a mountainous sportive like a Haute Route event, then carrying a few less kilos will help immensely on the climbs - if you are at a point where doing so would still be healthy. The goal here is to focus on the process of increasing your FTP/Power number, not the number itself. So eat well, look after your sleep, following a training plan (a Spoked one of course). If you focus on the key foundations, it will put you in good stead to become as fit as you can be.
Ideally, you'll also be familiar with being in a group with other riders. If you're riding a century as part of an event, you'll likely find yourself in a group at some point, particularly at the start when everyone is funnelled out in waves. Learn some basic communication as well such as pointing out potholes or hazards. There are plenty of online resources to help you grasp the basics, like that above, but the best practice is real-world practice. Go join a club ride or grab some cycling mates and head out on a ride.
Although there are a lot of things on the day of your event that you won't be able to control, fuelling is one of the few things that you can. The latest research tells us that fuelling should be different to reflect the level of intensity of your ride.
If you're riding an intensive effort, then you will require more fuel, aka carbohydrates. Per hour, you might look to eat and drink between 60 and 90 grams of carbohydrates. However this can stretch up to 120 g, which something you want to be build to. This could be through drink and food, so don't feel that you need to be wolfing down a whole loaf of bread every 20 minutes. British cycling has some good resources on how to make sure you avoid stomach issues when upping your carb intake or when riding in different training zones on the bike.
Essentially, however, it's important that you consider your stomach like your legs - they need to be trained and so does your digestive system. If you go from eating nothing to trying to eat 90g of carbs an hour on the bike, you'll quickly regret it. Start slow and gradually increase the amount you're eating and drinking.
Hydration is also key, not just for carbohydrate intake but for replacing the lost electrolytes through your training session. The amount you need to drink can vary due to a number of factors: weather conditions, intensity, and your sweat rate for example. As a rule of thumb, try to drink roughly 500ml at least every hour, but if you want to understand how much you should be drinking to stay on top of your hydration, you can work out your sweat rate using the method below.
During a 1hr ride, you consumed 1 litre of fluid (Which is equal to roughly 1kg)
If we put it into a calculation it would look like: 80kg-78kg= 2L
2kg + 1L = 3L sweat rate
In order to replace your lost fluids, you must replace 1.5x what you've lost, so to replace 3L you actually need to replace 4.5L. Keeping hydrated is incredibly important, not just for your perceived exertion rate but for your body's ability to exercise efficiently. Even a 2% decrease in body weight through dehydration is enough to notably impair your performance on the bike.
In terms of fuelling strategies and overall cycling nutrition, we've put together some examples of what you might want to consider eating and drinking during training and racing.
On a race or training day, aim for breakfast 2-3hrs before. This gives your stomach time to digest your meal before your ride so you don't start the ride feeling full. Here are two ideas for breakfast:
When you're on the bike, make sure you have enough to eat and drink for the duration of your ride or race, by following these tips:
There are plenty of things you can do to improve your exercise nutrition, and different parts of your training plan will require different focuses. For example, on a rest day, you won't need quite as many carbohydrates as a day where you are training your lactate threshold zone. Learning about your sweat rate and how your body reacts to certain foods as you build fitness and go further along in your training plan will pay dividends on your big day.
A century is no easy feat on a bike. It takes time to build your fitness to a level where it might be attainable, particularly if the century is filled with mountains. However, your mindset is key to your success in a century. Most cyclists work best when the challenge is broken down in front of them, and if they have a set pace to work towards - although for the first time yuo ride 100 miles, then pace isn't what you should necessarily be focussing on.
As we discussed above, break the event down into more manageable chunks. In this case, four times 25 miles. Mentally, you will likely struggle the most when you get towards halfway, or just over. This is when your body will feel tired, and mentally you'll be watching the miles tick down but realise you're only halfway through the event.
In times like these, it's important you remind yourself of your initial motivations. Why are you riding 100 miles? What is it that makes cycling so appealing to you? Also, everyone else will be suffering too, unless Marianne Vos is riding next to you, so take solace in that fact.
It may also be easier to take things slowly - one corner at a time, or even one climb at a time. Stop focussing on how slowly the time is passing, and focus on what you can control. Additionally, try to have fun! Think about the stories you will be able to share with your friends and family afterwards. Often the best days on the bike (in hindsight) are the ones where we suffered the most. Enjoy the day as best you can, and remember that it will eventually be over.
Thankfully, you don't need to spend an absolute fortune on new stuff just to ride 100 miles. If you already have a road bike, then that will do nicely. Ideally, you want one that fits you well, and is set up for your riding position. A bike fit will help immensely with comfort and with power output, but it's an expense.
The main priority is that your bicycle is functional. For peace of mind you could service it or take it to the local bike shop for a service prior to your event, but don't make any big changes to it the day before your event. The same way you don't change your bib shorts, kit or food you take. Make sure it's a bike you're used to.
In terms of food, or access to food, it's vital you train yourself to eat while you ride before the big day. A good rule is to have everything planned out and tested before your century, so you know what's comfortable and what you can eat. Having a pouch on the top tube or a bar bag makes food easily accessible, and great if you don't feel confident reaching for food in your pockets while you're riding. Additionally, you could try pre-opening your food before you ride, so it's easy to access when you're riding.
As it's such a long event, we'd recommend considering larger bidons. 750ml bottles might not look as good on your frame as 500ml ones, but between two of them there's an extra 500ml of fluid ready for you to drink so you don't need to stop as frequently, and run less risk of dehydrating.
Furthermore, make sure you take enough tools with you to be prepared for minor mechanicals. That usually means taking a mini pump, CO2 canister, tyre levers and at least two inner tubes to be on the safe side. While most big events have mechanical assistance, you may have to pay for it so it's better to be confident in your roadside repairs.
Finally, we'd urge you to consider the terrain. Is it hilly? Do you need some easier gears? Don't knacker yourself with a 53/39 if you can use a 50/34 for example.
Following static cycling training plans is of course more likely to help you reach your goal than if you just rode without focus, but a dynamic, flexible plan like you get from Spoked (or a coach) will help you cut the junk miles and be more efficient with your time on the bike.
Start by outlining your goal. Is it to increase your FTP, or to beat your friends? Or maybe you want to tackle a rolling road race or a time trial. Spoked has training plans for all of these goals. For something like a Haute Route sportive, pick the Alpine Sportive plan.
Then, enter your training volume - this is the amount of time you can dedicate to cycling training per week. You can edit each day to determine how many hours you can ride, and set out which days you want as rest days. Spoked can help to give you guidance on the hours per week you want to ride to see the best results, and the best part is - all this can be edited at any time.
When setting your ride time you can choose between types of rides. We know that you won't always be able to follow a planned ride, and sometimes you need to go for a ride with your mates without any structure, which is why we include the option of a free ride.
"Spoked fits around your lifestyle and riding. Spoked is free for the first 14 days so you can download the iPhone or Android app and create a plan today.”
Choose between free rides, structured training and another activity (for example, running or strength training), and the plan will build itself each week. Once you've completed a session, the algorithm detects how well you worked to the planned workout and changes your plan to adapt to your progress.
100 miles is a long way and it shouldn't be treated lightly, particularly if you're a beginner. Getting yourself used to spending hours in the saddle is key to success for your sportive or event, and training to the terrain is also important. If there are hills, focus on hills, if it's flat, well, hills are always a good way to train!
If you follow the steps laid out above, and follow a training plan like the ones Spoked offer, you shouldn't have a problem with reaching your century ride goal! Using Spoked can help you devise the right plan for your event, and is completely flexible in its approach. Try it for free for two weeks by downloading the app on the App Store or on Google Play.