How to Prepare for A Century Ride

Written by : Mr Mamil
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The century ride sits atop many cyclists’ to-do lists. Anyone who has ridden long enough would have completed a century ride in one form or another. For some, a century ride is a weekly affair, while it’s a massive ask for others.

Riding a century can scare off most cyclists, but if you plan and prepare well, you can nail it.

What is a century ride?

A century ride is a 100-mile long (160km) bike ride. It can be a social ride or a mass-start cycling event such as a Gran Fondo or sportive.

Many cyclists love the idea of a mass-start century ride as they ride on closed roads with hundreds (if not thousands) of similar-minded people on scenic routes. It gives the cyclist a sense of accomplishment as completing a century ride is a massive feat.

These tips and tricks below will help you plan and finish your first 100-mile ride strongly.

Have a training plan

Zwift Training Plan

Plan your training ahead of time. Give yourself twelve weeks to build up your base fitness and endurance. If you’ve just started cycling, it’s a good idea to give yourself more time.

The objective is to ramp up your training load and mileage gradually. Start with a short 20-mile ride on the first weekend and progressively increase to 100-mile. Train according to the century ride’s terrain profile. If it’s a very hilly route, you must train more on climbs as you go into the second half of the training period. 

There are a lot of century ride training plans available on the Internet today. Find out what suits your schedule best and stick to it. You can find good training plans from Trainerroad or CTS.

Use the training rides to get to know yourself and what your body needs. Try out different refueling strategies and gears to determine which suits you best.

Have enough rest

Bonked and Tired Cyclist

Rest and recovery are important yet often overlooked aspects of training. Schedule your last long training ride at least two weeks before the actual ride.

You want to give your body enough time to recover from all the training stress you put on in the past week. Give your body enough time to rest so that it can grow stronger through a process called super-compensation. When you rest up, your body will overcompensate for recovery, anticipating a higher training load, making you stronger.

Plan for easy recovery rides in the last week. You want to get your body moving and blood flowing but not stress it out.

More reading : How to Recover Faster After A Long Ride

Pace yourself

Col des Aravis Climb

100-mile is a long distance to cover and will take anywhere from 4 to 7+ hours, depending on the speed and terrain. Resist the temptation to go fast at the beginning or jump onto faster groups you can barely hang on to.

Instead, ride at a pace you’re comfortable with that will bring you to the finish line. By now, you’ve done enough training rides to know what a comfortable pace feels like.

If you have a power meter, an Intensity Factor between 0.65 to 0.75 would be ideal. In other words, ride between 65% to 75% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

Alternatively, you can also use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to indicate your pace. Ideally, you want the RPE to be around 6 or 7 on a scale of 1-10.

More reading : Why Train with A Power Meter?

Refuel before, during, and after

Drinking while Cycling

Having a refueling plan and sticking to it is key to completing your century ride. Your refueling starts two to three days before the actual ride.

  • Before. Eat healthy, nutritious foods rich in carbohydrates, such as rice, pasta, potatoes, and many fruits and vegetables. Avoid the common carbo-loading mistake of over-eating. This is not the reason for you to eat your heart out, thinking that you’ll burn it all off later. Stick to your usual eating cycle but be more selective about the food type and quality.
  • During. Your glycogen stores start to deplete around the 90 minutes mark, and if not replenished, you will soon hit the wall, also known as bonking. Aim to consume between 60 to 90g of carbs per hour. The easiest way to do this is through energy bars or gels. Most brands have a 2:1 glucose-to-fructose ratio that is easily digestible. Make sure it’s a brand you’ve tried before during your training rides so that they won’t cause any GI distress.
  • After. Replenish your glycogen stores within 30 minutes of completion. Consume around 300 calories of carbs and protein with a ratio of 4:1. You can then have your post-ride meal later once you’ve cleaned up.

Check the weather forecast

Remember to check the weather forecast daily as the ride gets nearer. The closer it is to the actual day, the more accurate the weather forecast.

Will it be a sunny or rainy day? Hot, cooling, or cold? Is it dry throughout the ride, or showers in the second half?

Plan your clothing accordingly. If the weather is unpredictable, you might consider a layering solution.

Don’t forget to check the wind direction and speed too. You don’t want to get caught in a gusty crosswind or ride in a block headwind in the last 30 miles. A strong tailwind towards the end will help you finish stronger.

Download and study the course

Giro di San Diego Route Map

Most Grand Fondo events publish the course on their website. Download the .gpx file to your computer.

Study the route using Ride with GPS, Strava, or Komoot to know where the refueling stations are, the climbs’ length, and the gradient. You can also use Google Streetview to survey the route virtually. Depending on your subscription levels, you can add instructions and reminders on the course before loading it onto your bike computer.

More reading : How to Use Strava for Cycling

Ride in a group

Group and Bunch Cycling

Cycling is a team sport. The better the teamwork, the further everyone can go. Sitting behind one’s wheel will save you anywhere from 20% to 50% effort while maintaining the same speed.

Ideally, you want to ride together with your group of friends. Try to stay together as much as possible and enjoy each others’ company. The stronger riders can do more work upfront to help the weaker ones.

If you don’t have friends, pick the group you want to tag wisely. It’s tempting to jump on a faster group, but consider whether you can last the pace to the finish. You don’t want to get dropped in the middle of nowhere with many miles to cover.

More reading : Bunch Riding Etiquettes

Don’t hang out at refuel stations

Water Stations at Grand Fondo

All Grand Fondo events have at least one refueling station. Usually, there will be several throughout the route, located about 40 miles from each other or at the top of a long climb.

There will be food, water, toilets, and basic mechanical assistance. Sometimes, hanging around the refuel stations to rest and refuel is tempting. Keep your stops to a minimum (5 to 10 minutes), and start riding again as soon as you’re done. Otherwise, the body will cool down, and the legs might not be too keen to get going again.

Resist the temptation of the free foods, as overeating might cause GI distress further into the ride.

Check your bike

Bicycle Maintenance How to

Check the bike for creaking and components for any wear and replace them if necessary. Common things to check are the brake pads, chains, and tires. These can be done at home, depending on your bike maintenance skills.

Don’t delay this until the last week. Get the bike checked at least a week before so you’ll have a few more days to ride with the new parts and address any issues.

Make sure you have a clean and well-lubed chain before the ride.

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