How to train for and survive a century ride

With the help of experienced cyclists, including a pro rider and a former Olympic coach, we have prepared a simple, easy to read guide to help prepare and above all, motivate you for a century ride.

A rite of passage for every cyclist, the century is a landmark distance, tipping you over into the fabled triple digits. One hundred miles (that’s approximately 160km) is no mean feat but something that every keen road cyclist aims for, an achievement unlocked, initiation into the celebrated century club.

WHY DO IT?

A century is a pretty massive goal and those triple digits are not easy to reach. The distance between 99 and 100 can feel like the longest mile you'll ever do, but once you make it, the door is open to a whole new world of possibilities. It’s not just an admirable individual goal, a century is a perfect challenge to take on with a group of mates - training and working towards the big day together. Once you're done and your computer has ticked over 100, you'll feel the immense sense of achievement, satisfaction and reward: you're a centurion!

CENTURY RIDES

You've got choices when you decide to take on the famous century

One popular option is to sign up for an organised mass start sportive event. Many people find that this attaches a bit of dependability and motivation for the whole challenge. There are 100-mile events all over the country of varied terrain — hilly or flat - and with plenty of perks to get you round the whole route: feed stations, clear route marking, event medals, even closed roads. Some events, like the closed-roads Prudential RideLondon 100, are even lined with spectators to cheer participants on to the finish. Besides the RideLondon, other popular events include the Fred Whitton Challenge, widely regarded as the country’s hardest sportive event due to the fearsome gradients of the hills along the way. If Britain’s ultimate sportive isn’t for you, there’s also the Wiggle New Forest 100 which winds its way through Hampshire's narrow lanes, or if you want to test yourself on the same roads as your professional idols on the Tour de France, the Etape London (now moved to the Chilterns) takes in much of the same route as the 2014 Cambridge to London Grand Depart stage.

Should you enter an organised event or go it alone?

Despite their appealing qualities, mass start sportive events are not for everyone. A century is still a century whether you do it alone or with thousands of other people. Going out alone means you can plan a route on your favourite roads, get up when you like, take it at your own pace and stop wherever you choose...

You won't get a shiny medal at the end, but you'll still ride the same distance and the achievement is no more or less for having done it your own way. Arguably, a solo century is yet more impressive than one completed in a bunch of riders sharing the work.

It’s never too early to start your preparation, but it depends on your current fitness as to optimum timescale. If you’re happy riding 60 miles (lOOkm), British Cycling recommends a minimum of three months to get comfortably up to the century. If you're beginning from a point of zero, or close to zero fitness, we'd suggest allowing at least six months to gently ratchet up the distances you're riding.

What sort of training should you do?

It is important to carefully plan your training and - tempting though it is to crank out high-intensity rides from the off - keep in mind that slow and steady wins the race. If you go too hard too soon, you could find yourself hitting a substantial and seemingly unassailable wall that you don't have time for. Ultimately, your first century is going to push your endurance further than ever before. You will achieve your personal best just by crossing the finish line, so try not to worry too much about breaking any records on your first attempt.

TRAINING

The perfect century training plan should include plenty of steady endurance riding and if possible, some terrain that is similar in profile to the 100-miler that waits on the horizon. Although don’t despair if the notoriously lumpy Fred Whitton

Your nutrition and off-the-bike activities are also important if you want to get the most out of your body. Load up on carbohydrates with a big (but sensible) breakfast, stuff your jersey pockets with sugary carbs and energy products, drink lots even if you don't feel like it and recover with a protein-heavy meal as soon as possible after you return home. It’s easy to pick up little niggles when you start to ramp up your training, so a good routine of pre- and post-ride stretching is never a bad idea.

If you're taking part in a mass start event, it’s also worth familiarising yourself with group riding. Several thousand riders take the start of the biggest sportives, which means countless cyclists of varying fitness and ability to share the same roads for several hours. The best way to improve your etiquette and awareness on the bike is to sign yourself up to a Sunday ride with your friendly local cycling club.

What do the pros say?

CHRIS OPIE, former rider for Canyon-Eisberg

What sort of training should you do? How early should you start? “Your first 100-mile ride is always a big achievement to tick off the list, I still remember mine clearly. It took almost 7 hours! Good planning for fuelling on the day is the most important, the more you eat and drink, the more energy you will have to enjoy the ride! Good bike maintenance in the run-up to the day will prevent any unwanted issues ruining what should be one of your more memorable days out on the bike, pay extra attention to tyres and brake alignment. Ensure your bike is well oiled and clean too! But above all, the day is about enjoying being on the bike, take pictures, have fun and be safe!” As well as being a former pro rider, Chris is also a cycling coach. More details can be found at Duchy Coaching.

DAVE SMITH, former Olympic Coach

“Much of the preparation for your first century comes down to ensuring comfort on the bike, and an attitude adjustment to keep going nice and steady even after you feel tired. Expect that you might find it hard but also know that you’ll have the determination to keep riding.” On the day, have a quick check of the weather forecast, wind direction in particular, so that you’re not caught out by an unexpected headwind at any stage. Knowing what is ahead is key to being mentally ready. Start at a nice steady pace and avoid the temptation to press on hard to stay with riders around you. It’s a day to finish, not impress others. And good luck! Dave Smith is a former Olympic coach and sports scientist who works with cyclists and athletes of all levels Velocity And Vitality

MISTAKES TO AVOID

At the beginning of a three-month training plan, progress can feel slow, but avoid going too hard out of the starting gate. Over-training can lead to fatigue, plateauing, loss of form and even illness. Even the pros take regular days off the bike, so don’t neglect your own rest and recovery.

Speaking of the pros, whose training and racing data is more accessible than ever thanks to Strava, don’t indulge the temptation to replicate the training regime of a full-time cyclist. In fact, try not to compare yourself to anyone. Every cyclist has different needs, commitments and goals. Comparing yourself to your Strava feed is the fastest route to burnout.

It’s also important to take the time to experiment with sports nutrition products before the big day. You want to know what works for you with plenty of advanced warning in case you find that your tummy doesn't get on with a certain brand’s energy gels.

The biggest mistake you can make though, is to forget why you’re doing it in the first place. Don’t forget to have fun!

TRAINING AT A GLANCE

1. It’s never too soon

There’s no ‘perfect’ timescale for training for a century, but three months is a good benchmark.

2. Training for endurance

Practise your pacing and fuelling for a long day in the saddle.

3. Avoid overtraining

By all means, train hard, but don’t overdo it or you'll find yourself going backwards.

4. Test your on-the-bike fuelling

Train with the food and drink you'll use on the big day.

5. Have fun!

If you’re not enjoying yourself, you're doing it wrong!

THE RIDE

It's (mostly) in your mind

Cycling a hundred miles can be tough for anyone and if this is your maiden century, you're heading into uncharted territory. Getting adequate training in and eating right in the lead-up to the event is half the battle. Next, is to tame the mental beast. Ask seasoned bike riders and they'll tell you that no matter what your legs are capable of, if your head isn’t in the game, you're not going to succeed. 100 miles looks and feels a lot easier if you split it into more manageable chunks in your mind: to the top of the first climb; the second feed station; the ten- miles-to-go sign. As you reach each target, you can tick off achievements on your way to the big goal.

Measuring your effort

You're on the start line and there’s a funny jelly-like feeling in your legs, your heart is racing. You've done all the training you could, your legs feel strong, your bike is clean like new and you got a decent amount of sleep last night. All that remains between you and that nice heavy medal they'll hang around your neck at the finish are 100 miles. 1OO miles that will need to be carefully paced. Don't go off too hard, tempting though it will be surrounded by your eager fellow riders. Measure your effort and try always to leave a little bit of intensity for the rest of the ride. Did you know you can recover while still riding? It’s called active recovery and the idea is that you spin the pedals at a low intensity, bring your heart rate down and ease back a little. Take in a little bit of energy food as you rest up and you'll be ready to inject a bit more pace in no time.

Whatever you do, don’t get sucked into trying to hold the wheels of a bunch of fast-looking riders. Many century attempts have been ended prematurely for those trying to mix it with riders much stronger than they.

IT'S TIME TO RIDE!

1. Use your head

100 is just a number and if you break it down it gets a lot more manageable.

2. Keep it steady

There’s no point flogging yourself at the start. Go steady and you'll get there.

3. Carb-loading is so 1996

Don't clog your body with kilos of pasta, just eat a smart, balanced meal the night before.

4. Little and often During the ride, eat and drink a little bit every 15 minutes.

Good luck!

Your first century should be a ride that sticks in the memory for a long time, and if you follow these tips, you'll be well on your way to making it a day to remember. You'll have aching limbs, stories to tell and hopefully a big smile on your face, because after all, if you’re not having fun you're doing it wrong. And remember, you can share your century experiences with us via PedalTripr's social media channels. We can’t wait to hear your stories.

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