Century Bike Rides: Training Tips for Beginners

After we recently published "Century Bike Rides for Beginners", we received requests for training advice.  Luckily, we found some serious cyclists from our favorite cycling forum to relay their training advice. Here is what "Calico Cat" and others (including the Athletic-Minded TravelerTeam) suggest: If you are starting from scratch -- meaning ground ZERO:

  1. Bike fit.  Make sure you have your bike fitted by an expert.  It will improve comfort. Know how to fix your bike if something goes wrong. You can likely take a class at your local bike store.
  2. Slowly build.  Start building mileage over time.  Add mileage in 10% increments.  Do this slowly and do it ONLY when a "set" distance becomes easy.  Remember you are building up to handling 6+ hours in the saddle.  (If you average a very easy 12 mph, you'll finish in just over 8 hours.) ** See ride specific advice below.
  3. Train to terrain, meaning if your Century is going to be hilly, ensure that your training rides include some elevation changes.
  4. Keep track.  Whether it's a training diary or your excel spreadsheet, keep track of your progress in terms of mileage, how you felt before and after ride, what you ate and anything else that may help you refine your ride experience.  If you like tracking stats, get a bike computer and/or use a heart-rate monitor.
  5. Adjust.  As you settle into longer distances, make adjustments.  How's the saddle, your padding in the shorts, shoe angle etc.?  Find comfort now.  How much food can you carry?
  6. Eat well.  Eat 2 hours before riding (ideally).  Banana and an almond butter and jelly sandwich is a good combo meal.  As you increase your distances pay attention to what you have eaten and how you feel.  For longer rides carry food.  Our team likes Clif shots, Gu, and energy bars without chocolate -- since it melts.  Go for a balance of carbs and protein and hydrate.  We favor Gatorade diluted with water.  Also if you find yourself getting hungry, you waited too long.  You want to maintain your glycogen stores to avoid "bonking."
  7. Recover.  Do NOT overtrain.  Active recovery is fine, but most serious athletes still don't relax enough.  Your muscles need time to rest and re-build.  Anything you do on a recovery day should be super easy and under an hour.  Another idea is to train hard for three weeks and then ease up significantly for the fourth week.  These rest weeks can do wonders for the body and mind.
  8. Pay attention.  Watch for the signs of overtraining.   Are you having a hard time sleeping?  Is your resting heart rate elevated?  Are you feeling burned out and irritable?  Do your legs feel heavy?  Are you rides suddenly more tiring?
  9. Bonus Rounds.  If you are more competitive, consider some high intensity training which will build your power.  Century rides are about endurance, but if you want to improve your time, high intensity rides can help.

The Training Rides:  Advice

  • As mentioned above, add distance slowly.  Plan to cycle 10 to 20 miles in week one and then build from there.  Your goal is to reach 100 miles and it could/should take you 10-15 weeks.
  • Cycle 5 days a week.  Take at least one day completely off and consider weight training or some other activity the other day that will let your body recover.
  • Use the weekends for the long rides.  Likely those rides will be in the 20-30 mile range for the first month, then to 40 miles and then, after approx. two months, 55-60 miles.  You may hit 65+ as you approach 10-12 weeks of training.  For the weekdays, the distances can be much shorter -- 10 to 12 miles versus the longer 25 miles; or 15 to 25 miles when your longer ride 40 miles.  Vary the mileage and intensity.
  • Join a group.  There are many group rides that cover anywhere from 30 to 70 miles.  It's mentally easier to be part of a training ride. Check with your local bike shop.  Athletic-Minded Traveler often highlights group rides in its Gear Up section!
  • Some cyclists train every day. We don't recommend it. You need at LEAST ONE DAY OFF!  A natural day to take off?  The day after your longest ride.  Some Century veterans claim you need only 2.5 to 3 hours at most in the saddle at any one time to prepare.  Once you can comfortably pass the 3 hour mark, your endurance is strong and it becomes more about proper nutrition and comfort.

This is an example training plan from About.com. Click here for the link and verbiage. Century Training Plan

Century Training Plan
Week Length of Long Ride Total Miles/Week
1 25 55
2 30 65
3 35 73
4 40 81
5 45 90
6 50 99
7 57 110
8 65 122
9 50 75
10 Century Ride Yeah!

Doing the Free Wheeling

Doing the Free Wheeling century out of Redmond on June 8. 3800 fit of elevation for first century (well, first organized one).

Have been using Joe Friel's Power Meter book as a guide. This method and device is a miracle. Best Xmas gift ever.

With 5 weeks to go, I did 86 miles and 3500 ft yesterday, a TSS of 357. Ok for a 58 yr old in his second year on the bike.

I do 3 key workouts a week (hard), with one of them the long century simulation. In between I do recovery workouts on a trainer, very tightly controlled 150 watts for 60-105 minutes depending on how I feel.

Add to your list of "do's" to diligently track training results and progress. It keeps you on track and can help correct trends early.

I plan on doing the pre race hotel as recommended above.

What I'm looking for is, how long should I take off after the ride? Treat the next week as a normal 6 day week? I don't have the next event targeted but the season will go on...

You can't go wrong with Joe

You can't go wrong with Joe Friel :) And tracking is a great idea...sort of like weighing oneself. Gotta be on top of the "data." In terms of your recovery question, our resident Century Rider & Iron Woman, Kirsty Hopkins, says:

"Cyclist should take a few days off (at least) following a century. Trainer rides should especially be at a lower intensity. I would recommend using the week following as a recovery week; incorporating some easy rides or cross training workouts. Recovery will be more conducive to the rest of the biking series than going right back to a 6 day week. Enjoy a slower pace of workouts for a week or two and then start ramping back up for the next event."

That's right. Sometimes

That's right. Sometimes beginners get overly excited about reaching their goals and learn as much that they over do the training. Everything is accomplished well through time and not overnight...May I just add to your list here that acquiring a quality bike for your ride is also important for beginners.

I'll tell you how it worked

I'll tell you how it worked on June 6th, the day after my first century!
At the age of 59 I decided it was time I did more than commute. I'm following more or less your plan and finding no pain or discomfort, just a huge sense of achievement.

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