Tackling your first ever triple digit mileage bike ride or taking on a century road ride that is drastically different than rides you are used to can be an interesting challenge.
For many, the achievement mark of a 100 mile ride is a stepping stone they must take in their cycling career…for others…it is a way to get involved with the sport through large, organized activities (like charity bike rides) for a cause during the year. Either way…if you are working up to a long mileage road bike ride, century road rides are a great way to test your abilities and get more involved with the sport. So you have picked one in your area…what do you need to do to get ready for the road bike ride and how do you need to tackle the distance once you get there.
Preparing For A Century Road Bike Ride
In all reality, about the only thing you can really do to prepare for a 100 mile road bike ride is to put in some miles. I typically do not recommend that riders take on a century unless they have completed 60-70 mile road bike rides without too much issue. The last 30 miles on a century tests your will to keep the legs moving in a way that you really can not experience and overcome without some miles on your legs already. Before you take on the 100 mile route, get out with friends and complete 60-70 mile road bike rides to test your ability to go the distance. If all feels good (or you are just fearless)…go for it…
Luckily, all century road rides also leave you with mileage options (typically 20′s, 40′s and metric century/60′s mileage options), so you can be apart of the event even if you aren’t taking on the 100 mile. Additionally, century road rides are really well supported with SAG stops that provide nutrition and fluids to get you from point A to point B. If you get into trouble…help is not too far away. This makes century road rides the perfect avenue to test your distance abilities.
When you are ready get everything you need on a road ride and suit up for the long haul.
Century Road Rides: How I Ride The Distance
Everyone has their own strategy when it comes to century road rides. If you are shooting for a sub 4 hour on flat courses or sub 5 in the mountains, chances are you already know exactly what you are doing, so you guys are not really the focus here. The following tips and tricks for century road rides are how I personally attack the 100 mile ride.
Keeping Hydrated: Take In Fluids
I start every century ride with two bottles of water. The goal is to consume at least a bottle an hour during the entire ride. Towards the end of the ride, I normally take in more than that as stops at SAGs permit. The trick is to start drinking while you are getting ready and during the beginning stages of the ride when you feel like you really do not need to take in a lot of fluids. If you get to the point where you feel dehydrated 50 miles in, you are working from behind the 8 ball and that can get you into trouble. Two bottles…in most centuries…will get me to the SAG at around mile 50 which works out perfectly with the rest of the plan.
Once I have taken down the two bottles of water, I fill up one bottle with the drink mix provided at the SAGs to get sodium and one bottle with water to take care of my water craving while riding. From that point, I drink at least a bottle an hour and stop at one more SAG based off of that consumption/need.
Getting With The Right Group: Tear Off The Beginning Miles
On most century rides, I am not trying to tear off my best time possible. While there are groups that are trying to hit a time limit, 90% of the riders on the ride are trying to get to the finish in one piece. Now…as you already know…riding in a big group creates a lot less work on your end, so getting with a good, fast group from the very beginning can help you count down the beginning half of the ride much quicker with less energy expended.
When I start a century, I try to find a fast, organized, experienced group to latch onto for the first 50-60 miles. A lot of times, this group is averaging faster than I can sustain for the whole 100, but for the first half…I can use them to get to the first stop quickly. If you are comfortable with pulling (how to pull a pace line) and feel that you can do so without wasting yourself for the rest of the century, get out front and pull your own weight being careful not to waste energy you might need for the rest of the miles. Otherwise, just stick in the pace line (pace line tips) and let the others do the work for you.
Once you have let the strong group pull you for the first half of the route, refuel and find smaller groups you can work with to get to the end. If you have the muscle left, you can also try to stick with the smaller, faster section of the group that just broke up as well.
Nutrition: Keeping The Fuel Going
During long road bike rides, you are going to be burning a ton of calories and releasing a lot of salt. I always carry several packs of Margarita Cliff Bloks (3x sodium) to keep hunger at bay while also replenishing the salt in my body with something that is easy to eat while I pedal. At sag stops, an orange and bananas keep the legs moving throughout the ride. On most SAGs, you will also have sugars (cookies, crackers, etc) and other salt based foods, so you will have to test out what works best for your stomach/body. I generally do not like to eat anything to heavy so the fruits work the best for me.
Manage Your Fitness: Taking Care Of The Motor
Before you hit the century road bike ride, study the course and the overall distance (some are in the high 90′s in mileage while some others stretch into the low 100′s). The elevation change at the end and final miles are going to be some of the hardest, so you need to take that into consideration as you hammer out the rest of the route. Always be sure to keep enough in the tank for the end and focus on clean pedal strokes to get the most forward motion with the least amount of effort.
Century Road Bike Rides
Century rides can be a great experience or a complete disaster depending on how you deal with the ride. By keeping these things in mind as you hit the road, you can insure that you get the most out of the experience and figure out your own style of long distance road biking. In the end, these rides can be a great way to give back to a cause by participating in charity bike rides and spend time with new and old friends.
Image by Jon Wick