Narrow road in the middle of desert with mountains and big clouds

Doing a Century ride seems to be a common goal among cyclists. There seems to be a rite of passage in achieving your first 100 miles on the bike. Before I started cycling I could not imagine how anyone could possibly ride their bike that far or for that long. And once I started cycling, I still thought doing a century was something I was not going to be able to do for a very long time.

Turns out that having a good plan can get you there sooner than you think. This post will give you a roadmap to prepare you for your first Century, Grand Fondo and similar long events that are not as demanding as the Dirty Kanza 200.

How to build time in the saddle

Assuming you have been riding once or twice a week already, the focus should be on increasing riding volume to build a good endurance base. To do that, focus on time in the saddle for your rides, not distance. You can continue doing shorter rides during the week, and start adding volume on the weekends.

For the busy athlete, combining short workouts during the week on the trainer with longer weekend rides is also a good way to prepare. This could be for example two short, intense workouts during the week and one endurance ride on the weekend that keeps getting progressively longer.

Getting ready

Build time on the saddle slowly, starting with one to two hour rides on the weekends, six to seven weeks from the event. Add 30 to 60 minutes in subsequent weekends. You can also break it up doing a little shorter but harder ride on Saturday, then a longer and easier ride on Sunday. These back-to-back days help build endurance.

To be ready for your Century ride or Grand Fondo, you should have done one ride of four to five hours, two to three weeks before the event with the goal of targeting saddle time versus distance, as mentioned above.

In addition, use these long rides to experiment with your nutrition and hydration, so that you know exactly what kind and how much food, water and electrolyte mix you will need to keep you going strong. More on nutrition/hydration below.

The week before the event is your “taper” and it should be easy. Keep active on the bike by riding easy outside for one to two hours and doing one or two short easy rides on the trainer incorporating some high cadence and similar “opener” intervals. Alternatively, sign up to train with us and we will take the guess work out of your training and help you adjust your schedule when life gets busy!

Additional tips

  • Do a few outdoor rides on less-than-ideal conditions. Riding on windy, rainy, cold or very hot days will expose you to the conditions you may encounter on your Century ride or Grand Fondo, and you will be better prepared to face them.
  • Dress in layers if the temperature is expected to vary throughout the day. Most of the energy our body produces is spent to keep us cool, so you don’t want to overtax the body by being too warm.

Nutrition

As mentioned above, use your long training rides as “dress rehearsals” for what you will use on event day. Find out how much food you need per hour and what kinds of food make you feel energized without intestinal distress. Here are a few general rules, but keep mind the needs vary from person to person:

  • Aim to eat 60 grams of mixed-source or complex carbs per hour
  • Aim to eat 5-10 grams of protein per hour
  • Save gels and fast-release chews for the last 60-90 minutes of the ride
  • Find out what kinds of food will be offered at the rest stops, and either use the same foods in training or bring your own if what they have is not what works for you
  • Avoid the temptation of eating that fancy/yummy/special treat they may have at the rest stop. While they might look appealing, foods you are not used to eating in training can cause headaches, stomach upset and/or diarrhea.
  • Eat every 45-60 minutes, on the clock, even if you are not hungry. Set up an alarm on your device if you need to.

My favorite bars are Skratch Labs, Honey Stinger Waffles, and Macrobars. I also love bringing my own rice cakes.

Hydration

Hydration is extremely important in long events such as a Century ride. I cannot stress this enough. Being low on hydration by as little as 10% will make it almost impossible to catch up. That is because once blood volume drops below a certain level, the body will have a hard time bringing it up while you are still exercising. So start drinking early and drink often.

Aim to drink one bottle of your favorite electrolyte mix per hour, more if it is very hot. Avoid Gatorade, Powerade and similar drinks, as they are heavy in sugar and do not have the ideal osmolality to be properly absorbed.

As with your food, find out what kind of electrolyte mix will be offered at the rest stops, and either use the same in training or bring your own if what they have is not what works for you.

My favorite electrolyte mixes are Skratch and Nuun.

Good luck on your Century ride or Grand Fondo!

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