15 Tips for Riding Your Best Century
Research the Event
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Pros scout the course before a race. If you can't pre-ride the course, study what's available on the web. For many events you can chat online with veterans about their experiences. Also be sure to look at typical weather patterns during previous year's events.
Develop a Plan
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Don't just do it—like the pros, have a specific plan for how you will tackle your event. How fast will you ride each section? How long will you stop at each rest stop? Given the start time and your projected finishing time, will you need arm or leg warmers?
Practice the Ride
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If your event is local, ride different sections to familiarize yourself with the terrain and learn your optimal riding pace. Riding a simulation ride is a valuable technique, whether you live near the course or not. Ride 50 miles and every five miles of your ride imagine where you will be another 10 miles into your century. Visualization can be just as helpful.
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Your muscles burn a mix of glycogen and fat for energy. Protein provides only about five percent of your energy during an endurance event. Even the skinniest rider has enough body fat for 100 miles. However, your glycogen stores are limited to only a few hours of hard riding. Eat primarily carbs, the source of glycogen, while riding.
Test Your Nutrition and Hydration
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On your training rides, experiment with different food and drink to figure out what tastes good, provides enough energy, and digests easily.
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Starting three days before your event, eat more carbs. At each meal cover your plate primarily with carbs and think of protein as a condiment. You'll probably gain a little water weight since your body stores water with the glycogen. Don't worry—you'll use the water during the event.
Start Fully Hydrated
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You want to start the event fully hydrated just like you want to start with a full load of glycogen. Starting three days before the event, drink eight glasses of fluid a day of primarily clear, unsweetened fluids and avoid alcohol. If you are drinking enough, your urine should be a pale yellow to clear in color (unless you are taking supplements, which could produce yellow urine).
Drink to Satisfy Thirst
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If you start the event fully hydrated, you'll only need to drink when you're thirsty to stay adequately hydrated. We used to be taught "Eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty." The former is still good advice; however, current research indicates that drinking too much can lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium), a potentially fatal condition.
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Because your glycogen stores are limited, you need to replenish them during the ride. To avoid energy swings eat carbs every hour.
Ride Your Ride
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From your training rides, scout the course and have a ride plan for how hard you should ride. Don't get carried away. Whether you ride by perceived exertion, heart rate or power, ride at your target pace. The group riding the right pace for you might be behind you!
Don't Go Anaerobic
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Anaerobic means you are riding without enough oxygen, i.e., you're breathing hard enough that you can't talk. Riding this hard uses up your precious glycogen very quickly and produces lactic acid (the painful burning in your legs). Inevitably you have to slow down to recover. Your overall pace will be faster if you don't go anaerobic.
Manage Your Time
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From your plan you should know which aid stations you'll stop at, how long you'll stop and what you need when you're there. If you are riding for time, think of these as refueling stops, not rest stops. As you near an aid station go through your mental list of what you need to do and then take care of each item quickly. Multi-task if possible—grab something to eat while standing in line to fill your bottles. If you are riding for enjoyment, socialize and enjoy eating and drinking while remaining aware of how much time you're stopping for.
Ride Carefully in Groups
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Riding in a group saves energy and adds to the fun. However, be careful riding in unfamiliar groups. Not knowing the skill of those around you can be dangerous. Keep your distance so you don't wind up on the pavement wondering what happened.
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Test everything during your training rides: pacing, clothing, equipment, food and drink. Don't try anything new during an event. If you've only been eating energy bars, don't grab a brownie at an aid station. But if your training rides include a stop for coffee and pastry and then lunch, take advantage of these during your event.
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Unlike the pros, you're not being paid to ride! Whether you are trying to go fast, conquer a particularly difficult route, extend how far you can ride or just want to enjoy the chance to ride with others in an organized event, take pleasure in how well you are riding.