Century rides are one of the crowning achievements of recreational cyclists everywhere. If you've already completed more than one century (so named because they are 100 miles long. There are also metric centuries measuring 100 kilometers.), I'll bet you can vividly remember your first event. Beyond the first one, I suspect you can also recall the one with the coldest or hottest weather, fastest ride time, and the one with the most climbing.
If you're aiming to do a century ride that includes a generous serving of hills in the next few months, what can you do to ride strong from start to finish?
The first order of business is building endurance for the event. Aim to complete at least a few long rides that last between 50- to 80-percent of the time you think it will take for you to complete the century.
You can also use distance rather than time when building endurance. Keep in mind, however, that if you live and train in a location that has no hills, riding 60 miles on the flats can take much less time than 60 miles in the hills.
If you want to be a strong hill climber, you need to minimize the extra fluff you're carrying on your torso. This can be done by trimming a few calories (200 to 500 per day) out of each day's diet, increasing your weekly ride time or some combination of both.
Build Intensity Within the Long Ride
After building endurance at the aerobic level, start adding some intensity to your riding. Begin the process by accumulating about 20 minutes at Zone 3 intensity and building from there. A description of this intensity can be found on the "Training Intensities" document found in the free download area on this page. As you increase your time at higher riding intensities, add to your total ride time as well.
I like to begin building this accumulated ride intensity on the long rides a few weeks before beginning the structured intervals discussed next.
A key step in your progression to building more hill strength is working on your lactate threshold (see the "Training Intensities" document linked to above for an explanation of this term).
Start by doing intervals in Zone 3, then progress to Zone 4 and 5a after three to six weeks. In both cases, begin with broken intervals to keep power and speed high. The work to rest ratio is 3 or 4 to 1. For example, do four to six intervals lasting four minutes each while holding a Zone 4 to 5a heart rate. Take one minute of easy spinning to recover between each interval.
I typically begin with around 20 minutes of total work time and build from there. The majority of athletes can handle around 40 minutes of accumulated lactate threshold work time. Depending on the individual situation, some people can handle more.
Determine the right amount of total work time for you by paying attention to the work load that brings fitness improvement. Doing more than that volume can result in overtraining and injury.