Inexperienced cyclists often sign up for their first century ride and become a little overwhelmed at what they've committed to. The first century is a learning experience, no doubt, and not just on event day. Training the right way for a century is tough to nail down on your own.
Steve Matson, a Category 3 road racer who runs Matson Cycle Coaching, has helped many cyclists train for century rides. Over the years, he's noticed a few training mistakes that consistently pop up, yet aren't exposed until the day of the event when it's too late to correct.
Don't fall in those traps yourself. Here are a few tips from Matson that will help with the basic framework of your century ride training calendar:
Give Yourself Enough Time
Matson notices that a lot of century riders, particularly first-timers, don't start training soon enough. The actual time a rider needs to train for 100 miles varies, but 3-4 months is a general timeframe Matson recommends.
He cites an example of a century newbie who rides regularly, has good equipment and goes on 15-30 mile rides.
"I think it takes 3-4 months for them to extend their volume and extend their distance so that not only do they survive, but they feel good," Matson said.
Mix Long and Short Days
Training 4-6 days a week is ideal, and it's more than just riding a lot of miles. Matson suggests one or two days a week for long rides, where you increase the distance and creep toward that 100-mile goal.
The other days, he says, "perform bike-structured intervals that improve pedaling mechanics, build muscle, expand aerobic capacity, and even, at later stages, work the higher end of VO2 max abilities."
That last part—work the higher end of your VO2 max—can be done through high-intensity interval workouts. Basically, you go hard for a short period of time, rest by pedaling lightly, go hard, rest, and so on. What exactly your intervals are depends on how far along you are in your training.
"If you're in build one (of your periodization), you probably aren't going to do much high-intensity, or else it will be very short—10 seconds, 12 seconds," Matson said. "And you're going to build up to it. When you're four weeks out from your event, you might be doing 10 efforts that are above your lactate threshold, and they might last four minutes."
High-intensity training is constantly being studied. But the consensus is that it has undeniable positive effects on your endurance—and will help you complete a century ride.
A 100-Mile Training Ride? Why Not?
Many coaches feel that topping out your training rides at 70 or 75 miles will have you prepared for a century. Matson doesn't dispute that, but why stop there?
"If you can do 70 miles in training, you can do 100 miles on event day," Matson said. "On the other hand, why not go into the event knowing you can do the 100 miles by doing it three weeks out? You don't want to do 100 miles one week out, but do it three weeks out, then you can taper your training down."
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The reason for considering a full-length training ride is simple: confidence.
"One hundred miles done three weeks out just gives you the knowledge that 'Hey, I can do this,'" Matson said. "It makes it that much easier on event day. You won't be focusing on 'Can I do it?' You will be focusing on how you do it."Sign up for a century ride.