How Many Centuries Can I Ride This Year?

Written by

When cyclists catch the century bug, they often rush to sign up for as many of the 100-mile rides as they can fit into the season. But how many centuries can you realistically prepare for in a season, and how much time do you need to take between each one?

Well, that depends on your fitness level, experience and the amount of time you can devote to century training, but there are some guidelines you can use to lay out a challenging, yet enjoyable and fulfilling season of long rides.

Find Your Century Identity

The beauty of centuries is that 4,000 people can push off from the starting line with goals ranging from finishing 100 miles for the first time, to breaking their previous best time, to racing to finish in fewer than five hours.

More experienced cyclists and those who normally ride more weekly hours or miles can handle more centuries per year, with less recovery time between each, than novice riders. To figure out where you fit in, check out the table below.

# of 100-mile rides in previous year Weekly training hrs Avg speed on endurance rides
Rookie 0 3-5 12-14 mph
Charity Rider 1-2 4-8 14-15 mph
Century Regular 3-5 8-10 15-17 mph
Group-ride Groupie 6-10 10-12 16-18 mph
Racer 12+ 12-20 18-21 mph

Still unsure of where you fit in? Use the guidelines below:

  • Rookie: You're preparing for your first century, and while you might not be completely new to the sport of cycling, riding 100 miles in one day is going to be your biggest cycling challenge to date.
  • Charity Rider: You have one or two big events each year, like a Livestrong Ride or Ride for the Cure, and you spend the rest of the year riding recreationally.
  • Century Regular: You're on a first-name basis with the organizers of all the centuries within driving distance from your hometown. Centuries are your thing, and you find them much more appealing than racing.
  • Group-ride Groupie: You're a devoted cyclist and a constant presence at your local group rides and training races. You participate in a handful of organized centuries each year, and you and your buddies get together for another handful of 100-mile rides on summer weekends.
  • Racer: Racing is your primary reason for being a cyclist, but if you participate in an organized century, you're there to finish in the front group and push the pace all the way. You regularly ride 85-plus miles in long training rides and complete several 100-plus mile rides each year as part of your normal training.

Some people don't fit neatly into one of the categories. You might, for instance, ride only one century a year (Charity Rider), but train eight to 10 hours a week (Century Regular) with a cruising speed of 17 mph (Group-ride Groupie). If this is the case, weekly hours (volume) carry the most weight, followed by the number of long rides in the past year (experience), and speed matters the least. Our sample case, therefore, would best fit into the Century Regular group.

Why Your Identity Matters

A 100-mile ride can be a big day in the saddle or just another training ride, depending on the kind of rider you are. When considering how many centuries you should complete in a season, think about how 100 miles fits in with your total weekly mileage.

For a racer, 100 miles may only be 25 to 30 percent of his or her peak-season weekly mileage. For rookies, 100 miles might be 200 percent of their weekly mileage. This is important because it provides a sense of how stressful a 100-mile ride will be for you.

A 100-mile ride that represents 100 percent or more of your weekly mileage will be a stressful challenge. Thus Rookies, Charity Riders, and some Century Regulars need to be more thoughtful about post-century recovery than some Group-ride Groupies and Racers.

These latter two groups, and some well-trained Century Regulars, can recover more quickly because there's a smaller gap between the physical stress they can handle on a regular basis and the stress from a single 100-mile ride. At certain times of year, a weekly training program for an elite racer may include two or three rides over 100 miles. See the chart below for a rough, albeit realistic, guide to scheduling centuries within a typical season.

Weekly mileage # of 100-mile rides for the year  Weeks between 100-mile rides
Rookie 40-75 1-2 8-10
Charity Rider 50-120 2-4 6-8
Century Regular 120-170 5-6 3-6
Group-ride Groupie 170-200 6-10 1-2
Racer 200-400 12+ .5-2

From One Century to the Next

When a 100-mile ride is significantly longer than your typical training ride, it's much more stressful on your body than when you regularly ride long distances. As a result, it takes longer (sometimes up to two weeks of easy riding) for Rookies, Charity Riders, and some Century Regulars to recover and feel fresh and strong on the bike.

What happens if Rookies or Charity Riders ride two centuries within a month? Typically, they do fine in the rides themselves, but the overall stress is so high that they're at increased risk of getting sick or burned out well before the end of the cycling season.

The reason for the relatively long period of time between centuries for these groups is to allow for adequate recovery, followed by several weeks of training rides focused on building aerobic endurance. Since normal training rides for people in these groups are relatively short, it takes longer to build the endurance needed for a successful 100-mile ride.

Group-ride Groupies, Racers, and some well-trained Century Regulars can handle more 100-mile rides during the typical cycling season because the rides don't take as much out of them. Thanks to the volume of their training, their bodies have been conditioned to recover faster, sometimes in as few as two days. However, even experienced cyclists need to be wary of signs they're overdoing it.

If you normally feel fresh and strong on your bike three to four days after a 100-mile ride, and suddenly it takes more than a week to feel fully recovered, you'd be wise to take more recovery time (seven to 10 days) before stressing your body again with another 100-miler.

These guidelines are not meant to restrict your riding goals for the year, but rather to help you smile through the final miles of each century you finish. Cycling is more fun when you're prepared for the challenge, and properly spacing your big rides throughout the season helps ensure you'll be fit, rested, powerful, and eager to ride your best.

Related Articles:

  • What to Pack on a Century Ride
  • 6 Tips for Century Ride Rookies
  • The Greatest Cities for Cyclists
  • Ready? Sign up for a century near you.