How to Prepare for a Century Ride

  

What is so special about riding 100 miles? It’s just a number. But when you can say, “I just rode 100 miles!” you can take pride and stand up straight when you say it. Pedaling 100 miles is a “milestone,” pardon the pun, no matter if it’s your first century ever or it is the first one of your season. Most of us vividly remember our first century. I do, even if it was back in the summer of 1985. For someone who has never spent that much time in the saddle, it can seem quite daunting. Even for more experienced riders, completing your first 100-mile ride of the season takes preparation. Setting out to do a century and completing it takes time and proper training.

Weather may dictate your training plan, but all riders preparing for a century need to follow a plan that builds in steps. Most riders will benefit from one of the three training recommendations below.

The Weekend Rider

If this is your option, divide your training into two parts: quality and quantity. The quality comes from your indoor sessions. The quantity from your outdoor sessions. In this case, when training indoors, you are doing long, sustained efforts to work on building your lactate threshold (LT). During these rides, it is also beneficial to sprinkle in some shorter efforts in order to add intensity. In your standard work week, plan on doing one or two structured sessions on your trainer. Any other indoor sessions should consist of recovery or low tempo rides. The goal is three or four indoor rides during the week.

Example of quality indoor sessions

2 X 20’s LT Builder

  • 15 min warm up Zone 1 into Zone 2
  • Do 2 X 20’s at 92-95% of your FTP
  • 10 min recovery low Zone 2 between efforts
  • 5 min cool down letting HR drop slowly to low Zone 1

2 X 20’s LT Builder with Jumps

  • 15 min warm up Zone 1 into Zone 2
  • Do 2 X 20 minutes
  • Minutes 1 to 18 for each effort at 90-93% of your FTP
  • Minutes 18 to 20 for each effort at 120% of FTP
  • 10 min recovery Low Zone 2 between efforts
  • 5 min cool down letting HR drop slowly to Low Zone 1

3 X 10’s LT Builder

  • 15 min warm up Zone 1 into Zone 2
  • 1 X 5 minute at 100 of FTP
  • 5-minute recovery low Zone 2
  • Do 3 X 10’s at 100-107% of your FTP*
  • 5 min recovery low Zone 2 between each effort
  • 5 min cool down letting HR drop slowly to low Zone 1

*You could do a version of the 3 X 10 minutes with a one-minute jump at the end of each 10-minute effort. Keep the same FTP target.

Recovery Ride

  • 15 min warm up Zone 1 into Zone 2
  • 1 X 25 minutes at 60-70% of your FTP
  • 5 min cool down letting HR drop slowly to low Zone 1

Do the quality work indoors, then work on the quantity on the weekends while riding outdoors. The outdoor training here depends on your endurance base. Ultimately, the goal is to have one ride of four to five hours under your belt two to three weeks before the century with the goal of targeting saddle time versus distance. Working backward, build your training time up slowly. Begin with one to two hour rides six to seven weeks out. Then, for the next three weekend ride days, add 30 minutes to one hour each day you ride. If you can get outside both weekend days, that’s a bonus! Do one longer day at upper Zone 1 into Zone 2. The other day would be a shorter recovery ride in Zone 1. The long day combined with the shorter day will help build your overall endurance. One week prior to the event plan for a rest week. During the rest week, keep active on the bike by riding easy outside for one to two hours and doing one or two easy rides on the trainer.

The Limited Outside Rider

If you are stuck indoors for a significant amount of your training and only occasionally get an opportunity to ride outside, then you need to train much like the weekend rider with the addition of longer indoor sessions.  Here, you follow the same protocol as listed above during the week. Then, if you are also stuck inside for the weekend, take the rides listed above and modify them slightly. Do the two X 20 minutes or the three X 10 minutes, adding a little saddle time in after the recovery for the last efforts. Doing an additional 15 to 20 minutes at 75 to 80 percent of your FTP, then doing the final cool down, can help build your endurance.

When you do get outside again, you’ll want to think about the timing of the event. Plan your ride accordingly so that it falls on the incremental building phases in the graphic above. Even with limited outside riding, you still want to rest one week prior to the century.

The Unlimited Rider

The unlimited rider is the envy of those who follow the training advice above. Your training will be based on the same principles of quality and quantity, however there is no need to ride indoors. The weekly quality sessions are the same as above but are completed while riding outside. As an unlimited rider, you have the same objectives of one or two LT building days mixed in with recovery days. And, just like the previous two scenarios, you build endurance incrementally on the weekends. The final step is resting one week prior to the big ride.

When training for a century, your primary goal is to build your endurance. While there is no “proof” as to which is better, the trainer or the road, I am of the personal opinion that for most of us, using the trainer for quality and the road for quantity is a solid combination that works. While there are some that ride endless hours indoors, I would never ask my athletes to log more than two hours on an indoor trainer. The key is to plan to meet your goal in steps and train regardless of what Mother Nature gives you. The road provides a lot of variability while the trainer provides structure. Both types of rides will prepare you for a successful century.

About the Author

O'Brien Forbes

O’Brien Forbes, aka, Coach OB, is a full time cycling coach based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. He has been racing since 1986 and has been a Cat. 1 since 1995. He works with all levels of cyclists from the club rider to Cat. 1 racers. His riders have earned multiple state champion jerseys in TT, MTB, CX, road and crit. Learn more about Coach OB here www.coachob.com or ask him a question at coachob@coachob.com.

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