Step One: What are You Getting Into?
Committing to riding a century or fondo might feel intimidating, but it can also be hugely motivating. In simplest terms, you’re committing to riding consistently, which can only mean more miles, better fitness, and more fun on the bike! The particular century or fondo you choose will determine the rest of your training. Here’s how to choose the right one for you.
First, we’ll start with some definitions:
What is a Century Ride?
A century can be a ride of either 100 miles or 100 kilometers (60 miles), depending on who you ask. For the purposes of this guide, however, we’ll assume a century means 100 miles, because hey, that’s the harder one, right? If you’re doing a 100-kilometer ride (also called a metric century), or even going longer than 100 miles, that’s just fine too—most of the training principles in this guide will apply to rides from 60 to 120 miles.
Century rides can be organized or undertaken individually. You may plan to go it alone (or with a group of friends), but if you’d rather sign up for an organized century event, check out our choosing an event section to help you find the best one.
What is a Gran Fondo?
A Gran Fondo is, simply put, an organized group ride, usually with a scenic and challenging route (the name translates roughly to “big ride”). Gran Fondos may or may not have timed sections, and sometimes award prizes to overall winners—but competitions are usually optional. In general, Fondos are more social and relaxed than traditional races.
Gran Fondo distances vary depending on the event, but for the purposes of this guide, we will also assume your target fondo is around 100 miles. Again, don’t worry if your event is a little shorter or longer, the training principles in this guide will still apply.
“Don't pick a flat course, otherwise you will be bored out of your mind. Hills will make it harder, but at least it will be more scenic.”Heidi Weingardt
How Do I Choose a Century or Fondo?
The event you choose (and whether you choose an event at all) will depend on what you want to get out of the experience. Below we’ll go into some of the factors to consider when choosing your target event:
How long do you want to ride? How long have you been riding recently? The difference between 60 and 120 miles is significant, so you’ll want to choose a distance that is challenging but attainable for you.
As you probably already know, riding a bike is a great way to experience an exotic new locale. New terrain is motivating and exciting—but it can also be expensive and logistically challenging to access, which can add to your pressure to perform.
Local events are a great way to support your community and experience your favorite routes and ride with people you know—but some riders prefer to be anonymous on race day. Your familiarity with the course can also be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you feel about the route
This might seem like an obvious one, but choose an event that falls far enough in the future that you’ll have time to train. This guide will cover an eight- to 12-week training cycle, which should be plenty of time to get you prepared for a good day on the bike. Can you train for a century in four to six weeks? Absolutely, but you’ll be happier and more comfortable out there if you have significant base fitness built up already.
You’ll want to have 4-6 days (5-12 hours) a week to ride, and at least a few weekends as you get closer to your event when you can ride four to six hours a day. Lots of us have demanding jobs, families, or even just really needy pets—whatever your obligations or responsibilities are, take them into account before committing to your goal. If you don’t truly have the time to train, you’ll just be stressed and afraid on race day, and that’s not what this is all about. If you want some tips on time management, check out this article
Some events, like the wildly popular Five Boroughs Gran Fondo in New York, attract thousands of participants. Others, like your local century ride, might be more intimate. If you’re looking to go even more under the radar, you can gather a group of friends, make someone drive a support car, and pick your own route! Again, this all depends on the vibe and experience you’re looking for. The excitement at an organized ride can be contagious and memorable—but a self-organized century gives you more flexibility on the exact date and route.
Setting A Goal
Sure, your big picture goal may be to simply finish this monster ride, but it’s important to set some progress goals to help you stay on track en route to that big picture success. Here are some guidelines to start your training journey off right:
Set Goals Based on Previous Performances
Average riding speed, as well as your heart rate or power zones are all great metrics to give you a ballpark idea of what you’re capable of.
If you know your average ride speed is 15 mph, for example, you can extrapolate that your century will take around six hours and 40 minutes. A good goal, then, might be to push yourself for a 6:20—or if you’re new to the distance, maybe your goal is to simply maintain your average speed and hit 6:40 without fading.
If you’re not sure about your heart rate or power zones, check out the fundamentals chapter to get started.
Make “Non-Result” Goals
Sure, winning your age category or finishing with a certain time are great goals, but it’s important to have more subjective goals as well. Maybe you want to maintain a positive attitude, nail your nutrition, stay focused on climbs, or be better with your time management in training. Choose an area where you know you’ve been weak in the past, and make it your focus for the future!
Assemble a Support System
No goal or athlete exists in a vacuum. Make sure to tell people about your ambitions, and enlist help when you need it! Confused by nutrition? Talk to an expert! If you’ve plateaued with your training, it might be time to get a coach! There are countless articles and a huge network of knowledgeable experts out there to help you achieve your goals, from free training plans to personalized nutrition and coaching. Get the right team behind you, and you can achieve anything.
Ready to get started? Move on to the next section to get the training fundamentals you’ll need to ride a successful century or gran fondo.