The Complete Marathon Training Guide

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Introduction

Welcome to the Ultimate Century Training Guide by TrainingPeaks — you’re already on your way to feeling stronger, climbing faster, and riding longer than ever before!

This guide was designed for first-timers and experienced cyclists alike, with expert advice from top TrainingPeaks coaches to guide you along the way. Whether you’re working on improving a past performance or just hoping to reach this milestone in your cycling career, the TrainingPeaks Century Guide will give you all the tools you need to reach your goal.

We're here to help you to stay on track!

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How to Ride A Century: You Can do This!

How to Ride A Century:
You Can do This!

Chapter One

6 Minute Read

Riding a century is a turning point in every cyclist’s life. It will change the way you think about and train for your sport. It’s not unheard of to finish a century with minimal training—but the more you prepare, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the ride. In this section, we’ll help you choose a century or fondo to ride, and give you some pointers on making the right goals to succeed.

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:

Distance

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.

Travel

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

Date

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.

Time Commitment

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

Event Size

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 first training 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.

Cycling Training Fundamentals

Cycling Training Fundamentals

Chapter Two

5 Minute Read

In the last section, we gave you some guidelines to help you choose your event and set realistic goals. Now it’s time to start training! Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s go over the cycling fundamentals you’ll need to be successful:

Cycling Zones

Pacing in cycling is measured by levels of exertion, or “zones.” These are traditionally based on your Functional Threshold Power, but it’s possible to get a rough estimate without using testing or devices. Below, we’ll outline three different methods of understanding your zones, whether you choose to go by feel, use a heart rate monitor, or use a power meter.

By Feel

Zone 1 - Warm Up

In this zone, you can breathe easily with your mouth closed.

Zone 2 - Endurance

You have to open your mouth to breathe, but conversation is easy.

Zone 3 - Tempo

Conversation is more difficult. You’ll need to pause between words to breathe.

Zone 4 - Threshold

On a group ride or race, this is the pace at which everyone  usually stops talking.

Zone 5+ - VO2 Max

These zones are reserved for hard intervals. Just breathing enough is difficult at this pace.

Heart Rate

Zone 1 - Warm Up

0-50% of Max Heart Rate

Zone 2 - Endurance

50-69% of Max HR

Zone 3 - Tempo

70-85% of Max HR

Zone 4 - Threshold

86-99% of Max HR

Zone 5+ - VO2 Max

100% of Max HR

Power

Zone 1 - Warm Up

0-55% of Functional Threshold Power

Zone 2 - Endurance

56-75% FTP

Zone 3 - Tempo

76-90% FTP

Zone 4 - Threshold

91-105% FTP

Zone 5+ - VO2 Max

105+% FTP

“Learning how to self-pace is a crucial skill for any competitive cyclist.”

Coach Kolie Moore

Heart rate and power are obviously more accurate than going by feel, but it’s also important to understand the physical sensations of each zone. Some of us prefer to train without a heart rate monitor or power meter—and even if we do, we all forget to charge or pack them now and then. It’s good to know if a workout feels way harder or easier than it should, which could be a sign that something with your body is off.

Remember, everyone will have slightly different zones, depending on their genetics, fitness, and physiology. You’ll likely want to compare your zones with your buddy’s, but try to resist the temptation—a higher or lower relative heart rate doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. What’s important is that you understand what yours means.

Not sure how to find your Max Heart Rate or Functional Threshold Power? Check out our guide here.

Cycling Nutrition

Cyclists sometimes refer to centuries and fondos as “eating competitions,” which should give you an idea of how important nutrition is. When you’re riding for more than four hours (and for your century you likely will be) you absolutely need to replenish the calories your body is burning. Fail to eat, and you’ll face the hypoglycemic misery known as “bonking.”

Here’s a quick and easy macronutrient guide to help you consider what you’re using for fuel before, during, and after your rides:

Carbohydrates

If you think of macronutrients as the fuel for your metabolic fire, Carbohydrates are like the kindling. Simple carbohydrates (like energy gels or chews) are good for quick, intense efforts. For longer hauls, opt for complex carbohydrates like bars, which generally include a little fiber and fat to help slow down digestion.

You’ll want to eat mostly carbohydrates before and during your training rides. It’s also important to get a little carbohydrate in the “glycemic window” after your workout. This is the key period when your glycogen-depleted muscles are most receptive to replenishing their fuel stores.

Fat

If carbohydrate is kindling, fat is sticks. No matter how lean we get, most of us have a nearly unlimited caloric supply of fat in our bodies, especially compared to our very limited carbohydrate stores. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid eating it! Be sure to include healthy unsaturated fats like salmon, avocado, nuts and oils in your daily diet to give your body excellent, accessible fuel for those long, easy endurance efforts.

Protein

Your muscles need protein to rebuild and get stronger. While most people think of meat when they think of protein, it’s also possible to get all the amino acids your muscles need from plant and vegetable sources.

Whichever method you choose, just make sure that you’re getting at least a little protein within half-an-hour of exercising, especially if you’re a woman; females utilize protein for muscle much more effectively immediately after exercise, while men can utilize protein for muscle at pretty much any time.

“I stopped at mile 80, bought 12 potstickers and a plate of french fries, and that’s the only thing that got me to the end.”

Alec Pasqualina

Hydration

Hydration is key to any endurance effort. Consuming water (or drink mix) will help replace the moisture and electrolytes you lose through your sweat, allowing your muscles to keep functioning as normal. Fail to hydrate adequately, and your performance will quickly decline. Here are some guidelines to help you plan and execute a proper hydration strategy:

  • Aim to consume 1 22oz bottle per hour, 1.5 if it’s hot.
  • Bring one bottle with just water, and one with drink mix, to help replace electrolytes and encourage you to drink.
  • Test drink mixes that work for you—some contain more sodium, which can help prevent cramping if you’re a salty sweater.
  • If you’re struggling to find an effective hydration strategy, you may want to do a sweat test to determine the rate and composition of your sweat.

Now that you know the basics of pacing and fueling, head to the next chapter to learn how to apply these concepts to build your fitness.

Century Training Weeks 1-4: Base Training

Century Training Weeks 1-4:
Base Training

Chapter Three

6 Minute Read

In the last section of this guide, we covered the preliminary steps you’ll want to take before you begin training for a century ride. Now we’ll start getting into the specifics of training, starting with base miles.

Phase: Base Training

Why: Increase aerobic capacity, fat metabolism, and muscular endurance.

When: In the early phases of training; then maintain as you add intensity during later stages.

How: One to three weekly rides of 2.5+ hours, trying not to exceed Zone 2 heart rate or power. By the end of this phase, you should feel comfortable riding 40-50 miles.

What is Base Training, and Why do It?

In cycling, every training cycle should begin with a period of exclusively long, easy riding—or base training. These long-duration, low-intensity rides will increase your aerobic capacity, teach your body to metabolize fat for fuel, and give you the endurance you’ll need to ride a century.

At “endurance” or Zone 2 pace, your lungs are supplying plenty of oxygen to your working muscles. This easy pace allows your body to utilize complex fuel sources (like fat), and will build neuromuscular pathways without overly taxing your system. By spending significant time at this easy pace, you’ll build aerobic capacity and teach your body process energy with less effort.

Unfortunately, base training can be deceptively hard, because our natural tendency as ambitious athletes is to go out and try to push ourselves. The most satisfying pace (breathing a little hard, feeling a little burn) is typically classified as Zone 3 (or Tempo), and, while you may spend significant time here while riding your century or fondo, it’s not the best for training.

Sometimes referred to as the grey zone, Zone 3 kicks your body into anaerobic cell respiration, which burns your (limited) stores of glycogen and produces lactate as a byproduct. It may feel like you’re putting in good work, but in reality, you’re not going hard enough to drive significant positive adaptations. Worse, you’re going too hard to build aerobic endurance or allow your body to recover.

For the best results, you’ll want to save those hard efforts for interval training, and spend the rest of your time (about 80 percent of your training) in Zone 2—that easy, aerobic base pace.

Quick Tip

If you have a hard time staying in Zone 2, set an alarm on your fitness tracker to alert you every time you exceed your goal pace. If you feel like you’re going embarrassingly slow, congratulations, you’re in Zone 2.

“The general rule of thumb is to avoid increasing your total weekly duration more than 10% from one week to the next.”

Coach Jason Short

Sample Workout from Coach Tyrone Holmes:

High-Cadence Spinning

Total Workout Time: 60 to 120 minutes

Warm-up: 15 minutes

Terrain: Relatively flat with a few rolling hills

Gearing: Use a gear that allows you to train in Zone 2 at a cadence of 90 to 95 rpm

Training Zone: 2 – 75-85% of LTHR or 56-75% of FTP

RPM: 90 to 95 with 110 to 125 rpm for the high cadence spin-ups

Cool Down: 10 minutes

 Begin with a cadence of 85 rpm and work up to a steady pace of 90 to 95 rpm.

 Every five minutes do a 110 to 125 rpm high cadence spin-up for 45 to 60 seconds (ride for at least 15 minutes before you start the spin-ups). Use small gears so your heart rate does not go above the middle of Zone 3 (90% of LTHR or 85% of FTP). Remember, this is not a high-intensity workout. Your goal is to improve your ability to spin a higher cadence and to enhance your aerobic endurance. Start with one hour and work up to two hours of high cadence spinning.

High-Cadence Spinning Workout

See other workouts from Coach Holmes

When Should I Stop Base Training?

The quick answer: Never! Base training is an important step as you ramp up volume in the early weeks of your training. It’s generally easy on your body, and if you commit to the process, it will set you up to succeed at your intervals.

Once you begin to integrate more intense intervals into your training, make sure to keep a long, easy “base” ride or two on your weekly schedule. These will help you maintain aerobic capacity while easing the mental stress that can accumulate as your rides get more structured.

“I’ve found that if athletes can accomplish a long workout that is between 50 and 80-percent of their estimated finishing time, enduring 100 miles is possible.”

Coach Gale Bernhardt

What To Do When Your Century Training Doesn’t Go To Plan

It’s easy to put ambitious workouts on a calendar and imagine yourself completing each one perfectly, but everyone encounters challenges in their training. You might find yourself stepping into a thunderstorm for your long ride, you might have a family emergency during your most important interval block, or you might just catch a cold and have to take a few days off.

Here’s what to do when you need to adjust your training:

Don’t panic

A missed day or three (or ten) isn’t ideal, but it’s not the end of the world, either. In the case of injury or illness, you’ll only dig yourself into a deeper hole if you don’t listen to your body when you need to back off. In the case of outside life circumstances, sometimes there are things more important than training. Remember to keep your “big goals” in focus, and try to enjoy the bonus recovery instead of beating yourself up about it.

Rearrange workouts with an eye on the weather

A little planning at the beginning of the week can go a long way. If you’ve got a rest day planned on the nicest day, and a long ride planned when a storm will be rolling in, switch them! Over the course of sixteen weeks, the order of specific workouts won’t matter as much as consistency and volume.

Consider Substituting an Indoor Workout

Indoor cycling workouts are a great way to meet your training goals when you’re crunched for time or the weather isn’t cooperating. If you’re riding indoors, it’s best to choose workouts that are shorter and higher intensity; these give you the most training effect in a limited timeframe. Apps like Zwift can also help you stay focused and engaged. You’ll need a trainer or a set of rollers—or a stationary exercise bike, in a pinch. If none of these are available, try a strength training session instead!

When in doubt, take time off

There’s an old adage that says you’ll be faster off the couch than you will be if you’re overtrained. If you’ve got niggling pain, the beginnings of a cold, or just feel off, listen to your body. This isn’t a free pass out of every workout you don’t feel like doing (spoiler: there will be those workouts!), but rather a friendly reminder that sometimes you’ll just need more rest than you thought.

Focus on the long game

Even if you suffer a big setback like a season-ending injury or major life change, there’s always another century. Sometimes taking care of yourself means taking a step back and refocusing later. These times can be discouraging, but remember you’re in control of your attitude and your day-to-day health—stay present, make good daily choices, and you’ll be back on track before you know it.

Ready to learn about how and when to dig really deep? Move on to the next section to learn how to incorporate intervals into your training.

Century Training Weeks 5-10: Intervals

Century Training Weeks 5-10:
Intervals

Chapter Four

4 Minute Read

In the last section of this guide, we covered the basics of base training. Now we’ll start adding some intensity with intervals. Interval training simulates the effort you’ll need to stay with other riders and cover varied terrain. By overloading your system and recovering repeatedly, you’ll teach your body to work harder and more efficiently.

Phase: Intervals

Why: Increase lactic threshold/FTP and anaerobic capacity.

When: Once you have a solid aerobic base, usually four to eight weeks into training.

How: Two structured rides a week, usually not exceeding two hours total. Towards the end of this phase, you’ll want to feel comfortable riding 60-80 miles.

In cycling we often talk about Functional Threshold Power (or FTP). This important metric refers to the maximum pace or power output you can maintain before crossing your lactate threshold and needing to slow down. (“Maintain” in this case refers to an effort of 20 minutes or more.) Understanding lactate threshold is key to understanding your cycling physiology.

When you increase your effort on the bike for, say, an interval or a climb, your muscle cells demand an increase in oxygen to continue creating energy. But as you keep up the pace, your muscle cells’ need for oxygen will outpace your heart and lungs’ ability to provide it. Your cells will then switch to anaerobic respiration, using quick-burning muscle glycogen for fuel and producing lactate.

This acidic byproduct builds up in your muscles, creating that familiar “burning” sensation. When this buildup outpaces your body’s ability to clear it, you can no longer sustain your pace or power output—this point is referred to as your Lactate Threshold. Simply put, the higher your Lactate Threshold, the higher your FTP, and the faster you’ll be able to go for longer.

That’s where intervals come in. When you do an interval, your body builds lots of lactate, fast, and then has an opportunity to clear it when you rest. By building and clearing lactate repeatedly on a ride, you’ll begin to process it more efficiently. Simply put, intervals teach your body how to sustain harder efforts for longer.

This excellent article from coach Tim Cusick is an excellent reference on the planning and execution of effective intervals. You can also try the sample workouts below to get started:

Sample workouts from Coach Gale Bernhardt:

Workout #1

  •  Warm up for 20 minutes at an aerobic effort
  • 3 x 20 seconds all-out power production and  4:40 easy Zone 1 spinning
  • 3 x 10 seconds all-out power production and  4:50 easy Zone 1 spinning
  •  Cool down with easy spinning for 20 minutes
Sample Workout 1

Workout #2

  •  Warm up for 20 minutes at an aerobic effort
  • 3 x 30 seconds all-out power production and  4:30 easy Zone 1 spinning
  • 3 x 20 seconds all-out power production and  4:40 easy Zone 1 spinning
  • 3 x 10 seconds all-out power production and  4:50 easy Zone 1 spinning
  •  Cool down with easy spinning for 20 minutes
Sample Workout 2

Workout #3

  •  Warm up for 20 minutes at an aerobic effort
  • 5-7 x 30 seconds all-out power production and  4:30 easy Zone 1 spinning
  •  Cool down with easy spinning for 20 minutes
Sample Workout 3

See full article from Coach Bernhardt

How Do I Climb Better on the Bike?

Climbing is one of the more intimidating aspects of cycling. We’ve all approached the base of a monster climb with a feeling of dread in the pit of our stomach—but it doesn’t have to be that way! Coach Taylor Thomas offers the following advice when it comes to climbing better during your century or fondo:

Keep your cadence high and remain seated.

The goal should be to remain relaxed and seated for as long as possible, keeping a cadence of between 80 to 90rpms. This tactic causes muscles to contract faster and lessens the buildup of lactic acid.

Focus on Your Form

Try to relax your upper body and keep your hips and lower back stable as you apply power to the pedals. Try to notice if you’re tensing your upper body or facial muscles, and relax them! This will help you avoid wasting energy so you can get as much power from your legs as possible.

Stay in an Aerobic Zone, if Possible

When climbing your body is consuming oxygen at a faster rate due to the increased energy needs of your muscles. This means that you may have to adjust your effort accordingly to be able to supply your body the necessary oxygen for the duration of the climb. If you can’t stay in a low zone, do your best to find a pace you can maintain, rather than surging and resting.

Do Hill Repeats

If you’re going to be a good climber, you need to train on hills. Workouts such as repeats of 8 to 12 minutes at a 4 to 6 percent grade done at threshold are a great place to start. You can also do maximum-effort repeats (above your threshold) for one to three minutes. Integrate hill work or simulations into your routine one to two times per week during the build period of your training cycle.

Stay positive!

Many riders are defeated before the climb begins due to negative self-talk and a poor attitude. To stay positive, break the climb up into sections you can tackle one at a time. You can also work on maintaining steady and calm breathing; once your breathing deteriorates, your performance often follows. Don’t let your nerves get to you!

Read the rest of Coach Thomas’s article

A Note on Recovery

As you begin interval training, it will become more important to schedule your week with an eye on recovery. Intervals, while short, can be incredibly taxing on your body, so you’ll want to make sure you get adequate rest (and active recovery, like walking or yoga) to help your body process the added load. Coach Shayne Gaffney offers some great mobility and strength exercises for cyclists.

You should also try to give yourself at least two days to recover from an interval workout. That means you should avoid scheduling a super ride or another interval workout in that period. Instead, give yourself a 90 minute unstructured ride one day, and maybe a focused base ride the other. As you train, you’ll get a sense of what your body needs on a given day—just remember that you’ll get the most out of your intervals when you’re properly rested and fueled. For more on the cycles of loading and recovery, check out this article on Block Training.

“After three weeks of consistently increasing your weekly duration, reduce the duration and perhaps even the intensity a bit to allow yourself to recover a bit from the previous three weeks.”

Coach Jason Short

You’ve built your base, you’re upping the intensity, and you’re getting closer to your big ride! Read on to learn about resting, or tapering before race day.

Century Training Week 11: Tapering

Century Training Week 11:
Tapering

Chapter Five

4 Minute Read

In the previous sections we covered base training with long easy rides, increasing your top end with intervals, and refining your climbing to conquer every hill. You’ve been riding consistently for nearly three months! Now it’s time to recover!

The big day is a week away, and your hardest training is behind you! Now it’s time to taper, or rest: a deceptively difficult part of the training process. As counterintuitive as it might be to ease up on riding before race day, tapering is a critical step in fully adapting to the training stress you’ve put your body through. Nail your taper and you’ll feel magical on your century—fail, and you’ll fall flat. Here’s how to do it:

When: One week before your century or fondo

Why: Allow your body to absorb training stress while maintaining neuromuscular adaptations

How: Decrease volume 20 to 25 percent while maintaining some intensity

Goal: Allow your body to recover; find ways to occupy your mind with decreased training

Tapering is highly personal, so it will look different for every athlete. Some cyclists find they can focus better when they’re a little fatigued, while others feel best when fully rested. Still, the basic principle is the same—you’ll want to decrease your training load 20 to 25 percent in the week leading up to your ride, with your long rides maxing out around two hours.

You’ll want to keep doing some short “opener” intervals this week, but remember, the main goal is to give your body adequate time to recover. There’s a saying about training through tapering: “You can only do too much, never too little.” If you were to simply sit on your couch for the week before your century, you’d be better off than if you try to ride too much.

For many athletes, tapering is the biggest challenge of the training process. It’s easy to feel like you’re losing your “edge” when your training load decreases. These feelings can be compounded by the physiological processes taking place—the feeling of fatigue in your muscles can be replaced with springy energy, lethargy, or just generally feeling “out of it.” Some athletes might even get sick during their taper, or nagging injuries might come to the surface. Whatever changes you go through, try to just trust the process and the training you’ve already done!

Quick Tip

If you find yourself feeling anxious, remember: you can’t gain any significant fitness in the week before your century. Extra recovery will only benefit you.

Race Week Checklist

The last few days before a big day in the saddle can be some of the hardest, as training hours decrease and nerves escalate. To keep yourself from stressing out or second-guessing your training, it can help to focus instead on logistics. Here are some ideas:

Get Your Bike Tuned up

Nothing will kill your momentum on a long day like a flat or creaky bottom bracket. Give your bike some love, and your quality time together will be more rewarding. At minimum, make sure to get a fresh set of tires and lube your chain. If you have time, it’s better to drop your steed off at your local shop for a full overhaul. Just make sure you get a test run on everything before you start your century.

Thoroughly Read the Event Materials (if applicable)

These will have all the important information about parking/shuttles, drop bags, number placement, timing chips, and other last-minute questions you want to have answered before race day.

For example, do you know where the aid stations will be? Do you know what they’ll be stocked with? You’ll want to plan ahead of time how much you’ll rely on aid stations for your nutrition and hydration.

Do a Ride-Food Grocery Run

This is a good time to shop and plan your race nutrition—from dinner before your ride (see the next section for ideas!) to your post-race snack. Make sure you have lots of portable, quick options you know will agree with your stomach and fuel you adequately.

Check the Weather Forecast

The weather can be a huge factor on a long ride. If it’s hot, you’ll want to make sure you stay hydrated and include plenty of sodium in your hydration and nutrition plan. If it’s cold, you’ll want to make sure you bring spare layers to keep from freezing. Having an idea ahead of time (and knowing how the weather might change during your ride) will make all the difference on the big day.

Make a Mental Plan

Do you always bonk at 3.5 hours? Do you struggle to stay positive on climbs? Look at the course map and make a plan to get through the dark moments—because there will be dark moments. Coach Tatjana Ivanova has some great tips for cultivating mental strength that can help you refine your mental plan.

Congratulations! You’re almost ready for the big day. Read on to find out exactly what you need to do to ride a successful century.

Century Ride Success

Century Ride Success

Chapter Six

4 Minute Read

It’s finally here! In the last sections we covered preparing for your century or fondo. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your ride.

Beyond Carbo-Loading—Your Ideal Pre-Century Dinner

While you’ve probably heard of “carbo-loading” with a massive pasta dinner, it’s actually more beneficial (especially when it comes to endurance rides) to stick with something your stomach is used to, and a quantity you’re used to eating. The idea is to have dinner completely digested before you wake up, so you can do a quick, belly-friendly breakfast to top off before your century or fondo. You want to feel nourished—not stuffed.

Don’t have that go-to meal yet? An easy way to build a meal is to shoot for a nice mix of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), with more of an emphasis on carbohydrates and less on protein, which will take longer to digest.

Choose vegetables found on the bland diet, like beets, carrots, green beans, peas, white or sweet potatoes, spinach, and pumpkin. Avoid cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale, which are more difficult to digest and can cause gas.

Having Trouble Sleeping? Try These Tips:

Everyone knows it’s important to sleep before a big race, which can sometimes make it impossible to do. If you tend to get pre-race insomnia, here are some tips to get some quality z's no matter what:

  • Turn off your electronic devices two hours before you want to be asleep. Read a book instead, and avoid the circadian-disrupting effects of blue light.
  • Drink a relaxing herbal tea.
  • Meditate. If you’ve never tried it before, there are some great guided meditations online and through apps.
  • Use supplements like melatonin or CBD, but only if you’re familiar with the effects and the dosage you can tolerate. Too much melatonin can leave you groggy in the morning!

Interactive Checklist

Century Ride Gear Checklist

The equipment needs for a century or gran fondo can be as simple or complex as you make them. If this is your first event, this list gives you a good idea of the basics you’ll need on the day of your ride.

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Before The Start of Your Century:

  • Make sure to have a breakfast you’ve tested on training rides, and one you know will agree with your stomach. If you usually have coffee, have coffee. Remember, race day is not the day to try something new.
  • Scope out the bathroom situation, and have a back up (Coffee shop? Gas station?) if the event port-a-potties are full.
  • Don’t stress about nerves — everyone gets them. Find a quiet spot away from the venue to sit down and focus if that helps you, or make a new friend and have a chat. Everyone deals with nerves differently!
  • Find a quiet road or bike path to get a light warm-up, including some surges to help prepare your legs for the effort ahead. Only stretch if it’s something you’ve done on training rides.

“Take it easy at the start. There are a lot of miles ahead of you and there's nothing worse than running out of legs halfway through the ride!”

Oriol Brull

During Your Century

Once you start riding, remember to enjoy the experience! You’ve worked hard to get here, and it should be an epic day on the bike. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure that you get the most out of your preparation on the big day.

  • Aim to eat something every 45-90 minutes. The first hour and a half will likely go fast, but make sure to stay on top of your nutrition after that. The general rule of thumb is to eat before you get hungry. Set an alarm on your computer or watch if you need to!
  • Remember to drink water and drink mix, especially if it’s hot out!
  • Try to avoid going too hard too often. The key to long endurance efforts is to maintain that easy pace you practiced. Even if people pass you at the beginning, you’ll likely see them again as they run out of steam.
  • Focus on what you can do. When a hill seems unreasonably steep, or the next food stop unfathomably far away, just focus on the next mile, or next 50 feet. If you’re feeling really bad, eat some food and keep riding (even very slowly!) for 30 minutes—chances are you’ll come around!
  • Talk to other riders! Whether you’re riding alone or with a big group, you have something in common with every other cyclist on the road. Chatting with a new friend is a great way to pass the miles, and you may come out of it with a new training buddy!

We hope that riding a century was everything you hoped and more. Read on to find out how to recover like a pro, and get planning for your next steps in cycling!

Recovery

Recovery

Chapter Seven

4 Minute Read

Congratulations! You’re done with your century. Whether you had the ride of your life or a challenging day, just making it to the start line is a huge accomplishment. Now it’s time to put your feet up, enjoy some recovery, and start thinking about what’s next.

Race Hard, Recover Harder

After your century, you will most likely need a few days to recover before you start training again. It’s important to give your body this time to repair itself after what was most likely a very challenging effort!

You may or may not want to hear this—recovery doesn’t just mean laying around in bed. Here are some steps you can take to make your post-ride recovery more effective (and interesting).

Get back on the bike

Increasing blood flow will help move the byproducts from your ride out of your muscles, but you don’t need to go crazy. Try a 45 minute easy spin, focusing on keeping a high cadence and light pressure on the pedals.

Sign up for a yoga class

Yin yoga is a great choice for recovery because it involves more passive stretching than the strength-intensive poses you’ll find in a vinyasa flow class. It’s also a great way to check in with any pain points or imbalances in your body after your ride.

Treat yo’self

A massage, acupuncture, or a pedicure never feels better than after you’ve tortured yourself for 100 miles. Other than a nice indulgence, a treat like this for your body is a way to mentally acknowledge the hard work you’ve done and to reward yourself for it before you get back to work.

Eat well

After burning all those calories, chances are you want to reach for the saltiest, fattiest burger (or veggie burger) you can get your hands on. And while there’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with a satisfying post-race meal, you’ll be better served in your long-term recovery if you focus on inflammation-reducing foods. Load up on antioxidant-rich options like blueberries, dark-green vegetables, nuts, and fish for the nutrients your body needs to recover faster.

Prioritize sleep

Often neglected in favor of more active recovery tools like self-massage and diet, sleeping is actually one of the most effective things you can do to help your body recover. Take a nap, hit snooze, and try to get to bed early—sleep is a powerful regenerative force for your entire body, and the more you get the faster you’ll feel recovered.

What’s Next?

After you’ve recovered from your century (or maybe while you’re recovering), the final step is to take some time to unpack what went well and what didn’t on the big day. If you had a great ride, what would you repeat? And if you didn’t have the day of your dreams, what went wrong?

Nutrition, pacing strategy, logistics, and training are some basic areas to examine, but you can add any others that you think are relevant. Give yourself a letter grade, a rating from one to 10, or a gold star (whatever works for you!) in each one, and start thinking about how you can improve for next time. We suggest the following strategies if you’re interested in seeing some real gains before your next big race:

Track Your Metrics

A great place to start improving your performance is to track your metrics as you train. You can do this the old-fashioned way with a calendar and a pen (we won’t judge!), but it’s also worthwhile to check out the variety of apps and insights available to help.

The TrainingPeaks app syncs wirelessly with most leading fitness trackers to streamline the data-gathering process, and it gives you real-time insights into your performance. Simply run, sync, and watch metrics like lactic threshold, pace, and more improve over time. Start a free trial to see what we’re all about.

Find a Training Plan

If you’re already tracking your metrics but aren’t sure how they should be trending, or aren’t sure if you’re doing the right things to see improvement, a training plan should be your next step. A simple Google search for “marathon training plans” will give you hundreds of plans of varying levels of commitment and detail.

Choose a plan from the TrainingPeaks store and you’ll be able to apply it automatically to your TrainingPeaks in-app calendar. This lets you use your fitness metrics to track workout compliance and see whether your training is having its desired effect.

Hire A Coach

As they get more serious about their training and performance, most runners will eventually turn to a coach for perspective, wisdom, and accountability. TrainingPeaks offers our free CoachMatch service (which includes a detailed questionnaire and direct contact with our team) to help you find a coach who will align with your training style and help you achieve your goals. If you’re looking for a more personalized training plan and adaptable approach, getting a coach is the perfect place to start.