There has been an ongoing discussion about whether or not a Century ride equates to a running Marathon. I certainly won’t be the one with the perfect on-liner that ends the debate. In fact, from where I sit, the debate itself is a little silly.
Having been a runner for more than a decade and having just gotten into cycling a year ago, the comparison has merit but riding a century is definitely less taxing on the body from a “pounding” perspective. I can recover from a century in a day and ride one every other week (if not much sooner) easily. However, taking the energy and time required to complete a Century vs. a Marathon into account, the Century wins by a handy margin. A decent marathon can be run in 4 hours while decent century takes 5. Also, running a marathon will burn about 3,110 calories (considering weight, height and fitness – I’m fit, 6’0″ and weigh
157 154.5 lbs) and I would have to drink about 100 ounces of fluid* to keep from dehydrating. A century on the other hand, with a 5-1/2 hour time, will burn almost 5,290 calories and require a whopping 270 ounces of fluid*. Where the two are almost identical is that both the ride and run have a “wall” that must be run/ridden through somewhere around 80% mark (at least for we noobs). As far as the debate goes on which is tougher, I’ll leave that to brighter people than I, or possibly leave it at; does it even matter?
The question I seek to answer is how. How can one get in shape for a century, how long does it take to prepare for one, how do you prepare the day of, and so forth.
First of all, anyone who tells you that you can simply hop on a buddy’s bike and jump right into the high mileage rides is unbelievably fit, lucky – or both (maybe we could throw “crazy” in there instead of lucky). You’ve got to be in good shape to ride that far, unless you plan on dogging it – in which case, you’re still on a bike for upwards of 10 hours. Moreover, your bike has to fit you. Some people are into the torture thing and while I do agree with the “pain is weakness leaving your body” mantra, we don’t need unnecessary pain which would most certainly be afflicted by a bike that doesn’t fit the rider. Having a bike that has been properly fitted to you is the key to the successful Century. I’ve ridden 33 miles on a bike that doesn’t fit and I hurt a lot worse after that than after a century on my bike.
Next is the saddle – the seat. Many people are of the mistaken belief that those tiny saddles with the ultra-thin padding are uncomfortable. It’s simply not true – if the bike fits and your saddle height is correct. This is doubly so once you start breaking into the higher mileage. The funny thing about padding is that, while it does cushion, it also restricts blood flow. On a 12 mile leisure ride with the kids, that’s not a big deal – on a century, it’s huge. In addition to the blood flow issue, there is also friction to deal with. The more padding to the saddle, the more friction it creates. Over the course of a century, with the proper cadence, you will turn the pedals around 27,000 times. Considering that there are several body parts that reside in the area where the pedal stroke originates that are highly susceptible to friction, it makes sense to reduce that as much as possible. The main trick is to get your saddle height properly adjusted, then dial it in over a few longer rides (mine is dialed in within a millimeter or 39 thousandths of an inch).
From there, I’d recommend some clip-less pedals and cycling shoes. They absolutely make pedaling easier.
Beyond that, it’s all up to the training.
The training does not have to be too intense, depending of course on how fast you want to complete your century and the amount of hill/mountain climbing you’ll experience on the course. If you’re looking for a 6-7 hour finish, we can assume 20 minutes worth of stops to top off water bottles and maybe have a snack, so that would leave 5:40 to 6:40 of ride time which works out to an average speed of about 17.5 mph for the quicker time and 15 mph for the latter. Assuming you’re actually able to ride a bike in the first place and that you understand the rules of the road, the training to get to 100 miles is pretty straight forward – put the miles in. Now I was a complete noob when I started riding again after 25 years without a real bike. I started at 4 miles, 3 times a week. From there, I increased my weekly mileage, then speed, then added more days. I had a fair base built up in three months and had run a couple of Olympic length triathlons after only training for two (I’d been running for years – the ride is just short of 25 miles). I bought my first road bike less than a year ago and rode that for a couple of months before the weather started getting too nasty. I rode my bike on a trainer in my office to stay in shape through the winter and hit the ground running as soon as the weather broke in March and April. I had a metric century planned for April 29th so I started upping my daily and weekly miles. I’m an everyday rider – back then I was at 13.5 miles a day with two 30-35 mile rides a week. When I showed up at the starting line for the ride, 39 miles was as far as I’d ever ridden. I finished the ride in 3:30 minutes at exactly 18 mph under my own steam (no drafting). After that, I started turning in 50 mile days on Saturdays, bumped up my normal daily rides to 16 miles, then added in a couple of 25 mile days and began riding in a club ride every other Tuesday (35-39 miles). On July 4th, I went on a new longest ride ever – 80 miles, and I rode out to the meeting place and back home to make it an even 90. I completed the 80, with drafting help, in 4:09 or at an average of 19 mph. After that, I continued with my normal weekly schedule and rode in my first century on August 4th. With drafting help for the first half, I finished in 5:12, at an average speed of 18.8 mph (the course was two miles short).
So, the trick to breaking into the longer distances is to understand the special advantages there are to riding in lieu of running. In short, if you run out of energy on a bike, you can dial it back considerably and still make pretty decent time. You can rest for a mile or two at the slower pace, eat a few energy bars and drink some water/Gatorade and you’ll be right as rain before you know it. If you blow up on a run and have to walk – especially a long run – your muscles will tighten and you will begin to feel the pain of your effort…and walking to the end will take forever. The ramifications of trying to bite off more than you can chew are greatly reduced when riding.
Now, I also have a set plan for how I prepare for the ride, day of. I’m going to skip over the maintenance items associated with making sure the bike is ready – that goes without saying. Equally important though is eating enough (and early enough) that you’re ready to ride. For anything under 40 miles I don’t worry about on-board fuel, but for the long rides I stock up on Clif Bars and Jelly Belly Energy Beans. Specifically, the walnut/raisin/oatmeal Clif Bars and the Extreme Cherry energy beans. I also recommend bananas if they are available at rest stops.
For liquids, I have two different setups – for extra hot days, 95+, I go to a backpack hydration system and two bottles of Gatorade. For anything below 90, I’ll go with a bottle of Gatorade and a bottle of water.
With the on-board stuff sorted, it’s time to deal with pre-ride meals. I eat big the night before, whatever sounds good within reason. Morning of, it’s a bowl of healthy cereal, vitamin D milk and two bananas. Half an hour prior I eat a Clif bar. Fifteen minutes before the start I drink a Gatorade Prime, I love that stuff.
The main thing to remember, is to eat what works. Nothing too crazy as you won’t want an upset stomach while you’re cruising down the road…and don’t overeat. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you want to puke for 50 miles. Balance is key grasshopper.
For the ride, strategy is everything. Do you want to ride alone, or in a group? If you want to ride alone and sight-see, just watch your speed early on so you don’t overdo it too soon. Figure dropping 1-2 mph from your average on a 30-50 mile ride and maintain that, you should be fine. If you want to ride in a group, which is quite a bit more taxing mentally because you have to keep constant vigil with where you’re at in the group, you’ll have to find a group that you can keep up with and won’t be too slow. To do this, if it’s not a race or a timed event, simply leave early. Pay attention to groups as they pass you. When you see the lead rider closing on you, speed up so you can latch on at the end. When you’re safely on as a part of the pace-line, stay with it a few miles. If they’re going too fast for you to keep up in the back, you’ll blow up after your turn at the front. It’s best to drop before you get there – just do it carefully. Don’t leave a big gap between any riders behind you and the person directly in front of you – give anyone behind you the courtesy of being able to latch on when you drop. To do that, wave those behind you up and then speed up as if you’re going to pass the person in front of you – this will eliminate the gap between them and the draft, because once you’re out, you are out. Just be sure to announce your intentions so the people around you aren’t caught unaware.
If that group didn’t suit you, and you’ve pulled out of line, wait for the next group to pass and repeat the process until you find one you’re comfortable with. Pace-line riding is excellent in helping you to finish quicker and less taxed physically than going it alone. In a long group, when you’re at the back, you can go faster at half the effort than you would be able to on your own. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time for sight-seeing that way.
Another option is to ride a good percentage of the ride in a pace-line and then drop off the back at a random mile marker to spin back alone and site-see for the rest of the trip. I, for obvious reasons, do not recommend trying to do that the opposite way, site-seeing first followed by latching onto a group later – the good groups will be long gone by the time you’re ready to latch on (unless you’re fast enough not to need any of this advice anyway – in which case I can’t believe you’ve read this much of the post).
The rest is up to you. Having completed two centuries in two weeks, the sense of accomplishment and the friends you’ll make along the way make the ride and effort well worth the time investment. Add to that the strength that comes with completing long rides and riding a century makes even more sense (you will become abundantly stronger and faster for your shorter rides and club rides after just a century or two, after you’ve recovered from the effort of course).
Finally, there is no hard and fast rule, ride so many miles per day and you’ll be ready to go. My training mileage, solo, was around 50 miles once a week for three weeks with a bunch of 16 mile and 25 mile rides scattered in there… Why 50? If I can ride 50 on my own, then double the distance at half the effort (in a group) seemed reasonable.
If you like riding, I highly recommend the century… The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that awaits you at the finish line is incredible.
*Fluid requirements according to Endomondo figures.
I’ve completed my third day of Slim Kicker for my review of the app and I’m finally having some success.
In reviewing the app, I went into the endeavor eyes open… I already happen to be Slim and I am absolutely an @$$ Kicker on a bike (in case you didn’t know, I’m kind of a big deal around here). The point is, I don’t need motivation to stay thin or to get out and exercise – I find my peace on a bike. I wrote a post about my first day that can be accessed here (it also has my disclaimer).
I also already had a great diet going – I’ve maintained my weight 155-157 for several weeks now after I finally started eating more – I brought my weight back up. And I have the added bonus of loving almost everything I eat.
The problem I had was that I never knew how balanced my diet actually was, I had to guess. Slim Kicker has provided the guide. My first two days were benchmark days, to get an understanding of where I’m at. My sodium and carbs were through the roof, almost double where Slim Kicker says they should be. I’m not worried about sodium, I sweat a lot on my bike – every day, so I need more than most and if I had to guess (and I do), Slim Kicker is probably based on a low sodium diet and we now know that too little sodium is worse than too much. Based on how much I sweat, on a daily basis, I can’t stick to a low sodium diet – my performance would tank (I experienced this last year). I’ve got an email into the staff requesting further details on their sodium count.
Beyond that, what did have me concerned was the carbs and protein – for the first two days I was way low on protein and way high on carbs. If I’m reading the pros correctly, too many carbs makes the body burn carbs – not fat. So I was able to make an adjustment to bring that balance back into check by adding a two-scoop protein shake or two.
Also, and this was a little puzzling, I was low on cholesterol and fat (even with that huge Burger King dinner on Tuesday night). Those were also raised yesterday to acceptable levels.
So while the program may not be designed for someone of my awesomeness (I’ll be leveling up on Saturday – only five days into the program), it is proving to be an invaluable tool in understanding my diet. Another excellent feature of the program is the ability to tweak on the fly. For lunch yesterday I ate a Jimmy John’s roast beef sub (I wanted to see if that was enough to boost the protein without killing the carbs – it worked so I’ll be sticking to homemade meat sammiches from now on) – I got an iced tea and a bag of sea salt and vinegar chips with it… I loaded the chips in after the sub and watched my sodium soar past the acceptable level so I simply didn’t open the bag and took it off of my list. Sodium back to acceptable. As well, I can change portion sizes to match my needed intake for the day. I can’t say enough about that – it takes the guesswork out, and that I love.
I have already recommended it to my running buddy Dennis, he’s struggled for some time to get control of his weight even though he does run quite a bit. Slim Kicker will be perfect for him. He won’t get into the level-up game aspect of it (he is an old fart) but I have no doubt the easy tracking of his diet – and it is incredibly easy – will be right up his alley.
For others, especially for those just getting into healthy lifestyle changes, I highly recommend this app. It’s not perfect but, as far as I can tell, it will absolutely get the job done.
I went on a hill climbing expedition last Saturday in hopes of getting stronger and thereby faster for the effort. I obviously wouldn’t see actual results in a matter of days so there’s that, but I was expecting better results on Tuesday and I got one to an extent. As has been the case for some time, I get dropped on the same set of hills every Tuesday. Part of the problem was pointed out by Mrs. BDJ last night – I always end up pulling going up a certain hill, we hit a false flat and I’m too beat to latch back on as everyone peaks and coasts down the other side… So the wife says, “wouldn’t it be easier to be more towards the back?” DOH! Actually, the answer is a little more nuanced than that – most of the mediocre riders (myself included) get dropped on the same series of hills every week. If I’m too far back, I’ll get lost in a gap if I’m not careful or I blow up trying to bridge a gap going up a climb. Of course, if I’m up at the front, I blow up before I get to the top of the hill and can’t latch on.
Now, this is all relative and I’m really splitting hairs – if I get stronger and can ride faster with a lot of the stronger riders, I’ll be able to keep up regardless, BUT, for the time being it would be nice to keep on to the end and the trick to that is making it passed the set of hills that we get dropped on. I’ve got it on authority that once they get beyond those, they calm down a bit – and that makes sense now based on the ride last night…
We had a small group Tuesday night and we had quite a few of the stronger guys but I figured they’d take it easy with the size of the group. I was wrong. We started out deceptively easy at 19 mph but kicked that up to between 20 & 22 after the first mile. By the eighth mile we were up to 24 where we stayed for the next four miles and just before 12, we kicked it up to 25-27. I wasn’t exactly smiling, but I was holding on just fine – no worries. We hit the first series of hills on mile thirteen at 22 mph and climbing (they aren’t huge, but they sure ain’t tiny either), at the peak we were over 23. We then had a nice mile with just a touch of downhill to it and kept that from 27, climbing to 29. Still ok, which is a big improvement – a few weeks ago I’d have been off the back. We hit the second set of hills between miles 15 and 16 and maintained 20 mph over those… It was the third set that bit me. We hit them at 26 mph and I just blew up heading up the hill. I spent the next couple of miles catching up to one of the other guys who fell of the back and we picked up one more when we started working together and then the three of us picked up one more. The four of use ended up cruising back at 22-24 mph for the last seven miles. Our ride was 29 miles. We did it in 1:22. The fast group got back about a few minutes after we did and they went three more miles. They ended up somewhere near a 23 mph average.
Overall, with stop sign stops included we managed a 21 mph average (two other guys ended up with 21.5 & 21.6 with wheel magnet speedo’s). Without the stops, it was easily 22 or a little better. The point is, I’m absolutely getting better, faster and stronger. All of the work is paying off – especially the centuries and the hill quest from last Saturday (which I plan on repeating). Of course, being able to hang on for even most of the ride makes it a lot more fun.