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How I Prepared for My First Century Bike Ride…

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February 2014
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Cycling Season is upon us and with that comes new cyclists and an almost uncontrollable urge to achieve cycling greatness in line with running’s marathon:  The Century – 100 miles of pure cycling bliss.  The century, by far, is my favorite distance.  I ride at least four every season with a couple of training rides that come awfully close or go slightly over (90-115 miles)…

This post will be relatively short and is intended simply as a broad overview of how to get into shape for your first.  For a more detailed look, I have two posts on the subject, here and here.

There are a few main preparation points that will help even the greenest noob conquer the century, if you’re willing to put the work in – and it is a lot of work.

First and foremost is your bike and the equipment you’ll need.  I recommend a professionally fitted road bike but I’ve witnessed people complete centuries on knobby tire mountain bikes – they just finished after I was already home, fed, showered, had taken a nap and was out cutting the lawn (this is a facetious point, I don’t really know when they finished, you get the point though).  You should also have at least one spare inner tube, tire levers, either a CO2 or a frame mounted tire pump, a patch kit and a multi-tool with a chain tool on it – and know how to use all of the items.  For your saddle, unless you desire a numbed, chafed and bleeding sitting area, I recommend a real, fitted, gender specific road saddle with minimal padding and a pair of excellent cycling shorts.  I don’t care how big you think your butt is or how bad you think you look in those shorts, they’re a necessity.  Period.  After that, you’ll need H2O (and a sports drink/supplement), some snacks (my favorites are Jelly Belly Energy Beans [with caffeine] and ERG Energy Bars) and a fair amount of sunscreen – you’ll be out there in the sun for a while.

As for training, I chose to ride almost every day.  Not because I needed to but simply because I love to ride.  I rode 16 miles (Wed., Fri.), 20-35 on Tuesday, 35 on Saturday and 20 on Sunday.  Monday’s off, and this started in March.  At the end of April, I jumped into my first metric century (62.4 miles).  After that, I added a few miles to my Saturday ride (40-45 total) and kept with that until the beginning of July when I jumped again, for a training ride with some guys from my local club, to 80 miles.  A couple of weeks after that I did my first full Century ride, the Tour des Lac in Fenton.  You’ll notice, hopefully, that the jump in mileage was pretty big at each new milestone.  While cycling is work, it has been my experience that it is not like running where I would only increase by 10% at a time.  I was perfectly okay with doubling single ride mileage every two weeks to a month.  I did this, however, on professionally fitted, high-quality equipment.  Substandard equipment hurts more and that must be taken into account.

I can offer this one tip on how to jump mileage in relative comfort:  Take your average speed and knock 1-1.5 mph off of that for the longer distance.  For instance, my average pace was just shy of 20 mph for 30 miles (with no help or drafting).  I completed my first metric century on my own (no help/drafting) at 18.5 mph and I was pretty well spent but fine.  When I jumped from that to the 80 mile ride, that was done (with drafting help) at 19 mph.  After a full season of Centuries under my belt, last year I started working on speed.  I did the Tour des Lac at 20.5 mph with four other guys and the Assenmacher 100 at 21.7 with a large group.

Now, with all of that said, a word of caution:  Cycling a hundred miles is not easy.  At speed (17-20 mph) you burn almost two pounds worth of calories.  You’ll sweat anywhere from two to four liters from every pore on your body.  You’ll burn through enough salt to send your doctor into a conniption.  You will be sore after your first one.  It’s a lot of work, even if you do take it easy.  Prepare yourself well, work hard to get your body in shape for the effort and you will feel amazing afterwards.  You will know that you’ve done something exceptional and your friend’s jaws will drop in awe of the accomplishment.  Do enough of them and all of that stubborn fat that you’ve had a tough time with will melt away into svelte, slender lines and you’ll be left with legs of granite.

As with anything in life, it works if you work it.


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