I am a century cyclist. I’m actually a multiple-century cyclist. Two, three, even four days in a row. No worries. Sub five-hour century? Check. Five hour centuries, many – and usually with as few as four or five guys.
Cramping, nausea, inability to sleep afterward? Check. Check. Check. Of course, it’s not so bad anymore, whether it’s that I’ve just grown accustomed, better fitness, or wiser nutrition, I don’t know but I don’t suffer like I used to afterward. Though the first two (cramping and nausea) were fixed nutritionally, the third is what it is. I usually have to wait several hours to nap, or till the evening to simply crash.
This post reflects my experience with cycling’s marathon; The Century. This post is for Karen, who inspired its writing. Thank you Karen.
There’s no doubt 100 miles is tough and cool to most normal folk. Those who don’t ride will think you’re cool for being able to do it in under 14 hours. Their jaws will drop when they find our you’re faster by more than half. As with everyone I ride with, something magical happens about 80-85 miles in… My friend Mark put it succinctly, “I hit 80 miles and I just want to get off the frickin’ bike.” We hit the wall. Ride through it and a fourth or fifth wind is usually in the not too distant future.
Proper nutrition after the ride is also imperative. Eat too soon and, well, it’s ugly. Wait too long and recovery is slowed. I also have to eat the right stuff. Some watermelon immediately after is excellent, followed by a decent carb/protein balanced meal which aids recovery.
Then there is the multiple-day centuries. If you think one is tough, try three or four in a row, all at your best pace. The third day is toughest for me… If nutrition is important for one, eating properly for four takes that to a whole new level.
After enough centuries, they’re really not too bad. Almost enjoyable. The operative word in that two-word sentence is “almost”.
That said, there’s a twist.
I don’t particularly like or dislike a century ride. I always feel like I’ve accomplished something but I have to wonder if the pain of riding through the proverbial wall is really worth it.
After discussing this with most of the guys I ride with, it’s almost unanimous across the board. It’s not.
While we all still do the distance, and will continue to, the 62-1/2 to 75 mile distances are far more preferable, if for nothing else, just being able to skip those several hours of feeling hammered afterward. As far as I’m concerned, personally, I prefer 70-75 miles. Too often, 60-65 just seems like it’s over too soon. That extra ten to fifteen seems to get me to that spot in my head where I think, “Yep, that’s good enough”.
In the end, I suppose it’s about preference. Our club used to have a guy they called “hundred mile Rick”. Everything was a century with that guy. You’ve got your double-century folks, your century folks, double metrics and metric century folks… all the way down to the ride around the block club.
While centuries are shy of “too much of a good thing”, four or five hours up to ten hours in the saddle is a long time. It’s not for everyone. While many cyclists will embrace and enjoy the century ride, if you’re not one of them, definitely don’t sweat it. You won’t be the first or the last who says, “Meh” to the whole thing. I have several friends who would much prefer a 70-75 mile ride over a century. The trick is, at 70-75 miles, you’re not likely to hit the wall, you still feel like you did something exceptional and you’ve got some gas left in the tank.
Humorously, my position on this has evolved quite a bit. Four years ago I’d have sworn up and down that the century is a must as far as cycling accomplishments. Now that I’ve done dozens upon dozens of them, well let’s just say it’s not all that big a deal any more. Do them or don’t. All that really matters is that you’re riding the miles you do with a smile on your face.
Oh, and one last thing… As a cyclist, you are likely run into people who will judge another cyclist by whether or not they’ve ridden centuries. First, you don’t want to ride with those people anyway. Second, if you need to provide them a good reason, a simple “I don’t find a need or desire to go that far” or “I have no desire to spend that kind of time riding a bike” will suffice. Keep it simple and short… and simple – and above all, enjoy yourself. There’s too much pressure off the bike as it is, no sense in screwing up a perfectly awesome leisure activity as well because you don’t want to spend 4-10 hours on a bike.
In fact as a more extreme example, I have many friends who will do the Michigan 24 hour challenge every year. Each year I’m asked if I will join them, to which I respond the same, every time: “Dude, it’s awesome that you want to do that but that’s a little too much of a good thing for me. No thanks.” I have absolutely no desire to ride a bicycle 24 straight hours. That’s a hard pass.