It’s been about a year since I last completed a hundred mile ride on my bike. With no specific training for a century ride, I rode 100 miles comfortably today using these ninja sportive hacks.
Riding 100 miles on your “push bike” is a major achievement, whichever way you look at it. Not many people could do it, and even fewer would want to. Most would just look on with glazed incomprehension, stuffing another out of date ring donut into their fat face-holes, whilst mumbling “have you seen the remote?”
If you’re lucky enough to have developed a cycling habit, you may find yourself eventually thinking about entering sportive events, or wanting to increase your mileage as a personal goal.
There are obviously many training plans you could follow, or you could just use the force and go with whatever feels right.
Basically, if you ride often you’ll get fitter, which in turn helps you to go for longer. Make sure you rest in between, and you’ll keep getting stronger and leaner, and then it should come as no surprise that you can eventually ride greater distances at greater average speeds. It’s not rocket science.
How to complete your century ride if you’ve skimped on your training.
OK, so your big day has arrived. This is it. Your first century ride. You’re already imagining the bragging rights down the pub. “100 miles? Yeah, it was nothing…”
It’s going to be awesome, except for one little thing. You haven’t been out half as much as you should have and you’re worried your legs are going to turn to play-doh at the very first hill.
I felt a bit like that this morning.
Yesterday was Saturday. One of my club buddies posted on our fb group his intention to do a century ride instead of the usually much shorter Sunday club run, and was inviting any interested crazy fools parties to join him. I couldn’t resist. The weather forecast was great, and he was suggesting a route which included a good 30 miles I’d never done before (I do like cycling in new places). That was it, I posted a reply and committed myself.
Then I realised – “Oh crap, I’ve not done anything that would count as specific training for a century ride, for yonks. I am going to suffer.” Then I remembered my little imaginary black book of super ninja jedi long distance bike riding tricks, which I’m happy to share with you here today. Don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret.
If you’ve flunked your training for a century ride, these Top Tips will get you through.
Disclaimer: These tips will not save you if you’re a total lard arse with the aerobic capacity of an octogenarian emphysema patient. If you’re already reasonably fit, they will however, seriously help tip the balance in your favour, and make the difference between finishing in a heap on the floor and saying “never again, what was I thinking?”, and still feeling strong at the end.
#1 Pace yourself.
Sounds obvious, and it is obvious. But actually do it, right from the start. Forget Strava heroics, today is not the day. Don’t be tempted to go out all guns blazing. The mantra for the day is to always be holding something back in reserve.
#2 Use your heart rate monitor to help with #1
Your HR monitor will tell you if you’re trying too hard. Try to spend most of your time in a comfortable zone 2 or 3,which for me is usually about 130-140 bpm. You can ride all day at that intensity.
#3 Don’t struggle to keep up with people who are faster.
Again, your HR monitor can help. If you’re riding at 170 bpm or more, you won’t be able to keep it up for very long and you’ll suffer big time later on. Let them go ahead. Remember that Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare? Be the tortoise.
#4 Eat food early, and regularly.
I mean solid food, not gels. Leave those for the second half of the ride, if you need them at all. Feedstations at organised events provide mostly sweet stuff, in my experience, which can get a bit sickly. On my ride today, I took with me a cheese toastie (on brown bread) and ate a quarter of it every half hour or so. Half way around the route we stopped at a cafe for beans on toast, and coffee. If you don’t eat, you’ll run out of energy and feel utterly horrible.
#5 Drink something that you know and trust.
Personally, on long rides, I swear by High 5 “4:1”. This has the usual carbohydrate content but also includes whey protein, which your muscles will be grateful of. It helps stave off fatigue, and aids recovery after the ride too. I honestly believe it really helps me on longer rides. Make sure you remember to actually drink it! Small amounts often, is way better then just guzzling it all down in one go two hours after the event started.
High5 4:1 is usually £34.99 for a big tub that lasts ages, but Wiggle currently have it on sale at £20.99
#6 Suck wheel, and don’t apologise.
If you know the day is going to be a serious challenge, the name of the game is energy conservation. As well as keeping yourself regularly fed and watered (see #4 and #5), you need to do whatever you can to minimise the amount of energy you’re expending. This means tucking in behind someone else, to take advantage of the aerodynamic benefit. Look at this another way, if you’re expending X amount of energy to go at a certain speed, you can keep up with someone slightly faster than you for the same amount of energy, by riding in their slipstream. This works well if you’re in a friendly group of your own club mates, but be warned that strangers can sometimes get a bit funny about people tagging on at the back. If you can, do take your turn on the front every now and again. However, good friends would understand if you’re not feeling strong, and probably won’t mind you riding on their wheel. You’d help them out in a similar situation, right? In a big event with hundreds of riders, it’s very easy to tag behind people and save energy. Do this as much as you need to, and you’ll use a lot less energy.
#7 Time your gels well, if you use them.
I have a favourite brand of gel. It’s become elevated to mythical status in my mind. I could be at death’s door, but after just one ZipVit ZV7 gel (gotta be the blackcurrant ones!), I’m fresh as a spring chicken that’s been spiked with amphetamines, and good for another 20 miles at a decent effort. But, and here’s the take home – only ever take one of these gels after 65-70 miles. By the way, ZipVit make a caffeine version of the above gel too. It’s effective, but the taste will make you pull a face like a 7 year old trying Grandad’s sherry at Christmas time.
#8 Don’t get impatient up hills.
It’s quite common on hills to see people working too hard. They get out of breath, their heart rate goes too high and they struggle to recover. This links back to #1 really. Pace yourself. Listen to your body, be aware of how you’re coping, and ease off from time to time to allow yourself to recover.
#9 Comfort is important
Whenever I do a long ride for the first time in a while, the main issue that I have isn’t being able to keep going, or muscle fatigue or cramp. It’s to do with being comfortable on the bike. Sitting on a bike for 6 or 7 hours can cause lower back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, numbness in the hands and/or feet from road vibration and of course, the old classic – your saddle might be a pain in the butt. Apart from training more to get your body used to being on the bike for extended periods, there’s not a lot you can do to prepare for this, apart from making sure that the bike fits you reasonably well. Good idea to take some of your favourite painkillers / NSAID’s along (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like ibuprofen or naproxen. Works for me. The Verve got the wrong end of the stick, surely.
#10 Try to maintain a weekly total that’s somewhere near the total distance of your big ride.
If you’ve still got some time before your event, try to maintain a good average weekly total. For example, my commute is 18 miles each way. If I do it twice a week, that’s 72 miles per week. You should be able to ride your average weekly total in one ride, if you’ve been doing it for a few months.
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So, there you have it. My little list of top tips for getting through your 100 mile ride. If you are going to embark on this sort of thing, then it does pay to prepare well. Training for a century ride is easier than you might think, and if you follow the tips above, you’ll definitely get through it more smoothly.
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As well as getting through my ride this morning, I enjoyed it immensely. At one point I couldn’t resist instagramming this picture of the guys in front of me, in amongst the mountains. It’s the closest I get to a religious experience.