For many cyclists, a century ride (100 miles) is a goal that is equivalent to running a marathon. It seems like a crazy long distance, but with a sensible approach and gradual build up, it is very much attainable for most folks.
Think about it: if you average 12 miles per hour (a very comfortable pace), you can cover a hundred miles in just over eight hours of easy riding. But there are important factors to keep in mind when planning for a century ride.
Tips to Survive and Thrive on a Century Ride
- Start Early
You'll want to get an early start, like six or seven am. Not only is there normally less wind early on, but you're also riding when it's cooler. And if traffic is a consideration, certainly there will be fewer cars first thing in the morning.
- Pace Yourself
A century ride -- or any other long distance ride, for that matter -- isn't a sprint. It's important to pace yourself and ride steady, taking breaks as you go.
- Eat a lot
During the ride itself, the key is to eat frequently, as much as you want of high-energy foods to keep your body fuelled. If you don't keep the energy coming, you'll surely bonk, which means that your body wants to shut down because your blood sugar levels get too low.
For me personally, I can feel the need to eat something coming on as early as an hour into a ride. Signs that I need to eat are when I start to feel irritable, and I'm no longer feeling happy and excited to be riding. And usually the immediate application of a high-carbohydrate snack is a big help. A banana or a bagel or a granola bar or a handful of cookies.
- Drink a lot
You also want to make sure you're well-hydrated. Drinking lots of fluids over the course of the ride, whether in the form of a sports drink or plain old water is absolutely necessary to ensure that your body is getting enough liquid to cover what is being lost through sweat and the extra exertion of your ride.
You should be drinking enough that you need to stop and pee every now and then, every hour or two. And if your urine is not a light/clear color, you need to drink more.
- Eat a Nice Lunch
If you reckon that it'll take eight hours of riding time at your pace, you'll want to divide the ride in approximately four hour blocks, with the first half stretching into the mid-late morning. Stop for a long leisurely lunch. Eat a lot of high-energy foods. Now is not the time to deny yourself.
Not only will the extra nourishment help give you strength, but the time off the bike will be good for your legs. You'll feel a whole lot better on the second half when you take your time to eat something good than if you just gulped down a couple of greasy burgers and 30 seconds later jumped back on the bike.
- Savor the Experience
Once you've finished your lunch, it's time for the second half of the ride. It's all downhill from here. You want to ride then from noon until approximately four p.m. You'll be darn close to that big goal, so enjoy the ride, particularly the last few miles. You'll be dog tired and your legs will be sore, but you've done something few people accomplish.