12-WEEK CENTURY RIDE TRAINING PLAN
As an avid cycling enthusiast, one of my favorite parts of my job is taking our participants out on weekend training rides and sharing my cycling knowledge with riders new to the sport. It’s with that in mind that I have decided to start a training blog as I prepare for my next century ride. I hope this blog will provide a little insight into my personal training philosophy along with tips and advice that might be helpful for all our participants.
So come along with me as I begin to train for my next century ride!
Best Buddies Challenge
Preparing for a Century Ride
Riding a century ride (100 miles) like the Best Buddies Challenge is no walk in the park. Riding 100-miles is the cycling equivalent of running a marathon in terms of the calories you will burn and time spent exerting energy to make it to the finish line. You wouldn’t attempt to run a marathon without significant training and I don’t recommend trying to ride a bike 100-miles without significant training either (unless you really like painful experiences). Even a well-seasoned cyclist like myself still has to prepare their body to ride 100-miles.
Generally, I would recommend most individuals begin their training at least four or more months prior to their 100-mile event. The bottom line is, the more time you give yourself to train, the better you’ll feel on event day. That being said, not everyone is fortunate enough to have four or more months to train so this training blog will specifically focus on a very simple to follow, moderate mileage, 12-week plan.
In order to lower my base fitness level to that of many of our less-experienced participants, I have purposely not ridden my bike for the last four months. I now have just 12 weeks to prepare for riding 100-miles.
Making a Plan
So, I’ve just spent four months off the bike and I now have 12 weeks to train for century ride featuring over 5,000 ft of elevation gain. It’s time to get back on my bike!
However, before turning a single pedal stroke, I need a plan! I highly recommend drafting a training plan of your intended rides on a calendar to help you visualize and block off your training schedule. You might find down the road that you are unable to follow your plan 100% and that’s perfectly ok. The important thing now is to create a general outline of how you’ll get to the level of fitness you’ll need to make it 100-miles.
As a general rule of thumb, to most comfortably complete a century ride without having to push yourself to the far limits of your physical abilities, you’ll want to gradually train up to riding 70 or more miles. If you can comfortably ride 70 or more miles in training, you’ll be able to ride 100-miles on event day.
Knowing that I want to be able to comfortably ride at least 70 miles prior to my event, I’ve mapped out my training on a calendar to gradually get me to that point. My goal is to gradually build up to regularly riding three days a week consisting of two shorter weekday rides and one longer endurance ride on the weekend.
My 12-Week Training Schedule:
Using the above schedule as a rough outline of my training, I can now visualize my intended progress and get a general idea of the time I’ll need to devote weekly to my training over the next 12 weeks. Now it’s time to ride!
Weeks 1, 2 and 3 – Getting Comfortable
The goal of my first three weeks of training was to merely get by body comfortable with being on the bike again. Let’s face it, sitting on a bike seat isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world and it will take a few weeks for your body to adjust and get used to your riding position. Even if your position was set up by a pro-bike fitter, you’re going to experience some level of discomfort and tenderness your first few weeks of riding.
All of my rides in the first three weeks were between 1-2 hours. These rides were done at a very casual pace allowing my muscles, tendons, and joints to simply get used to my riding position again. I’ll admit, after my first ride couple rides, my butt was little sore, but over these three weeks my body slowly adapted to being on the bike and there was less pain with every ride.
Number of rides: 6
Longest ride: 28 miles
Total mileage: ~100
Total time in the saddle: ~7 hours
Weeks 4, 5 and 6 – Building a Base
After three weeks of casually paced riding twice a week, my body is beginning to feel a lot more comfortable on the bike again. There’s less pain in my butt after every ride and my neck, back and legs are feeling well stretched and not overworked.
On week four, I began adding a third day of training to my weekly ride schedule and I continued to gradually increase the mileage on my weekend rides. At the end of week six, I completed a 45-mile ride which put me at nearly 50% of the distance I’ll be riding on my big event day.
Number of rides: 9
Longest ride: 47 miles
Total mileage: ~ 205 miles
Total time in the saddle: ~13 hours
Weeks 7, 8 and 9 – Increasing Intensity
With six weeks of lightly paced base miles in my legs, it’s time to start adding some intensity to my rides. Riding at one set pace during your training can become monotonous and plateau potential fitness gains. By adding intensity “intervals” (riding at above-average speeds for set periods of time) you can improve the quality of your training without having to add significantly more time on the bike to your training schedule. Countless exercise science studies have shown that in as little as two weeks, interval training can improve your speed, power, and endurance. With this in mind, twice a week I will begin adding in a higher intensity interval workout towards the middle or near the end of my ride.
My Three Favorite Interval Workouts:
Ride at 75-85% of your max perceived physical limit for three minutes. Recover at an easy pace for three minutes. Do up to three sets. (Intensity level: Strenuous activity – heavy sweating, short of breath, difficult to speak).
This workout should be performed on a road with a long steady climb. Ride at 75-85% of your max perceived physical limit up a hill that takes at least 3-5 minutes to summit, descend and repeat up to three times. (Intensity level: Strenuous activity – heavy sweating, short of breath, difficult to speak)
Go for one or two 15-minute intervals riding at 60-70% your max perceived effort broken by seven minutes of easy spinning recovery. (Intensity level: Moderately hard activity – moderate sweating, labored breathing, but able to speak.)
Another great way to add intensity into your training is to ride with friends or join a spirited group ride where you challenge each other up hills, practice pacelining, and generally push the pace a little more than on your solo rides.
Number of rides: 11
Longest ride: 58 miles
Total mileage: ~ 240 miles
Total time in the saddle: ~16 hours
Weeks 10, 11 and 12 – The Home Stretch
The final three weeks of training are here and the focus of my training is now on maintaining consistency, increasing endurance and avoiding fatigue and/or injury.
Life is busy and the weather might not always cooperate with your training schedule, but it’s important to find the time to ride at least 2-3 days a week. At the same time, it’s also important to listen to your body and avoid the signs of over-training. Quite simply, over-training occurs in cyclists who train well beyond their body’s ability to recover. During these last few weeks, if you find your legs consistently feel like they don’t have any power or your motivation to ride is severely lacking, then perhaps it’s time to cut back your mileage a bit or skip one scheduled ride in order to help your body recover from the last 10 weeks of training. Hopefully, this won’t be necessary, but it’s better for your body to have more time to recover from training vs being over-trained.
As the final few weeks of training came to an end, my long weekend rides gradually increased to above 70-miles. My longest ride, the weekend before my century ride, ended up being 83-miles, and while I finished that ride quite tired, I did not bonk and I could tell that the gradual training I had completed over the last 11 weeks had paid off. I felt very confident in my ability to ride 100 miles the following weekend.
During the final week leading up to my century ride, I did two nice and easy rides. I also closely looked over by bike for any mechanical issues and during that inspection, I realized my rear tire wasn’t in good shape and so I replaced it (there’s nothing worse than training 12 weeks and having a major mechanical on your event day! Be sure to inspect your equipment or take your bike into a shop at least a week before a big event).
Number of rides: 9 (does not include event day)
Longest ride: 83 miles
Total mileage: ~ 250 miles
Total time in the saddle: ~16 hours
My 100 Mile Ride – Event Day
100-miles done and done!
I’m happy to report that yesterday’s century ride went great! I was able to pace myself hard enough to reach the finish line with a little, but not a lot, left in my body’s gas tank. My time for the day was 6 hours and 40 minutes. Personally, when I participate in a century ride, my goal is usually to set a personal record (PR) for time; however, yesterday I was nearly 2 hours off my century ride PR. No big deal though. Considering my moderate training schedule, I knew from the start of planning my training that I wasn’t going to come close to my previous PR and I couldn’t be happier with my end result.
The training I’ve documented in this blog was perfect for getting me to the finish line of my event. And while there are many ways to train for a century ride, and other plans out there might have more or less miles/weeks, I can say with confidence that if you follow a similar plan to the one above, you too will be fully prepared to ride 100-miles – AND ENJOY IT!
Some nutritional notes from my ride:
My day started around two hours before I began riding with a medium sized breakfast at my hotel consisting of a boiled egg, a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries, a small ham & cheese sandwich, a handful of almonds, a banana, coffee and water.
I arrived at the start line with two filled water bottles (one with water and one with an electrolyte replacement) and two energy gels to carry in my jersey pocket.
Along the event route, there were four rest stops. I stopped at every rest stop to eat, refill or top off my liquids (both water and electrolyte replacement) and review the route map to see what was coming up next. At each rest stop, I would typically consume between 150-250 calories (a half of a banana and another food item such as an energy bar or small sandwich for example) and I drank at least one water bottle of liquid every hour I was on the bike.
In addition to the rest stop food, at mile 70 and mile 90 I consumed the two energy gels I had brought with me. At no time during my ride did I feel too stuffed or hungry. Though upon finishing my ride, I did devour two large plates of food at the finish line (I swear, nothing beats a post ride meal after a good long ride!)
Total distance: 101.3 miles
Elevation gain: 5,022 ft
Time: 6 hrs 40 mins