As the big date rapidly approaches, I’ve spent my free time reading many articles offering tips and strategies for managing a century ride, as well as watching inspirational online clips of riders first centuries, after all, the mental aspect of the ride is just as grueling as the physical.
There is a great piece at the velogirls site (yeah yeah it’s a girls site, but it offers great information) written by a USAC Licensed Coach and ACE-Certified Personal Trainer named Lorri Lee Lown. She pretty much hits the big three keys to success… pace, hydration and food.
Many riders ask me how to pace themselves for their first century, so I wanted to share some tips based on my experience and the experience of riders I’ve worked with.
First, determine what you think your average pace might be. If you typically ride 15mph on mixed terrain, you could safely assume that you could maintain that average for the entire ride. Believe it or not, if you’re faithful with eating and hydrating during the ride, you should be able to maintain a pretty consistent average throughout the ride.
Once you’ve determined your average pace, you can then calculate your total ride time. For example, if your goal pace is 15mph, you could set a ride time of 6 1/2 hours. I’ve found that having a concrete goal in mind is the best way to gauge your progress throughout the day.
In addition to ride time, you need to calculate non-ride time into the duration of the event. This would be time spent at rest stops and lunch. Even though this is non-ride time, it will still contribute to your total time commitment for the day, and also to your fatigue level. I think one of the greatest challenges new century riders have is managing their non-ride time in a way that allows them to complete the ride feeling fresh and energized.
Most organized centuries will have rest stops (stocked with food and water and also bathroom facilities) every 15-20 miles. You should make sure that in your training, you try to simulate this by riding non-stop for at least this distance. Before the ride, you should carefully study the route sheet to determine where these stops are. You should also decide whether or not you will actually stop at a given rest stop. If you’re fresh in the morning, you may decide that you can bypass the first stop altogether and simply take your first break at the second rest stop. This is actually the method I employ, because I know I can ride 30-40 miles without stopping. Since I begin with a warm-up pace, I don’t feel the need to stop at the first stop and it saves some time in my total duration.
At the beginning of the ride (the first 15-30 minutes) make sure you ride at a warm-up pace. This will allow your body to ease into the transition of riding (especially early in the morning) and will help you ride more comfortably and efficiently for the rest of the day. Don’t let the impulse to ride hard from the beginning cause you to forgo this important part of the ride.
Try to manage your stops efficiently. I know this may sound silly, and there are usually lots of fun distractions at the rest stops, but if you linger too long, your body will cool down and you’ll need to ride at a slower warm-up pace when you return to the bike. And when you consider your total duration for the day (ride time plus non-ride time) there’s a big difference over the course of the day between taking 10 minute stops and 20 minute stops. I actually set the timer on my watch at the stops to make sure I don’t stop for too long. Communicate your plan with your riding partners just to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
At a stop, here’s a method for moving through quickly. Park your bike, grab your water bottles, and head over to the food table. Grab what you want to eat and then move directly on to the water station. It’s not unusual (especially at the first couple of stops) to have long lines for food, water, and bathrooms, so you’ll have time while waiting in line to eat and drink. After you’ve filled your bottles, head over to the line for the bathrooms. Keep eating & drinking while you’re waiting in line. If all goes well, you’ll be ready to get back on the bike as soon as you’re finished at the bathroom.
I follow the same type of methodology at lunch, although I’ll usually allow myself 20-30 minutes at this stop. But this really depends on the placement of the lunch stop. I’ve found that if the lunch stop is too early (before mile 70 or so), I’m not ready to eat much, and eating too much actually makes it difficult to get back on the bike (since your blood returns to your digestive system to digest lunch and isn’t available in your working muscles to ride). So try to employ some self-control and only eat what’s needed (even though lunch may be very tempting). Just remind yourself that there will be an incredible meal after the ride and you can linger as long as you want and eat as much as you want then (without having to get back on the bike).
While riding, be very faithful about eating and drinking (on the bike). Start the day with some food on the bike and always pick up something extra at the rest stops to carry with you. One method I recommend is setting the alarm on your watch to go off every ten minutes. This will remind you to eat and drink something. By eating and drinking small amounts throughout the ride, you keep your blood sugar level and energy systems more constant. This is much better for your performance than eating and drinking only at the rest stops.
If you’re not comfortable with eating on the bike, start practicing now. One method I’ve used is to cut up my Clif Bars into little, tiny, bite-sized chunks, put them in a zip-lock bag, and keep that bag in my Bento Box. Then it’s right there in front of me and I can just pop a piece into my mouth, let it dissolve a little, and eat as I go. This works much better for me than trying to get a bar out of my jersey, open it up, take a bite, and put it back into my jersey.
One last note about nutrition and hydration. Be certain to start the day with a “full fuel tank.” Have a healthy, carb-rich dinner the night before your ride. And don’t forget breakfast! Make sure you have a good breakfast (oatmeal, orange juice, a banana, etc) a couple of hours before you begin riding. This will allow your body enough time to digest the food and make it available to you as energy as you begin your ride.
Don’t try anything new on your first century. During your training, determine which types of food and drink work best for you. If you prefer a certain type of bar, drink, or energy gel, find out if it will be available on the ride. If not, bring it with you. Even though the ride organizers will provide you with food & drink, it’s okay to bring something familiar to you.
Always try to ride with someone. This will help you maintain your pace and keep you energized for the ride. Also, if you’re fading or need some support, you’ll have someone there for you. One of the greatest challenges to riding a century is the sheer boredom that can set in after the first few hours. Having someone to share the experience with you is a great way to keep your mind occupied and fight fatigue.
Hope you find this information helpful. I’ve found that by “riding” a century in my mind beforehand, creating a plan and trying to stick to it, my rides are better managed and more successful. I realize this may sound formal, but it’s a much better alternative than just hopping on the bike and riding. By chunking your ride into small sections (“I’m going to ride 20 miles now”), you’ll find the day will go by more quickly and you’ll be at the 100 mile mark before you know it!
Great information, especially the tips on managing rest stops. I’ve been guilty of lingering at them too long on past rides making the return to the bike all that much harder. I’ve got my target pace set at 20-21 MPH, which I’ve been easily able to maintain on the past few metric century rides. Everyone tells me that your game plan usually gets altered near the 70 mile mark, which is the point that the ride typically becomes, shall I say, less fun, but I’m hoping that point is less menacing with a solid group (I’ve already “recruited” a few fellow cyclists from previous rides to group up with). I’ll be very happy with a sub 6 hour finish and ecstatic with anything near 5 hours. Lets just hope Mommy Nature plays nice and keeps the wind tolerable…so far the outlook is good with partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 64/81°F with an 11 MPH NE wind (pretty much the norm for this time of year).
Señor J and I did a leisure 30 mile spin today to keep our legs loose and maintain some muscle memory. We are in tapering mode letting our bodies recover a bit. We’ll probably just do one more 30 miler and rest a full day before Sunday’s big ride. BTW no GPS info for today’s ride, as I forgot to switch on the cycling computer. The onboard CatsEye recorded the following:
Ride Time: 1:39:01
Distance: 29.98 miles
Average: 18.1 mph
Fastest Speed: 23.5 mph