Taking on a century ride can be a daunting task, especially when it’s your first. With these training tips and tricks you can feel confident that you’ve got the necessary information to nail your first one hundred mile ride.

For more information on training check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 254.

What is a Century Ride?

A century is a road cycling event or training ride that is one hundred miles long. Organized centuries, like gran fondos, are supported rides. They usually have aid stations with food and drinks and occasionally the courses are closed off to cars. Athletes start the century together but are free to complete the hundred mile course at their own pace. Centuries can be competitive events but the majority of centuries are social rides that offer athletes a chance to come together and tackle a big day in the saddle.

Training For a Century

You don’t need to be a veteran cyclist to do a century. Any athlete who can complete a well structured training plan can take on a century. An efficient and effective way to train for a century is to do high quality structured workouts that strengthen the necessary energy systems required during prolonged sustained work. A century is more or less one long sustained effort, so building your ability to maintain power is essential.

If you’re interested in completing a structured century training plan we recommend using Plan Builder to build a custom century plan. Plan Builder will automatically create a training plan with custom tailored blocks structured around your schedule and designed to peak you for the big day. Just enter the date of your event, classify it as a Century, and Plan Builder will do the rest.

A custom century training plan is composed of workouts that build aerobic fitness and develop muscular endurance. Early on in the training plan Plan Builder will work to raise your threshold. As time goes on, you’ll be able to ride at a higher output, with a lower perceived rate of exertion. As you get closer to your event your training will gradually become more tailored to the intensity of your event so that you are equipped to maintain this intensity over prolonged periods of time.

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How to Pace For a Century

The amount of time it will take to finish a century depends on the terrain of your event. A century with a lot of climbing, bad weather or high altitude could skew a time goal. This is why we recommend building a power-based pacing plan instead of a time based pacing plan. If you have a power meter on your bike, a good pace would be maintaining an Intensity Factor (IF) of 0.70 or 0.75 during your century. IF is a percentage of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). In other words, ride at 70% of the power you can maintain for an hour.

If you don’t have a power meter, no worries. A rate of perceived exertion (RPE) based pacing plan works great too. The right RPE might vary but generally maintaining an RPE of 6 or 7, on a scale of 1-10, for a century is appropriate. You’ll become familiar with how RPE 6 and 7 feel during your structured workouts.

What’s more important than maintaining a certain pace is doing your best not to ride above the set pace. Riding above threshold becomes exponentially harder and brings an exponential energy cost, so fatigue can ramp up very quickly. If you’d like to build your own pacing plan you can read more about building a pacing plan here.

Ride With a Group!

Whether or not you have a pacing plan, riding with a group is a great way to pace a century. Try and find a group of people that are pushing a pace you find sustainable. The social aspect can boost morale and become a welcoming distraction to the growing sense of discomfort. It also offers you a chance to catch the occasional draft and take a break from setting the pace.

No man’s land can be tough.  If you find yourself riding alone try hanging back and joining a group or another solo rider. The time it takes to wait for a group will be well worth it. The mental and physical advantages that come with being able to draft and ride with a companion are super helpful. Chances are any other athlete who’s riding solo could use a friend to ride with as much as you, and chances are, you won’t be the last rider on course.

Limit Your Time at Aid Stations

Aid stations are both a blessing and a curse. Aid Stations offer athletes a chance to stop, take a break, stretch their back and fuel up. It’s also a place where athlete’s will cool down completely if they’re not careful. Stopping and starting can be the hardest part of a century. Upon restarting your legs won’t feel eager to get back up to pace. To avoid this common pain point, try and limit your time at aid stations and only stop when necessary. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get back on the bike.

Nutrition and Hydration

Before: Fuel and hydrate well in advance of your event. What you eat in the days leading up to your event can have any impact on your big ride. In the two days before your ride make sure you eat enough nutritious foods, a diet rich in carbohydrate, hydrate sufficiently, and rest adequately.

During: Your nutrition during a long event should be proactive. Don’t eat when you think you’re feeling run down, eat and drink proactively so you don’t become run down. Try setting a timer on your head unit or phone that goes off every fifteen to thirty minutes. When your timer goes off, take in fuel and check on how much water you’ve taken in since your last timer.

Depending on the event there will probably be lots of aid stations. While aid stations might have a lot of good fuel, don’t plan to rely solely on the aid stations. Bring enough gels, bars and snacks to make it through the century on your own. In the event that nothing at the aid stations interests you or agrees with your stomach, you’ll always have your back up fuel.

If you do end up eating at the aid stations, which definitely works for a lot of people, be wary of what you eat. Something that agrees with you off the bike may not agree with you on the bike. If you want to get a feel for your body’s response to different foods experiment with your nutrition during training. Try eating different solid foods on long training rides to see how your stomach responds. If you’re a beginner cyclist and you haven’t experimented with fueling a lot you can read more about on the bike nutrition here.

Common First Century Mistakes

It might seem like a lot can go wrong during a century – but the good news is that most first century mistakes are easily avoidable. Miserable centuries happen when athletes don’t fuel enough, stop too long, aren’t mentally prepared for the difficulty of the day and go too hard at the start. You can avoid common errors with a well structured training plan, prepared and proactive nutrition, a good pacing plan and a good attitude.

For more cycling training knowledge, listen to the Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.

Getting Faster with TrainerRoad

Ready to get faster? Driven by science and data, TrainerRoad provides the training, planning, and analysis tools you need to become a faster cyclist with a focused and straightforward system. Create a custom training plan with Plan Builder, complete workouts indoors, outside, or with friends, and prove that your training is working with post-ride analysis tools. You can be confident that you will become a faster cyclist, and over 1,500 stories from TrainerRoad athletes prove it. Try TrainerRoad with a 30-day, money-back guarantee.

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Meghan Kelley

Meghan Kelley is a writer, XC MTB racer and trail enthusiast. Her years spent racing XC and working at TrainerRoad has translated to a passion for all things cycling.