Best way to pace a century with power

This will be my second ever century and my first with power. I am planning on riding at about 65-70% of my FTP for the ride. my first century I did solo and it has me thinking. How do people account for pacing when riding in groups? Obviously I will be riding in groups and probably below my target power for a lot of the beginning of the ride. Are there certain rules you like to use depending on when you might be looking to break away? Say you’ve been riding at 50% ftp for 60miles of the ride and you want to break off, would you go at the 65-70% ftp or try to push a little higher because of all the energy saved? would you look at you best power over time splits and run based off that, or a little lower due to fatigue? Or at the end of the day is it simply a feel of what you can handle.

Not sure if this is helpful, but my first ride-in-a-group situation was for a 150miler back in 2018. I was expecting to ride it out solo (indeed, I was out alone for an hour), but a small faster group caught up to me and I just latched on. My IF ended up at 0.53 and the TSS was under 200. We finished hours before I was expecting to. In retrospect I could have pulled more, but I’d put in a few miles each time my rotation came up. Mostly I was keeping my eye on maintaining the speed, rather than focusing on the power.

In contrast, a few weeks earlier I did a mostly solo double metric (~128mi). 338 TSS and an IF of 0.70. Ride time was the same.

So… weird. I worked a LOT harder on the solo ride, but we got through it much faster as group at lower intensity. I suppose I could have tried to push the group in the longer ride. In retrospect, I probably should have pulled longer, and that’s all I would change.

1 Like

As a caveat, it kind of depends on fitness and goals, but if you are out for a time I would say that feel has worked pretty well for me. That is, picking up a group that feels like a sustainable pace, or a little over even, and sticking with it.

My last century I ended up with an IF of .78 but did it in a group. I was roasted at the end for sure, but just having the group there with me helped a ton. Contrast that with a century I did a couple of months earlier with an IF of .78 that I did solo and felt like death, ha.

I guess the upshot is if you have a group that is pretty close to your target, it’s going to be a much better day to go over/under planned wattage (within reason) and just try to hang, at least in my n=2 sample size.

1 Like

Yeah I think I’d do feel. You already have one century under your belt, so you should have some gauge.

Riding in a group you’ll both go faster and draft more and push yourself to stay with the group. So you have a chance of getting caught up in the excitement and blowing up.

Still. It’s fun riding in a draft with a group that’s working well together.

Don’t worry about “breaking away”. There’s not really such a thing on a century ride. But you will need to know if the group is burning you too fast and just drop off. There is always another group coming up behind to latch onto.

1 Like

Nope…not weird at all. That is exactly how it should be.

If you are gonna ride by power, then simply ride by power, whether in a group or solo. If your goal is .60 IF, the find a group that is riding at roughly that pace. Yeah, you’ll go over a bit here and there if you take a pill, but you’ll be sitting in, too.

That is the point of riding with power…riding to a target, no matter the conditions. Windy? Doesn’t matter, you ride to your power target. Uphill? Ride to your target power. Your speed should be variable, but not your power.

The advantage will be that if you are in a group riding to your target, as you found out, you’ll be going faster. If they start going harder than you want, just drop off and still ride to your target…you’ll just be a little slower.

4 Likes

Was about to ask the same question. Having two 100miles gravelrace’s on mtb after eachother with one week apart. Probably without a group. If I find one thats a bonus

My thoughts after doing some LSD rides with PM, and some with some harder effort, is to try to stay around 0.7-0.75 IF, and around NP zone 2. Not gonna check the numbers the whole time. Gonna go with feeling, try to keep a average speed so i can make it under 7 hours. And having some eyes in my pulse… But mainnumbers gonna be IF and NP

Any input’s

My expectation is that unless you’re really at the top end of fitness compared to other riders in the race, you won’t find a group going at .65-7IF anywhere in the first hour.

Everyone thinks they can go faster than they can. People to stick with a group that’s too fast. People surge when they take their turn on the front of the group rather than rotating smoothly. It’s just the nature of these things.

So I would increase your IF expectations for the first hour or so - because the chances are, half the people going “too fast” are no fitter than you and will also slow down before long.

Set “Lap NP” as one of your Garmin / Wahoo fields. Then if say you’re going over .85IF, you let the group go.

After the first hour, press the lap button, and decrease your IF limit to .8 - and then down to .75 in hour 3. After that, your legs will probably be the best guide of what you can and can’t do.

Would think about a power cap rather than a power average. Group draft benefit is huge on a course with a decent amount of flat. So it’s worth digging deeper to stay with a good group, but not so deep that you blow yourself up! I would think something like:

  • Don’t go over VO2 Max (~120%) at all, until the finishing sprint if there is one. Digging that deep burns a lot of matches, and if you need to go that deep to stay with a group then chances are that the group is either too strong for you and you’re just delaying the inevitable drop, or they’re all overdoing it and staying with them will see you burn out as well
  • Up to VO2 max is OK for short efforts of no more than a couple of minutes. E.g. closing a gap, getting over a short hill, doing a turn on the front if it’s a big group and you’re going to get a decent rest after. Don’t want to do too many of these though, and only do them if they’re interspersed with a good amount of coasting or easy riding e.g. descending or sitting in a good sized group on the flat
  • For medium efforts like climbs that take more than a few minutes, or turns on the front if it’s a small group and you’re doing pulls of more than a few minutes, I’d aim for high sweetspot (90-95%), and certainly keep it under threshold
  • For long efforts e.g. long climbs or if you find yourself riding solo for a section, then I’d aim for lower sweetspot or high tempo (80-90%). Again, that’s a cap not an all day pace.

Re when to break, if it’s your second ever century then I’m assuming you have no chance of being the first rider over the line! In which case I wouldn’t think about launching a break, I would think about staying in the strongest group you can. If that’s the lead group then focus on staying there and not getting dropped. If there are groups up the road then it’s a question of whether you think you can bridge across to them. But if just going from one group to another then it’s almost certainly better for your overall finish time to recruit a few of the stronger riders from your current group to help with the effort.

Feel on the day plus the course has a big part to play. E.g. not worth burying yourself to get away from a group on a hill which is then followed by a long flat section, since the draft advantage means they’ll just sweep you up again on the flat (unless you can see another group you can latch onto). But if you get to a point where you know it’s all hills until the finish then there’s no longer much advantage being in a group and if you’re feeling strong it might be better to go on your own.

Probably also worth saying that if you’re expecting to spend a lot of time in groups, then should do some group training rides. Make sure your group skills are spot on. E.g. being comfortable riding in close proximity to others, holding your line around a corner, taking a drink or looking around without deviating from your line, pointing out potholes and road furniture, etc.

5 Likes

My strategy seams to be different to what’s been suggested previously; I do what ever it takes to stay with the group because I will benefit from the draft in the long run. I focus a lot on short power leading up to the event to train my ability to do repeated high intensity efforts. During the event I use heart rate for pacing.
As you can see in this metric century the first half is highly dynamic with lots of hard efforts. About half way I got dropped and the effort got more even.

In this 160 km ride the intensity is not as high but still very dynamic. With my goals ( speed… ) and style of riding I don’t see how pacing to IF is possible. If my goal was just to finish then riding at a certain power would be wise.

@cartsman has some very good points but depending on your goals you may need to prepare for >VO2max efforts as well.

Funnily enough, after posting I did then look at the file from a fast century ride last year and it’s even more polarised in terms of intensity than yours! See screenshots below.

So you’re certainly not the only one taking that strategy, but I do think it is a strategy that only works if you’ve got big enough groups and a flat enough course for some serious recovery time (I spent nearly half the ride coasting or in zone 1), and you’re fit and experienced enough at those distances to know you’re capable of doing it. I wouldn’t take that strategy for a very hilly ride, nor for one with a small field where you’re in groups of <10, and also probably not a good strategy for the OP doing his second century (unless he’s only done one century but has dozens of 70-90 mile fast group rides under his belt…).

Also…. don’t be afraid to bail out of a group if it looks iffy. Lots of people in those rides that have little experience in group riding. I have intentionally dropped out of groups twice now on long rides, because I felt they were a accident waiting to happen. And both times I passed (part) of the group later sitting aside the road recovering from a crash.

There always will be a next group that catches up to you.

Good point, if the course is a hilly one it’s probably best to incorporate a lot of sweet spot into the preparation phase since you likely will set your own pace to a greater degree.

Personally, I’d do this kind of ride by HR and RPE. I’d want to do most of the ride in the lower sweet spot range and keep climbs under threshold.

Also, what is the goal? Finish without bonking? Produce a certain time? Centuries should be fun and riding to power for 100 miles might take some of the fun out of it.

1 Like

or just RPE. Completely agree with you on the goal question. I’ve had a power meter for years and haven’t used it to pace my effort on a century ride.

Yesterday I did a century, wasn’t feeling well from training load, work stress, and allergies. My nose was running like a faucet the entire ride, and woke up sick from allergies this morning. Despite that I had fun and ended up with normalized power at 70% FTP - in other words Intensity Factor for the ride was 0.70.

Most of the centuries I’ve done have IF between .8 and .85. When riding with groups and trying to push for 5.5 hour finish time on a rolling course there tends to be more punchy efforts and my power distribution for the 0.85 IF ride (3400’ climbing, back loaded) looks more like this:

But I rode that to RPE and didn’t pay attention to my power meter.

Compare that to yesterday’s mostly solo, “wish I had a bunch of Kleenex with me” just get it done 0.70 IF (4600’ climbing, back loaded) effort:

Hope that helps.

2 Likes

It’s a really interesting question. Solo vs group.

If you could get a similar group FTP/goal together then I think that’s the best way to go. I know for London Marathon they have pace runners who have a big sign ad they run at an absolutely consistent pace and they then have a group around/behind them.

On my century rides I have a goal in mind and work out what my average speed should be. I set up my Garmin to show my current average. I have to take into account that hills up/down will be different but I try and stick to that target. If I get with a few people and I’m ahead of schedule then great, if I’m below my average speed then I need to decide if I can catch that up. Obviously other factors on the day like rain or wind direction can help the decision process.

I like the idea of RPE. I certainly get carried away at the start sometimes and then need to calm things down after half an hour!
It would be really good to know I could get with a group of similar speed people, so maybe you post something on the event website?

I reckon that unless you are doing a TT by yourself then you might be better off just riding by feel and at the pace of any group you’re with and making the most of the ride and having fun: Eat well, don’t burn matches, stay upright.
I did a century last summer in 4:38 at 218W (.66 IF) simply by riding with a good group and riding efficiently. i also did another one in 5:40 where i was mostly solo and it was hard work, not much fun, at 205W.
Enjoy the ride, look at your power later.

If I did a 150 miler and only ended up with 200 TSS I would be well peed off. CTL isnt everything but I do want to see it rise.

learn by feel first; I believe you’re way overthinking this. Go have fun and focus on the pacing for interval session.

That said, don’t go do 25 min of vo2max at the start, but just ride sensibly and remember that at 2.5h you have 2.5 to go, or more. Keep that in mind and you’ll finish with extra juice in the tank.

Brendan

2 Likes