Centuries for Novices

Published Cycle California, March 2017, Vol. 23, #3

Century bike rides for novices.

One winter morning you decide that this is the year for your first Century ride, target being 100, whether kilometers or miles. A 100K is definitely a good start but 100 miles is where it’s at this side of Europe. But if it’s a 200K (124 miles), now we’re talking. However, this article is about a good ol’ 100 miler ridden for the first time.

Moreover, this article is about doing an organized Century (in caps) as opposed to hitting the road for your own hundred miler, either solo or with a buddy or two. My first century was by myself, total length of 105 miles and I’ll never forget when that odometer clicked 100.0.

Rule 1. Have an odometer. Without a digital tracker, one mile is like another and by the time your near a hundred, you will have been on the road a long, long time and why not know? Also, getting real time feedback on distance ridden is a great training tool as you ramp up your mileage.

Rule 2. You don’t need to do a century to train for a Century. When I did that 105 mile ride, I was in the final stages of prepping to do the Death Ride, 129 miles, which was my first organized Century. My 105-mile ride was about 75% of the target distance. It was plenty. 

Of course, I’d been doing longer and longer training rides up to that point. As you near the Century date, two-day weekend rides that equal the distance, whether 50-50, 60-40 or 70-30 would be good, even if for just one weekend.

Rule 3. Don’t do a big training ride any closer than two weeks before your Century. Allow time for your muscles and mind to restore. You also can’t make up training mileage the weekend before your Century. Don’t fret about not biking hard that last week. You want to be chomping at the bit.

Rule 4: Climbing is more valuable than raw mileage. This is one of the negatives of just having an odometer with the temptation of piling on flat mileage. If you can track your rides with a GPS, then you can measure accumulated elevation gains. I’ve found that on a Century the flat miles take care of themselves but the uphills can wear you down. Train for a hilly Century by doing hills and start doing them months before.
Ok, but what about the Century itself?

Rule 5. Don’t worry about not sleeping the night before. Once you get to the event and you see all the other bicyclists, all the colors, all the energy, your adrenaline will kick in as it can’t on a solo century.

Rule 6. Stay hydrated and start imbibing from the start. The price for skipping your water bottle every 15 minutes will come later.

Rule 7. Use an electrolyte mix—plain water is not enough. At my first Death Ride on a very hot Alpine County day, I was beat at about mile 90 and accepted a cold water bottle full of an electrolyte replacement. As it went down, I could feel cold electricity flowing into my arms and legs. Revived, I finished strong all the way up Carson Pass. There are lots of brands of such mixtures and you have to find the right one with the right flavor for you. Still, keep drinking alternately just water as eventually mineral mixes will de-hydrate you.

Confession:  Since turning 50 (way back when), I also use electrolyte capsules. On long, hot rides as I got older, I started getting cramps in my knees and couldn’t stand in the pedals when needed on uphills. During my ultimately successful attempt at my one and only Devil Mountain Double (200 miles, 19,000 vertical feet), at lunch I overhead a veteran rider tell another about that brand of such capsules. “You’ll never get cramps again,” he said. I took two caps then and started taking them on long rides. I’ve never gotten cramps again but make sure you drink lots at the same time.

Rule 8: Eat. You may have spent months trying to melt off 5 to 10 pounds, maybe more, but a Century is not the time to diet. Stop at the rest stops and eat smart. Watermelons are a good mix of sugar and water. Potatoes have instant carbohydrate value. Cookies are good for the brain—the sugar helps you get back on your bike.

Note: You can’t always count how the event is stocked. Carry some of your own stuff, whether gels or bars or whatever suits you. Remember though that in the final throes of the ride, your dry mouth will find it hard to down something dry and chewy.

Rule 9: When at the end of your rope, have an ice-cold Coke or Pepsi, not Diet or Zero, but the real thing. You’ll be amazed.

Rule 10: Can’t stop at Rule 9 any more than stopping at Mile 99. So, finally, have a checklist to remember, as appropriate, to pump up your tires and pack a spare tube, patch kit, hand pump, plus bring clothing based on actual and expected conditions, and don’t forget your helmet and shoes, as I have done on shorter rides. Your Century awaits!