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Cycling your first century

Pete’s World

Published: May 15, 2023

Have you always wanted to cycle a 100 miles in a day?
Actually it’s not that far-fetched an idea, because with a little mental, physical and nutritional training you can most definitely do it, like this season.
Yup, spring’s the perfect time to begin getting your mind and body properly conditioned to bike 100 miles in a day.
I’ve always coached up my clients to do a century via very sane and very sound, “normal folks” training weeks, weeks that comprise no more than three to four rides/week.
Such a training week would include a long weekend low intensity ride that eventually tops out at no more than 80-85 miles, plus several key midweek rides that entail 60-90 minutes of higher intensity cycling.
Now prior to embarking on a century training program, especially if you’re new to cycling, I’d highly advise getting a check up and clearance from a medical professional––this just to make sure there aren’t any underlying medical issues which could crop up during the months of training.
It’s always good to begin any kind of physical fitness regime with a clean bill of health.
So with respect to the starting and ending points in a century training program, well, that really depends on one’s current fitness status.
For example, a total newbie is going to be doing much less cycling volume/intensity in those initial training weeks than a cyclist who’s been riding recreationally several times a week for six to 12 months.
Thus, the starting point and the subsequent ending point (the point when the century is undertaken) could vary by a matter of months depending on fitness status.
Someone who can ride up to 20-30 miles regularly would likely be able to complete a century after three months of training, while a newbie with no prior saddle time might be looking at six to eight months of training in order to snag that same century.
Yet there are some key training tenants to abide by no matter where your starting/ending point lies.
The first involves the tried-and-true 10% rule, which states that increases in weekly mileage should be no more than 10% per week.
The second tenant is accepting the fact that no single workout is as important as maintaining the continuity and consistently of the overall training plan.
Okay, next up is the rides which need to be completed during a typical training week.
The first ride should be a long weekender that’s ridden at a casual, conversational pace and intensity.
I call this intensity a zone two pacing at 60 to 70% of max heart rate.
Add to that two mid-week rides, one of which should focus on zone three at 70 to 80% of max heart rate, and the other that should focus on several kinds of zone 4 intervals at 80 to 90% of max heart rate. If a fourth ride is done, I’d make it short and easy.
Now remember, the volume of these three key rides is contingent on fitness status.
And finally, I always give my clients a nice relaxing recovery week at the end of each month’s worth of training so their bodies can better acclimate to the training stresses.
The last important component of a century training routine is nutrition/hydration.
Because of the increased amount of energy expenditure, more of the body’s glycogen stores are going to be consumed.
Therefore, wannabe century riders must come up with nutritional strategies that provide a steady stream of energy to the body.
This entails eating while riding to find out what foods work best for you on the bike - which takes time to figure out. Ditto with respect to hydration and electrolyte consumption.
A general guideline for nutritional is to shoot for 300 to 400 calories per hour at eating intervals of 15 to 20 minutes.
The hydration and electrolyte side is a bit trickier, but again, the general guideline is to consume at least one 20-ounce bottle per hour of a combination of electrolyte/water.
And for goodness sake make sure to taper down in volume/intensity about two weeks prior to the century.
Yes indeed, cycling a century is very doable. All it takes is a little preparation.