Joe Friel, cycling coaching guru, says “A steady diet of slow moderate riding will not improve peak performance. You must ride at intensities high enough to improve the three most critical markers to performance improvement: aerobic threshold, lactate threshold and velocity at VO2 max (Friel, “The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible”, 2000).”
Unfortunately, most century riders don’t address this in their event preparation, and stay inside their comfort zone. What they will do is go out for an 80 mile ride and run the risk of possibly losing fitness. Yes, riding 80 miles can cause you to LOSE fitness.
NEVER ride by miles if you are preparing for an event. Ride by time. Do this with the right strategy, and the miles come automatically. For instance, instead of riding for 40 miles on a weekend, go out for 2.5-3 hours with the goal of finishing 40 miles. Ride it at the right pace, and those 40 miles will happen on their own. Plus, you’ve introduced the element of the clock which always spices things up!
This also gives you a better gauge of one hour = X miles, two hours = X miles, three hours = X miles, etc. Over the course of a century it is much more mentally reassuring to know you can ride for 6-8 hours rather than 100 miles. You’d be surprised as to how much event stress this can eliminate!
The reason you should ride by time and not distance is because at some point in the ride, as fatigue increases, the same intensity isn’t there and you end up riding slower. To the point where you are doing more harm than good. Unfortunately, most people will soldier on because that’s what their plan calls for.
This is known as “riding junk miles.” Just because a century is 100 miles, it doesn’t mean you have to ride 100 miles (or 70 really) to be able to do 100 miles. If you stay out to long you risk riding at intensities that will cause you lose fitness, you will pick up bad motor patterns that will cause you to lose efficiency and you will start to develop aches and pains faster. Plus, you run the risk of putting on body fat. Yes, low intensity steady state/low intensity aerobic activity can cause you to gain fat.
In 2008, my longest ride was 60 miles and I was able to finish the Solvang fall century with only one minor cramp for about :02 at mile 92. Wait a minute. If a century is 100 miles, you’re telling me I only need to ride 60? Yes, if you ride those 60 the right way.
That summer I was doing mountain bike races that were only 25 miles, but, those miles were ridden at a very high intensity. So essentially what I was doing was building an engine that could go very hard for short periods of time non-stop. My training week also contained two 90 minute high intensity hill repeat/interval sessions as well. Once that was applied to the more moderate/social pace of a century, and there was plenty in the tank to finish.
The main reason is that through riding at very high intensities for a shorter duration, when it came time to ride a longer duration at a more sedate intensity, I had more than enough under the hood to do this.
Think of lifting 20 lbs as fast as you can for a minute. Now, take the 20lbs away, pick up 10lbs and lift it slowly for two minutes. At the end of the second time period, you will be no where near as fatigued with the steady state pace of lifting the lighter weight for a longer duration, same idea.
That next spring, INTEGRATE started a century program and the longest ride was only 70 miles, in 2010 same thing. BUT, what we did for our riders was have them ride those miles at a much higher intensity with designated interval points. Once the Livestrong century came in July each year, our riders had been over prepared and easily finished the event.
How many people do you know that ride in these events don’t get faster, or actually end up slower (or worse, have put on fat when the event is done) once the training is done? If you are training for a 100 mile ride, there is no way you should get slower, or have your body composition change negatively.
The reason is because their program lacks the proper interval/hill repeat intensity to advance their fitness levels. Beginner riders will make decent gains, especially if they are coming from the couch to the saddle for the first time (I LOVE beginners btw, they are by far the most enjoyable riders to work with!). Intermediate to advanced riders will lose fitness if they don’t add in some high intensity riding into their weekly schedule.
This doesn’t include riding a hill repeat, and turning around at any point prior to the top of the hill. This is a poor strategy for several reasons with the main one being that you aren’t covering a given distance at a given intensity. Plus, you won’t learn to push through the lower body muscular or aerobic discomfort a century provides.
Here is a sample week of training from our Maximum Velocity Program for cyclists. This is a proven program that we’ve used since 2008 to help people finish 100 mile bike rides.
It is a Tu/Th/Sat/Sun program and only about 7-8 hours a week:
Mon: Strength training
Tue: 90 minutes with 3:00 min hill repeats at 6-10% grade x 6-8 with 80+% maximum effort
Wed: Strength Training
Thu: 90mins with 10:00 flat to roller intervals at 75-85% maximum effort x 3-5
Friday: Foam Roller/Stretching/Mobility
Sat: 2-3 hour group ride with two climbs of at least 20 minutes
Sun: Same as Saturday
This program has helped people finish the Death Ride, Livestrong Century, Sequoia Century, Strawberry Fields, Levi’s Grand Fondo and The Canary Challenge. If you follow something like this, you will have a much more manageable day come September when its time to climb Tunitas Creek at the end of the Canary Challenge!
Al Painter, National Academy of Sports Medicine Performance Enhancement
Specialist, Corrective Exercise Specialist is a Cat 2 Mountain Bike Racer as well as the President and Founder of INTEGRATE Performance Fitness.
He has also been named the “Bay Area’s Best Personal Trainer” by CitySports Magazine, and he has also received a “People’s Choice Award” from the Palo Alto Daily News.
INTEGRATE Performance Fitness has also been named “Northern California’s Best Fitness Facility” by Competitor Magazine as well as a “Top 5 Bay Area Fitness Facility” by the SFGate.com.
He also holds a degree in Journalism from Santa Clara University.