For many cyclists riding a 100K or 100 miles is the classic achievement, something you focus on, train for and worry about for months. Although you’ve trained hard and think you’re ready, you may also feel like a pro racer about to start his first Tour de France—nervous and not entirely sure you can finish. Here are 8 tips on your final preparations and a dozen on how to ride your ride. Following these tips will prepare you for and help you through a successful, fun 100K or 100 miles.
Like with the pros, your final preparations should start before your first century.
Select and Test your Gear
Everything you ride, wear, eat and drink should have been tested in training — nothing new during the big event!
Check your Equipment
A week before the event, check your bike thoroughly. Are the tires in good shape? Is the shifting adjusted correctly? Is the braking adjusted correctly? Are all the bolts tight? Etc. A friend once DNFd because his cleat came off! Check your bike a week early so that you have time to correct any problems and test ride the bike afterward.
Research the Ride
Use the event website to check out the route and see where the climbs and other hard parts come so that you aren’t surprised during the ride. If possible pre-ride different sections of the course. Get familiar with the cue sheet. You don’t need to memorize every turn, but know where the rest stops are. Try to find out what will be served at the rest stops—if you don’t like what they are serving then take your own food and drink. If possible, talk with other riders who have done the event.
In the week before your ride there is nothing you can do to get fitter and too much training will just tire you out. The weekend prior to the event go for a two- to three-hour ride at your century pace and during the week do a couple of easy one-hour rides active recovery rides.
Eat Carbs and Drink
In an endurance event your energy comes from a combination of stored glycogen (from carbs) and fat. Even the leanest rider has enough fat for 100K or 100 miles but your glycogen stores are limited to a few hours of hard riding.
Three days before the event increase the carbs you eat while cutting back a bit on protein and fat to be sure that your glycogen stores are full. Carbs aren’t just pasta, potatoes, bread and rice. Vegetables and fruit are also 100% carbohydrate and dairy has carbs. You’ll probably gain a few pounds because glycogen is stored with water. Don’t worry—you need the water for the event.
In the days before the big ride drink plenty of primarily clear, unsweetened liquid and avoid alcohol. If you are drinking enough you should urinate with a good clear stream.
More information see my column Carbo-loading a Coach’s View.
Night Before the Ride
Eat a carbohydrate-rich dinner of familiar foods. Drink plenty of fluid, but this isn’t the time for a beer. The night before is not the time to eat something new and get sick. Pack all of your gear — and then double check that it’s all there.
Pack your car with your bike and all your gear — and double-check everything is packed.
The night before the century you may not sleep well. Don’t worry; this won’t hurt your performance if you’ve gotten enough sleep during the week. The week before the century, go to bed on time every night.
Eat Breakfast Early
The morning of the event eat breakfast two hours before the start if possible so that you have time to digest your food. Eat mostly carbs with a bit of protein like yogurt, milk or a poached or boiled egg. Avoid fried foods—they are harder to digest. If you must eat close to the start eat a slightly larger dinner the night before and a small breakfast of just carbs.
The night before the ride figure out how to get from your house to the start. The morning of the ride allow plenty of time to get there just in case there’s a traffic delay. When you get there, sign in, unload your bike, get ready to ride and then enjoy chatting with other riders.
Riding your Ride
You’re at the start line confident because of all your preparations the week before. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are going to ride your ride. Here’s how:
Your first century is not the time to see how fast you can ride 100K or 100 miles! Start at the level of effort you expect to ride the second half. Your heart rate may be elevated at the start because you are excited so pay attention to your breathing rather than your heart rate. Ride so that you can talk comfortably with your fellow riders.
Eat Every Hour
If you pace yourself and eat enough you’ll finish your century without difficulty. Starting in the first hour eat 250 calories of carbohydrates every hour. If you are a smaller rider you can eat a little less. If you are a bigger rider eat a little more. Don’t just eat at the aid stations. Take food with you and eat very hour on the bike.
Drink to Satisfy Thirst
Drink enough to satisfy your thirst but don’t overdrink. You may get slightly dehydrated but that won’t affect your performance. If you drink too much fluid you risk hyponatremia (very low blood sodium), a potentially fatal condition.
Only Familiar Nutrition
If possible from your research you have learned what will be available at the aid stations. If this is what you’ve been eating and drinking during your training rides enjoy! But don’t try new food or drink and risk an upset stomach.
More information see my column 14 Nutrition Tips for Endurance Riders.
Be Careful Riding in a Group
Riding in a group, sharing the work and chatting is part of the fun of an organized ride. However, if you aren’t familiar with your companions’ bike handling skills be careful and don’t risk a crash!
Check the Navigation
Refer to the cue sheet frequently to be sure you don’t miss a turn. Don’t rely on a group to navigate correctly—double-check every turn.
Finishing is Mental
Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half physical.” This applies to endurance cycling as well. If you feel tired or discouraged ask yourself if you are eating enough. Low blood sugar is the most likely cause of fatigue and a bad mood.
Don’t Think of it as 100K or 100 Miles
100K or 100 miles seems like a long way to ride—and it is! Don’t think about the whole distance. Instead, divide the ride into smaller sections and just focus on one piece at a time, for example, riding to the top of a climb or to the next rest stop.
Get Through the Ugly Middle
Early in a ride you feel fresh, have good legs and enjoy the ride. Then comes the middle, fatigue sets in and it’s still a long way to the finish. Persevere. Eventually you’ll smell the barn and you’ll be surprised at how strong you feel. During the century recognize when you are in the ugly middle and know that you can ride through it.
When Something Goes Wrong
First, take a few deep breaths and try to relax. Then ask yourself how bad is it really? Is it in your control or not? It’s windy—it’ll just take you longer to finish. It starts to rain—you just get wet. You cramp—stop and stretch. You have a flat and get dropped—you know how to fix it and another group of riders will be along. You have an upset stomach or sore butt—keep riding, those will be gone tomorrow.
Commemorate the Ride
Take use your phone to take pictures when you are stopped. You’ll meet new riders. Share your contact information with them. You may meet a new riding buddy or two.
This is your first century. The only time you’ll ride your first. Relax and enjoy the unique experience.
More Information on Endurance Riding
I’ve written three eArticles specifically on Endurance Training and Riding. The three-article bundle covers training, nutrition and the skills for finishing rides of 100km and longer. The 48 pages bundle Endurance Training and Riding is just $13.50 (a 10% savings) and $11.48 for our Premium Members. It includes:
- Training for Endurance Rides — Originally titled “Beyond the Century” the training principles and plans apply equally to roadies doing 100K and 100- mile events. The eArticle starts with how to train for a century and 200 km brevet and then how to prepare for longer brevets including 1200 km rides. 16 pages.
- Nutrition — What to eat and drink before, during and after rides of 100 km and longer.
- Riding the Long Ride — What are the key final preparations for a ride of 100 km or longer, how to complete them and then how to manage every aspect of the ride.
Endurance Training and Riding is $13.50 (a 10% savings) and $11.48 for our Premium Members.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.