Bonk! Yes, Coach Hughes managed to bonk on Colorado’s Triple Bypass. I rode the Triple in my ultra-racing days. The Triple is 118 miles long over Mestaa’Ėhehe Mountain (formerly Squaw Pass) at 9,790 feet, Loveland Pass at 11,991 feet and Vail Pass at 10,662 feet. There was an aid station at the base of the pass, but with four miles of 6-7% grade at altitude I didn’t want anything in my stomach so I didn’t eat. By the top I was already a little cross-eyed. The 13 miles down to Keystone with the first mini-mart seemed endless.
Here are a dozen mistakes I’ve made preparing for and riding centuries and longer events. And what I’ve learned and teach my clients:
1. Inadequate training.
In the 1970s when we started riding, Ralph and I started training on Super Bowl Sunday to train for the 70-mile Mt. Hamilton Challenge in late April in California. After several years we decided to step up our game and ride the Primavera Century a few weeks earlier. But we didn’t change our training to include longer rides. We were good for 70 miles and then it ceased being fun. A century is an endurance event and a successful and fun event requires miles in the bank. Now I recommend building up to a long training ride 2/3 to 3/4 the distance of the planned event over similar terrain.
2. Ramping up too fast.
I learned from that experience and knew I needed more miles in my legs. Still just starting on Super Bowl Sunday I piled on the miles … and got injured. Now my rules of thumb are to ramp up slowly: Increase week-to-week volume by 10-20%. Increase weekly long ride by 10-20%. Increase month-to-month volume by 15-25%.
3. Training at the same intensity.
Back then there was very little information on effective training and the available information was for racers. So we just rode our bikes through the Santa Cruz mountains. We were building our endurance and our moderate intensity was climbing the mountains. Recovery days — what were those? Now I know that effective training includes endurance riding, some significantly hard intensity rides (not just long climbs) and also very easy recovery rides.
4. Training too hard.
In our 30s our goal was to be faster century riders, to set personal bests. How do you get faster? Faster training rides, we thought. But a steady diet of faster rides doesn’t allow enough recovery time to ramp up the endurance we needed. And we certainly didn’t understand that training at different intensities produces different physiological changes. Now I know endurance rides should be done an easy conversational pace including the weekly long ride. I teach my clients they should be able to talk the whole time but not whistle or sing when climbing or riding into a headwind.
5. Not testing and perfecting
Not testing and perfecting nutrition, clothing, equipment, etc. in advance. I don’t know how many times I’ve screwed up on this one. The worst was the 1994 Race Across America. The third day it was over 100F with a great tailwind. I lay down on my aerobars and cruised for hours. I noticed my butt getting warm but didn’t think anything of it — until it was so painful I couldn’t sit on the saddle. The day before RAAM I’d put a thick black gel pad on my saddle so I wouldn’t get saddle sores but didn’t test it in the weeks before. The gel heated up and the nurses at the Mercy Medical Center in Durango were sympathetic but also amused by the second degree burns on my butt. Now I preach nothing new during the event.
6. Skipping breakfast
I’m a well-organized kind of guy and when I had a longer drive to the start of an event I put bagels and fruit in my car the night before. One morning I started driving and after about 30 minutes realized I’d forgotten to bring breakfast. If I drove home I’d miss the start of the century. And there were no towns en route to the start. So I didn’t eat. Now I know that glycogen supplies (from carbohydrates) are limited in the body. A rider should eat a good breakfast (but nothing new!) primarily of carbohydrates with a bit of protein and fat.
7. Not eating enough during the event.
To go faster Ralph and I rushed through the aid stations like we were racing the Indy 500. Grab and go. It’s hard to quickly grab enough to fuel several hours of riding to the next aid station. Now I coach a client to eat at rest stops and on the bike.
8. Not eating regularly during the event.
By 1979 I’d learned a lot about endurance riding and was one of the first Americans to ride the 1200 kilometer (750-mile) Paris-Brest-Paris, which I had to finish in under 90 hours including time off the bike. I’d tested my nutrition: bananas and ham and cheese sandwiches on long rides at home. PBP has controls roughly 100 km apart where I got bananas and sandwiches to eat between the controls. By the second day those were unappetizing so I stopped eating on the bike. I ate soup or pasta at the controls but not enough to keep me fueled until the next stop. Now I tell a client that if the client only eat at rest stops, rides several hours to the next rest stop and then eats again, the rider’s energy may fade in between rest stops. The rider should eat 200 to 300 calories every hour.
9. Improper hydration.
When we started riding, the pump was mounted on the seat tube and one cage for a 16 oz. bottle was on the down tube. Temps were usually in the 100s by afternoon on the Davis DC and thirst was a serious issue so I improvised another cage on my handlebars. Each year we finished significantly dehydrated but finished. CamelBaks were invented in 1989 and marketed with the “Hydrate or die” slogan. Problem solved – except it’s also possible to drink too much, which may dilute the blood sodium, resulting in hyponatremia, a potentially dangerous condition. Drink enough to satisfy thirst your thirst but not more.
10. Improper pacing.
The first part of the Davis DC was flat so Ralph and I would jump into a pace line and then try to hang with them through the climbs. Inevitably we got dropped and struggled through the remaining climbs. I’ve learned that a negative split is better: ride a little easier the first part of a ride and a little harder the latter part of the ride. If a rider can’t ride with a group at conversational pace then drop off. The right group for him is behind him!
11. Getting lost.
One year at Paris-Brest-Paris Ralph and I were in a good group riding our pace and he flatted. We quickly fixed the flat and I told him to tuck in and I’d pull us back up to the group. Then a course martial came up on his motorbike yelling something in French and point back on the course. Oops — bonus kilometers. If possible a rider should spend some time in advance to study the cue sheet and then double-check each turn.
12. Inappropriate equipment.
In 1996 I got my Ti Merlin, which I still ride. It came with Shimano combo shift and brake levers. I was riding big miles training for RAAM and discovered the cables were prone to break after about 3,000 miles. I carried extra cables, which were a pain to change on the road. I also put purple aluminum nipples on my spokes because they looked cool, but they also weren’t very durable so I carried extra nipples. Before RAAM I asked myself why I was riding equipment prone to failure so I put on bar end shifters and brass nipples before the RAAM.
Before buying a new bike or changing components talk with your shop about the kind of riding you do and get what is appropriate for your riding, not the latest and lightest.
- 20 Tips for Your First Century
- 15 Tips for Riding Your Best Century
- Why Does a Rider Get Dead Legs on a Century
- Ride Nutrition to Prevent Bonking / Hitting the Wall
- Daily Nutrition to Prevent Bonking
- 12 Myths about Hydration
- How To Ride Safely in the Summer Heat
- 8 Exercise Mistakes Older Riders Make
- More on 8 Exercise Mistakes Older Riders Make
I’ve written three eBooks specifically for Endurance Training and Riding. The three-book bundle covers training, nutrition and the skills for finishing rides of 100km and longer. The 48 page bundle Endurance Training and Ridingis just $13.50 (a 10% savings). 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 eBook starts with how to train for a century and 200 km brevet. 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.
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- Cycling in the Heat, Part 2: Hydration Management is 21 pages and covers how to determine how much you should drink depending on your physiology and sweat rate, how best to replace your fluids and electrolytes, the contents of different sports drinks, how to make your own electrolyte replacement drinks, how to rehydrate after a ride, and how to deal with hydration-related problems.
The cost-saving bundled eBooks totaling 40 pages Cycling in the Heat Parts 1 and 2 are just $8.98 (a 10% savings).
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- Preventing and Treating Cramps, 10 pages
A detailed look into the causes of cramps, prevention techniques, and tips (both on-bike and off-bike, including photos) for breaking and flushing cramps.
- Eating and Drinking Like the Pros, 15 pages
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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 over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.