Question: This is a general question, but first a statement. Often, the physiology journals report of 12-week training periods with reports of X% improvement compared to the control group.
About 7 years ago I completed a local century in about 9+ hours, which included off-bike time. I prepared with attempts to ride faster. I attempted this with most of my riding at “greater than race pace” and a weekly long ride of 40 – 50 miles.
Two years ago, I rode the same century in 7.5 hours with about 20-30 minutes off the bike and 40 miles of drafting with 1 other rider. I prepared for this century with much more early season leisurely riding and did not participate in the mid-course time trial.
I would really like to do a 300 K, or a double century, without being “wiped out” for the rest of the summer.
How much improvement is realistic for me, a 60-year-old male; a person who only began cycling less than 10 years ago, and exercising 20 years ago? —John Z.
Coach John Hughes Replies: You are asking a terrific question!
Scientists publish studies that an experimental group improved by X% more than the control group because the experimental group did ABC and the control group didn’t. ABC could be a specific training program, or a special diet, etc.
The subjects get paid for participating, so often the participants are college students who need money. All the study really says is that if a college student who is similar in age, weight, gender, general fitness, etc., to the experimental group does the ABC then on average s/he will improve about X%.
From this we can extrapolate that if you are the same age, weight, gender, general fitness, etc., and if youdo ABC, you’ll get better results than if you don’t. (But this is only valid if the experiment is truly a controlled double-blind experiment — often companies claim with no actual scientific evidence that if you use their product you’ll improve by X%.)
How much can you improve?
For the slower century you mentioned, you trained with a lot of fast rides, and for the faster century you trained by putting in more early-season “leisurely” base miles.
You’ve figured out that you can improve. How much you can improve depends on a proper training program.
Base training: You start by laying a base of endurance miles at a conversational pace. This base period should be a minimum of two months and three to four months is a better base for an aspiring 300K / double century rider. Your goal for the end of your base training is to comfortably ride a 7- to 8-hour century. You’ll be tired after it, but within a few weeks you should be capable of doing another century.
Then you can start building up to your 300K / double century. Your training goal is to complete a final long ride that is 2/3 to 3/4 the duration of the planned 300K / double century.
Build training: Since you rode a 7:30 century, you probably could do a 300K on comparable terrain in 15:30 – 17:00 hours, and a double century in 16:30 – 18:00 hours. (I’m roughly estimating that when you double the distance your speed will decline by at least 10%.)
If we assume the 300K will take you 16:00 hours, then your longest training ride should be about 10:45 – 12:00 hours. And if we assume the double century will take you about 17:00 hours, then your longest training ride will be about 11:45 – 12:45.
How do you ramp up from your 7:30 century to that duration? You can safely:
- Increase your long ride by 5 – 15% each week.
- Increase your weekly volume by 5 – 15%.
- Increase your monthly volume by 10 – 25%.
Recovery is critical building up to these longer rides!
A couple of your weekly rides should be easy active-recovery rides. So they get enough recovery, I use a pattern of alternating harder (longer ride) and easier (shorter ride) with clients. I also include a 1-week full recovery break in the middle of the training program.
Sample 11-Week Program: Here’s an 11-week program of long weekend rides building to a 300K / double century:
- Week 1 – 7:30 century
- Week 2 – 3:45 ride (about half of the preceding week)
- Week 3 – 9:00 hour ride (20% more than week 1)
- Week 4 – 4:30 ride
- Week 5 – Full recovery week with just a 1– to 2-hour long ride.
- Week 6 – 10:45 ride
- Week 7 – 5:15 ride
- Week 8 – 12:30 ride
- Week 9 – 6:00 ride
Taper: You can’t get any fitter in the last two weeks building up to a long ride — you can only get tired! The purpose of the taper is to recover fully so you are fresh for your event. Only do a couple of short rides in week 10 and the short weekend ride, and then a couple of short rides the week of the 300K / double century.
- Week 10 – 3:00 ride (start of 2-week taper)
- Week 11 – 300K / double century
Intensity: In addition to your weekly long ride and two recovery rides, do:
- 1 brisk ride the weeks of your long weekend rides – you should still be able to talk in short sentences but not whistle
- 2 intensity rides the weeks of your short weekend rides – you should be breathing hard and your legs should be talking to you, but you shouldn’t be gasping and your legs shouldn’t be screaming.
14-week schedule with more recovery: You want to do your big ride “without being wiped out for the rest of the summer.” The 11-week program will get you fit enough to complete a 300K / double century, but you may not want to even see your bike for several weeks afterward!
Taking more time to ramp up will make the 300K / double century more fun and allow you to enjoy riding the rest of the summer. Instead of doing a progressively longer ride every other week, do it every third week:
- Week 1 – 7:30 century
- Week 2 – 3:00
- Week 3 – 5:00 ride
- Week 4 – 9:00 hour ride (20% more than week 1)
- Week 5 – Full recovery week with just a 1 – 2:00 hour long ride.
- Week 6 – 5:00 ride
- Week 8 – 10:45 ride
- Week 9 – 3:00 ride
- Week 10 – 5:00 ride
- Week 11 – 12:30 ride
- Week 12 – 6:00 ride (start of 3-week taper, 1 week longer than 10 week program)
- Week 13 – 3:00 ride
- Week 14 – 300K / double century
Doing the ride: I’m sure that riding for 16 or more hours seems like a long time. You ride it just like you eat a good dinner: one bite at a time. That is, you just focus on riding to the next rest stop (don’t forget to eat!) … and then the next (remember to eat) … and your done!
I still remember my first double – the Davis Double Century – and how proud, and exhausted, I was at the end. In succeeding years I laid a bigger base and ramped up more slowly and really enjoyed the camaraderie of riding all those miles.
For more information see my ENDURANCE TRAINING AND RIDING 3-Article Bundle. It includes:
- Beyond the Century describes training principles and different training intensities and how to integrate these into a season-long program of long rides. It has an 8-week program to build up to a 200K and then programs to build up to a 300K (and longer) rides.
- Nutrition for 100K and Beyond provides you with the information you need to fuel your engine before, during and after endurance rides. The article describes how to estimate your personal caloric burn rate while riding, and the importance of both carbohydrates and fat in fueling endurance riding. The eArticle also discusses how to meet your hydration and electrolyte requirements during rides of several hours and longer.
- Mastering the Long Ride gives you the skills you need to finish your endurance rides. Effective training provides your base, and proper nutrition gives you the fuel. The key to success is to use your smarts to complement your legs. The article describes how to prepare for a long ride, including planning your ride, preparing your equipment and nutrition and getting ready mentally for the challenge.
I’ve written two eArticles that will help you with intensity training:
- Intensity Training 2016: The 39 pages have a table with 10 different training objectives. For each objective the proper training zone is described in terms of perceived exertion, heart rate and power readings. Each objective is then linked to 5 to 10 specific workouts. Each category of workout includes two types of workouts.
- Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training by Intensity: Doing some hard riding slows the aging process and delivers an array of benefits for riders with many different types of riding and goals. It describes five progressively harder levels of training and gives 3 to 5 examples each of structured and unstructured workouts for each level of training, a total of almost 40 workouts.
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.