Question: I would like to do a century ride in about two weeks and have done some moderate base training but not as much as I’d like. I did a 77-mile ride three weeks ago and felt pretty good (average speed 14.5 mph). Did just a few rides in the meantime and rode 70 miles two days ago and did not feel very good (sore butt, wrists, tired quads). My average speed was 14 mph, with around 3,000 feet climbing. I did a hard 65-mile ride five days before, and a 90-minute commute two days prior and a swim the day prior. It felt like I could have been more rested going in. Now I would like to do a century in less than two weeks, and another century two weeks after that. Any training suggestions would be most appreciated. I have not done much intensity work this year yet, just trying to build some base miles.—Steve Koester
Coach Hughes Replies: Steve, thank you for all the information – that helps! You’re asking two excellent questions:
1. What should you do the last two weeks before your century to be “on form”?
2. How should you train over the summer to do multiple different events?
I’ll answer the first question in today’s article, and the second question in a follow-up column.
What does “on form” mean?
During any kind of athletic event, you may hear a commentator say, “He’s got great form today” or “She’s really riding with good form.” This means that the racer is riding at the peak of his or her physical abilities, has the equipment and nutrition dialed in, and is mentally in control of his or her performance.
Fitness is built slowly and progressively. Fortunately, because fitness is built slowly, it also diminishes slowly! Here’s what I suggest for the two weeks before your century.
Base training — First, congratulations on building up to a 77-mile training ride. My rule of thumb is that a rider needs to build up to a long ride of 2/3 to 3/4 the distance ofthe event – you’ve done that!
Freshness — After the 77-mile ride, you also did a hard 65-mile ride and then five days later a 70-mile ride and “did not feel very good.” You weren’t fresh for the 70-miler.
Taper — You can’t do anything in the last two weeks before your century to get any fitter. Riding a lot the two weeks before the century will only make you fatigued before the event. During the two weeks before the century you should ride much less. You’ll lose a little fitness, but you’ll gain real freshness.
How to Taper
Two weeks before the ride do:
- 1 or 2 tempo rides of not more than an hour. You should be able to talk comfortably but not whistle (zone 3 if you’re using an HRM or power meter)
- 2 active recovery rides of 30 to 60 minutes each. Ride at a digestion pace – the way you’d ride after a big meal (zones 1 and 2).
- 1 endurance ride of 1/4 to 1/3 the distance of your event, i.e., 25 to 35 miles. Practice riding at your century pace, not as hard as you can.
The week before the century do:
- 1 tempo ride of 30 to 45 minutes early in the week.
- 1 or 2 short active recovery rides of 20 to 30 minutes just to stay loose.
A Client’s Successful Taper
A client of mine was training for the arduous Race Across the West from Oceanside, California, to Durango, Colorado – 930 miles, with about 50,000 feet of climbing. The race is non-stop: the clock started when he left Oceanside and didn’t stop until he reached Durango.
After his last 30-hour training ride two weeks before the race, he felt very tired and beat up. He left his bike at home and took his family to the beach. He didn’t ride for a week and then successfully completed the race in 3 days, 8 hours, 48 minutes.
Riding less works!
Don’t use anything on the century that you haven’t used before and checked thoroughly.
- Go over your bike and make sure that everything is tight. Putting on new tires and tubes will greatly reduce the risk of flats.
- Select your ride kit, ensuring that it’s all clothing you’ve worn many times and know works for you.
- Review what you eat and drink on training rides, the food and drink that you know works for you. Does the century ride provide that food and drink? Or will you need to carry drink powder, bars, etc.?
Get enough sleep — Many people try to accomplish a lot each week and cut back on sleep to do so. Make sure you get enough sleep. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, you aren’t getting enough sleep.
Eat carbs — The amount of glycogen that your body can store is limited — not nearly enough to fuel a century. Glycogen comes from carbs, so the week before the century eat mostly carbs. Good sources of carbs are fruit, vegetables, non-fat dairy products, legumes (kidney beans, chili beans, etc.), and rice as well as the traditional potatoes, pasta and bread. Just be careful not to also eat a lot of fat – rich sauces, butter, etc. Reading product labels will tell you how many carbs a food contains. You can also look this up on Calorie King.
Have fun! — This is why we ride!
A week later, Steve wrote:
I am following your training schedule, which is far less riding than I would normally do, which is fine but I am used to getting a fair amount of exercise. What are your thoughts about other kinds of exercise leading up to an event, such as weight lifting, hiking, trail running and swimming? Thanks much for your thoughts and consideration.
Coach Hughes replied:
No, don’t do any more training! It won’t make you fitter for the century – just more tired. The whole purpose is to be fresh! A little swimming to relax and stretch out is fine, but nothing more than what’s in the plan.
And after the century, Steve check in again:
I wanted to give you some feedback from the century. It went pretty well, and likely better than if I would have been over-trained, although it was difficult to back off on exercise so much. I averaged 15 mph, which is good for me, and felt pretty good until the last hour or two, when I probably got behind with calories and hydration [it was close to 100 degrees when we ended, after starting at 6 a.m.].
Next week: I’ll discuss how Steve can prepare for his backpacking trip and then century five days later.
I wrote a series of columns in past Newsletters on aches and pains including butts and hands. You can find them here. There’s even more information in my eArticle Butt, Hands and Feet: Preventing and Treating Pain in Cycling’s Pressure Points.
My 3-article bundle Endurance Training and Riding includes:
1. Beyond the Century describes training principles and different training intensities and how to integrate these into a season-long program of long rides. The article lays out an 8-week plan to build up to a century and then a 200-km ride (about 125 miles). The article then describes a training plan to ride multiple centuries and 200Ks. The article concludes with training plans for rides of 200, 300, 400, 600 and 1,000 km and longer (125, 187, 250, 375 and 625 miles). Each plan includes both endurance riding and intensity training.
2. Nutrition for 100K and Beyond provides 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. It includes examples of different products and evaluates which are better at meeting your nutrition needs.
3. 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. It then discusses how to pace yourself, ride in groups, solve problems that may occur and what to do when you feel discouraged with tired legs during a ride.
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.