Century Training for Mere Mortals

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Tailwinds, September 1992. For a more up-to-date and comprehensive version of this article, click here.

I also highly recommend my article Century Training: Cycling 100 Miles in One Day on 100 Hours of Training in Ten Weeks, published in National Geographic Adventure in 2007 and in Endurance News in 2010: Click Here.

The Roman Poet Horace probably put it best when he noted that "nothing is too difficult for mortals to accomplish." In the case of training for, and completing, a 100 mile century ride, he couldn't have overstated it better. In more earth-bound terms, just about anybody with a pair of lungs, a bike, and a decent dose of perserverance can succesfully complete cycling's #1 goal: a one day century ride.

A few basic components are necessary before embarking upon this journey of training, transformation, and triumph: a reasonable fitness level, a dependable bike of reasonable quality (anything from 3-speed commuter to ATB to road racer will do, depending upon ability and century event of choice), a specific century event on which to focus, and at least eight weeks of training time. Of course, eight weeks is an arbitrary period of time; you may need more or less, depending on your cycling background and base fitness level.

The best way to approach a distance cycling goal is to plug the actual event date into your calendar and then work backwards to the starting date of your training and preparation phase, which theoretically begins now. So scan the event calendars and pick out an event on which to focus and motivate. Of course it's a coincidence that the 10th annual El Tour de Tucson fits into this program nicely!

Your goals for the interim training period are many: to improve your base fitness level, become accustomed to several hours in the saddle, work out the kinks in your equipment and positioning, refine your diet both on and off the bike, increase your speed and endurance, and generally get psyched for your century. Each of these topics is an article in itself, but hopefully by pointing these all out now you can begin working on all of them. For now let's concentrate on training:

First off, get on that bike and ride. Consistency is paramount here, so try to get out three to six times a week, if even for only 30 or 45 minute rides. Regular riding will bring a lot of other important factors into play, as you'll find out if you're dedicated to getting on your steed. Randomly alternate shorter and longer rides in a variety of routes, terrains, and conditions. Do not get settled into a rut in any way, shape, or form, when it comes to training! Ride at all hours, in all kinds of places, in all types of weather. This will improve your adaptability and keep things fresh and interesting as the weeks go by. Also, don't forget to rest and eat well, plus drink lots of agua on a daily basis, both on and off the bike.

Whatever else you do, have at least one weekly "long" ride (gradually increasing in distance from perhaps 20 miles in week one to 65 miles in week seven) and one "short," high intensity, weekly ride (ten miles at maximum speed with 20 minutes each of warm-up and cool-down). This will simultaneously build both endurance and speed, not to mention your confidence level. Otherwise just break things up by riding in the hills, in club rides, on a mountain bike, or anything else that's different from the norm.

I'm not big on giving mileage advice, but here are some basic numbers with which to play: Ride 50 to 100 miles in week one, then add perhaps 20 miles a week until you reach 150 to 250 miles a week. One and/or two weeks before your century do back to back 50 mile rides on two adjoining days to work on the fatigue factor. Do at least one ride near the end of this phase of 60 to 70 miles in length, but not any further. (Never ride a century in training for a century, otherwise there's no challenge in doing the actual event!)

With a regular training program and a healthy attitude, a century is within reach of nearly anyone who has a bike within reach. Go for it!

For a more up-to-date and comprehensive version of this article, click here.

Chris Kostman has competed in ultra sports continously since 1983. Besides producing the Furnace Creek 508 each October since 1990, he also produces a five-day cycling training camp with yoga called CORPScamp Death Valley, plus the Death Valley Century, Ultra Century, and Double Century in March and October each year, Hell's Gate Hundred, Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic, Rough Riders Rally, and the world-famous Badwater Ultramarathon.