Century Riding:
100 Miles in One Day on 100 Hours of Training

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in The California Events Schedule, May 1993. For a more up-to-date and comprehensive version of this article, click here.

Cycling's number one goal, bar none, is the century ride. No organized events are more popular, more rewarding, or more practical. Centuries are also infinitely do-able: anyone with a modicum of basic fitness, cycling ability, and will can comfortably conquer/cruise the distance. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that with as little as 100 hours of training, spread out over four to six weeks, any cyclist can notch a century achievement into his or her belt. Here's how and why:

Cycling is transportation, first and foremost, so nothing is more pure and straightforward as getting on one's bike with the expressed, singular purpose of belting out 100 miles in a row - and enjoying it. (Note: a metric century is 100 kilometers, or 62 miles.) Riding a century puts one in touch with what the sport is all about, and draws one naturally into the folds of cycling history. And above and beyond all this philosophical mush, centuries are a fun opportunity to meet fit, like-minded folks and eats tons of food. Need I say more?

Century organizers have wide-ranging ideas of the ideal century. Some courses are loops, some are out-and-backs, some are clover leaf-shaped. Some delight in hills, with courses that loop together every conceivable hill in the region, sometimes totalling 8 or 15,000 feet of total elevation gain. (The Grizzly Peak Century in Berkeley, for example.) Other centuries are flatland flyers where packs of riders churn up the miles like there's no tomorrow. (Top riders in The Hotter N Hell in Texas do it in three and a half hours!) Most centuries fall somewhere in between, offering enough variety to keep things interesting and our butts from getting sore.

Other variations include the size of the event, their "average rider profile," location, and extra amenities. I enjoy huge events (500 to 5000 riders), but often opt for the little ones (10 to 100 riders). Small events may be more home-spun, but are often more congenial and low-key in every way. (The events put on by a certain lawyer in Modesto usually feature tossed salad, a barbecue, and cheese cake at the finish line, if not along the way, plus the quietest and remotest locales...and the finisher's "patch" is usually a piece of naugahyde with a hand-rendered sketh on it.) Location and "amenities" are also important: do you just want to ride and get home or do you want to make a weekend of it? Big pasta bashes the night before the event, celebrity entrants, plus finish line concerts and consumer shows are part and parcel of the big events. (The Solvang Century, The Death Ride, and the Sierra Century, for example, are so equipped.)

Step one in your century training is to pick out an event that you want to do. (This step doesn't count as part of your 100 hours, though.) Once that's done, plug it into your calendar and work back to the present day. If you're already quite fit and well-trained and the event of your dreams is next week, then go for it! But if you are lucky enough to have four to six weeks or more to train, then start laying out (and implementing) your Grand Plan For Success. Here are your priorities (all equally important!): improve base fitness, get used to long hours in the saddle, get faster, dial in your bike and how you fit to it, find out which foods work for you on the bike, and get motivated. That's all!

For now, though (meaning this article, not your machinations), let's stick to those 100 hours of training. At an overall average of 15mph, that means you've got 1500 miles of training to do for your century. That's plenty for just about anybody with the right attitude. And while I can give some specifics on mileages and workouts to do, it's up to you to plug these into your calendar and work them out. Here goes:

Training Specifics

  1. Do at least one "long" ride a week. That will be maybe 25 miles now and will build up to a 65 miler the week before your century.
  2. Do one "short" high intensity ride a week, perhaps ten miles AFAP (as fast as possible) with 20 minutes each of warm-up and cool-down adjoining that time trial.
  3. Don't get in a rut! Do speedy group rides with a club, ride hills, ride trails, and never repeat a particular workout or route in any given week.
  4. As far as a mileage prescription goes, ride 50 to 100 miles a week now and add miles each week (not to your weekly speed ride, though) until you reach 150 to 250 miles a week in the week or two or three prior to the century.
  5. A week or two before your event, do back-to-back 50 or 60 milers to get used to the hours in the saddle.
  6. Never ride more than 75 miles in one day in training, or there will be no challenge in actually doing the century.

Century Day

Now don't blow all that you've worked so hard to accomplish; be smart and ready when your event rolls along: Have your bike inspected and repaired before event day. Be well rested. Get up and go through registration early. Have a good breakfast. During the event, drink at least a bottle and hour and eat regularly; put down 300 to 500 calories an hour. Don't stop for more than ten minutes at a checkpoint or you'll get stiff and complacent. Stick to a general time schedule, probably a five to seven hour pace. Avoid squirrelly pacelines. Stay loose and attentive. Enjoy the scenery and the comaraderie of the other riders. Do this, do that,... just do it!

Finally, have fun and reap the rewards of your 100 hours of training!

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.