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How to Train for a Century Bike Race

By Marilyn Rowe Horton

In sports, as in life, the challenges always lie in the next step up. If you enjoy cycling, you might first go faster, then go longer and then end up staring at a century ride race registration form with a bewildered look on your face. But, take heed, because according to Edmund Burke, author of "The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling," if you are able "to average 35 miles every other day for several months," then you're ready for your first century ride.

  1. Build your base by gradually increasing your daily and weekly mileage. The rule of thumb of exercise increase is no more than 5 percent per week. If you are riding 10 miles at a time, add about half a mile per week to that in this base-building period. If you are already inching up to the 20 mile mark each ride, increase your ride by 1 mile.

  2. Increase your intensity each week. As your body naturally adjusts to your weekly mileage increases, it will be time to begin amping up your intensity level. Adding a speed session to your training regimen or challenging yourself on a hilly course every two weeks will keep your body from getting complacent with long, slow distance at the same speed and intensity day in and day out.

  3. Slow your pace down and ride on a flat, easy course one week a month. Lance Armstrong and Chris Carmichael, co-authors of "The Lance Armstrong Performance Program," recommend that these recovery rides be performed at 60 percent to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For instance, a 32-year-old would have a maximum heart rate of 188 beats per minute. Multiply 188 by 0.6 and you have calculated that 60 percent of this 32-year-old's maximum heart rate is 113 beats per minute. For the 32-year-old, the week of recovery rides will be performed slow enough to keep the heart rate beating in the 113 to 122 range. From those examples, you can calculate your own target for beats per minute.

  4. Get plenty of rest throughout your training and eat clean foods in order to fuel your workouts. Cycling is a sport for fueling on the go because you can continuously drink from a water bottle and eat bars and other quick snacks. The authors of "The Performance Zone" recommend that in training and on race day you should "drink at approximately the same rate as you sweat." Keep the water and electrolyte-enhancing drinks flowing continually, particularly in warmer weather.

  5. Train at your pace. Unless you are ultra-competitive, the point of your first century ride is to prove to yourself that you can go the distance. Enjoy the journey as well as the goal.

  6. Tip

    Padding cycling shorts are also highly recommended at this distance. You don't have to have them in order to ride, but your buttocks will thank you for them.


    Consult your family doctor to ensure you are in good enough health for this undertaking.

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