We often refer to our contributor Charles Lindsey for advice on riding centuries. He has participated in many SoCal events and has written extensively on preparing and planning for long hours in the saddle. In anticipation for his new book, “Your Century Ride: A Training Plan for Achieving a Road Cycling Goal” Lindsey has provided us an excerpt from his chapter entitled, Top Mistakes Made When Planning Your First Century. We recommend this book for the shelf of any cyclist who is considering this benchmark of cycling accomplishment, or looking to improve their experience on their next distance adventure. He illuminates the various situations you will encounter when planning for long events and sets you up for success with his invaluable advice and entertains with anecdotes from the road. If your new year resolution is to ride your first century, start here and finish first.
Mistakes to Avoid When Riding Your First Century
“The first mistake is inadequate training, or no training at all, for a century ride.”
Making mistakes at a charity ride, or forgetting something, is rarely a problem because of the ride support and the number of other riders at the event. Other cyclists will help you when you need it. Often someone will give you a CO2 cartridge for your flat, or you can wait for the SAG support to pass by and help you. But some mistakes can have a harmful effect on your century ride. Help from other riders and ride support may not be able to rescue your ride.
The first mistake is inadequate training, or no training at all, for a century ride. I have made this mistake. I hurt myself two months before a challenging century ride that had lots of climbing. Before the event I was rarely able to ride and assumed that I could get through it with cunning guile. I suffered a terrible century, completing 90 of 100 miles with cramping legs. Training is essential unless you are in good shape. If you are in good shape that means that you have already trained for months or you have completed a century ride just before the upcoming event. Fortunately, the ride support and shear number of riders at the event means making mistakes is rarely a problem. If you are already riding 70 miles in a reasonable time, then your training is actually maintaining your fitness. A reasonable ride time is about 5 hours on a flat route and slightly longer times on routes with hills.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, is training too hard or over-training. Getting in rides every day will build your fitness at first, but after a short while, your muscles will not have had the time to recover, and fatigue will begin to develop. Signs of over-training include excessive fatigue in your muscles, and a stagnant heart rate that doesn’t rise to an aerobic rate. Along with the physical, you should be mentally in sync, as well. You have to strike a balance between tough training rides and not riding enough. Luckily, the distance between too little training and over-training is wide for most cyclists. The ideal training plan should be one where you feel like you are making progress, and you feel well.
Failing to Plan
Another mistake that I often see cyclists do at century rides is to fail to plan. Heat and sunshine, or rain and wind, you have to decide what to wear to counter the expected weather. You should study the upcoming weather forecast and review your route for the ride. I have seen a few riders take a wrong turn, get lost and add time and miles to their ride. Spending time to get to know the route is a significant benefit.
Century rides are fun, but riding 100 miles is still a serious effort. I have seen riders bringing bicycles that are not appropriate for a century ride; once I saw someone riding an old beach cruiser. On a hillier century, one young rider was riding a fixed gear. You do not have to have a bike like the Trek Madone 9 Race Shop Limited that goes for $13,000, but you should have a bicycle that is not a hindrance to you.
Ride Your Ride
Every book and article about riding a century warns riders to watch the pace and “ride your ride.” Joining a faster group satisfies our need to be in a group. It also feeds our competitive desire. Who wants to ride alone or with a slower group? But it is a classic mistake. You have trained a certain level of performance, such as averaging 16 mph. Going with a fast group will increase your exhaustion later in the ride. Another downside to rolling with a faster, stronger group is attacking hills with an effort beyond what you trained forThis could lead to problems, especially if it is early in a century ride. Pedaling up a tough climb too fast wastes energy that you will need later. Also, you could end up with hurt muscles that you would have avoided by staying with your training speed.
I did not eat properly on my first century ride, and that hurt my ride performance. I bonked midway through the ride; it was a mid-ride meal and a tailwind that got me to the finish. Having a plan and sticking to it is important. Not eating on a regular schedule, or worse, not eating at all will be a problem.
Hand in hand with improper eating is hydration. It does not matter whether it is cool, or hot, during the ride, you have to stay hydrated. The only difference between cool and hot days is how much you drink and not whether you drink. I checked my weight before and after a long ride, and I found that I lost three pounds through sweating on the road. I figured out how many ounces of water are in three pounds, it’s about 45 fluid ounces, or two bicycle water bottles. This was how much water I should drink during a long ride.
Each of these mistakes can be overcome. None of these, plus many other common mistakes, are devastating in of themselves. They just make finishing the century ride that much harder and take a lot of the fun out of the event. You have to approach the ride with some thought, create a plan and stick to the plan. By following these steps, the ride will be a lot more fun and memorable – in a good way.