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How to build up to your first 100-mile ride

First and foremost, a 100-mile ride or ‘century’ should not be undertaken lightly, whether it’s a race or just something you want to achieve in your own time, and it’s going to take some training to get there...

How will you know if you’re up to it?

Well, if you’re already a regular on two wheels and can do 60 miles, you can do 100 but you’ll still need to allow around 12 weeks to properly train. It’s a whole other ball game for riders with less experience under their belt. If you’re fit but a bit rusty, put aside 18 weeks and if you’re starting from scratch, take the time – we’re talking 5-6 months – to build up your biking confidence, increase your fitness and then train for the challenge ahead.

What do you need?

A road bike, obviously. Cycling clothes. And a can-do attitude! A bike computer for cadence and a heart-rate monitor will be really helpful too, and to mix up your routine, access to an indoor bike and cross-training equipment.

How much training should you do?

Riders in the 60-miles-as-standard camp – and the people in the best place to start aiming for 100 miles – might be tempted to train as much as possible in the weeks leading up to the big event. Instead, you should remember the saying ‘train smarter, not harder’ and slowly increase your mileage across the course of your practice. In short, you don’t need to be doing 100 miles all the time, but creeping towards 70, then 80, and back down before hitting higher figures again.

Firstly, you’ll do a threshold test over 30 minutes, which will tell you your functional threshold heart rate (FTHR) or functional threshold power (FTP). From these figures you’ll be able to work out your training zones i.e. the highest physical intensity you can sustain for approximately one hour. If you ride above this, fatigue will set in and your pace will drop. So, it’s pretty important!

Back to the training. As a general rule, you’ll have two rest days a week and they should be arranged so that you never do more than three consecutive days of riding or exercise in a row – your body needs time to recover and you probably have a little thing called a life or work to fit in too. You’ll also do some cross-training away from the saddle, be it building strength or flexibility work, and interval training on an indoor bike (you can do this outdoors if you prefer). This all builds up to the end of the week, when you’ll do your big ride, which should increase over the weeks with shorter rides in between if you need. For example, try three hours in week one, then add half an hour in week two, and another half an hour in week four, but don’t be afraid to go down to two hours in the week after, before building back up again. The most on-bike training you’ll do in one week will be nine hours.

Take a look at British Cycling’s 12-week plan for a more in-depth breakdown of what you should be doing on which day.

Ready, set, go!

When the big day comes, don’t panic. You’ve trained for this and as long as you keep a clear head and stick to the plan, you’re going to reach that finish line. Just remember...

  • Pace yourself – the kind of speed where your breathing isn’t overly laboured and you can still have a chat is spot on
  • Food is your fuel – try to eat around 200 calories (carbs, preferably) every hour throughout the race and pack enough so you don’t need to rely on stopping at the snack stops en route
  • Stay hydrated – drink enough so you’re not thirsty but don’t mainline water and risk hyponatremia (very low blood sodium)
  • Be your own navigator – don’t trust the wheel in front of you to take the right route; one wrong turn could seriously set you back
  • Mind over matter – don’t think about the race as 100 miles, but as several lots of 10 or 20-mile races to make it feel more manageable, and when something goes wrong or something aches, don’t let it affect your performance if you can put it away until tomorrow