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Finish Strong in Your Next Century Ride

by Joe Friel -

One hundred miles is a long way to ride, no matter who you are. Of course, thats precisely the attraction of century rides for those of us who do them.

But while we want a century to be challenging, we most certainly do not want it to be downright dreadful. We do not want to bonk somewhere in those last 20 miles. Better to finish exhausted, but strong.

Here are some tips that will help you do just that.

In terms of training, the most important thing you can do to prevent bonking is build your way up to performing one long training ride whose duration matches the anticipated duration of your century ride.

Begin doing a weekly long ride 15 to 18 weeks before the date of your next century. Your first long ride should be just a few miles longer than the longest ride you’ve done in the past couple of weeks. From there, increase the duration very gradually from week to week — and not necessarily every week — until you reach peak duration three weeks before race day.

Do your long rides at a very comfortable pace that corresponds to about 65 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. Training at this pace will enhance your body’s ability to metabolize fat for energy, which will spare muscle glycogen, whose availability is the ultimate must for extensive endurance.

If you don’t use a heart rate monitor, control your pace using the talk test: If you can’t speak in complete sentences without losing your breath, you’re going too hard. Your long-ride pace should represent 75 percent of your target century pace, which means that your longest long ride should cover about 75 miles.

This leads me to mention the second means of preventing bonking in your next century, which is pacing. One of the most common causes of bonking in centuries is starting too fast. You can avoid this pitfall with intelligent use of a heart rate monitor.

In your training, you should do plenty of riding at your target century pace. Wear a heart rate monitor during these rides and note your average heart rate at this pace. In the century ride itself, don’t allow your heart rate to creep over this rate in the first 50 miles, no matter how good you feel. We can’t always be objective with ourselves when performance is on the line; but numbers don’t lie.

Another common cause of weak finishes in century rides is failure to taper adequately. Let’s face it: We long-distance cyclists are not lazy. We tend to do too much rather than too little. And we’re extremely paranoid about our fitness. As rational as we may be in other areas of life, we are somehow able to convince ourselves that we can undo the results of four solid months of training with one missed workout.

So we are very paranoid about tapering. How can we possibly become more race-ready by training less? Well, we can, and that’s that. Abundant research has shown that sharply reducing training volume in the final weeks before a long race maximizes muscle glycogen storage, blood hemoglobin concentration, and other factors relevant to performance.

A two-week taper is most appropriate before a century ride. In the first week of your taper, cut your training volume by 40 percent. So, if you rode 200 miles in your final week of hard training, you would ride about 120 miles the next week. Cut back evenly on all your workouts. In other words, still do your high-intensity workouts, but make them 40 percent shorter, and still do a longer ride, but make it 40 percent shorter as well.

In race week, reduce training volume by another 40 percent, based on a six-day total rather than a seven-day total. So, if you rode 80 miles in the first six days of the second-to-last week before your century, ride about 50 miles in the final six days before the event, taking one day off entirely.

During the ride itself, the most powerful bonk-prevention strategy is proper fluid intake. There are three losses you need to compensate for with mid-ride nutrition: water and electrolyte losses through sweat, and carbohydrate fuel losses.

You can compensate for a large fraction of each of these losses by consuming a sports drink containing electrolytes and carbohydrate. Research has shown that the most effective sports drinks contain 6 to 8 percent carbohydrate (that’s 1.75 to 2.00 grams per ounce) and one gram of protein for every four grams of protein.

The presence of protein in this ratio has been proven to stimulate a greater insulin response and deliver glucose to working muscles more quickly, thereby sparing muscle glycogen and delaying fatigue. Accelerade is the leading sports drink with a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein.

The key to a successful century ride is reaching exhaustion at precisely 100 miles, and not a mile sooner. By building up to a peak long ride, pacing yourself, tapering properly, and consuming a quality sports drink, you can finish strong in your next century.

Joe Friel coaches amateur and elite mountain bikers, road cyclists, triathletes and duathletes. Among his current clients is 2000 Olympic triathlete Ryan Bolton. Joe wrote The Cyclist's Training Bible and The Triathlete's Training Bible and offers Internet-based training through his websites, and He is a columnist for Inside Triathlon and VeloNews and conducts workshops around the country on training and racing for cyclists and multisport athletes. A long-time endurance athlete, he has qualified for the USA Triathlon National Team three times.

Copyright 2002 by Poweringmuscles. Published with permission. For cutting-edge sports nutrition info, visit

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