Training for Fast Centuries
by Lisa Marie Dougherty

One of a series of columns on training for centuries. The complete series is available at:

So you’re back on the bicycle again, training for the dawning season. A list of events have been highlighted on your calendar. Your motivation is high as you visualize yourself among the fastest cyclists, wrapping up a century in less than 6 hours...maybe even 5 hours! How can you get the form to hold such high speeds over 100 miles?

First, remember that the most important facet to training is mental preparation and attitude. It may help to recognize that 100 miles isn’t very far for a long-distance cyclist. Most pro cyclists compete in races of 100+ miles, averaging speeds over 25 mph.

Undoubtedly, the fastest centuries are completed by professional racers whose daily training rides often exceed 100 miles. So, if you want to increase your average century speed, the best approach is to study the training programs of
successful category pro-1-2 racers. The primary difference between a 100 mile race and a 100 mile tour is drafting. In a race, you have a field to cruise with unless you’re feeling spunky and take a flyer or fading fast and drop off the back. Otherwise, you get the pleasure of sucking wheel while saving 30 to 80% of your energy depending on wind conditions and the spread of the cyclist towing you. In a century, most riders are recreational so you will spend the bulk of your time battling the wind alone. Even the fast cyclists often prefer solo riding or lack the skill to safely paceline. So don’t plan on finding a group of experienced, ambitious cyclists to draft at your next century. Joining a well-oiled paceline at a tour is not unheard of, but it is unlikely.

Despite this, training like a racer will do more to increase your average speed on centuries than grinding through mega-miles at a steady, moderate pace. Big miles are certainly necessary when a cyclist is preparing for multi-day events like Paris-Brest-Paris. Such a training tactic, however, will destroy leg speed for shorter distances of 150 miles or less. It is important to realize that 100 miles is NOT an ultramarathon distance so training like an ultramarathon cyclist is not the best way to decrease your century time. Training like a road racer will increase power and speed without preparing your body for
the huge stress of real ultra-marathon cycling which you won’t encounter anyway. At ultramarathon distances, the body must be maintained in a steady state where the cyclist is consuming as many nutrients as he or she is burning up, continuously maintaining a steady flow of energy over many hours or several days. For shorter distances, the cyclist can upset this balance and consume less on the bicycle. This allows the body to focus on cycling rather than dividing its energy between digestion and cycling.

In the next column, I will discuss specific training tips utilized by road racers that can help increase your average century speed. If you want to do your fastest century, you cannot train like an ultramarathon cyclist.

Forget the mega-miles, protein powder, and bike lights...grab your gel packets, carbohydrate drink and local cycling buddies. It’s time to train for speed.

Copyright 1999 by the UltraMarathon Cycling Association. All rights reserved.

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