Training a commuter to ride a century
June 1, 2012 5:18 AM   Subscribe

Help transform a cycling commuter into a cycling centurion. Currently I cycle around 20 miles a day commuting, but would like to be able to knock off a century by the end of the summer (miles not km). Am happy with a basic training programme of increasing the miles at the weekend, but should the longer run be on a Saturday, for the recovery day before commuting again, or on a Sunday, for the recovery day from commuting all week? Come, let me show you all my sparkly snowflakes.

There are, of course, some additional mitigating factors. See how they glitter.

In addition to the cycling, I'm currently working my way up through Couch to 5k (just started week 5) and my current run pattern is first thing in the morning on Tuesday, Thursday and once at the weekend; this can't be changed and I would run on whatever day I don't cycle.

I don't however cycle that much on a Tuesday. Due to regular evening engagement, I tend to use a hire bike for the middle 5k of my commute and public transport the rest. (I kayak in the evening, very beginner level, on a flat lake so not sure this is too relevant?)

So; do the long weekend ride on the Saturday after three full days of commuting and rest/run on the Sunday, or rest/run on the Saturday and do the long ride on the Sunday, 20 miles of commuting on the Monday and an easy day's cycling on the Tuesday?

Or, option three, I'm massively over thinking this and should just shut-up on whichever day I fancy it?
posted by fatfrank to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: damn it; shut up and ride on whichever...
posted by fatfrank at 5:19 AM on June 1, 2012

Best answer: The answer is always "shut up and ride".

Don't make it a chore. Keep it fun and that Century Ride will be a breeze.
posted by fredericsunday at 5:22 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I find it doesn't really make much of a difference to me. I try to do it on whichever day is going to have the better weather in the morning. Try it both ways and see what you like better!

You shouldn't have any problem. I went from commuting to riding 30/40 miles on the weekend to riding 180 miles over three days (Trek Across Maine) in one spring.
posted by mikepop at 5:33 AM on June 1, 2012

Best answer: Yep, just ride more! You are getting plenty of exercise already, so overall fitness should not be an issue. You should be able to do a 40+ mile ride tomorrow if you want. Mainly you'll want to get your butt used to being in the saddle for 6+ hours. You should plan on completing at least one 75+ mile ride before the century; if that works out, the full 100 will not be a problem. See if there are alternate routes you can take for your commute that will give you more mileage.
posted by TDIpod at 5:44 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, regular intense riding has always put me in better shape than longer distances. A two mile ride at full sprint on a simgle speed twice every day had me in better shape for going distances than thirty miles a couple times per week on the ten speed. If you can't get your distance up regularly, just go faster.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:05 AM on June 1, 2012

I did something similar a while back. Commute to work, a longer pre-work ride on Wednesday, and a Saturday long ride. I definitely preferred a Saturday long ride, so I'd have a day to collapse in exhaustion. I started training in March, did a century in early June, and a four day, 350 mile ride in late June. If I'd started later in the year, it would have been way to hot to ride in the summer where I live.
posted by instamatic at 6:19 AM on June 1, 2012

Response by poster: Perfect - thanks all for injecting some much needed sanity...
posted by fatfrank at 6:39 AM on June 1, 2012

Mikepop said it best - pick the weekend day based on which day will be less windy. I personally find it easier to ride in heat that would keep me from running.

You could probably knock out a century *right now* with proper nutrition and hydration. It'd suck, but you could do it. Since cycling isn't so hard on the joints like running is, distance is less a matter of building up knee cartilage an more building up mental toughness.

Use chamois butter and padded gloves, and wear a bandanna under your helmet to keep the sweat out of your eyes.
posted by notsnot at 7:23 AM on June 1, 2012

If you're regularly commuting 20mi rt, you probably don't need to recover from that. However, if you want your longer weekend rides to be valuable, you ought to recover properly from them.

Even if it's not a physical requirement, sometimes, getting on the bike the day after a 4+ hour ride can be a major drag, so it's mental recovery to ensure that the next day, when you throw your leg over your top tube, you don't hate it.
posted by entropone at 7:32 AM on June 1, 2012

This is a head issue not a legs issue. Your butt spends enough time on that saddle to do it, now just convince your brain it's fun to ride for a longer time.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:29 AM on June 1, 2012

Running and cycling are cross-training. That is, improving your running doesn't have a lot of effect on your cycling endurance. Cardio is cardio, but the body and leg muscles involved are different and the two types of exercise don't directly benefit each other (compared to say, cycling and rowing). This is a good, excellent, strategy for general fitness, but don't expect running to help your cycling distance much.

As a rule of thumb, you can comfortably stretch about double a routine training ride. Tapering up to longer weekly distances worked for for me when I was doing this. In addition to the commuting training (intervals!), I'd try to knock out one longer ride on the weekly, if not two. If you get to the point where you're doing a 50 mi ride comfortably, then you're ready to try a century, I'd say.
posted by bonehead at 9:37 AM on June 1, 2012

For first-timers, an imperial century is no small feat! We're talking about 6-8 hours of constant exertion on the bike. "Shut up and ride" is the appropriate advice for couch potatoes who's biggest challenge is getting out the door and doing an hour of exercise regularly. That doesn't seem to be your problem.

In fact, given that you're piling on the running and kayaking, I'd say you're at a slight risk of over-training. You might injure yourself or you might just get sick of it all and burn out. And I agree with others that the running is not going to improve your biking prowess. Been there, done that...learn from my mistakes please.

The key thing that one needs to understand about exercise physiology is the cycle of stress & recovery/adaptation. You challenge your body beyond its current limits, and then it is during the recovery that your musculoskeletal system adapts and becomes stronger! Therefore sufficient, regular rest must be incorporated into an optimized exercise regimen.

As far as your weekly schedule goes, I'd suggest that you just experiment. Try various combinations in the first 2 or 3 weeks and find what suits you best. Furthermore, don't be afraid to mix it up in order to a) keep things interesting for yourself, and b) keep challenging your body as it adapts. The problem is that if you stick to exactly the same routine, your fitness will plateau.

What's important over the long term between now and the end of the summer is:
a) Stick with it. You can dial it back a bit sometimes, but don't let a week go by where you're completely inactive. It's been shown that two weeks of inactivity will put you back almost to square one, as far as aerobic improvements are concerned. And obviously if you veg out for a week, it's too easy to let it slip for another 2 or 3 weeks.
b) Gradually ramp up the distances on the weekend ride, but you don't need to do the full distance until the day of the event. In the last couple of months, you want to have done 60+ mile rides. Then follow a taper schedule in the last couple of weeks, as others have suggested.
posted by wutangclan at 10:13 AM on June 1, 2012

I am not especially fit at all and my normal commute is a flat 12 miles return. For reference, this weekend I did 65 miles with an elevation of 1,000m at an average speed of about 11.5mph.

I felt OK afterwards - I knew I'd had a long ride but I wasn't in bits. In two weeks' time I'll be doing 75 or so miles a day for 3 days. It's head not legs unless you are aiming for a time or speed.

Provided it's not too hilly you are capable now of doing a 100 mile ride, most likely. If you don't have padded shorts you will definitely need them, and clipless pedals would be a major plus.

That said, yuou are at risk of overtraining - if you do exercise every day after a 50 miler you'll probably burn out. Take it easy. And make really, really sure you hydrate and refuel properly on your long rides.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:36 AM on June 1, 2012

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