Preparing for a lumpy hundred
July 2, 2014 3:59 AM   Subscribe

I have a place in a huge century cycle ride (100 fairly hilly miles) in just over 5 weeks time. It's my first time doing something like this and I want to enjoy the day. Help me to train smartly over the next few weeks and to prepare for what to expect on the day.

As for my fitness and how to train: I have cycled up to 70 miles before when touring and out on leisure rides, but not so much this year (maybe two 60 mile rides). I have a decent bike that fits well. I cycle about 1.5 hours per day commuting (15 miles total) and am trying to get out at weekends. I live in the centre of London so real training is difficult to get to. There are two killer hills on the route but there are no hills accessible to me to train. I need to complete the course in 8 hours (so 12.5mph), which is about, or maybe faster than, what I average on my longer weekend rides. So I'm concerned that I'll kill myself on the hills and trying to keep up the pace. How can I prepare over the next 5 weeks to be as fit as possible for the event?

As for how to prepare for the practicalities of the day: This is a massive event; over 20,000 people are taking part (it's the RideLondon-Surrey 100, if anyone's interested). I gather that drafting is a good way to conserve energy, but I've not ridden in a pace line seriously and would be worried to do this with strangers. Should I go it alone? There will be water and food stops on the route but should I take extra bottles and food? What else should I take, other than weather-appropriate clothing and a spare inner tube? Should I get a bike computer?

Is my apprehension coming through!?
posted by hannahlambda to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure your bike is in proper repair, and especially that the tires are properly inflated. If you can afford it, see if it's possible to upgrade to higher pressure, narrower profile tires without changing wheels or rims. Bring that spare tube, and make sure you are able to pump your tires to the desired pressure with your handpump - get a new one if you need to. If your bike isn't equipped with proper hill-climbing gears, look into swapping out the cassette.

The bike computer would be helpful for training, so you can learn to pace yourself. Given 5 weeks, and that you already bike every day, you're probably in decent physical shape. I think more important at this point is that you figure out what pace you need to keep to make sure you finish, and then train to maintain, and more important, recognize, that pace, so you aren't blindsided on race day. Trying to follow a peleton will almost certainly mean a pace faster than just barely finishing in the time allowed, so it probably a mistake, and the advantages of drafting are much less at 15mph than at 25. Thinking about strategy, you might plan on 8 hours minus one hour for breaks & possibly changing a flat, minus one hour for the time lost to hill climbing, leaving 6 hours or so to cover 100 miles. So that means keeping a pace of 16 to 17 mph on the flat. Train to be comfortable with that, and avoid the temptation of riding faster early.
posted by mr vino at 4:53 AM on July 2, 2014

Not sure if you've ever ridden in a group before, but two things to be aware of:

- you can get a lot of psychological benefit from riding with a group without doing the kind of pacelining you're concerned about. Ride alongside and talk to someone, ride along with people and leave more normal following distance, etc. Pacelining a long ride is really hardcore; if you accepted the safety risks I'm not sure you'd find it all that enjoyable because, trust me, all you see is the bike you're following (and hopefully the surrounding traffic). There is NO chance to glance over and see that cool building, etc.

- all that said, somewhere in the course of 100 miles somebody is going to pull up behind you and latch onto your rear wheel. You can always ask them to back off, of course, but if it's any consolation, it's the guy in the back who almost always goes down if someone screws up.

Cyclists spread out pretty quickly, but with that many people I'd be concerned that it will be very crowded at first. Are they going to stagger the starts, and/or ask people to group up according to anticipated pace?

When I rode long rides, I just rode with groups unless/until they seemed to be going faster or slower than me, and if they dropped me (or vice-versa), I didn't worry about it. There's always another group to ride out of the next rest stop with.

As for hills if you're inexperienced - if you gear down, back off, and just keep your pulse and respiration as normal as possible while going up them, your overall time will be better for it. You've really got a decent mileage base to do a century. The big concern is your relative lack of experience with really long distances. You're going to get uncomfortable, stiff, sore on the saddle, etc. before you get truly exhausted with the heart, lungs, and legs.

At the rest stops, do some real quality stretching, eat something, drink something, etc. but don't stand around and talk. Sometimes faster riders like to zoom to each rest stop and then stay at each one 20+ minutes, but you don't have that luxury, based on the pace you say you're going. Think tortoise and hare. You're the tortoise. :-)

I'd show up with as much food and drink as I could reasonably carry (without putting panniers), and look to replenish the stock at rest stops.

Definitely get a computer (or a bracket for your smart phone, and an app)- you're going to constantly be wondering "how long until the next rest stop?" otherwise, and route sheets generally tell you distance to turns, so it's a navigational thing as well.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:52 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're not really going to be able to change your current level of fitness in 5 weeks. Keep riding, try to do a couple long rides (~5 hours) between now and then, and make sure you're fresh for the day of the ride (ie, no leg-busting rides for three or four days prior).

On your ride, eat and drink regularly. 100 miles burns a lot of calories. If you've cycled 70 miles, you can do 100 - as long as you keep eating and drinking.

Chill out on the hills. Go up 'em slowly and save your energy for the rest of the ride.
posted by entropone at 6:52 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make sure that your saddle is properly broken in (if it's a Brooks) and set correctly and that you've got a good pair of padded shorts (or bib) and plenty of chamois cream. I'm a guy and use DZ Nuts which has helped cut down on saddle spurs and discomfort on long and hot rides. They make a female version (DZ Nuts Bliss) that a lot of women seem to like.

Just be sure to stretch every 10 or so miles and make plenty of rest stops to hydrate and refuel. It's a lot easier to keep a good pace if you're properly hydrated and loose and not pulling muscles.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 6:55 AM on July 2, 2014

You can do mock hill repeats on a relatively flat section of road. Find something that takes you about 5 min to traverse, then start at point A, put your bike 2-3 gears higher than you normally would, and try for a cadence of 50-60 rpm. Ride to point B, turn around, take it easy going back to point A. Repeat 3-5x. Aim to pedal in circles and not just mash the pedals. I'd suggest one (mock) hill repeat session and one long ride per week plus whatever other cycling you're doing, with the last long ride 7-10 days before your century. It may not have a measurable effect on your fitness, but it'll give you an idea what it'll be like to climb, and you'll slowly train your body to adapt to your bike.

As far as equipment goes, get your setup locked down now. If you're going to add panniers or a new hydration setup, get that shit on there as soon as possible. Do you know what you're wearing for the ride? Wear that on your long rides (including any anti-chafing creams or unguents you may want to try). What will they be serving at the aid stations? Can you eat/drink that and still keep cycling? And if you think you want to change your bike setup, now is the time to do that, not at mile 50 when you're already past the point of comfort.

Have fun!
posted by disconnect at 9:17 AM on July 2, 2014

Everyone above has already been really helpful with suggestions and hints, so I'm hoping to set aside your worries based on mileage. I signed up for a century last year and was unable to do it because of work, so my entry fee was good again for this year only. Sure enough due to travel and a minor injury, I only rode 65 miles total before the ride with a 21 mile ride being my longest. My longest ride of my four year cycling history had been about 70 miles, but entropone is right. This isn't running; if you've already figured out how to do a long ride you're just making it a little longer, but you have the methodology down.

The bike organizer sent out an email declaring they were oversold and would refund cancellations for anyone who backed out and I heard the little voices, but was so happy that I actually did it.

What got me through: chamois cream!! At the fifty mile rest stop a guy that I had met earlier asked how I was doing, I told him there was aching around my bikini line and butt and the chamois butter that he handed me was the best thing ever. I was definitely feeling the muscular effects of my lack of training by the time I hit the halfway point, so I just let myself pull over and stretch whenever I felt like it, which ended up being every 8-10 miles until I finally hit the rest stop with pie and the sugar/carbs let me sail the rest of the way through. I did have to stop on one hill, so I got off to the side, stretched, and refused to consider walking the rest of the way. You may know this, but if you're ever stuck restarting on a hill, ride perpindicular to the shoulder as if you were going into the other lane and then zig zag your way up the hill until you get going again. It blew my mind the first time I actually did it to get going again.

Be sure to pack whatever food will pick you up, whether it's the typical gu/energy bars or dark chocolate or whatever it may be and remember that you can always watch out for stores to restock if you go low. As for pacelining, I agree with randomkeystrike--you really miss out on the sights and the experience if you're in a line. I've done it on 40-50 mile rides with my old cycling club and while we were cruising along, it wasn't as enjoyable as being able to look around and absorb the cool things we rode by. Friendly cyclists are a blessing, so don't be afraid to say hi to the people that you're passing and others will be sure to pick you up with a hello or funny anecdote as they ride alongside you at other points. I finished the ride 110 miles later and was super proud of myself and had a great day, but then I had to do some serious stretching and be sure to do exercises to release the lactic acid after.

You haven't yet achieved this mileage, but you're already much more prepared than you think you are. Don't let the apprehensive thoughts get to you. Good luck and have a great time!
posted by icaicaer at 2:09 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can do this!

To successfully complete the ride within the time limit, you need a plan. (By the way, it looks like you have 8-1/2 hours, not 8.) If this is the route, it looks as if most of the climbing is between mile 43 and mile 74. Mr vino's suggestion for planning is good: aim for 16-17 mph average on the flat bits, to give you time for those hills. The steepest and longest climbs are:
  1. 46.3-47.5: 1.2 miles, 3.4% avg. grade, 8.6% max. grade
  2. 50.3-53.5: 3.2 miles, 1.4% avg. grade, 4.9% max. grade
  3. 56.0-57.6: 1.6 miles, 6.1% avg. grade, 10.5% max. grade - this will be the tough one.
  4. 65.9-68.3: 2.4 miles, 3.2% avg. grade, 8.8% max. grade
  5. 90.7-91.0: 0.3 miles, 5.0% avg. grade, 6.2% max. grade - a little bump going up to Wimbledon Common
There are other shorter or flatter climbs, but those 5 are the ones to worry about. I'd work out a chart of how much time will have elapsed when you reach the start of each climb in three scenarios: (1) You're having a great day - riding a lot faster than usual without undue effort; (2) It's an OK day, about what you expected; and (3) Bad day - mechanical, wind against you, etc., so the slowest you can go and still finish on time. Add another couple of points to your timetable, perhaps the little hills around miles 18 and 20, and possibly around mile 80 when you cross the A3, just for additional checks. I've done such plans for my long rides and found them very helpful; since I'm not a fast rider, it helps to know whether I can relax or whether I have to push myself relative to the challenges ahead.

I would plan to stop for no more than 10 minutes at a time, and limit stops to 3 or 4. Lots of people who could finish the course on time will probably fail because they spend too much time at aid stations. Bring a couple water bottles so you don't need to constantly refill them. Figure out nutrition that works. The UltraMarathon Cycling Association website has some useful nutrition (and training) info. The most important thing is to get 250-300 calories of easily digestible food, mostly carbohydrates, per hour, because your muscle and liver glycogen stores will be exhausted after a few hours and your brain runs almost exclusively on glycogen; you don't want to bonk.

As randomkeystrike says, riding with other people can give a big boost. I'd avoid pacelining for the reasons mentioned: you don't see as much, and it's potentially dangerous, especially with people you don't know and trust. But riding side-by-side with someone, swapping stories, providing encouragement on the hills, etc., can make the miles go by quickly.

One plan that would have you finishing on time might be this:

Mile 0-20, no stops, avg. 16 mph: 1:15 elapsed time
Mile 20-40, 1 10-min. stop, avg. 16 mph: 2:40 elapsed time
Mile 40-50, no stops, avg. 14 mph: 3:23 elapsed time
Mile 50-60, 1 10-min. stop, avg. 10 mph: 4:33 elapsed time
Mile 60-80, 1 10-min. stop, avg. 14 mph: 6:09 elapsed time
Mile 80-100, 1 10-min. stop, avg. 15 mph: 7:39 elapsed time

I picked even numbers, but you could also model your timetable on the one on the event site.

I was assuming you'd slow to something like 10 mph on moderate hills and 5 mph on the steep ones. This is only a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it gives you an idea of how you might work out your timetable, as well as the impact of rest stops on your overall average speed. If you did 3 5-minute stops instead of 4 10-minute ones, you'd finish nearly half an hour sooner, other things being equal.

If there will be mile markers at the aid stations, you could implement a plan using only a stopwatch, but it's helpful to have a cycle computer, both to know how far you've come and to know how much longer the hill is.

I hope this doesn't look too intimidating. When I've done timed rides, I find that planning ahead makes me a lot less anxious on the day itself. Plus, the one time I had a mechanical breakdown (sheared chainring bolts!) on a timed ride, it was useful to know that, by the time I fixed the problem, there was no way I could complete the ride on time; that allowed me to turn back to the starting point without exhausting myself in pursuit of an impossible time.

Don't change to narrower, higher pressure tires (tyres). The real-world research by Jan Heine and others at Bicycle Quarterly demonstrates that higher pressure tires feel faster but are no faster than wider tires run at lower pressure, and they're less comfortable to boot (which is probably why they feel faster). What really matters is how supple the tire casings are. The most supple tires run quite a bit faster than the least supple. Panaracer Paselas (the NON-Tourguard version) are pretty supple tires for the money. Grand Bois tires are even better, but pricier and harder to find. A supple tire will be more flat-prone than one with a stiff casing, but if you know how to fix a flat you'll still save time.

As to what to bring: in addition to water, food, and a spare tube, I'd advise tire levers (if you need them to remove and reinstall your tire), a mini-pump (or CO2 inflator, but I am old school and prefer a pump), a mini-tool to tighten any bolts that loosen up, extra sunscreen, and extra chamois cream (put the last two in small containers from Boots etc.). Also a camera, unless your phone has a good one. You'll want pictures! Just be very careful if you try taking pictures while moving. I do most of my riding on country roads, sometimes 40 miles from the closest bike shop, so I carry a lot more, but it seems like this ride will have support for any more serious problems.

The most important thing, though, is to have fun!
posted by brianogilvie at 4:08 PM on July 2, 2014

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