So, your route is laid out. Now comes the pre-fun! Planning out your century logistically can make or break you when the day comes. So, here’s a few tips I’ve come up with to help you on your way.
hydration, hydration, hydration
Any cyclist can tell you, hydration is by far the most important part of endurance rides. Nothing else out there can make you hit the wall faster than the lack of water. So, it would behoove anyone to plan out how much water they should be drinking on a ride as long as this.
A quick note – water is by far the best hydrating liquid. However, each person may or may not need some extra harrumph in their chosen liquid. Depending on whom you talk with, energy drinks are a blessing and a curse. The blessing comes in the form of newly (and quickly) found energy for your legs. The curse comes from the fact that the energy comes from mostly sugar. Why is this bad? Sugar and water are buds. The more sugar you intake, the more water your body will need (on top of regular fluid replacement). So, be careful with those energy drinks. If all you’re looking for are electrolyte replacements, they make those without sugar and might be a better alternative to energy drinks.
Another quick note – caffeine is a substance that is highly argued over by some people in the athletic business. As a nurse, I can tell you one important fact about caffeine: it aids in your body’s ability to burn carbohydrates. Why am I bringing this up in the hydration topic? Carbohydrates (sugars), as I said before, are very buddy-buddy with water. It is, in fact, important to burn the carbs we no doubt will consume on our ride so that our bodies don’t need more fluid. Caffeine, therefore is something that I’m beginning to appreciate in my cycling meals. Coffee before the ride, caffeine additive in your gels/bars, anything…give it a shot, thank me later. I immediately noticed an improved energy level as well as diminished hydration needs once I started consuming caffeine during my rides.
So, now that I’ve cleared the air some, let’s really get down to business. You need water. Lots of it. I’m not going to split hairs about ounces or sips or what not. Your body will definitely let you know if it needs more water. Hopefully you’ve figured out where your hydration needs have been before you set out on a century. Again, each person will be different, but the same principle applies – you need to continually be taking in water throughout your ride. Century rides can take a long while. I am planning on mine being somewhere just under 6 hours. I’m expecting to drink a lot of water over those 6 hours.
A good rule of thumb – drink a bottle each hour. If it’s hot, drink more. If you’re working against a head wind, drink more. If you’re solo, drink more. If you notice your mouth is dry, drink more. The trick is spreading it out. I have a hard time with this when I’m really getting into my ride. So, I set a timer to vibrate my phone every 10 minutes to remind me to take a drink. Figure out a way to keep the water coming in steady. Fail to do so, and you could be hitting the wall very hard.
Food is a close second to water in importance. If you watched the Men’s Elite Championships, you probably remember seeing the pros munching on food even with less than 20 km to go in the race. Us amateurs are no different. In order to keep your energy levels up, food should be regularly consumed every 45 mins to 1 hour. Many different options are out there from energy bars to homemade recipes. For those of you who are lazy like me, I’ll get some Cliff Bars, granola bars (not the crap kind) and some energy gels. The occasional banana is a good thing to eat as well.
As with water, it’s important to not engorge all at once. It’s completely alright and recommended to take a nibble every half hour. On a century ride, it’s a must. Allowing your body to deplete its energy stores is a tough mistake to mend. So, remember to get a good mixture of foods with some carbs and small amounts of protein. If you’re not using electrolyte replacements in your water, remember to pay attention to those things in your diet and compensate as needed. As I mentioned before, caffeine may be something you want to look at as well.
Any ride needs tools. For a century ride, you may want to double check your equipment to make sure you’ve got exactly what you need. Here’s a quick list of things you may want to bring along.
- enough storage to fit the food/water and the stuff listed below (under-saddle bags, jersey pockets, frame attachments)
- other clothing (depending on where you are, you may need arm/leg/head warmers and another set of gloves)
- tail light and charger cable (regardless of time of day, I always put my tail light on) – I use a chargeable battery to cut down on space/weight.
- 2 spare inner tubes (or at least 1 and a patch kit)
- 2-3 tire levers
- 1 hand pump
- 1 multi-tool
- long piece of duct tape (I wrap this around my hand pump – you’d be surprised what you can fix with duct tape)
- cell phone
- identification – in case of an emergency – always keep on you, not on the bike!
- credit card – for monetary emergencies
For those that can pull it off (yours truly), get someone to loosely follow you in a car if you’re solo. They can top off water bottles, hand you food, charge batteries, take your trash, etc. Thank the maker for spouses!
The Action Plan
Time of departure, speed and effort are some things to consider before the big day. Don’t expect to get your top average speed on this ride, and don’t plan on riding your current average speeds. This ride will take it out of you. But, it’s important to know exactly how to ride for your style. I’m a more slow at the start, burning legs in the middle and a slower burning legs at the end kind of guy. To each their own. Figure how to best utilize your style of cycling into the century. When are your energy levels highest? Will your food intake be better at a certain point of the ride? Think of these things before the ride and during to make sure your body can handle what your asking it to do.
Planning when and where to take your breaks as well as what to eat/drink during those breaks is a bit of guesswork if this is your first century (as it is mine). Again, don’t drown yourself with liquids or over-indulge on foods during breaks. Be smart when it comes to the breaks, stay loose and keep moving. Sitting down is fine, but don’t just stand up and hop back on the saddle right away. Long stretches and breathing exercises go a long way to better cycling. When you’re good and stretched, get going slow to warm up just like the beginning of another ride. Working too hard too quickly can quickly turn into anaerobic exercise and very sore legs.
The End to a wall of text
I tried to find video of this year’s Men’s Elite World Championships (eating on the road) so this wasn’t such a long wall of text, but alas, I could only find the last 10 km. These guys rode for over 6 hours and went a lot further than 100 miles. Someday… In any case, here it is: