7 Century Ride Tips for Beginners

A century ride for a cyclist is a landmark event akin to the runner’s marathon. It’s a challenge that’s worth undertaking if you’ve got the will. These tips will help you conquer your first 100 miler — and make sure it’s not your last.

1. Start Slow

The adrenaline and excitement at the start of any race can force you into a pace that’s beyond what you’ve trained for. By the time you realize your mistake 20 – 30 miles in, it may already be too late — and you’ll pay for your effort over the remaining 70 – 80 miles.

Instead of falling into this trap, begin slow and stick to your game plan — even if those early miles feel easy. If you’ve got more in the tank towards the end, you can amp up the pace during the latter third of your race.

2. Stick to Your Nutrition Plan

Anyone attempting a century should have a solid nutrition plan that’s been tested and fine-tuned during training. How you meet your basic nutritional needs of at least one 500ml bottle of fluid and 65 grams of carbohydrates per hour is largely determined by what works best for you.

Where problems sometimes arise are at those temptingly well-stocked feed stations. Gran Fondos and century rides are known for having plenty of sweet treats, sandwiches and other goodies that you may not have tested during your training. Indulging at the midway point of a race with food that’s new to your body might spell trouble.

A better bet is to stick to what you know. If bananas and energy bars worked for you during training, stick to this during the race. Keep in mind that brownies and a turkey sandwich could lead to GI distress, cramping or other problems that might compromise your ride.

3. Consider the Terrain

Not all century rides are created equally. Before you sign up for your race, know what you’re in for. A hilly course or courses with many steep climbs will be considerably more difficult to complete than a relatively flat 100 miles.

If you opt for a course that’s more challenging, you’ll need to tailor your training plan to match the terrain of your race. Hill repeats, interval training and long rides that include climbs may be necessary to ensure you’re prepared for the kind of conditions you’ll face on race day.

4. Ride Your Own Pace

Chances are you may not have ridden with a few hundred or even a thousand other cyclists before. While the dynamics of a group ride can make it easier to maintain a higher average speed, it’s also easy to get linked up with a group of cyclists who are in better shape than you are.

If this happens, you could be in for a surprise as the miles start to add up. To be safe, use a heart rate monitor or power meter to accurately gauge your efforts. No matter what speed you’re traveling, if you’re exceeding the level of effort you’re capable of maintaining, you’re going to pay for it at some point during race. For this reason, it’s always better to ride your own race and not be influenced by the pace of others.

5. Be Prepared For the Unexpected

Flat tires, a broken chain or a loose bolt on your cleat are a few of the many things that could go wrong during a bike race. To ensure you’re prepared for the worst, keep these essentials with you on the bike:

  • A multi-tool
  • A mini pump or CO2 cartridges
  • Tire levers
  • 2 inner tubes
  • A patch kit
  • A chain tool
  • Duct tape*

*This can be used in a pinch to make many temporary repairs on the road, such as a broken bottle cage, a shoe repair or to patch a tire. Wrap a few strips around one of your water bottles for extra insurance in an emergency.

6. Pay Attention to the Forecast

Just because it’s summer and the weather has been bright and sunny for weeks doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way on race day. Be sure to watch the forecast and track the weather the day before so you’ll know what to expect.

Wind, rain and hotter-than-average temperatures can affect your pacing and strategy on race day. Aside from carrying a packable rain jacket, be sure to take the following into account:

  • The performance of carbon rims and brake pads is significantly decreased in wet weather. An aluminum rim might be a better choice for stopping power and overall performance.
  • Gauge your efforts into headwinds and tailwinds carefully. Going too hard into a head wind is similar to charging up a long climb as fast as you can. If you extend yourself too far into the red zone, making it to the finish will become even more of a challenge.
  • In warmer temperatures, your hydration needs grow. Make sure to incorporate a sports drink containing sodium and electrolytes to replenish what you’re losing through sweat.

7. Choose Your Gear Wisely

Just like your nutrition strategy, new gear that’s never been worn shouldn’t be tested out on race day. A seam in exactly the wrong place and a new pair of shoes that turns out to be a little too narrow can wreck your ride — and on race day there will be little to nothing you can do about it.

Instead, make sure you’re using only gear that you’ve tried out during training. Ensure that everything from your shorts and jersey to sunglasses and helmet to shoes, socks, and gloves has been tested for comfort and performance before you roll up to the starting line.

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Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc Lindsay is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.