How to Train
With enough saddle time, nearly anyone can finish a century. And after you complete one, you might want to ride the next one even faster.
For most century riders, it's not a matter of training to go longer; it's a matter of training to go harder and recover faster, That way you can meet the challenges a century ride throws your way without burning so much energy that you're too fried to finish fast.
The Weekly Plan
Each week should contain one lactate-threshold (LT) session, one surge-and-recover session and one tempo session. Start training four to six weeks before your event. A sample week might look like this:
MON. Rest day or active recovery
TUES. Tempo session
WED. Endurance ride (at least 2 hours) or rest day
THURS. LT session. On alternate Thursdays, do a VO 2 max workout (or "matchbook maker")
FRI. Rest day or active recovery
SAT. Surge-and-recover efforts, group ride or VO 2 max session
SUN. Endurance ride
TEMPO Centuries, and any ride that lasts four or more hours, include lots of time at the challenging but sustainable pace we call tempo, during which you're working hard—grinding up a long climb or pushing the pace on the flats—but not going over your threshold. Your breathing is hard, but deep and even.
Find a 30-minute stretch of uninterrupted pavement and hit your tempo pace. Recover at a cruising pace for 15 minutes. Then repeat so you include an hour of tempo training in your ride.
BREAK THE THRESHOLD Your lactate threshold (the point at which you go into the red) is the most trainable system in your body. To PR this year's century, you should focus your training here. LT pace is marked by quick, rhythmic breathing, like what you would use for a short, hard climb. It's harder than tempo, but you're not gasping.
After warming up, turn up your pace to LT effort for 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure you hold the effort, so you're really working and breathing hard, but have it under control. Recover for five to seven minutes. Repeat three to four times.
MATCHBOOK MAKER Imagine your hardest efforts— the ones that leave you gasping—as matches in a matchbook. Every time you go into the red, you burn one match. When you've burned the whole book, it's game over. VO 2 max efforts add matches, so you can go way out of your comfort zone a few more times during your century without going down in flames.
Find a stretch of road where you can do a handful of uninterrupted three-to five-minute efforts. Push your pace until it's uncomfortable and hang on. Recover for 50 percent of the work time (two minutes if you've worked for four). Start with three 3-minute efforts and work up to five. When you can do five, do three 4-minute efforts and work up to five. Eventually build up to 5-minute efforts.
SURGE AND RECOVER Start with a 1:4 work-to-rest ratio. Warm up, then push the pace until you're just over your LT (your breathing will be short and quick, but rhythmic and not panting) for one minute. Then cruise at a comfortable, brisk pace for four minutes. As this becomes easier, increase the amount of time you spend surging, building to four minutes, so you're performing a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio. Do this six to 10 times during your ride.