Long Distance Training
Get Century-ready with this 8-week training plan.

Long-Distance Training

If you’re reading this, we’re assuming you can already ride 40 miles, the distance of the TD Five Boro Bike Tour. If you’re not quite there yet, see Training for the Tour.

Commonly called a century, a 100-mile, daylong ride is one of the most significant and challenging experiences for a cyclist. However, centuries are accessible to riders of all levels, and even the most recreational of cyclists can conquer a century with the right planning and preparation.


First things first: Which century should you plan for? We know—there are quite a few to choose from. Narrow down the list by considering key factors like distance/travel to the event, terrain, prevailing weather conditions, event history, and quality of event support.


For example, some people like hills, while others favor a flat ride. If you prefer the latter (or if you’re taking on your first century), find an event with less than 3,000 feet of total climbing. (For perspective, a typical hilly stage of the Tour de France can climb more than 11,000 feet!)


If you are traveling to a warm climate for an event, or tackling a long ride early in the summer, make sure you are prepared for the weather. Heat and humidity can drastically affect your fuel and hydration needs. In 90-degree heat and high humidity, you can lose more than 1.5 liters of water an hour—that’s three water bottles every hour! Taking extra supplements such as salt tablets during these events can help replace the essential electrolytes lost in sweat.


Finally, poll your friends or snoop around online for reviews or comments from past years’ participants to get a sense of how well-organized the event is. Make note of factors like the distance between rest areas, the availability of mechanical assistance, how clearly the route is marked, and so on.


Putting in the Miles


While a 40-mile ride is a challenge in itself, there are plenty of people who complete the TD Five Boro Bike Tour without any special training. Adding 60 miles to the task will require some additional preparation, no matter your age or equipment.


Ideally, you should set aside 8 to 12 weeks to adequately prepare for a century.


In a nutshell, you’ll need to put in time on the bike and slowly increase that amount each week. Ideally, you should set aside 8 to 12 weeks to adequately prepare for a century. This will allow you to increase your fitness without a high chance of injury from riding too far or hard too soon. With the extra time needed on the bike, it is also very important that you be well-fitted to your bicycle. If you are unsure about your riding position, get checked out by a bike-fit professional before you start logging the miles. It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor before ramping up your physical activity.


Be sure to consider equipment choices as well. You may not be able to buy a lot of new gear, but switching to a triple chainring (the smallest ring of which is used for climbing long steep hills and is often referred to as a “granny gear”) for a hilly century or investing in a more aerodynamic bike for a flat century can really pay off in terms of enjoyment and finishing time.


Count the weeks back from your event date to figure out when you need to start training. Your weekly long ride and total increase in mileage (see the table) should not grow by more than 15% from week to week. The longest ride before your century should be about 70 to 75 miles and take place two weeks prior to the big event.


In the week leading up to ride day, drastically reduce the training volume by 70-80% percent to ensure that your legs are fully recovered and fresh for the ride. Take a day or two off during the week, but go for an easy 10- to 15-mile ride the day before for an easy pre-ride warm-up.


Training for a hilly event requires, well, training on hilly terrain. If you live in a flat area and plan to do a hilly century, low-cadence efforts can mimic the low-cadence, high-torque pedaling employed during climbing. Another good option is to find a gym that has stationary bikes with built-in software that can simulate hilly terrain.


Quick Nutrition Tips

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Throughout the week prior to the event, drink up to 3.5 liters a day.
  • Avoid fiber-rich foods on the two days before the ride. Fiber can cause the body to retain water and leave you bloated.
  • Eat a big breakfast about two to three hours before your event.
  • Drink before you’re thirsty. Feeling thirsty means you are not keeping up with your body’s demands. This is especially important in hotter climates, where you may need to drink up to three bottles of water per hour.
  • Bring along some energy bars, bananas, or other fast-digesting carbohydrates. Use these foods during your training as well so you can tell how your body will respond to them. On the century, try to avoid foods you have not experimented with during training.
  • If you stop to eat lunch or take a break, don’t eat too much and be sure to avoid high-fat and high-protein foods. Your body needs carbohydrates to exercise.

Final Advice

  • Get your bike tuned up one to two weeks prior to the event.
  • Get your equipment ready the night before the ride.
  • Bring ID, cash, medical alert, and insurance information.
  • Ride with a friend. You will enjoy it more, and the miles will fly by.
  • Start early. It is not fun to finish in the dark.
  • Don’t start too hard. Use the pace developed on training rides, and pace yourself throughout the day.
  • Try not to stop for longer than five to ten minutes at a time.
  • Know your bail-out options just in case. For example, if the forecast is bad and you’d like to switch to a shorter distance, know where you can make the cutoff.

By Chad Butts of enduranceWERX


Week Long Ride (miles) Total Miles/Week
1 24 68
2 27 75
3 34 83
4 41 92
5 56 101
6 63 112
7 70 122
8* 21 36.6


*Century mileage not included here. Your century ride should fall at the end of Week 8