Coach Hughes: Cycling Best Century
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Intelligent Cycling—Training

Riding Your Best Century

15 tips to improve your cycling a century!

by Coach John Hughes

John Hughes is the author of Anti-Aging: 12 Ways to You Can Slow the Aging Process and of the book Distance Cycling. He has written 40 articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for More about Coach Hughes.
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

For many of us the big event of the season is a specific century or a gran fondo on which we want to do our best. You could want to set a PR your club's classic century. Or conquer a particularly hard 100. Or compete against others in a gran fondo. Or finish your first century. Or have more fun and finish your local century without feeling trashed. Or ride another endurance event ranging from 100 km to a double century. Whatever your goal(s), here are 15 tips to ride your best.

Research Your Event
Pros scout the course before a race. Even if you can't pre-ride the course, study what's available on the web. For many events you can chat on-line with veterans about their experiences. Look at typical weather patterns.

Develop a Plan
Don't just do it — like the pros have a specific plan for how you will tackle your event. How fast will you ride each leg of the ride? How long will you stop at each rest stop? Given the start time and your projected finishing time, will you need warmers?

Practice the Ride
If your event is local, ride different sections to familiarize yourself with the terrain and turns and to learn your optimal riding pace. Riding a simulation ride is a valuable technique whether you live near the course or not. Ride 50 miles and every five miles of your ride imagine where you will be another 10 miles into your century. According to your plan what will the terrain be like? How hard will you be riding? Where are the rest stops, how long will you stop and what will you eat and drink at the stop?

Eat Carbs
Your muscles burn a mix of glycogen and fat for energy. Protein provides only about five percent of your energy during an endurance event. Even the skinniest rider has enough body fat for 100 miles; however, your glycogen stores are limited to a few hours of hard riding. Eat primarily carbs, the source of glycogen, while riding.

Test Your Nutrition and Hydration
On your training rides experiment with different food and drink to figure out what tastes good, provides enough energy and digests easily.

Starting three days before your event eat more carbs. At each meal cover your plate primarily with carbs and think of protein as a condiment. You'll probably gain a little water weight, since your body stores water with the glycogen. Don't worry; you'll use the water during the event.

Start Fully Hydrated
You want to start the event fully hydrated just like you want to start with a full load of glycogen. Starting three days before the event drink eight glasses of fluid a day, primarily clear unsweetened fluids and avoiding alcohol. If you are drinking enough then your urine should be an ample pale yellow stream (unless you are taking supplements, which could produce yellow urine.)

Drink to Satisfy Thirst
If you start the event fully hydrated, then as long as you drink whenever you are thirsty, you'll be adequately hydrated. We used to be taught “Eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty.” The former is still good advice; however, current research indicates that drinking too much can lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium), a potentially fatal condition.

Eat Frequently
Because your glycogen stores are limited you need to replenish them during the ride. To avoid energy swings eat carbs every hour.

Ride Your Ride
From your training rides, scouting the course and your ride plan you know how hard you should ride. Don't get carried away. Whether you ride by perceived exertion, heart rate or power, ride at your target pace. The group riding the right pace for you might be behind you!

Don't Go Anaerobic
Anaerobic means you are riding without enough oxygen, i.e., you're breathing hard enough that you can't talk. Riding this hard uses up your precious glycogen very quickly and produces lactic acid (the painful burning in your legs). Inevitably you have to slow down to recover. Your overall pace will be faster if you don't go anaerobic.

Manage Your Time
From your plan you know at which at aid stations you'll stop, how long you'll stop and what you need to get and do there. If you are riding for time, then think of these as refueling stops, not rest stops. As you near an aid station go through your mental list of what you need to do and then take care of each item quickly. Multi-task if possible — grab something to eat while standing in line to fill your bottles. If you are riding for enjoyment, socialize and enjoy eating and drinking while remaining aware of how much time you are stopping.

Ride Carefully in Groups
Riding in a group saves energy and adds to the fun; however, be careful riding in unfamiliar groups lest you kiss the pavement.

Nothing New
Test everything during your training rides: pacing, clothing, equipment, food and drink. Don't try anything new during an event. If you've just been eating energy bars, then don't grab a brownie at an aid station. But if your training rides include a stop for coffee and pastry and then lunch, take advantage of these during your event.

Have Fun!
Unlike the pros, you're not being paid to ride! Whether you are trying to go fast, conquer a particularly difficult route, extend how far you can ride, or enjoy riding with others in an organized event, take pleasure in how well you are riding.

More Information

Endurance Training and Riding 3-article bundle of 48 pages for $13.50 (10% savings) from

  1. Beyond the Century: How to train for bike rides from 100 to 750 miles 16 pages for $4.99 from
  2. Nutrition for 100K and Beyond: What to eat during training and events. 17 pages for $4.99 from
  3. Mastering the Long Ride: How to ride for a successful event. 16 pages for $4.99 from

Other articles by Coach Hughes from