Coach Hughes: Training for Brevet & Double Century
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Training

Training for a Brevet & Double Century, Part 1

Overall training plan for a brevet or double 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 He is a veteran of Paris-Brest-Paris ’79, ’87, ’91, ’95, ’99, Boston-Montreal-Boston ’92 (course record), Rocky Mountain 1200 ’04, Furnace Creek 508 ’89 (course record) and ’93 (first place) and the Race Across America ’96. More about Coach Hughes.
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

[ Training for a   Pt. 1 Brevet or Double Century   |  Pt. 2 Fast Brevet or Double Century ]

When I started riding in the 70s, I’d get in shape for the Davis double century by just riding a lot of miles. Now, responsibilities limit my time and age constrains my volume—I’ve had to learn how to train effectively. In this article, I will discuss how I coach others to prepare for a double century and in the second article will discuss training for a fast double.

Training Principles for a Double Century and Brevets

  • Goal Setting: What are your key events for the year? Take time to identify these and then plan your training so that you peak for the key brevet(s) or double century(s), rather than peaking a month early and then arriving at the brevet or double century over-trained. You probably can’t set PRs at events on successive weekends; decide which brevet or double century is the most important.

  • Overload: When you do a hard ride such as a double century or brevet, your body says “Ouch, I’m not ready for this” and then, somewhat reluctantly, gets stronger. If you want to improve, you have to increase the stress on your body.

  • Recovery: Your body doesn’t get stronger when you overload it by riding a brevet, but only when you allow time to recover. Listen to the “Ouch”—you rebuild tissue and gain strength only during rest days.

  • Progression: What hurt last month is now kind of fun; your body is stimulated, but not overloaded. In order to continue getting stronger, you have to increase progressively the overload.

  • Individual: We all have different bodies, psyches and goals and our training programs should be individual. You should not just do what the other riders are doing to prepare for brevets and double centuries.

  • Economy: The best training program for a brevet or double century is the one that achieves your goals with only the minimum amount of effort. Only do the riding you need to do in order to reach those goals.

  • Specificity: Cross-training is great in the early season, but as you approach your double century(s) or brevet(s), ride your bike.

  • Intensity: Your legs have slow twitch muscles, good for endurance, and fast twitch muscles for fast climbs The body’s different muscles and metabolic systems cannot all be trained at the same cycling intensity. You need long, slow days and short, fast days.

  • Fun: Training and riding a brevet or double century is primarily for fun: enjoying the movement on the bike, looking at the scenery, talking to good friends.

Training Phases
Effective training is divided into phases, each with a different purpose:

  • Building Your Base takes three to four months, during which you build endurance for double centuries and brevets.

  • Intensity, lasting two to three months, is when you develop your speed for short, fast rides such as races.

  • Peaking, four to six weeks, when your training becomes specific to peak for the brevet or double century by riding event-specific rides.

  • Tapering for one to three weeks, when you store energy for the double century or brevet.

  • Performance period, which may be one brevet or double century or a series of double centuries or brevets.

  • Off-Season, during which you recover mentally and physically.

You can use this framework—progressive and increasingly specific overload—to plan an active season of centuries, double centuries, brevets and touring.

Building your base: endurance for a double century or brevet.
Over this three to four month period your volume gradually increases. Increase your total weekly miles by 5 - 10% per week and your long weekly ride by about the same factor. Ramping faster risks injury. To ride a double century or brevet in May or June, you need to start training by February to avoid ramping too quickly.

You should do two endurance workouts each week; an endurance workout should be at least two hours long at a moderate pace. Two workouts will provide more overload and recovery than doing just one long ride on the weekend. Early in the season, you’ll improve faster if you ride 50 - 70 miles on Saturday and 30 - 50 on Sunday, rather than grinding out a century in one day. Later in the phase, you’ll ride better if you can ride 35 - 50 one day mid-week, get some recovery, and then ride 100 - 125 miles one weekend day.

In addition to the endurance workouts, you should do two or three shorter rides during the week. Use these rides to work on your form and technique: a smooth spin, a quiet upper body, a good aerodynamic position, etc. As a rule of thumb, ride at least half of your total miles during the week and less than half in one long weekend ride.

Don’t worry about pace or intensity during this phase. Your goal is to build endurance.

You should do resistance training to strengthen the core muscles in your abdomen, back and upper body that support and stabilize you on the bike. Do strength training to build the muscle fibers in your legs. Complement your strength training with stretching and high cadence riding to maintain suppleness.

If you’ve put on a few pounds over the off-season, now is the time to trim down to your riding weight. It is hard to control your appetite once you start intensity training.

Intensity: speed for fast rides
During this phase you’ll build the total volume very slowly (only 5 - 10% per month) while progressively increasing the intensity of your riding. Significantly increasing both the volume and the intensity risks over-training. When you were building your base, you were putting miles in the bank; intensity training starts to draw down your reserves a bit. This phase is usually two months or less.

Continue doing your long weekend and mid-week rides to maintain your endurance. Increase the longest ride until you’re riding about 2/3 to 3/4 the distance of your next big event. Riding just centuries in training and then jumping to a double century is a sure way to a slow, painful second half of the double century! During this phase, your training should become more specific. Ride on terrain and in conditions that are similar to your major brevets or double centuries.

Do a tempo ride each week; go out for a multi-hour ride with your pulse at the intensity you plan to ride during the event or events. Each week increase the length of the tempo rides.

Once a week you should do speed work with your pulse near your lactate threshold (LT). Warm up thoroughly, then climb a hill, do a time trial, or ride long intervals. (The second article will explain this in detail.) The other days should be easy or rest days to allow adequate recovery. Once a month, ride a time trial over the same course to gauge your fitness.

Peaking: event-specific rides
By the end of your intensity training you’ve built up your endurance until you have the stamina to ride a brevet series or a double century without too much suffering and you’ve developed aerobic speed over shorter distances. During your peaking phase you maintain the endurance and develop that speed over longer event-specific rides.

This phase is usually short, a month or so to sharpen you for the key brevet(s) or double century(s) in your season. Keep the weekly mileage the same, or even slightly less, than during your intensity training. Every other weekend, do an endurance ride of 2/3 to 3/4 the duration of your planned event. Try to maintain a steady pace and concentrate on minimizing off-the-bike time. On the alternate weekends, ride fast centuries or 200 kms. Ride these faster than you plan to ride the big brevet(s) or double(s). During the week, continue to do an LT ride, a tempo ride of several hours, and a couple of recovery rides.

Tapering: storing energy for the main brevet or double century.
Just before your big event, you should taper down your mileage. It’s too late to train effectively; don’t risk coming into the big brevet or double century tired. The week before a double century or brevet, go out for short, easy rides; stay loose. Eat plenty of carbohydrates and hydrate fully so that your body is ready.

[ Training for a   Brevet or Double Century   |  Fast Brevet or Double Century ]

More Information
I have written a number of pieces relevant to double century and brevet riders, all available from RoadBikeRider

  • Endurance Training and Riding — The three article bundle covers training, nutrition and the skills for finish rides of 100km and longer. 48 pages available for just $13.50 (a 10% savings) from
    1. Brevets — The eArticle on how to train for 200 km to 1200 km and longer brevets. 16 pages for just $4.99 from
    2. Nutrition — What to eat and drink on rides of 100 km and longer. 16 pages for just $4.99 from
    3. Riding the Long Ride — What are the key final preparations for a ride of 100 km or longer, how to complete them and then how to manage every aspect of the ride. 16 pages for just $4.99 from
  • Butt, Hands, Feet — How to prevent and treat pain in cycling’s pressure points. 12 pages for just $4.99 from
  • Intensity — Using Rate of Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or Power Meter to Maximize Training Effectiveness. 41 pages eArticle for just $4.99 from
  • Mastering the Mental — How to prepare for the inevitable mental challenges and how to deal with them on a ride of 100 km or longer. 17 pages for just $4.99 from
  • Showstoppers — What are all the factors other than training that stop you from completing a ride? What can you do to prevent a DNF. 65 pages for just $14.95 from
  • Other articles by Coach Hughes from

Originally printed in UltraCycling