As I write this it is late February. The weather is starting to get a little better, and Daylight Savings Time is starting soon. After a long, dark and cold winter that left me working out indoors, I’m ready to get back on the roads. At this time of year, motivation is easy. Everyone looks forward to the first warm days of spring. What they don’t think about is actually training.
I’m a recreational rider, not a racer. So why should I mention training? What do I have to train for? The answer to those questions is my motivation, and for years I’ve been building motivation into my calendar in the form of events. Most are fairly close to me, but I make a point of trying to get outside of my home region for at least one event a year. This year I will ride the Maine Lighthouse Ride in Portland Maine again, and before that event I will spend a few days riding in Nova Scotia, Canada. (It seems that most of my vacations involve exercise.) In any case, an event such as a century ride on your calendar will focus and motivate you like nothing else will. One thing to remember about events is that you’ll see all kinds of people with all kinds of bodies riding them. It’s an approachable goal for average people. Perfection isn’t the goal, improvement is!
My first event of 2020 will be the Six Pillars Century in Cambridge Maryland in early May, but I ride events throughout the year from May to October. If you set a goal, you keep your incentive to ride. The advantage of events is that they can be found just about everywhere, and they usually include some shorter distance rides that you can use to prepare for a longer event later in the season.
I ride several Century (100 mile) rides a year, but I’m not quite typical. The typical recreational rider might ride a local charity or club event, but centuries are a big test for the average rider. If you’re ready to try a century, I think the best time to ride your first century is the autumn, in late September or early October. That way you can train for months in the warm weather and schedule some test events over the summer to see how your training is coming along. Also the weather is warm but shouldn’t be oppressive.
I neither have nor use a training plan. If you want a specific century training plan, they are easy to find on the internet. I prefer to use the Eddy Merckx “ride lots” method. I get my miles in for a couple of months before I ride my first century. This has worked well for me because I ride longer rides on the weekends with my friends or my local cycling club. I also have a lot of experience. Since my first Century ride in 2006, I have ridden over 100 century rides. For many years I was riding 10 century rides per year. Lately I’ve come down to 6 or 7 century rides a year. Often I’ll ride a particular event every year. I’ve found many events that I enjoy so much that I won’t miss them without a good reason. Important note: I do all this without being “slim”. You don’t have to be some kind of ideal body type to be fit. You just need to be motivated.
The Metric Century – 100 KM or 62 miles – is a great intermediate distance. Riding a Metric is a great way to test yourself before you attempt a full century. It can teach you the kind of pacing you need for a full century, and it also gets you accustomed to making rest stops, hydrating and eating enough to complete a century later in the year. You can’t ride 100 miles without eating something to keep your energy up. You need to stay hydrated. I have also noticed that people often get nervous about their upcoming “goal” event, but having a little practice and experience relieves some of that anxiety.
If you’re already a century rider, a metric is a great distance. It’s long enough to be a challenge but doesn’t drain you like a century can. Normally a century rider will have to push through a “wall” between 70 and 80 miles, and a metric puts you on the edge of that wall without having to push past it.
I couldn’t write about training without mentioning of one of my favorite things – a touchstone for me – the humble 40 mile training ride. To me, 40 miles is the line that separates a satisfying training ride from a short ride. 39 miles is too short, but 40 miles is just about right. It’s an attitude, not something that can be measured objectively. It is a motivational waypoint.
To me, a good training ride can be hilly or flat, but the most important thing is that you ride at least 40. I recommend longer rides as well, as progress toward your goal, but that 40 mile ride stands as the difference between making progress and not doing quite enough. If you’re not riding quickly, or you’re on a hilly course, most riders can go 40 miles with 3 hours of saddle time or less. Most riders can also go 40 miles on back to back days without feeling exhausted. If you’re cramped for time it gives you a workout to be proud of and still manage other priorities in your life. It’s 2/5 of a century ride – it’s a few hours to clear your mind and enjoy the scenery. It’s real training! You can work up to riding 40 miles in a few weeks’ time. Once you can ride it comfortably, 40 mile rides will keep your conditioning up.
I go back to the 40-45 mile distance often when I’m busy, and throughout the year to maintain fitness. If you haven’t ridden 40 miles, you can work up to it, but that number is magical. It’s enough to get you ready for the metric distance if you can ride it comfortably. You can get an early start in summer and complete 40 miles before the day gets too hot. If your motivation is at a low ebb, a 40 mile ride will keep you on track or put you back on course to your goal.
I recommend adding an event to the calendar now, while the motivation to get out and exercise is strong. Look up local events, and put your motivation on your calendar!