You’ve recently got into cycling and are now looking at cycling your first century, then this quick guide should help you successfully do it!
One of the only silver linings on the dark cloud that this pandemic is, is that a whole bunch of people have got into cycling.
As they were locked up at home during the lockdown, a number of people have gotten off the couch and onto the saddle of a bike.
After having ridden around town for a couple of months or so, every new cyclist wants to hit the famed 1 TON.
You hear your cycling buddies talking about it and slowly that thought enters your head and it becomes a goal. You want to ride your first century as well. But are apprehensive about the distance. Or you find the preparation daunting.
Whatever it is that is holding you back from riding your first century successfully. This quick guide should help you find your feet (and legs!) in this growing world of cycling.
To make this guide even better, we got Sumit Patil to share his expert insights. Sumit is an ultra-endurance racer, where his race distances start at 600 km!
He has also been the field director of YHAI’s Manali-Leh expedition on multiple occasions where he helped inexperienced cyclists ride that arduous route. Based in Alibag, he has been helping out new riders from Alibag Cycling Club do their first century. As such he is perfectly placed to help us out. We are grateful for his help and continued assistance. You can follow him on Strava.
Cycling Your First Century
When’s a good time to do it?
That might be a good answer to give to your friends and on witty social media. But it mightn’t be the best for your health and saddle happiness.
Assuming you have medium fitness and have just been introduced to cycling as a lifestyle, then you need to ensure a few things before you hit the road.
You should be riding regularly for the last couple of months. By regularly, we mean, riding 3-4 times a week of varying durations.
You should have at least done a 50-60 km ride previously.
The bike should be comfortable for you. It should be of the correct size and should not leave you with any sore spots on your regular rides.
If you feel that you meet these requirements, then you are ready to ride…your first century.
If there were any niggles mostly due to improper bike fit during those 50-60km rides, address them. These are surely going to get monstrous during your first Fondo ride, if left unattended.
Keep everything ready the day before the ride. On the morning of the ride, you don’t want to be doing anything, other than hopping onto your bike and heading out.
First and foremost, keep your bike ready. This entails, topping up the tyres with air, lubricating the drive chain, charging your headlight and tail light and fixing them onto the bike. Also fill up your water bottles and place them on the bike.
Make sure your tools and spares, which comprises of a spare tube, puncture repair kit and multitool, are strapped onto your bike. Preferably in a convenient saddle bag.
Keep all personal articles of clothing ready for the ride. You don’t want to waste time wondering what to wear, when you should ideally be focussed on the ride ahead.
There should be sufficient money in your pocket for any emergency use along the way and of course carry your phone and make sure it is 100% charged. Also carry an ID Card with the phone and money.
Ideally, you should plan to eat enroute, but do keep a banana or energy bar in your pocket for emergency use.
With all these items at hand the day prior to your ride, you should be ready to roll.
Most importantly, get a proper night’s sleep before the ride. If you aren’t fully rested, it will rear its ugly head during the latter half of your century.
A week before, take it really easy on the bike. Stay off the bike 48hrs prior to your century ride.
Attend to your bike a day before, preferably during the first half. The only thing that one should leave for the evening is filling the bidons (bottles).
Fuelling for the ride starts from eating really well the prior day. Have rice if you can for dinner.
Route & Weather
Decide a route in advance of where you would like to do your century. Try to choose a route which is both scenic and familiar to you.
It helps a lot when you are tired to see pleasant sights, rather than dusty concrete jungles. Being familiar with the route will also help to know where food and water is available and where it isn’t.
Check the weather in advance. You don’t want to be doing your first century in torrential rain or freezing cold, nor in sweltering heat.
A summer ride might see you pushing your start time to as early as possible around dawn. While a cold North Indian winter century might be better off done under the noon sun.
Depending on where in the country you live, try to find a flatter course to ride. While climbs are incredible fun, it will make life difficult for you considering this is your first century.
Known routes removes guesswork which in turn saves a lot of energy.
Fuelling your Legs!
When out on your bicycle, you don’t need to stop at fuel bunks like in your automobile, but you need to stop plenty of times for fuelling yourself.
You cannot ride a century on an empty stomach, it will all feel fine, till a point where you suddenly feel completely drained. In cycling terms, that is called bonking.
Keep yourself properly nourished. This includes having a solid breakfast before you head out. And then stopping regularly for food. Eat stuff which is sweet, salty and high on carbs. You might want to avoid oily and spicy food, but this differs from person to person.
For a relatively new cyclist, covering hundred kilometres in 6-7 hours of riding time is possible on a flattish course. Eat accordingly. In randonneuring, a 100 km ride is given a cut off time of 6 hours 45 minutes, which is ample for any decently prepared rider to finish. The goal is to finish your first century, even if you cross this timeline, don’t worry, just finish.
DON’T try to do the last 10 km on an empty stomach because you’re nearing the end. Stop and eat if you must.
We end up using significant amount of salts during long rides like these. Do consider supplementing salts during the ride. Be it Electral, ORS, Enerzal, FastandUp or even common salt will do.
Consume at least 500-700 ml of water every hour during the ride. Keep sipping water at regular intervals.
If no proper food is available when you need it, coke diluted in water and packaged potato wafers are great to keep you going. It provides all the sugar, salt and carbohydrates required. At such times, junk food can be a life saver. Keep the junk simple. Choose plain salted over masala chips.
Chocolates like 5-star and Bar One are easily available at roadside shops. These are laden with sugar which can give you quite the boost as your sugar levels drop while pedalling on the bike.
Setting the Pace
Most seasoned cyclists pace themselves on the basis of their heart rates. Now while cyclists just entering the sport wouldn’t have invested in cycle computers and heart monitors, nonetheless quite a few people today own smart watches.
If your watch shows your heart rate, then you will find it much easier to pace yourself over the century long ride. But don’t try it on the day of the ride, you need to figure out how to use it well in advance.
If you do not have a smart watch or something similar, fret not.
You can pace your ride the old school gossiping way!
The idea is to ride at a speed so slow, that you can have a proper conversation with your fellow rider. You should at no point be out of breath, that words are difficult to formulate.
Ride at gossip speed and you can ride to the end of the world and back…
When cycling your first century, the one thing you shouldn’t worry about is time. Don’t ride by the clock. Enjoy the ride, don’t make it a chore which needs to be done come hell or high water. If you feel like taking a break, do so. Stop to click pictures, have a chai or anything else which catches your fancy.
Do not prolong the breaks so much so that your body cools down. Keep the breaks reasonably short. The exception being: Meal Break(s).
Solo or Group?
One question we often get, is whether it is easier to do your first century ride in a group or solo.
This is something which varies from person to person. For one a solo century might work, for another a group ride.
See what you prefer on your shorter rides, chances are that you will prefer that on your first century as well.
The advantage of riding solo is that you can ride at your own pace, the downside is that nobody will be there to motivate you if required.
When riding in a group, ensure that you are riding with people comfortable riding at your pace. If you push yourself too hard to keep up with others, you will most likely give up midway because of fatigue.
You don’t have a point to prove to anyone. Ride at your pace, whether solo or in a group.
If riding solo, break your century into two 50 km rides. Once you have finished the first, remind yourself, that you have less than one more to go!
Once you have successfully finished your ride, you will wonder, what next?
Should you try for a double century or a 100 miler or what?
While it is easy to get carried away in the euphoria of finishing your first century ride. It is wise to take baby steps.
Before targeting a longer ride, it will be more fun to try bettering your time. With more practice, better planning and pacing, you should try to make your second century a tad faster than your first…
Thanks to Mithun Das for these gorgeous photos. He has been into endurance riding for more than a decade! You can follow him on Instagram for more cool cycling pictures…
If you found this quick guide useful, do check out our other beginner friendly guides to start your cycling journey: Points to Consider while buying a cycle helmet, difference between road, MTB and hybrid cycles, and things you probably should buy along with your first cycle!