The Chainlink

Help a Runner Prepare for Her First "Century" on a Bike!

By Shawna Carter

So you want to ride a century? Well let me tell you I have no idea what I'm doing so don’t ask me for advice!

I'm a runner first and foremost, but due to an injury I suffered over a year ago (and still not quite healed), I decided I needed a goal...and what better goal than a century ride?

I'm a bike commuter but nothing crazy. I'll go maybe 5-7 miles at a time at most. When I decided I was going to do this my longest bike ride was 25 miles. Not bad, but still 75 miles more to go, oy!

I'm fortunate to work part-time at Edge Athlete Lounge where I have access to not only Wahoo KICKRs for long bike rides and "ftp" (functional threshold power)-based workouts, as well as a plethora of knowledgeable cyclists to pick the brains of.

There are triathlon coaches and groups, avid cyclists, and elite cyclists that are all willing to give me advice and guidance on what I need to do, and what I should be doing to build my mileage and strength.

Based on their guidance, I've started doing a couple "strength/speed" workouts weekly at Edge and then a longer ride once a week. As I said, I'm a runner first so I still do runs to keep up my endurance. Hoping this will help carry me to the finish of a 100 mile bike.

My bike was originally bought to do a sprint triathlon, which I did and then retired it! I pulled it out of retirement to get it road ready. I've recently taken it in to Fleet Feet Sports in Deerfield to get it properly fit and tuned up. I had no idea a proper fit could take so long. I seriously thought they would just measure my legs and torso, wrench a little and then send me on my way. Oh no!

That did happen plus sitting on other seats while my bike was on what I would equate to bike treadmill (I’m sure someone here knows the proper terminology for this). I had to pedal away while adjustments were made up and down and back and forth, this was a workout in itself. I’m looking forward to longer rides to get used to the new fit and make sure it works for me.

Next up has been finding the proper ride gear. One thing I've learned is that cycling gear is like running gear: so many brands, so much variety, so many fits, and so little money to get it all!

I've been mostly going off of recommendations from others to start. Extremely helpful to get one's clothing situation started. I wish there was a clothing swap somewhere, you know similar to Goodwill but with the "I only wore this once" requirement. I do have my Chainlink Kit and OMG it’s like a second skin. I love it and I was told I look pretty legit in it so I don’t think I need to ride. I’ll just walk around in my kit and pretend I’m a cyclist and say things like top tube, derailleur, cog, etc...just to fit in, you know! I will say I think my sock game is already on. I'm a big fan of Stance Socks, so at least one thing looks right while I'm riding awkwardly!

The final piece to my mismatched puzzle is choosing the right Century to do. I’ve been told the North Shore Century and the Apple Cider Century are both equally great. I’ve also been told by a few fellow riders that they’d be happy to just go ride with me, an “unofficial century” but 100 miles for sure.

I like the idea of both because my schedule is really crazy and the first two fall around the time I’m trying to run an Ultra-marathon so probably not best to follow up the next day with a 100 mile back ride?

As you can see I probably only have a halfway decent game plan. I think it’s better than no plan and just winging it. If you’re reading this and want to share some advice I will gladly take it:

  • Best gear for women riders?
  • Must have accessories for bike or self?
  • Best Century to ride?
  • Better to map out my own ride?
  • Better training plan?
  • Best way to pass time on long rides alone?

Feel free to share in the comments below!


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Comment by Manny Myles on August 21, 2016 at 6:53pm

Other reasons to not wait till the end of September is that you might be needing arm and leg warmers or maybe even tights and jacket, I swear one ACC it was snowing.

 It has the lake right there ready to dump all kinds of cold rain on you if it wants to, its either really nice or really awful.

 Then with the extra clothes and should it warm up you need a way to carry it, plus the extra clothes has a tendency to slow you down.

 Nice thing about earlier rides is all you need most times is a jersey and shorts, ready to roll in comfort.

 One thing the ACC is not known for are smooth roads as Michigan is famous for lack of smooth roads, a good portion of the ride goes into Indiana where the roads are much smoother, maybe those that ride this don't know they go into another state.

 Granted no one ride has perfect roads for 100 miles with maybe Wisconsin being the exception.

 Pick a century do one in Wisconsin, the Harmon 100 has very nice routes and starts in Wilmot if not mistaken.

 Another good ride is No Baloney down state Morton,Il.

 I have yet to do the current century they have plotted but I'm sure it's nice as every other version I have done down there is very nice.

 As for best ways to pass time riding alone is just watching where you are going, be mindful of your calorie and fluid intake, sometimes I put a bandanna over my computer so I'm not watching the miles tick away ever so slowly.

 On todays century I thought about what I think about while riding and its mainly about the route we were on, keeping in mind which roads we took last time out there so to duplicate the route as little as possible.

 Today we rode from Crete, to Elwood and back making 2 loops connected by the Plank Trail which riding that was kept to a minimum, I think 16 miles were ridden on it, most of it on the way out so the riders we picked up in Frankfort could warm up as when we got there we already had 25 miles in

 I do carry a camera most times and if I see something I'll stop and take a few pics.

 When doing events you have to be very mindful of watching YOUR route markings as if routes overlap and you are just watching the riders ahead you might wind up going the wrong way.

 Don't be a lemming, watch where you are going.

 While riding I'll guess at coming up to every corner left, right or straight as I never look at the maps as I want to be lost as in not really knowing where I'm at relying on the markings yet pay attention to every mark.

 Any one want to join our small group of Century enthusiasts are more than welcome.

 we don't burn up the road but keep a nice sane pace everyone can enjoy. Av speed at the end of 100 miles is right around 15, we stop at regular intervals, take in the best scenery and the best low trafficked roads.

 Usually headwind out planning a nice big loop with the wind pushing us back.

 Expect a hill or 2, maybe more but always lots of wind

 We typically ride from Crete, Monee Reservoir and Goodenow Grove


Comment by Manny Myles on August 20, 2016 at 4:10pm

First thing I'd do is get out there and start riding quite bit more and then at events so you get the feel for what you want to do. The events are fun and the miles just melt away,,,just kidding as somewhere around 70-80 miles you might be asking yourself why oh why.

 Pacing is important and drafting your first Century is not the the way to do it.

 Then never plan a single century, just like chips, one is never enough.

 Plan several as this time of year and later the weather can be the determining factor in your plans and success with your goal.

 The ACC has iffy weather, even though I did sign up for it as its my 30th anniversary of doing Century rides with the ACC being my first back in '86. Since then I have done well over 1000 Centuries and currently completing a 4 year goal I set after my heart attack in late 2011, then a year of recovery riding to get my heart strength back up I was celebrating 30 years of riding in 2013 and did 30 Centuries that year.

With that in mind I wanted to do 100 in 4 years which I'm at 95% complete,,, I'm 60 BTW and work 6 days a week otherwise the 100 would been long done and working on some other goal.

  100 miles is not easy nor is it extremely hard riding around the Chicago area, you just have to get in the mindset you are going to be there a while.

 Good rides to attend

 Wabash River Century

 Harmon 100

 Doing an on your own 100 miler is kind of fun too, stop when and where you want, search Ride With GPS for routes  or join for free and use their great planning tools where you can draw your route and see it on the map as you go, generates nice cue sheets too.

 But going to a planned ride is nice as they do all the grunt work for you by marking the routes and having food/ drink set up for you at specified distances.

 Bad thing about these, you might not like whats being served so get used to SAG food or like I do and bring a bunch of gels and just drink what they have.

 Green bananas and bagels PBJ and cookies are the norm and sometimes hose flavored water as well as either really strong or weak Gatorade.

 Then don't start too late as the first riders to the SAGS get the best/most and the slower get toaster scrapings.

 Don't stay too long at the SAGs either as your legs might/will turn to lead and lose your momentum and maybe want to cut it short.

 Bad thing with these is the route just might be in your favor as the wind and hills might not be working for you when you want them to.

 Get used to riding into the wind A LOT as you might spend more time going into than with it.

Most rides like to show off what kind of hills are lurking hidden along some stretch of road or roads. Hills are fun, make friends with them even though you might not like these friends as you only have to see them once that day.

 Just get out there and rack up a lot of miles as the more you do the better off in the end you will be. Your new shorts might feel good at 40 miles or even 50-60 miles then the can turn on you  so I'd be finding out if these shorts are wearable for long rides as soon as possible.

Get used to getting up early for your rides too as these Centuries don't all start at 9AM and most want you on the road by 7AM and some offer even earlier start times, then figure in your travel times,,bad thing about ACC is they are in a different time zone so you start off an hour short as soon as you wake up if driving over that day, its still dark there at our 7AM.

 Did not see any one mention aero bars which add an almost immediate 1-3 mph to your speed and give your arms and hands a nice break.

 I'm sure I'll have something else to add later.

 Have fun and do your first Century

Comment by Skip Montanaro 0mi on August 5, 2016 at 6:41pm
My apologies for missing that in your original post, Shawna. I was responding to other comments about what would be sore.
Comment by Shawna Carter on August 5, 2016 at 4:34pm

Yup I did get it fit and I've been riding to work out any kinks there may be. I'm on a slight break because I strained my shoulder making it hard to turn my head but nothing crazy so I'll be back out there in no time. 

Comment by Fai Mok on August 5, 2016 at 9:31am

FYI, Shawna did said she had her bike professionally fitted already.

"I've recently taken it in to Fleet Feet Sports in Deerfield to get it properly fit and tuned up. I had no idea a proper fit could take so long."

Comment by Skip Montanaro 0mi on August 5, 2016 at 6:39am
I agree that a certain amount to saddle time is required to get used to riding long distances. However, an ill-fitting bike just means there are certain things which longer rides won't cure. I sometimes ride with people who are shaking their hands after 15 miles to try and get them to "wake up" because the way their bike fits (or doesn't) forces them to carry far too much weight on their hands. No amount of saddle time is going to make their hands feel better after 100 miles. Similarly, women are often much more sensitive to how their saddle fits. I won't wander off into the TMI zone, but will suggest that you not be afraid to try a number of different saddles to find one that works for you.

I'm considering the Apple Cider this fall. I've not done it before, and have heard good things about it.
Comment by Preston Hamilton on August 4, 2016 at 9:57pm

Centuries are well supported rides. They have rest stops where food and beverages are provided. Most have options for a shorter mileage if you do not feel up to 100. There are support vehicles in case you have a problem.

You might do well to try a couple of rides with shorter options to get the feel of them.

For the Apple Cider Century I think you have to be registered almost a year in advance.

Good luck.

Comment by Skip Montanaro 0mi on August 4, 2016 at 7:16pm

A lot of people have commented about various aches and pains you might encounter and ways to overcome them. I don't claim to be an expert, but I have a lot of bikes, ride a lot (routinely commute 14-15 miles one way, rode Evanston to St. Joe last week, about 120 miles) and I can tell you that how the bike fits you is more important than anything else. If you carry a lot of weight on your hands, sure, your hands are going to go numb on a long ride. If your saddle's too high in relation to your handlebars, you're going to ride with your neck extended and it will get sore. Etc, etc.

On your longish rides, if you find you ache in odd places (hands, neck, back, bum), perhaps it would be worthwhile getting yourself fitted to your bike. There are a bunch of subtle adjustments which can be made to improve your position on your bike. In the long run, that will lead to more comfortable riding and lessen the need for extra padding.

Comment by BertG on August 4, 2016 at 4:21pm

For mapping, the two I use are Google maps and Plot a route offers more information on distance and time. You can export GPX or TCX files. 

On solo rides, to best fulfill or pass time, I just choose routes that have many turns and/or have great scenery. I've done a century where there were a few seven mile straights and just farms all the way and that was boring. 

As far as training goes, this really depends on how much time you have for it. Search around the interwebs and you'll find many that will accommodate the time you have or alter the training a bit to suit your needs. 

Comment by Shawna Carter on August 4, 2016 at 4:16pm

Thanks so much everyone for all of the tips so far! Some of these things I seriously never even thought about. I love hearing what seasoned cyclists have to say! I'll post more questions as they come up and hopefully be able to get answers but seriously I'm feeling extremely excited now! I knew those "path" runners gave the cycling community a bad name, YOU ALL ROCK!

Comment by Fai Mok on August 4, 2016 at 3:14pm

I will be riding my 5th century this year this Sunday at Kankakee(2 Rivers Century).  To be technical, I will be riding a double metric century.  Advice?  Maintain a good body posture.  Stay loose and don't lock your shoulders, elbows or wrists.  Or else you will feel stiff and sore as others mentioned toward the end of the ride.  No death grip on the handlebar.  That will fatigue your arms by the end of the ride.  Keep it soft.  Remember to take deep breathe when you pick up your pace or going up hill.  A lot of riders get too focus on pedaling up the incline/hill and take shallow breath.

Practice riding in positions you plan to ride in during the flat part of the century.  Example, I train in the aero tuck positions mimicking the body position of a rider on a TT bike.  This help me get use to it and not get tired easy during the century ride.  The more you practice it, the longer you will be able to maintain that position.  Varying your hand positions also will give different muscles on your arms a break.

On incline/hills, I sit more upright and vary my upper body lean angle.  If you sit almost straight up, you are using your gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles.  If you lean forward more, you are using your quad and calf muscles.  By moving back and fore between the two postures, you will be able to use one group of muscles and give the other group a rest.  Thus, minimizing your fatigue.

If you want to climb an incline/hill out of the saddle, do not lean too far forward.  Make sure your keep your butt barely touching the nose of the saddle.  A lot of riders don't do this and speed up the fatigue in your legs.  Think of it as doing leg press when you lean forward versus back toward your saddle, a more up & down motion which is like walking up a flight of stairs.

If you don't have a good pair of gel cushion gloves already, invest in a pair.  It will help dampen road vibration from cracks and pot holes on the road.  Not all jerseys or shorts are created equal, something I learned to trial.  Invest in jerseys which have fast moisture wicking properties versus plain polyester.  Invest in shorts/bibs with 8 panel cuts for more comfort in long rides.  Gel chamois will cushion your bottom more on the long rides.  

A must, invest in some Chamois Butt'r cream to eliminate chafing and saddle soreness.  Wish I knew about Chamois Butt'r before I rode my first ever century.  And don't forget to wear sunscreen.  I used Banana Boat Sports SPF 50 since it's waterproof.

Bring your favorite energy source - gel, bar, smoothie, electrolyte, etc.  That way you know it will not upset your stomach and know how long it will last before you have to take in some more.  I use Clif Bar organic energy food(Banana-mango-coconut), which is like a smoothie and doesn't upset my stomach.  Plus it taste great.  I recently tried Nuun electrolyte tablets which is not sweet like Gatorade.

As for picking a century ride, I have ridden North Shore Century the last two fall.  It is a beautiful scenic route, especially up by Kenosha, Wisconsin.  But this year, I will be riding the Peninsula Fall Challenge up in Door County, Wisconsin.  I rode the Peninsula Spring Classic in June and love the scenery.  Hence I'm going back to do the Fall Challenge on Sept 17, a day before NSC.  I have ridden the Apple Cider Century also and is a good ride, though nothing like Door County.

Comment by Lady Jane on August 4, 2016 at 2:26pm

I'm a former runner and now concentrate on biking.  The logic for training is quite similar -- intervals for speed and building VO2 capacity and longer runs/rides for endurance.  Sounds like you've got that well in hand.  Butt tolerance is definitely something that is different -- as others have noted.

So . . . having said that, bike shorts with a good chamois is probably the single most important gear investment.  Good ones are not cheap; cheap ones are no bargain. My personal preference is the Pearl Izumi Elite line.  Also like running, layers are key if the weather is cool (hard to imagine when it's 90 degrees outside).  My all time most-used piece of athletic clothing is a Pearl Izumi (again) windbreaker jacket in screaming yellow (for visibility) with zip off sleeves -- available at REI and on sale now at a great price  Equally suitable for biking or running.

Other accessories (in addition to spare tube and inflating device) -- two water bottles or a Camelbak and (just like running) probably your electrolyte substance of choice.  And I usually ride with a rear view mirror attached to my sunglasses; I like the one called Take a Look by Bike Peddler -- available at most bike shops.

Best century -- Since I'm a member of the Evanston Bike Club, I'd suggest the North Shore Century; the proceeds benefit not-for-profit biking activities/organizations in the greater Chicago area. But I've done the ACC and it's great fun - though definitely hillier than the NSC.  Both are well organized -- good rest stops, SAG support, helpful people, etc. If speed is important to you, the ACC may be a better choice because I recollect longer stretches of country roads so lesser need to stop.  I would, however, recommend that the goal of a first century (just like a first marathon) should be to finish.  Worry about speed/time the next time.

Own ride v. Organized -- Way better to pick an organized ride for the first time.  So many reasons -- well spaced rest stops with good snacks and wrenches, SAG support (emergency support & mechanical assistance), other riders to chat/ride with.  Just more fun. 

You seem to have a pretty decent training plan already.  Just keep up the long rides on weekends and keep extending the distances.  I find that it's easier to ease up when biking v running. Also like a marathon, the last 20% of a century is likely to be the hardest. Sounds like you have aerobic capacity covered.

Try not to ride alone.  For physical safety as well as mental diversion.  And don't be tempted by music through ear buds.  While I used to run with music all the time (at a low volume so I could carry on a conversation and hear ambient noise), I would never bike with music because you're moving a lot faster and sharing the road with huge hunks of metal moving way faster than you.  Know your sustainable rolling pace and try to find some bike buddies to ride with.  If you're in the northern burbs, check out the Evanston Bike Club Rides & Events and Weekly Rides on the website. Weekend rides start from Panera in Wilmette.  While they are not strictly speaking training rides, they are longish and pegged to a stated pace.   If you don't want to ride with a group, you can check out EBC's route library for rides of your desired distance.

Good luck and have fun!

Comment by Joel on August 4, 2016 at 1:55pm

Your neck and shoulders will get very tired and sore, so I try to stretch and move my neck and back every 30 mins or so.  No real way to train for this, I just try to actively remember how painful 6 hours hunched over can be and this usually reminds me to move my head around.

Good luck-riding a century is a HUGE accomplishment and a great goal to undertake!

Comment by Jared on August 4, 2016 at 1:54pm

Try to pick a day where the wind is favorable for the direction your headed.  It can make a huge difference.  Personally I'd suggest riding to Milwaukee and ride Amtrak back.  Probably have to figure out ways to add a few miles to make it an even century as I think its about 90 miles from downtown, less from north side neighborhoods.

Comment by Captain Swizzlestick on August 4, 2016 at 1:28pm

My advice: don't get too sucked in to the pornography of gear that shops will flash at you. Remember, "it's not the gear, it's the RAWR!" As long as you can stay hydrated, fueled and fix a flat tire, you're pretty much set. I've taken a few friends on the North Shore Century for their first century ride. They loved it and so do I. Great starter ride since they have rest stops with snacks and whatnots so you don't have to worry about that much. I think it's a great ride to round out the typical season. Highly recommended. 

Comment by Jaik S. on August 4, 2016 at 12:56pm

From the Seattle to Key West ride, I learned audiobooks are an amazing companion if you're alone. I planned the entire ride on RideWithGPS and Google maps. 

Comment by Jaik S. on August 4, 2016 at 12:52pm

My first century was from Chicago to Lake Geneva. I rode out there in what seemed like an endless day on a bike that what wasn't the best bike for it(1973 Schwinn Suburban). Stainless steel rims are way too smooth for breaks on big hills. I swear the bike weighed 40lbs before I packed my panniers. I got up to about 35 going downhill on the way there and I thought for sure that I was going to die. The front wheel was shaking all over. I stayed for two days and rode back. It was the beginning of me actually doing distance. That was about six years ago, and last year I rode from Seattle to Key West.

One of my favorite rides to do is Chicago to Illinois State Beach Park. It's only 50 miles each way. If you can do that, you can do a century. When I started doing centuries after the first one, my legs would start to get exhausted around 80 miles. The best thing to do is push through. It hurts and you'll feel like you can't finish, but it's the best feeling when you do. 

On any ride, you should stop around every hour or between 10-15 miles and make sure you're hydrated and stretch out. Being mentally capable, muscle cramps and dehydration are the things that I would suggest focusing on. 

Comment by Skip Montanaro 0mi on August 4, 2016 at 12:49pm

The North Shore Century hosted by the Evanston Bike Club is a well-supported, well-attended event. And it's close enough you can probably just ride your bike to the start (or take the L if you're worried about the added mileage).

Comment by Yasmeen on August 4, 2016 at 12:25pm

This is awesome! Thanks Shawna!

Yoga and regular massages help me when I have lots of long days on the bike. When I get past 60-70 miles on the bike, my back can get sore so I try to get core work to alleviate some of the pain.

Comment by Tim on August 4, 2016 at 12:19pm

I've done a few of them in years past, just to do them, not to race or beat a time. I've used the same bike that I use to do everything- and early 90's steel, Specialized road bike. And actually the first one I did was the Udder Century around 2004 and I think I wore by bike shorts under cargo shorts with a regular t shirt. So even using the most basic gear, and keeping a descent, but not frantic pace, I did pretty well. The biggest training advice I have, is just get used to sitting on the bike for 5-7 hours or however long it takes. You can always find energy to keep pedaling, but physically sitting in the saddle for so long gets tough. To train, I went up and down the lakefront path EARLY on weekend mornings and I think the furthest I went was probably about 75 miles. I guess it really depends on what your goals are on finishing.  Also, make sure to switch hand positions frequently and move your toes around so they don't fall asleep. 

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