I ‘ve been mostly off the bike for the last six months, because my shoulder is still unstable, filled with angry bees, and stiff as a church pew. I watched my riding buddies depart for a hundred mile gravel event last weekend, and now I’m nostalgic for the days when I could subject myself to that flavor of suffering. I’ll get back there. I know I will. In the meantime, I thought I’d share my thoughts on how to approach a hard century ride.
First, of all, 100 is a big number, psychologically daunting, and that probably is your biggest challenge. Getting over it. 100 miles can look all sorts of ways, from pan flat to spiky, and how hard your day is going to be is not related, strictly speaking, to the triple digit number assigned to it.
Don’t think of it as riding 100 miles. Just think of it as riding your bike all day (unless you’re very fast, but then, this isn’t for you, is it?). It would be easy to default to platitudes about staying in the moment, just riding the mile you’re on, but that’s too cute. You have to think a little of the future, but don’t think too much about it.
For example, you need to eat all the food you can. Don’t overstuff, but this is not a time for cutting back on calories. Your number one job is to fuel the effort, and it takes a lot of fuel. You don’t get any extra credit for just squeaking by calorically. Do yourself a favor and eliminate the possibility that you’ll run out of gas. That means packing as much food as you can carry, and/or availing yourself of every bit of food you can at rest stations or convenience store stops.
Also, ration your water. Dehydration is just as dangerous as going calorie negative. That doesn’t mean you should be pounding water the way I’m suggesting you should pound Oreos. Hypernatremia is a thing, and I’ve seen it end people’s days just as readily as dehydration. Drink slowly and steadily. Think about where your next water is coming from. On hot days, don’t hesitate to add electrolyte to your bottles. Again, all the calories are good. Salt is an underappreciated resource.
In a lot of ways, resource management is your whole job on a hundred mile ride. I don’t worry about speed. I don’t worry about time. I focus on eating and drinking, and keeping the pedals ticking over.
Whatever you do, keep going. You’re going to get tired. You’ll stop and rest. Do not rest too long, no matter how tired you are. Keep moving. The only way to get to the end is to continually move towards the finish. It sounds so simple, but it can be hard to do, especially if you’re riding in a group. The longer you sit around, the stiffer you become, the harder it is to get back in the rhythm. There is also the question of temperature.
Maintaining a constant temperature, as much as possible, is critical. Don’t let yourself overheat. Don’t let yourself get too cold. The recovery from either of these states takes a toll on the body you’ll pay for later. The more you are moving, the easier it is to regulate your temperature. There is a whole separate screed here about dressing in layers, packing clothes that are low volume, etc., but if you keep moving, mostly your body will find its optimal heat and hold it.
Finally, and I already said this once, forget about the finish. I have never ridden a century whose finish didn’t surprise me. Obsessed with it as I wrung every last bit of energy out of my body, I spent too much time visualizing the end. But the end has always been nearer or farther than I imagined, easier or harder. All that time is wasted, and it distracts you from the important work outlined above.
Also, lift your head up. You have all day. See where you are. Let yourself be a little distracted. Enjoy it. Be cheerful. You’re an idiot for taking this on, the best kind of idiot. Now act like it.