(Rewards for a lot of planning, preparation and one very long day!)
My first "Century" - actually a metric Century of 65 miles as no full Century was offered - is coming up April 4th, so it's time to start getting serious about distance training again. I have been riding all winter and am in pretty good shape right now. I did a 61 mile ride in mid-December and am in better shape now than then, and did a fast 4 hr mountain bike ride over the weekend with a lot of climbing, so, happily, I am in pretty good shape to start the season.
If the weather clears as expected, tomorrow afternoon I will go for my standard 33 mile ride to Beal's Point and see how full Folsom Dam is these days. With all the rains it was wonderful to see so much blue on Saturday's mountain bike ride. Having a standard ride is very useful in judging your overall conditioning. Just ride it on the clock the whole time you are in the saddle and keep some notes along with your computer's stats on an Excel spreadsheet. With standard rides you can compare apples and apples and know where you're at.
- Longer rides are much more beneficial in preparing for a Century, and riding a long 80-100 mile ride a week or 2 before the event helps both physically and psychologically.
- Long rides have a profound impact on your cardio-vascular system - BPs and resting pulse drop dramatically. Not true with short rides even if total mileage is the same.
- Buy a bike computer and keep your stats on an Excel spreadsheet you cobble together. In time you will find all kinds of things you'll want to add. Mine is growing all the time. It really helps you to track your progress. A Garmin cyclocomputer's software makes record-keeping much easier.
- When training, allow adequate recovery time, but no more. The line between over-training and losing muscle tone is usually less than 24 hours.
- Get lots of sleep, you will need it. Your body is going through more change than anytime since you were a teenager. Kill your TV, but make time for family. You want their support, not their resentment.
- In order of importance for endurance rides are electrolytes, hydration, fuel, heat management. ALWAYS bring stand-alone, supplemental electrolytes. Sodium is the key ingredient. Most athletic supplements use sodium citrate for ease of digestion, and better tolerance, but I personally prefer ThermoTabs, which are a time-released preparation of good old sodium chloride - table salt. If you nail your electrolytes, almost everything else will take care of itself. Excess electrolytes will be removed by your kidneys, so error on the side of too much. If your lower back starts aching, its probably your kidneys telling you to back off a bit, but that is massively better than having your heart racing from trying to maintain blood pressure with 3 pints of blood volume missing. In hot, humid conditions, I add electrolytes until my kidneys tell me to back off. It's be best management system I've found. Caffeine is the enemy here. It dehydrates you. Go without caffeine if at all possible.
- Within 10 minutes of finishing a ride eat one energy bar for fast carbs to prevent catabolic destruction of muscle tissue. It's NOT protein which prevents catabolic muscle destruction, it's an insulin spike. Within 30 minutes eat some good complex carbs. Fruit, carrot juice, skim milk, oatmeal are all good. (I put walnuts, wheat germ, raisins, cranberries, blueberries, cherries and almond oil in my oatmeal) Mashed potatoes are my craving, but with a glycemic index around 100, these are not complex carbs. I make a huge batch and keep eating for hours. Keep eating mostly high GI foods for at least 1 hr, and up to the duration of the ride in recovery mode. After this time window, high GI foods make fat, instead of restoring muscle glycogen. V-8 juice is low GI, and has the salt needed for recovery too.
- Within 30-45 minutes you should supply your body with a good source of protein to help repair muscle damage. Milk and eggs are the best natural protein on Earth. Whey, a milk extract, is the easiest and fastest to digest. The Power Recovery Bar has the needed fast carbs and 24 grams of whey protein all in one bar. Chew well, wash it down with pulpy OJ or skim milk, and you're good to go. Homemade chili with lots of beans and some range-fed beef is excellent, as is fish, which benefits from Omega-3's inflammation suppression. Plant proteins don't create ammonia as a waste product of digestion. All animal proteins do. That's why ride fuels use soy instead of whey.
- Skim milk is almost a perfect recovery food. It has sugar (lactose), protein, water, near zero cholesterol, and no fat. You will need the cholesterol savings for the eggs unless you eat just the protein-rich whites. Anything that bleeds makes cholesterol to protect its cardio system.
- Fruit, especially berries and apples, have the carbs you need for recovery bundled with anti-oxidants you need. Acai, blue, black and strawberries are excellent, but 8 of the top 20 antioxidants by typical portion size on the USDA's website are apples. Dark chocolate is excellent, as is the turmeric in curry powder.
- When you register for a Century, take note if it is being put on by a charity or a bike club. Bike club events always have at least some tools, good SAG, and appropriate food and energy drinks. Charity events typically have no tools, poor SAG, and lots of gastric disaster picnic food. YMMV, but take note.
- Eat very little "real food" while on the Century, and carbo load as much as you can in the 2 days before the ride. To carbo load you first have to strip your body of liver and muscle glycogen, and then gorge on carbohydrates LOW on the glycemic index that will continue to dribble glucose to your liver and muscles for long periods of time. I strongly recommend the stripping be done by substituting high quality protein. Eggs, milk and salmon are good choices, but anything but carbs will work. Don't neglect to eat your fiber. Beans provide both protein and fiber. Constipation makes proper hydration impossible and poisons you with toxins all day long as water absorbed primarily by the large intestine. It will kill your energy level and make you miserable with cramps. Fruit meets all of these requirements and provides antioxidants too. Short grain, sticky Sushi rice, with table sugar cut in when fluffing, is the cleanest ride fuel I have ever found, with a GI higher than pure glucose. NOTE: Contrary to the maltodextrin approach, where large, dense polysaccharides are broken down in commercial pre-digestive processes into 6-30 molecule polysaccharides, recent research has revealed that the Intestinal villi mucosa hosts large quantities of the amalyse needed to perform this reduction. As a result, more energy dense long-chain polysaccarides with highly branched structures are broken down quickly at the point of absorption in a combined digestive action. This is why, ironically, rice with a high percentage of amylopectin, a polysaccharide with up to 2 million glucose molecules, is much higher on the GI than rice high in amylose , with 2,000- 20,000 glucose molecules (93 vs 64). Since the mucous in the small intestine has more than adequate amylase to reduce partially digested amylopectin into glucose, it's higher density works in your favor by reducing the volume required for any given amount of energy, and prevents cramping by avoiding sugar's high osmotic pressure, which causes cramping. Starch is broken down into sugar in the mouth by salivary amylase, in the duodenum by pancreatic amylase, and in the small intestine at absorption sites by amylase in its digestive mucous. Not only does the stomach play no role in digesting starches and sugars, it actually arrests the action of salivary amylase. CHEW YOUR RIDE FUELS WELL, and swallow reluctantly!
- When you ride hard your body isn't going to be able to digest as much. Most of your blood will be channeled to your muscles, and when hot and humid, your skin's surface capillaries to dump heat. In adverse conditions, your digestive tract will get very little blood, and most of the food you ingest will pass through your upper GI tract unabsorbed, and putrefy in your gut, resulting in a gastronomical debacle. Fruit and starches are, to some degree, the exceptions, but even here, tread lightly. Mostly you will be burning starch and sugar supplied by ride fuels like Perpetuem, PowerBars, ShotBlocs, HammerGel, and Gatorade or Cytomax. The latter has caffeine and will tend to dehydrate you and make you go too hard too early. Save it for the end of the ride if you feel you need it to finish, or better, do without caffeine. .
- Break the ride into segments. All endurance athletes do this. Considering the ride as a whole is overwhelming. The aid stations are set up at intervals and do a good job of breaking the ride into segments, but if you need smaller segments, pick waypoints for targets. It's vital to just put one pedal in front of the other when you are alone, hot, tired, and feel lost. Play for time to get a 2nd wind.
- Never push yourself early in the ride, and avoid pushing hard enough to have you gasping for breath at any point.
- Pick a riding partner that knows this and won't do things that require you to catch up or exceed your personal limits. If you don't have a riding partner hook up with a group if you can. A group that is going too slow is best. They will be going fast enough by the 50 mile mark, trust me. They can also provide an effective draft in heavy winds.
- When on a rest break eat as early into it as you can to give your body time to digest the food, and drink water WHILE eating energy bars to dilute the sugars as much as possible to lower their osmotic pressure and speed digestion. Salt and sugar both create thirst due to the osmotic pressure they create. Salt is good, sugar should be replaced with high GI starch where possible. Recognize that Gatorade is providing both sugar and salt, and when you dilute the mix with water to avoid osmotic pressure problems (cramping), you won't get enough electrolytes unless you supplement.
- When resting, hydrate, then drink some more. I lose 8-12 lbs on a Century in spite of drinking all the time. That's 4-6 quarts of lost fluids. On hot, summer Centuries, with long climbs, 4 water bottles AND a CamelBak are required. Keep sipping, and top off before leaving. It takes time for your body to marshal 2-5 pints of water into blood, intercellular, and intracellular water. It's removed in that order of precedence.
- Almost all Centuries have a Metric Century option. It's a good idea to start with one.
- Pay for the full century. You are always allowed to ride a shorter route. Usually the 100k and 100 mile routes share initial segments, so you can make your decision 10-20 miles into the ride. Just ask at the registration desk for both route sheets.
- Have a clip mounted on your handlebars to firmly hold the route sheet so you can read it while you ride. If expecting rain, or profuse sweating, put it in a ZipLoc bag.
- If you think you're lost, the easiest way to find out, is to just stop and take a break. Even on sparsely ridden rides, if you're on the right route, someone will happen by within 15 minutes. On rides like Solvang, where 5,500 people are out riding, it's pretty hard to ever lose contact with the group.
- If you get lost, STOP. You aren't in a car. If you get lost you may not have the energy/stamina to find your way and finish the ride. Unfortunately, you will often feel lost when on a Century, even if you aren't. Deciding when you really are lost is a skill that comes with experience, but if you religiously use the route sheet, so you always know where you are, you won't get lost. The culprit here is almost always zoning for miles before suddenly realizing you don't know where you are. Stop and ask the locals. They have probably been watching fools like us ride through their town for years, so they will have a little laugh when you ride away, but a small price to pay for a successful ride.
- Even though Metric Centuries are only 62 miles, they are usually less than half as difficult. This is because the course designers usually put most or all of the challenging terrain in the part of the ride the Metric riders don't ride. When you step up to the full Century, it's a big step up.
- Many Centuries are laid out so the easiest part of the route is saved for the end. But not always, and unseasonal winds can turn that plan against you in a very bad way. The last 20 miles of a Century usually shows who got it right, and who is really suffering. If the ride goes as the organizers expected, and you executed well on a good plan, you'll be flying past many, many riders who are really suffering the last 20 miles. It really separates the men from the boys.
- Plan water requirements based on TIME, not distance. A solid 2 hour climb might only be 5-7 miles, but you will need at least a gallon of water on a hot day. Use a CamelBak if you have to, and especially on steep climbs where maintaining your balance while retrieving a waterbottle, and tilting your head back, is almost impossible.
- If you bonk find a cool place (freshly cut and watered grass under a shade tree is perfect) to rest, hydrate and eat carbs. Rest for up to an hour. The under side of bridges are usually cool and damp, with lots of cold running water to cool off in. Excellent. Cool off first, then lie down and take a nap.
- Start the ride as early as allowed. Heat forces your body to open all your capillaries to allow blood to flow close to the surface of your skin. This adds a huge load to your heart - as much as 25% more - which has to maintain pressure and flow to your muscles. It also means you have to carry more water weight on the bike. Capillary blood flows on hot days will starve your digestive tract for blood. Cut back on solids of all kinds and focus on proper hydration. It's impossible to ingest enough food under any circumstances to replace what you're burning. The goal is always to delay liver glycogen depletion - never a 1:1 caloric replacement.
- Use SPF 50+ sunscreen. It's chemicals are sacrificial and are destroyed by the sun, so start with a big number.
- Carry a spare tube, patch kit, pump, minimal 1st aid kit for band-aids, aspirin, Advil, photo ID, and a bit/screwdriver with interchangeable bits that are stored in the handle. Ride organizers frequently DON'T have tools. Amazing, but true.
- Carry a whistle. You will yell yourself hoarse in 15 minutes. You can blow a whistle for days.
- Cell phones sometimes work. Worth bringing. Just make sure BEFORE YOU START THE RIDE, that you have a phone number to summon SAG. Amazingly, many route description sheets don't have such a number. Ask for it before you leave and write it in big letters you can see without your glasses in water and sweat-proof INK. Use a Sharpie dry-marker if at all possible.
- A Century is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Yes, it's a huge physical challenge. But whether you finish or not depends on your mental game, not your physical training. Be kind to yourself. Any finish is a good finish.
- Buy the bling. T-shirts, buttons, patches, pins - take'em all. They are great souvenirs and confidence builders for your wall of fame.
- Enjoy the ride. Most have gorgeous scenery, and the 2nd Century is usually much more enjoyable than the first. It gets a lot easier with experience. I have a friend who has done over 100 Centuries, including the LA Wheelmen Double over a dozen times. There is nothing remarkable about him physically just looking at him in street clothes, but he has an iron will.
To get more fuel in your stomach requires something like sugar but without the osmotic pressure problem. Maltodextrin works perfectly. When you caramelize potatoes to make hash-brown, you are roughly putting the potato starch through the same process to make sugar, which still more heat then caramelizes. The Hammer people have more detailed documents on their site, but this is a thorough summary.
(Minimalist tool & 1st aid kits for a Century ride. Add 1 tube and patch kit)
The tool kit pictured is a Sears alloy shank bit driver with 2.5,3,4,5,6,10mm hex bits, Torx 30 and Phillips #2 bits. The T30 bit in the picture is in a ratcheting 1/4 inch wrench. By slipping the ratchet over the hex part of the bit you get 6" of leverage on any bit. The open & box-end wrench is a 6mm, which I need for my seat's pitch adjustment. I also carry a spoke wrench, inner-tube and patch kit.
The 1st aid kit is a Band-Aid box stuffed with aspirin, Advil, Tylenol, ThermoTab (time-released salt tablet) Xacto knife blade, and Band-Aids. The Leatherman Mica tool is in a neoprene case my SanDisk memory card came in. It has a high-quality scissors, tweezers, knife and screwdriver. (the Dept of Homeland Paranoia is supposed to let you take it on the plane with you too) The lanyard is threaded with very strong utility chord from REI. Using that and the body of my pump I can make a tourniquet for my leg or arm. The air pump is tied under my seat bag with 1/8th inch bungee chord. Don't carry a pump in your jersey. You're just asking for a spinal chord injury if you fall.
Carry cell phones, energy bars and extra water bottles in your jersey pockets. Early in the year you may need to stuff leg warmers and a wind vest in those pockets too, but those can also be wrapped in a grocery bag and slung behind you with a piece of utility chord.
A CamelBak MULE will provide still more options for storage, but can add to shoulder, saddle and hand fatigue, so carry water weight on the bike if hydration stops are plentiful. I have an AquaRack by Profile Designs that attaches to my seat post and holds two 24oz Polar bottles very securely behind my butt. In stiff headwinds I will only carry a single small bottle on the frame if using the AquaRack. You can reach behind you and use the bottles on the go. Very nice.
Plan very carefully, and pack everything in a Rubbermaid tub a night or two before. Good planning will go a long way toward making your ride worry free and enjoyable. Remember, the goal is to ride, and finish. It is not a race, it's a ride.
UPDATE - 1/28/2011:
I had a nice conversation with a friend who rides (and trains/seduces others to ride) double centuries. He flatly stated, and without hesitation or qualification, that inadequate electrolyte consumption was the cause of almost all DNFs. I heartily concur. In light of this, I've added more emphasis on electrolyte management in this revision. There's a lot here. Read as many times as you need to for success, and enjoy the ride!