Century Ride Training Plan For Runners

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Aug. 26, 2011
  • Updated Mar. 15, 2012 at 5:09 PM UTC

Want to ride 100 miles? Here’s how!

Written by: Carmichael Training Systems

Whether you’re preparing to complete your first century ride, or you’re looking for workouts to get faster, the Century Training Plan featured in the October issue of Competitor can help you accomplish your cycling goals. First, complete a CTS Field Test to gauge your fitness level—the results of this exercise will be used for most of your workouts in the training plan.

CTS Field Test Instructions

The CTS Field Test consists of two eight-minute time trials separated by 10 minutes of easy spinning recovery. It is best performed on flat to rolling terrain, but can be performed on a steady climb as well. It can also be performed on an indoor trainer. Be sure to get a good warm-up of 15 to 30 minutes easy riding on the bike before committing to this very intense effort.

When performing the CTS Field Test, collect the following data:

- Average heart rate for each effort

- Max heart rate for each effort

- Average power for each effort

- Average cadence for each effort

- Weather conditions (warm vs. cold, windy vs. calm, etc.)

- Course conditions (indoors vs. outdoors, flat or hilly, point-to-point vs. out and back, etc.)

- Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), or how hard you felt you were working for each effort.

TIP: Don’t hold back in the first field test effort because you know there is a second one coming up. Part of what this field test will tell you is whether your aerobic engine can recover and repeat a hard effort. If your power or pace is significantly lower on the second effort, you should see those two results closer to together in a field test after the program. If your power or pace is lower on the first of the two, it generally means you weren’t adequately warmed up for the field test.

Calculating Training Intensities for CTS Workouts

To calculate your individual training intensities for CTS workouts, find the higher of the two average power outputs, and/or the higher of the two average heart rates from your CTS Field Test. If you have both pieces of information, calculate both power and heart rate training intensities, but use the power ranges to gauge your interval efforts whenever possible. Multiply this power output and/or heart rate by the percentages listed with the workout descriptions below to establish the upper and lower limits of your training ranges.

Workout Descriptions

The workouts described below are used in this program. Note: When a workout calls for “60 minutes EM with three eight-minute Steady State Intervals,” the 60 minutes is your total ride time and your warm-up—Steady State Intervals, recovery periods between intervals and cool down are all to be included within that 60 minutes.

Endurance Miles (EM)

This is your moderate-pace endurance intensity. The point is to stay at an intensity below lactate threshold for the vast majority of any time you’re riding at EM pace. The heart rate and power ranges for this intensity are very wide in order to allow for widely varying conditions. It is OK for your power to dip on descents or in tailwinds, just as it is expected that it will increase when you climb small hills. One mistake some riders make is to stay at the high end of their EM range for their entire ride. You’re better off keeping your power and/or heart rate in the middle portion of your EM range and allowing it to fluctuate up and down from there as the terrain and wind dictate. Use your gearing as you hit the hills to remain in the saddle as you climb. Expect to keep your pedal speed up into the 85 to 95 RPM range.

Short description: comfortable, moderate-pace endurance intensity, cadence 90 to 100 RPM. Your interval workouts should be completed within the total time of your EM ride, not in addition to it.

Perceived exertion (1=Easy, 10=As hard as you can go)

Rate of Perceived Exertion: 5

HR: 50 to 91 percent of highest field test average

Power: 45 to 73 percent of highest field test average

Fast Pedal (FP)

This workout should be performed on a relatively flat section of road. The gearing should be light with low pedal resistance. Begin by slowly working up your pedal speed, starting out with around 15 to 16 pedal revolutions per 10-second count. This equates to a cadence of 90 to 96 RPM. While staying in the saddle, increase your pedal speed, keeping your hips smooth with no rocking. Concentrate on pulling through the bottom of the pedal stroke and over the top. After one minute of FP, you should be maintaining18 to 20 pedal revolutions per 10-second count, or a cadence of 108 to 120 RPM for the entire amount of time prescribed for the workout. Your heart rate will climb while doing this workout, but don’t use it to judge your training intensity. It is important that you try to ride the entire length of the FP workout with as few interruptions as possible, since it should consist of consecutive riding at the prescribed training intensity.

Short description: In a light gear with low resistance, bring your cadence up to as fast as you can maintain without bouncing in the saddle.

RPE: 7


Power: N/A

Tempo (T)

Tempo is an excellent workout for developing aerobic power and endurance. The intensity is well below lactate threshold, but hard enough that you are generating a significant amount of lactate and forcing your body to buffer and process it. The intervals are long (15 minutes minimum and they can be as long as two hours), and your gearing should be relatively large so your cadence comes down to about 70 to 75 RPM. This helps increase pedal resistance and strengthens leg muscles. Also try to stay in the saddle when you hit hills during your tempo workouts. It is important that you try to ride the entire length of the tempo workout with as few interruptions as possible—tempo workouts should consist of consecutive riding at the prescribed intensity to achieve maximum benefit.

Short description: In a relatively heavy gear that brings your cadence down to 70 to 75, ride steadily at a perceived exertion of six. Your breathing should be deep and controlled, as this is an aerobic intensity well below your lactate threshold.

RPE: 6

HR: 88 to 91 percent of highest field test average

Power: 81 to 85 percent of highest field test average

Steady State Intervals (SS)

These intervals are great for increasing a cyclist’s maximum sustainable power because the intensity is below lactate threshold but relatively close to it. As you accumulate time at this intensity, you are forcing your body to deal with a lot of lactate for a relatively prolonged period of time. These intervals are best performed on relatively flat roads and small rolling hills. If you end up doing them on a sustained climb, you should really bump the intensity up to Climbing Repeat range, which reflects the grade’s added contribution to your effort. Do your best to complete these intervals without interruptions from stoplights, etc., and maintain a cadence of 85-95 RPM. In this case, maintaining the training zone intensity is the most important factor, not pedal cadence. Steady State intervals are meant to be slightly below your individual time trial pace, so don’t make the mistake of riding at your time trial pace during the Steady State intervals. Recovery time between Steady State intervals is typically about half the length of the interval itself.

Short description: Ride at 85-95 RPM and a perceived exertion of seven to eight out of 10. Your breathing will be labored, but not uncontrollable panting, as these intervals are done at an intensity close to lactate threshold.

RPE: 7 to 8

HR: 92 to 94 percent of highest field test average

Power: 86 to 90 percent of highest field test average

Climbing Repeats (CR)

This workout should be performed on the road with a long steady climb. The training intensity is designed to be similar to that of a SS interval but reflect the additional workload necessary to ride uphill. The intensity is just below your lactate threshold power and/or heart rate and critical that you maintain this intensity for the length of the CR. Pedal cadence for CR intervals while climbing should be 70 to 85 RPM. Maintaining the training intensity is the most important factor, not pedal cadence. It is very important to avoid interruptions while doing these intervals. Recovery time between intervals is typically about half the length of the interval itself.

Short description: Harder than SS because they’re uphill, but they target the same energy system. Ride at 70 to 85 RPM and a perceived exertion of eight to nine out of 10. Your breathing will be labored, but not uncontrollable panting, as these intervals are done at an intensity close to your lactate threshold.

RPE: 8

HR: 95 to 97 percent of highest field test average

Power: 95 to 100 percent of highest field test average

Over Under Intervals (OU)

Over Under Intervals are a more advanced form of SS. The “under” intensity is your SS range, and the “over” intensity is your CR range. By alternating between these two intensity levels during a sustained interval, you develop the agility to handle changes in pace. This workout can be performed on a flat road, rolling hills, or a sustained climb that’s relatively gradual (three to six percent grade). Your gearing should be moderate and pedal cadence should be high (100 RPM or higher) if you’re riding on flat ground or rolling hills. Pedal cadence should be above 85 RPM if you’re completing the intervals on a gradual climb.

To complete the interval, bring your intensity up to your SS range over the first 45 to 60 seconds. Maintain this heart rate intensity for the prescribed under time and then increase your intensity to your over intensity for the prescribed time. At the end of the over time, return to your under intensity range and continue riding at this effort level until it’s once again time to return to your over intensity. Continue alternating this way until the end of the interval. OU always ends with a period at over intensity. Recovery periods between intervals are typically about half the length of the work interval. Note: a more advanced version of this interval would alternate between SS and Power Interval intensities instead of SS and CR intensities.

Short description: These intervals build sustainable power and power for surges by alternating between SS and CR intensities throughout each interval. Ex: 10 OU (3 min SS/2 min CR) = ride the first three minutes at SS, accelerate to CR intensity for two minutes, then return to SS intensity for three minutes before again accelerating to CR intensity for the final two minutes.

RPE: 9

HR: 92 to 94 percent of highest field test average (under) alternating with 95 to 97 percent (over)

Power: 86 to 90 percent of highest field test average (under) alternating with 95 to 100 percent (over)

Recovery Miles (RM)

Accelerate the recovery process by riding at an easy pace at low resistance on flat terrain.  Benefits include increasing blood flow to the muscles to help remove muscle soreness, reducing free radical build-up that cause muscle stress and damage. Studies have shown that active recovery at an appropriate pace leads to faster recovery than complete rest.

Recovery rides should be between 30 to 120 minutes in length on flat to rolling terrain. Keep your pedal speed slower than normal, staying in a light gear to keep resistance low. Heart rate must also remain low even if you hit any hills; just slow down and use your gears to keep the resistance low. The key to recovery rides is to ride just enough to engage the active recovery process but not long or intense enough to induce training stress.

Short description: Very easy spin for recovery. Perceived exertion should not exceed four. Active recovery accelerates recovery compared to complete rest.

RPE: 4

HR: 50 to 70 percent of highest field test average

Power: 30 to 50 percent of highest field test average

FILED UNDER: Inside The Magazine TAGS: / /

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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