Riding your first century
By Andrew Nowlan
There is a multitude of reasons that attract us to the bicycle and these
are as varied as we, the riders are. Perhaps two of the most common reasons
are the freedom our bicycle grants us to roam the countryside and the
camraderie of our fellow cyclists.
I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike, but it is only in the last few years
that my addiction to riding my bike has developed. When I made a concerted
effort to get back on my bike, it was to get back into shape. My primary
motivation was to shed a few pounds that seemed to be accumulating around my
mid-section. But as I spent more time on the bike, something changed: my
desire to spend even more time on the bike!
This year, I spent on average, 11-12 hours a week on my bike. Typically,
at least a third of this time was spent on just one weekend ride, spinning
my way across the beautiful rolling countryside of Southwest Wisconsin.
Long rides, I have found, are great for both my body and mind. Of course
long rides provide tremendous benefit physically as you transform your body
into an endurance machine, but also provide a wonderful mental stimulant as
well. A four or five hour ride IS a great achievement. The boost to your
self-confidence as a result of your achievement is as positive as the
physical benefits to your body.
As the summer wore on, my long weekend ride was getting longer and
longer- 60 miles, 70 miles, 80… As the distance increased, so did my
enjoyment. Just two years ago, the thought of me doing an 80-mile ride was,
well, unthinkable! But I was learning that I really enjoyed these long
rides. Early this summer, I decided that I should ride a “century,” what
cyclists call a ride of at least 100 miles. Many bicycling clubs will host
an “organized century” where for a fee of 25 to 50 dollars, the ride will be
“supported.” Support on an organized century includes vehicles providing
mechanical or other assistance and rest stops placed regularly along the
route with food, drink, toilet facilities and basic first aid supplies.
Often, for participating there is a t-shirt or some other memento and
perhaps a potluck or other gathering for the riders. Organized centuries are
great fun to participate in. Lots of people from all walks of life out on
the road, riding together, talking and sharing the day make for a very
Door County, a pleasant place to ride! Click for larger image
In early September in Wisconsin, there is an organized century in Door
County. I decided that I would make this event my first organized century.
I chose this event for a few reasons, which included the fact that it was at
the end of the summer, located in a beautiful part of the state, and quite
flat! This last factor was fairly important to me, as at the time I had
never ridden a century so I didn’t know how my body would function at mile
95! Also, I knew the group I would be riding with consisted of riders much
more experienced, and faster than me! It was comforting knowing how flat
the course was so if my body gave out before the end, I would not be left
with a thousand vertical feet still to climb with and empty gas tank! As a
comparison, the Door County Century has only about 2,500 feet of climbing
while the Hillier than Hell Hundred in Southwest Wisconsin has over 14,000
feet of climbing which is roughly equivalent to a Tour de France stage.
I didn’t do any specific training for my first century, as my riding
program, which saw me riding, on average, 180-190 miles a week, would be
more than adequate. However, if someone who does not ride regularly decides
to make riding a century a goal, it would be advisable to develop some sort
of “training” plan. But this should not freak anyone out! Riding a century
is not a bicycle race. One must not worry about developing “power at
threshold” or do stroke-inducing sets of VO2 Max intervals! Training to
ride a century is simply about acclimatizing one’s body to spending lots of
time on the bike. At the minimum, I would recommend a rider be able to
comfortably ride 130 miles over the course of a week with at least half of
the weekly mileage gained in one ride. If a rider can comfortably achieve
this, riding a century is well within their capabilities.
Participating in the Door County Century was a great experience. The
event is impeccably organized and extremely well run. We arrived in Door
County on Saturday, the day before the event. Registration is available
Saturday afternoon at the local high school where the ride begins and ends.
Registration was in the school’s gymnasium where several regional bike shops
had set up booths. Anything a rider might need for the ride was available.
I browsed around and picked up a cycling cap that had been marked 50% off.
What a deal!
The group I was riding with set plans to meet at 7:00am at the high
school the next morning with a departure time set for 7:30am. One option a
participant could choose was a continental breakfast at the school beginning
at 6:00 am. Our group skipped this option knowing that the first rest stop
was only about 20 miles into the ride and any food needs could be addressed
there! So for me, breakfast Sunday morning consisted of a couple of
Sunday morning brought nearly ideal conditions for cycling. The
temperature was 62 degrees with a forecasted high of 75 with an accompanying
southeast wind of around 5mph. So I, along with around 1800 fellow
cyclists, hit the roads of Door County for an immensely enjoyable day of
As our group made our way along the course, we saw riders of all ages and
skill levels. The Door County Century has three different length options
for riders of various levels. If you did not want to ride the full century
option (which was actually just short of 105 miles) there was also a 70 mile
option and a 30 mile option. For the first couple of hours, the roads were
quite crowded with cyclists. Our group was faster than the average
participant so as we rode along, we collected slower riders along the way.
Our group was compared to a magnet sweeping through a pile of iron
A fast group in an organized century attracts riders like a
bear to honey! Click for larger image
The first rest stop was located about 22 miles into the ride. The food
tables at the Door County Century were well stocked, though with its endless
selection of bagels and associated toppings, the first stop was my personal
favorite! Other rest stops swapped the bagels for sandwich materials. All
of the rest stops included a selection of cookies and fresh fruit along with
both cold water and Gatorade.
When undertaking a long ride such as an organized century, a participant
should be aware of what type of food their body will tolerate during the
effort. For example, I know to carry one bottle of plain water and one
bottle of Gatorade. Drinking just Gatorade just does not work for me, too
much sugar and sweetness. Having a bottle of plain water works well to
dilute the Gatorade when my system needs it. Also, I tread lightly around
the fresh fruit as the high fiber content can upset my stomach.
Rest stops were well-stocked in Door County. Click for larger
As our group pressed into the 100 mile option loop, the crowds of
cyclists on the roads dwindled. For me, this part of the ride, from roughly
the 60 to 80 mile points, was the most difficult. Fatigue starts to set in
at this point but the realization that there is much distance yet to be
covered is still in the forefront of the mind. This is pretty typical among
distance riders to experience a bit of a low during this time period. It
helps to be prepared for this mental low, and helps even more to ride with
friends! Especially friends who have experienced this aspect of distance
riding and will help you though the difficult times. At this time, it is
important to remember why you are out on the bike. It is not to dwell on
how far you have yet to ride, but to enjoy the simple pleasure of being on
your bike, out in the fresh air, taking in the countryside.
Friends, don’t ride a century without them! Click for larger
I made it through my difficult patch and after the fourth rest stop, I
felt as good as I had all day. The fact that I knew I was nearing the end
also quite likely had something to do with that euphoria! However that
euphoria wore off about 10 miles later, but by then, I had nearly completed
the ride. I rolled into the high school parking lot tired and a little
behind the rest of my group but happy to have ridden the century with them.
But at the Door County Century, the event does not end upon your return to
the high school. The school opens the showers and locker rooms to allow
riders to clean up prior to heading over to the school’s cafeteria for a
spaghetti dinner! I can safely say that it was the single biggest plate of
spaghetti I have ever had in my life, and I ate every last bite!
For me, the Door County Century was a great experience on the bike. I
met lots of nice fellow cyclists, saw a beautiful part of the state and I
got to spend some high-quality time on the bike! Riding a century is not
beyond the grasp of any cyclist so long as they employ a bit of common
sense. With a moderate amount of preparation, an enjoyable day on the bike
and a significant accomplishment can be had.