Preparing for a Century with Limited Time

By Marilyn Trout | 03/29/11
Untitled Document


We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

The following tip is a reprint of an April 2009 question submitted by from Voler E-Mail List member David Coker is our 15th winner – still an excellent subject this time of year!

Preparing for a Century with Limited Time

Dear Marilyn,

I live in Colorado Springs and have a target this year of riding at least 3 centuries in Colorado, including Copper Triangle (not really a century, but tough enough). I did two last year. However, my work schedule limits my cycling to primarily on the weekends. My biggest problem has been altitude given the limited training. During the Sunrise Century last year, I had to take the turn off at Ward as I was feeling light headed and weak. This year I've started to run twice a week to boost my cardio capacity in hopes that this will minimize the altitude impact I've felt.

Therefore, I have a couple of questions: 1) Will the running actually help? If so, how much do you recommend? 2) What other activities can help to prepare me for these events?

Any other suggestions would be most appreciated.

Please note that I'm a 200+ pound cyclist who completes Colorado centuries in about 7 hours and runs a 9-10 minute mile.


To do two Colorado centuries on a limited training schedule is admirable. No doubt you are extremely motivated to achieve your cycling goals, have a high pain threshold and once committed to something, you are very tenacious. To tackle the mountains, a cyclist must have these qualities in good measure. 

As Peg Labiuk so aptly introduces her training answer, “This is another question that appears simple, at first.” Although your questions basically deal with using your century prep time in cross-training, any activity other than cycling, you have included a number of ingredients that complicate things enough to deserve some sifting. 

Let’s take a look back into the Sunrise Century turn off at Ward, Colorado with an elevation 9,450 feet. Indeed, there are a number of likely culprits for being “light-headed and weak”; altitude, dehydration, a bit of the “bonk” and/or training preparation.

Nutrition: During the century, you need to drink 16 to 32 oz. of fluid and consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate or close to one gel/half a bar per hour. Starting several days prior to the event, keep the fluid intake up and don’t skimp on the carbohydrates the day before and for breakfast before the ride. Even slight dehydration will negatively impact performance so fluid replacement is that much more important at altitude for the body to function optimally during a mountainous, endurance event. (“Avoiding the Bonk” includes some more nutritional details.)

Altitude: There is no doubt that altitude negatively affects our performance. When I first came to Colorado, someone mentioned that the state has everything a person could want… except oxygen. How true that is! A well-trained athlete can definitely be humbled by its effects.  In your case, since you live and train at 6,000+ feet, I don’t believe that altitude is the critical point that will determine you feeling strong during your Colorado centuries. However, I do believe changing the dynamics of your abbreviated training time would benefit you greatly. From your information, the one ingredient that impacts my answer the most – limited training time.

This is the way my coaching mind works…

What is the cycling goal?  3 mountain centuries

What are the parameters we have to deal with to get to that goal? Training time available: 6-8 hours in ~ 4 days/week (mostly weekends), 3-4 months before 1st century, lives in “flat”, rolling and hilly terrain, possibly in need of an indoor trainer

Will running help? What other activities can help prepare for centuries? There is really no other activity that can replace specific work in the saddle when you ride primarily on weekends and have a few hours during a busy work week.  As TrainingBible author, Joel Friel, says, “eliminate all nonbike types of training from your schedule so you can focus your precious time on the fitness most specific to your event – riding your bike…There’s no room for mistakes or wasted saddle time. You must make the best use of every minute.” 

Scientific studies have shown that it takes at least three days a week for aerobic capacity to improve with the critical frequency being four. One study actually found a tripling of the average increase in fitness when workouts went from three to four per week. Considering this, the amount of time before your first event and knowing that you must do specific cycling work, there is no way around it, you’ll need to sit in the saddle 1-2 more days during the week. You’ll have to figure out what the best days are to carve out an hour of cycling. For some cyclists, the only way to do that is to jump on the indoor trainer before work. I don’t know if you have a trainer and a heart rate monitor, but I strongly suggest that you get a heart rate monitor to dial in your training, indoor or out, and if you want to be in complete control of getting the workouts in regardless of the weather, daylight or schedule, you’ll need to invest in an indoor trainer. 

Before I share some specific training suggestions, here’s a few ingredients to consider:

Endurance: Before your first event, aim to complete a ride at least 50% of your century time. For you, that would be ~ 3.5 hour ride. It seems to me that you do OK with the entire distance it’s the intensity/demands of the mountains that take their toll on you.

Weight: Since you mentioned your weight…trimming down to carry less up the climbs is equivalent to adding several more hours of training time per week without doing the training. Eliminating 200-500 calories/day will make a difference in your ability to climb better. (Time Trialing 101 gives a few more specifics with regards to weight and performance.)

Hills: You are fortunate to have some great climbs just “out your backdoor.” Include them in your weekend rides and as you get fitter, you can add threshold intervals that will increase your ability to sustain higher intensity workloads just as you have encountered in and around Ward.

2-3 hour Midweek Training Suggestion:

The ride time should be at least 30-45 minutes including at least a 10 minute warm-up, 15-30 minute specific training and a 5 minute cool down. (Training Zone details can be found in “Training Through a Collarbone Fracture”.)

Monday/Thursday - 4-5 sets x 3 minute (reps) zone 3 with 3 minutes recovery (try to get HR to zone 1 with easy spin)

Wednesday (Optional 3rd day) - easy zone 1,2 :30 spin

As your fitness increases you can put the intervals on two days “back to back”. You can also increase your interval work time to 4', 5', 10' with the same amount of rest between intervals while keeping the same zone 3 intensity:

2 x 10’ at tempo (sub-lactate/aerobic) with 10’ recovery between efforts – the primary object is to have even pacing from beginning to end of the interval without going over lactate threshold (anaerobic) throughout the effort. (You can also add some variety by doing 1 x10’, 10’ recovery, followed by 2x5’ with 5’ between efforts.)

Monday/Thursday - 1-2 x 10' zone 3 with 10' easy recovery spin between sets

Wednesday (Optional 3rd day)  - easy :30 zone 1/2 spin

Other Training Suggestions:

The next step in the fitness build would be to increase the intensity of the interval to a threshold zone. ie) 3-5x 5' at threshold with 5' recovery between efforts – steady effort/ pacing just under threshold.

Hill work simulation: 4-6 x 1-3' in a gear that allows only about 60 rpm with 5' easy spinning between efforts. This is a strength workout so no specific HR zone is observed other than you must remain aerobic during the effort and full recovery between.

If you need to consolidate your training some weeks due to a full schedule, you can combine your tempo and strength work; for instance, 1 x 10' zone 3 with 10' recovery followed by 3 x 3' @ 60 rpm with 5' easy spin between efforts. Whether it be 1 or 2 days later, it would help recovery to follow this with an easy spin day, even :30 will work  wonders.

David, continue to do your weekend hilly rides, add a couple specific, higher intensity cycling sessions during your week and you’ll be able to enjoy the mountains of Colorado for hundreds of miles this season.

All the best,

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