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Long Distance Competition/Ultracycling, Randonneuring and Endurance Cycling Do you enjoy centuries, double centuries, brevets, randonnees, and 24-hour time trials? Share ride reports, and exchange training, equipment, and nutrition information specific to long distance cycling. This isn't for tours, this is for endurance events cycling

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Old 09-29-08, 04:22 PM   #1
Bacciagalupe
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Tips for a *fast* century?

So, I'm thinking that one of my goals for next year is to do a century in about 5 hours. Preferably a flat one, by the way. Might be the NY Century or Escape From New York, which are usually held in late summer or fall.

The way I figure it, the main ways to accomplish these goals will be:

Training. I'm viewing this as the most important aspect. I'm planning to talk to a pro trainer; any general tips are welcome.

Drafting. Also critical. I do lots of club rides, pretty good at it. Unfortunately, my main century riding buddy is 4' 8" and very thin, so I might not get the maximum benefit.

Aero Bars (only if solo). If I skip on the drafting, I might go for clip-on aero bars. Obviously wouldn't use them if I am drafting.

Bike. Currently using an 80s steel road bike, standard double. Comfortable for long rides; I've done some upgrades but still not convinced it's all that reliable. Willing to completely replace the bike, if a case can be made that new wheels will, in fact, produce a benefit.

Any other tips from the speedy set? Does 5 hours for a flat century sound achievable by a mere mortal? Or thoughts on the feasibility of doing a solo 5-hour century?
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Old 09-29-08, 05:38 PM   #2
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Why?
Does your ego need a 5-hour century? Why not ride a hilly ride instead of stacking the deck with a flat century?
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Old 09-29-08, 06:12 PM   #3
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Five hours is doable, getting under four is beyond most people. Get used to spending a lot of time in the drops or on clip-ons.

You need close to zero time off the bike. Carrying a lot of water will help, manage your drinking so you avoid too many pee stops.
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Old 09-29-08, 06:16 PM   #4
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My cousin, a committed ultracyclist (5-figure annual mileages, PBP, the whole bit) rode a century in exactly 5 hours this summer. Clock time and rolling time, since he didn't get off the bike. So yeah, it can be done. Not sure about the mere mortal part.

As far as your variables, obviously he's got the training, and I know he's got aero bars. He was riding solo, but I think he found groups to draft with much of the time as well.
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Old 09-29-08, 07:15 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Bacciagalupe View Post
So, I'm thinking that one of my goals for next year is to do a century in about 5 hours. Preferably a flat one, by the way. Might be the NY Century or Escape From New York, which are usually held in late summer or fall.

The way I figure it, the main ways to accomplish these goals will be:

Training. I'm viewing this as the most important aspect. I'm planning to talk to a pro trainer; any general tips are welcome.

Drafting. Also critical. I do lots of club rides, pretty good at it. Unfortunately, my main century riding buddy is 4' 8" and very thin, so I might not get the maximum benefit.

Aero Bars (only if solo). If I skip on the drafting, I might go for clip-on aero bars. Obviously wouldn't use them if I am drafting.

Bike. Currently using an 80s steel road bike, standard double. Comfortable for long rides; I've done some upgrades but still not convinced it's all that reliable. Willing to completely replace the bike, if a case can be made that new wheels will, in fact, produce a benefit.

Any other tips from the speedy set? Does 5 hours for a flat century sound achievable by a mere mortal? Or thoughts on the feasibility of doing a solo 5-hour century?
My main training ride is the bear mountain century from my apt in Manhattan which is 101 miles (i have a modified route to avoid some of the uglier areas like haverstaw on 9w, for example) This is a reasonably hilly route with probably around 5k of climbing, perhaps more, I really don't know. The climb up bear mountain is about 4.5 miles to the top.

Anyways, I reguarly ride it in about 5 hours with only few minutes rest atop bear mountain to wolf down a bar and enjoy the view for a bit. At the beginning of this year I had aspirations of qualifying for RAAM so I've ridden A LOT of miles and quite a few long rides. Unfortunately, five days before the qualifier i got hit by a car but that's a whole other story. I'm fine now but did not get to try and qualify. Next year..

Doing a century on a flat road in under 5 hours solo is not that difficult, imo, and even quite easy if you have no headwind to battle.

To build up the endurance to go at a hard pace for a sustained period of time takes dedication and time. I significantly improved my times of the aforementioned century by over an hour this year by just hammering out the miles with a semi-organized plan. Mostly, it involved riding nearly every day with weekday rides of specific training - intervals, hill climbing, etc.

To start with, you need an excellent base to work with so your body can take the abuse of daily to nearly daily hard riding. I thought I had a decent base coming in to this year, but I basically consider this entire year as base building and next year I'm going to attempt to turn myself in to a monster

I commute every day to work 11 miles one way and hammer the entire time both ways. Two to three days of the week I either get up a few hours early or ride after work for about 50 to 80 miles at a hard pace. Every weekend I ride one long ride slightly above what I would consider a race pace, in other words, something I can sustain all day for the types of events I train for (24 hours and +, etc)

Since I wasn't really training for just a 100 mile ride I can't offer too many specifics but hopefully some of the above helps.

On gear, I use aerobars for longer rides for comfort.

On bikes, If you aren't racing, personally, I really don't think it matters what kind of bike you are riding as long as it's comfortable and reliable. And even if you are racing, you still want comfort, but having some fancy aero wheels and a light bike certainly can't hurt.

Currently, I'm riding those 5 hour centuries on my Redline 925 fixed gear bike - it's a beast of a bike weighing around 25lb's with fenders and has fat, stiff 28c specialized armadillo tires. The wheels are very heavy, but sure spin once they get going! And it's comfortable and 42x15 seems to work excellent for riding at a fast, steady pace!

Last edited by Spookykinkajou; 10-07-08 at 05:34 PM.
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Old 09-29-08, 08:00 PM   #6
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You know, I've done several flat solo centuries at 5:45. My ego is a bit different. I'd rather have a 5:45 than a sub 5 hour if it means having to draft. I'm more of a 'my effort' rather than 'being carried' rider!...Just my thing though!
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Old 09-29-08, 08:33 PM   #7
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I don't have much of anything useful to add, but want to say that goals are personal, I hope you accomplish it.

I think a light bike does make a difference. I bet your bike weighs well over 20 pounds, it wouldn't cost an arm and a leg (ok, maybe just an arm) to get something in the 17-18 pound range. Plus, new bike love might make training more fun.

My fastest century ever (not that fast - 5:33 ride time, unknown total time, 3200 feet of climbing, 4000 feet of descending (it was point to point, not a loop)) came with a moderate tailwind and a great group of folks who were pretty much cat 3-4's taking a rest day, so they pulled me the whole way. SO that's my advice - find a fast friendly pack and suck wheel. ;D
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Old 09-29-08, 09:54 PM   #8
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Thanks, I appreciate the feedback!

Interesting to see a few different attitudes on drafting. Clearly I'm not opposed to it, too early to pick a definitive strategy though.


For the aero bar users, a bunch of questions:
Are basic clip-ons sufficient, or do you add secondary brake levers?
Are aero bars and downtube shifters a big mistake?
Conversely, is a dedicated aero bar setup (e.g. brakes and bar-end shifters on the aeros) practical for ordinary road cycling use?
And how do you figure out a fit that works both in aeros and standard/hoods/drops position? I'd imagine that an aggressive TT-type position could get uncomfortable after a few hours; do you suck it up, or use a more moderate position?


Current bike, I'm primarily concerned with a few issues:
Reliability. Bike is ok, frame does have a few small spots where the paint is gone and, of course, there's a tad of rust. Plus I had lots of mechanical issues with it on the last century. Those should be fixed by now, but I'm still a little concerned that something I haven't considered is going to break at an inopportune time.
Fit. If I'm going to use aero bars, not sure if I will have to radically alter position & fit such that this bike won't do the job.
Gearing. May not be low enough for my tastes. Not a problem if the century is flat though.

Speed is also a concern, but I'm really not sure what factors would make a new bike more efficient than an old steel bike. It just seems like if they are both mechanically reliable, have the same position, and the same tires, they should ride at about the same speed, and 5-7 lbs shouldn't make a huge difference. Or am I missing something?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Cadillac View Post
Why? Does your ego need a 5-hour century?
Yes.

Actually, the idea is to set a goal that is both feasible and challenging. Even at my best, I was more a B16 than an A20 rider, so I'm not taking it for granted that 5 flat hours is "easy." I expect I will have a better idea as training progresses.
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Old 09-30-08, 04:46 AM   #9
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Just fitting clip-ons is more versatile than any extreme handlebar set-up. Your back position shouldn't be much different, if any, from when you are in the drops. Aero pays off in the first hour, comfort pays off in the last hour. Picking the compromise is up to you.

Putting brake and shift levers on aerobars means tricky corners and descents become more so.
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Old 09-30-08, 05:14 AM   #10
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Thanks, I appreciate the feedback!

Interesting to see a few different attitudes on drafting. Clearly I'm not opposed to it, too early to pick a definitive strategy though.


For the aero bar users, a bunch of questions:
• Are basic clip-ons sufficient, or do you add secondary brake levers?
• Are aero bars and downtube shifters a big mistake?
• Conversely, is a dedicated aero bar setup (e.g. brakes and bar-end shifters on the aeros) practical for ordinary road cycling use?
• And how do you figure out a fit that works both in aeros and standard/hoods/drops position? I'd imagine that an aggressive TT-type position could get uncomfortable after a few hours; do you suck it up, or use a more moderate position?


Current bike, I'm primarily concerned with a few issues:
• Reliability. Bike is ok, frame does have a few small spots where the paint is gone and, of course, there's a tad of rust. Plus I had lots of mechanical issues with it on the last century. Those should be fixed by now, but I'm still a little concerned that something I haven't considered is going to break at an inopportune time.
• Fit. If I'm going to use aero bars, not sure if I will have to radically alter position & fit such that this bike won't do the job.
• Gearing. May not be low enough for my tastes. Not a problem if the century is flat though.

Speed is also a concern, but I'm really not sure what factors would make a new bike more efficient than an old steel bike. It just seems like if they are both mechanically reliable, have the same position, and the same tires, they should ride at about the same speed, and 5-7 lbs shouldn't make a huge difference. Or am I missing something?



Yes.

Actually, the idea is to set a goal that is both feasible and challenging. Even at my best, I was more a B16 than an A20 rider, so I'm not taking it for granted that 5 flat hours is "easy." I expect I will have a better idea as training progresses.
I use visiontech carbonpro aerobars. Syntace and Profile are other common brands. I would not convert your entire front end and just use clip-ons.

For position, the reason almost every long distance cyclist uses aero bars is for comfort. A secondary benefit is it will also put you in a more aero position than most everyone typically rides. It feels different at first and takes some getting used to. I did not have to change anything on my bike, but was already in a fairly aggressive position which fit perfectly.

I'm sure as the miles progress you will be forced to work out the kinks in your bike, if you end up keeping it, and will not have to worry about it by the time you are doing your 5 hour century. if you do lots of solo unsupported rides that put you in the middle of nowhere I would highly recommend figuring the issues out before then!

I used an 11-26 SRAM red cassette with a standard road crank. I thought that was fine for everything I rode - generally very long and very hilly. i prefer single speed though so went back to a fixed gear...

You aren't missing much re; the bike. Don't let others persuade you it will make a huge difference. It really doesn't. Yes, you will probably shave a few seconds to minutes off your time with everything else being equal if you are using a 15lb race machine. Aero is more important than weight. Ideally, a bike under 20lb's is probably what you should shoot for.
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Old 09-30-08, 09:07 AM   #11
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Pure aero setup requires a body fat level in the sub 10% range for males. Note that TT are
rarely over 40mi as are most triathelons, where TT bikes are most commonly seen. Ironman
Tris are not that common (100+ mi on the bike). Guys that compete there are well under 10%.
The aero position restricts your breathing and is best suited for long flat or downhill riding or
into the wind. It is not useful once your speed drops below 20-22mph and works best above 24mph.
Clipons are a much better approach for the average rider with standard brake levers on a drop bar
setup. This gives you 5 positions to ride in compared with 2-3 on the TT bike. Incidently riding
aero in a group is a really BAD idea unless you are the lead rider. On our tandem, with the pilot having
clipon aero bars we find that for the same effort we go 1.5mph faster in the 23-26mph range with the
captain on the aero bar versus sitting up. At 30-33mph the difference is 2mph. Pilot is 76" tall,
which is part of the reason but this gives some idea of what the aero position does for you if you are
in the above 22mph range, which a sub 5 hr century will require for extended periods.
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Old 09-30-08, 09:22 AM   #12
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One thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet: you can gain lots of time for no extra effort by minimizing the amount of time you spend off the bike. One thing that helps hugely in that regard is a well-fitted, smooth-riding bike. The less you get beat up riding, the less time you need to spend recovering at the rest stops. In addition, eat and drink on the bike. Some folks are even good enough bike handlers to add and remove clothing while riding, but for most of us that's pretty risky - a trip to the ER will slow you down more than stopping to take off a jacket.

Anyway, good luck with your 5-hour century attempt. Let us know how it went.

Scott P
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Old 09-30-08, 10:33 AM   #13
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Any other tips from the speedy set? Does 5 hours for a flat century sound achievable by a mere mortal? Or thoughts on the feasibility of doing a solo 5-hour century?
The key to achieving superior results from any bicycle performance trial is in understanding one's strengths and weaknesses and applying a strategy to accent and minimize each. There's something about your comments that makes me think you're missing this point.

In other words, your route, the weather and your particular status at the time of the ride is what will dictate the success of you effort. Knowing when, where, and how hard to work - on each section, road or segment of a Century ususally determines a rider's relative success to their actual ability.

Learn to read the road and pace yourself accordingly. Good luck.
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Old 11-06-08, 11:52 PM   #14
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5 hour century

I would suggest getting your BMI down to 22.
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Old 11-07-08, 07:49 AM   #15
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Ride it in Florida, there'll be a good hour or two difference compared to riding it in somewhere like Vermont.
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Old 11-07-08, 10:21 AM   #16
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Sitting in a pack, a sub-5 century is almost easy. In general, you want to have the miles in your legs, and the ability to cruise for long comfortable periods in the 20+mph range.

Any quality road bike will be fine - as someone said, the main thing is to be comfy and efficient on the bike. As you train, you should also be shaking out mechanical and position issues, so that by early / midsummer the bike is bulletproof reliable and comfy for hours of steady riding.

If you want to upgrade, best bang for your buck is new, lighter wheels.
If you're planning on using a pack / drafting, don't bother with aero bars. If you expect long periods of solo time, get inexpensive bolt-ons. And train with them - they require getting used to.


You need a training plan. I would suggest at minimum hitting the local hammerfest ride(s) every week, and as the season warms up into Summer, tacking on additional miles before / after so that you can knock out at least 85-90 and finish feeling tired but still holding your target pace.

Food and hydration are critical. A camelback full of your go-go juice of choice, bananas, 2 big bottles, and a ziploc of more powder might be enough. This will minimize rest stops. You need to be training in this mode all Spring / Summer so you have all the bugs worked out.

Do speedwork. "You have to go fast, to go fast." Look up the threads on 2x20's and do those 1 or 2x a week.

Last edited by Creakyknees; 11-07-08 at 10:24 AM.
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Old 11-07-08, 12:24 PM   #17
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Mileage. To do a fast century you want to average at least 200 miles/week for at least a couple of months before your event. A year would be good, like Spooky says. Start now. You want to have plenty of time to figure out how to accumulate this kind of mileage without overtraining. Don't ride less than 100 miles/wk all winter. Consistency. Try to ride or work out 5 days/week. Try not to blow off your workouts.

I use clip-ons for fast rides, even when I'll be with a group. You figure you'll always be doing some pulling. Aero bars are worth 5-7 minutes over a 40k TT. But that's with a lot of practice with them. Aero bars require a slightly different pedaling motion that you have to get used to. It's much more difficult to unweight or pull up on the back foot.

Nay on the full aero setup. Your brakes and shifters are in different locations. That makes it harder when you're riding with others.

Better bikes really are better. You want a bike that feels like it accelerates when you push on the pedals and continues to accelerate as long as you keep pushing. A newer bike might have a better drivetrain, too. You can probably find a decent bike somewhere that's made in this century. You might take a test ride and see if it feels substantially different. I know when I strip all the crap off my bike for a TT - bottle cages, saddle bag, pump, light - it feels incredibly faster.

I think tires are important. You'll have time to experiment to find tires that feel fast and don't flat more than others. Practice tire changes - you want to be at 5 minutes or less. You'll want a rim/tire combo that allows you to do the whole thing with your hands. No levers. Open Pro rims are pretty cheap and good quality.

I don't happen to think a comfortable ride is at all important for short distances like a century, but saddle issues are. You may find you have different saddle issues when you're on the aero bars. When you're on the bars, practice dropping your upper back down between your shoulders and dropping your head. Practice pedalling knees in. That's worth the same as full aero wheels. But aero wheels are nice, especially the low spoke count bladed spoke wheels. Cheaper ones are OK. Not at all important, though. Aero wheels only reduce 40k TT times by about 2 minutes, and 40k TT riders are rolling faster than you will be. So maybe 5 minutes over your century. But aero wheels + knees in = 10 minutes.

If you will be riding one of those huge group rides, your start will be very important. You want to start very near the front. You may have to start in another location and join the main route early to be able to get the position you want. Depends on the ride. Talk to others who've done it. Jump to get on the back of fast groups that go by. You never know, you might be able to hang on.

But no, it's not all that hard. Not everyone has the aerobic capacity to go that fast, but many, many people do. I think males of average genetic makeup can do it.
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Old 11-08-08, 10:31 AM   #18
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Sitting in a pack, a sub-5 century is almost easy. In general, you want to have the miles in your legs, and the ability to cruise for long comfortable periods in the 20+mph range.
Almost easy, is a great bail-out term. In practice, two or three riders, dedicated to a common goal is almost always easier than hanging with an erratic -ego-laden pack......


Quote:
Any quality road bike will be fine - as someone said, the main thing is to be comfy and efficient
Enough said, better to be familiar with a bike and it's fit, than any tech-no upgrades.


Quote:
If you want to upgrade, best bang for your buck is new, lighter wheels.
Not really, if you riding the Century with style, you won't need to accelerate and jerk a round alot, which is where lighter wheels help.



Quote:
Food and hydration are critical. A camelback full of your go-go juice of choice, bananas, 2 big bottles, and a ziploc of more powder might be enough.
NO, put water in the Camelback, put the go-juice in your bottles. Bottles are easier to wash-out than Camelback bladders.


Quote:
Do speedwork. "You have to go fast, to go fast." Look up the threads on 2x20's and do those 1 or 2x a week.
Everyone needs some speed work, but the facts are - you have to have lots of miles to last for a 100 miles. Tempo work for a Century needs to be an hour or more a session.....
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Old 11-08-08, 11:14 AM   #19
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Why?
Does your ego need a 5-hour century? Why not ride a hilly ride instead of stacking the deck with a flat century?
I'm all for anyone having any kind of goal as motivation to ride. If his ego does need a 5 hour century, what difference does it make to you?
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Old 11-10-08, 12:01 PM   #20
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A 5 hour "solo" century is good but you mention drafting.
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Old 11-11-08, 11:02 AM   #21
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Expanding on what Richard said . . .
I've also had best luck with a team of 3.
Food: 250 cal/hr = 1250 = 2 bottles of 650 cal. of maltodextrin/protein mix.
Water: 25 oz/hr *5 = 125 = 1 refill of a 70 oz. Camelbak.
You wouldn't have to stop for food at all, only 1 stop @ 50 or 60 miles for a quick water and a pee.
You'll want to practice your food/water routine several times at century distances.
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Old 11-11-08, 11:12 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Bacciagalupe View Post
Drafting. Also critical. I do lots of club rides, pretty good at it. Unfortunately, my main century riding buddy is 4' 8" and very thin, so I might not get the maximum benefit.
If you decide to do one of the long island centuries next year, you can trade drafts with me for the first half. I'm a 6'0 clyde, so I'll be a good target to draft. I did a 7 hour century as my first this year (with two flats, yech), and am aiming for 6 next year, so you'll be on your own the second half where I'll likely slow down. The montauk rides are flat except for the last 4 miles, but at that point you're just like "screw it" and barrel up the climb, which is a fairly gentle grade.
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Old 11-13-08, 02:53 AM   #23
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I'm really interested to know where the OP now stands on substituting interval training as the panacea he has promoted extensively and exclusively for long-distance fitness.

Seems to me that the experienced guys are all saying time in the training saddle is a good platform to build any long-distance performance. Helps with bike skills, reading the road, judging what the body can and can't do at various stages on a ride, lasting the distance under stress... I'd imagine, too.

And having taken delivery of a CF frame and built it up light, I can say that I would prefer to be attempting a five-hour century on that rather than a steel bike that weighs half as much or more again.
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Old 11-13-08, 08:56 PM   #24
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What? Isn't anyone going to mention Joe Friel's book(s)? I know in the Cycling Past 50 he has a program for training for a fast century. Just started back riding so I don't have any personal experience to tell whether it works or not.
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