Why not conquer a century?
There is something about milestone challenges: in running it’s that all important 26 miles and 385 yards, in triathlon it’s 2.4 + 112 + 26.2 miles and in off-road cycling the equivalent has to be the metric or imperial century. Here at Pedal Planner we’ve gone in search of the 100s; the events that have the allure and challenge of a big, fat, three figure distance…
Before you go and throw yourself into the mix of a 100, take heed of a few kind words of advice.
Ahead of the event. Two pitfalls that have befallen many a would-be century maker, make sure you are not one of them…
- Not having a pace plan. Smashing the first quarter out front will very likely see you blowing at half distance. Any experienced endurance rider will tell you that red-lining at any point will come back and bite you hard before the distance is done. The feeling of fresh legs and being swept along by the occasion not to mention the front runners will be hard to resist, but resist you must. Here’s where a bit of technology can be very helpful. In your longer distance build-up rides gain a good understanding of your pace and effort levels that you can sustain over the distance. It is important to have an understanding of both, as the unique conditions on the day (terrain, weather, weight of your pack) will determine what pace you achieve for a given amount of effort. Keeping a consistent effort is key, you find a rhythm, your hydration and nutrition requirements will be consistent too and therefore easier to manage.
- Not having a hydration and nutrition plan. Depending on you and the event, you are going to be spending 5 – 14 hours tuning your legs – that will burn a colossal amount of fuel, as well as expending some 500ml of the wet stuff per hour. Ahead of the big day you need to know how to take that quantity on-board, in what form and when. Your metabolism and preferences are unique to you, but as a general rule you need to consider the following: Know where the feed/hydration stops are and broadly what will be available there. Use and have a means of replenishing your preferred energy drink & electrolytes. Variety is key; many endurance riders talk about losing their appetite when they’re hurting – despite being in real need of food. Not only will a mix of food stuffs be more appetizing but a mix of fast and slower release carbs will help prevent you bonking.
These events are all about you versus the distance. By preparing well you can have the distance beat (in you head at least) on the start line. By knowing you are fully hydrated, carb-loaded, and you have a well worked plans for food, water and pace, all you need to do now is put in the effort and enjoy it!
Out on the trail
On the day you are likely to have to draw on levels of mental, physical and emotional resilience like nothing before. You will need to be ready for that; whenever the anguish arrives, relish it; with mental toughness you can translate this into positive motivation. You’ve entered this event because you wanted to test yourself, you’ve prepared and anticipated for this time out of your comfort zone. It is only in these moments that you have the opportunity to prove to yourself that you can do it. The more punishment you experience the greater the reward.
You’re also likely to be spending longer in the saddle than you ever have before. Any aches, pains and niggles, latent or otherwise, are likely to come to the fore today. Physiological pain often joins forces with the any doubting voices in your brain, in combination they be a powerful force, a enticing you to quit. Have plan of how you are going to deal with that pain, that might be distraction of satisfying food, strapping, or careful use of anti-inflammatories / pain killers – whatever your poison. Whatever your tactics the strategy is the same; bully that voice in your head, shut it up, prove it wrong with every Km you complete. Above all keep moving forward; while you are, regardless of your speed, you are winning that battle in your head.
So you now have a good idea how to prepare and endure, what is as important is selecting the right 100 for you, so here’s a flavour of the UK events on offer…
Mountain bike over the border…
The Kielder 101 sees the welcome return of endurance MTB racing to the Great Border Forest. Showcasing the fantastic variety of trails and scenery on offer, the route starts from Kielder Castle and, like the Reivers of yore, crosses the Scottish border to plunder the flowing singletrack of Newcastleton before returning to the fast, rocky trails of Kielder. The 101km route has 2500m of climbing to boost the challenge/reward, while three feed/mechanic stations makes it accessible to a range of riders. And if that isn’t enough, organisers Seismic are already planning a 101 mile option for 2016.
…Or over the water (if you’re tough enough)….
If you can’t wait that long, and you like doing your off road 100s events the hard way, then we suggest a trip over to the Isle of Man is in order. The Manx 100 is a 100 mile or 100 kilometre mountain bike adventure, and looks to be one of the very toughest centurys out there.
The full 100 mile event will take the riders on a journey of over 16,000 feet of ascent (the 100 kilometre has 3,500 metres of ascent) through the best, toughest, roughest, steepest, and most picturesque tracks on the Isle of Man. The loop takes you to remote parts of the Island which will test every rider’s fitness, mental strength and endurance. Pushing even the most hardened mountain biker to the edge of their comfort zone, and for most beyond.
The twist in the tail of this event however is that there are no mechanic stations, no bike shops open and very little in the way of open stores, so planning and self-sufficiency are key. Only off road bike riders willing to push their boundaries need apply, and making use of the organisers bag drop service at the check points is essential.
South Downs Way in a day – a rite of passage for the off-road cyclist
Along with the Ridgeway and the Coast to Coast, the South Downs Way is a classic route and a favourite amongst the Pedal Planner team. The last time we did it we were in our youth and took a leisurely 2½ days to complete the 100 mile route from Winchester to Eastbourne, but to do the 100 (not forgetting the 10,000 feet of climbing) in a day – well we’ve just got to give it a go… So if, like us you are eyeing up the prospect, the good news is there are a couple of ways of being supported on this iconic off-road journey.
Aimed at those wishing to get some summer use and serious mileage in on their cyclo-cross bikes, the CX Century is set to become the stand-out event in the rapidly growing off-road sportive calendar. Want to build up to the 100 miler next year? Well our friends Martin & Phil at CX Sportive have laid on a 100km option too – no excuses folks!
Looking for a bit of a purpose to ease the inevitable pain? Then join the British Heart Foundation and hundreds of other heart riders on their equally challenging and well supported South Downs Way Off-Road Bike Ride. They too are offering a less imposing option, but whether you choose the 35 or 100 mile routes, with this event you know you’ll be powering lifesaving research with every hill you climb.
Why not take your time on the longest day?
New kid on the block is the Solstice 100, and organiser Vince Major of MTB Epics has a fresh take on the 100 miler: his is an off-road sportive which takes place around the longest day of the year – The Summer Solstice. “The idea is to create a relaxed day out on the mtb, to enjoy the countryside and maybe a pub-stop or two”. The route, 60% off-road, starts and finishes in Northampton and will visit the rolling countryside of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire and the well-known mountain bike areas of Woburn and Chicksands. And even if you are less sure about the pub stops en-route then as race HQ is the The Pomfret Arms, (a bike friendly pub serving a special beer for the occasion) you can certainly enjoy a well-deserved pint when you finish.
A Century all–rounder…
Maybe you want to cut your teeth on a 100, but the family’s not so keen? Well Round 4 of the Scott MTB Marathon Series takes place in Wantage in August and this event really does have something for everyone. There’s a choice of 25, 50 and 75 km routes in addition to the big fat 100, and as ever, our friends at Cycle-Tec will ensure a great atmosphere complete with free camping and a pasta party.
So there you have it, our pick of the UK 100 off road cycling events, and as you can see there is a great selection and variety of terrain and difficulty; the only question that remains is which will you choose?
Our thanks to all the organisers for their input to this article and Ryan Pitts at the BHF and Nigel at the Manx 100 for the images.