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How to Go from Riding the Couch to Riding a Century

Prep for a 100-mile ride in only 12 weeks. Plus: five great centuries close to Chicago.

Riders at the North Shore Century   Photo: Lawrence Losoff

Runners have their marathons; triathletes, their Ironmans. Cyclists looking to test their mettle have a benchmark challenge of their own: the 100-mile century ride. Even if your winter workout regimen consisted primarily of streaming Parks and Recreation, if you start training now, you can still set your sights on conquering a century this fall.

“It’s challenging but doable,” says Jordan Grauer, a 40-year veteran of the sport and a cycling coach at Chicago Endurance Sports. Here are his key tips:

Be consistent.

Ride at least three times a week (but no more than six) to build the necessary fitness and boost comfort in the saddle.

Go long.

Designate one day a week for your long ride. Start with a length of about two hours and gradually, by two weeks before the race, build to around four hours. 

Fuel and hydrate.

During long rides, make sure to drink at least a bottle of water an hour and ingest calories (sports drinks and gels or solid foods). 

Pace yourself.

Keep most of your rides—especially the long ones—at a comfortable pace. That’s true, too, when you bike the century itself. Advanced riders might target a five-hour mark, but beginners should focus on finishing with a smile. (Centuries have no official time clocks, anyway.)


Many newbies hold their handlebars with a vise-like grip, wasting valuable energy. If you loosen up, every turn of the pedal will feel easier.


Jordan Grauer’s 12-week Plan

WEEK 1 TUES Speed work. 60-minute ride, including 10 minutes at a bit faster-than-normal pace
THURS Middle distance. 60-minute ride
SAT Long distance. 30 to 35 miles (maybe two hours)
SUN Middle distance. 15 to 20 miles
WEEK 2 TUES Same as previous week
THURS 65-minute ride
SAT 35 to 40 miles
SUN Same as previous week
WEEK 3 TUES 60-minute ride, including two 10-minute intervals at a harder effort
THURS 70-minute ride
SAT 40 to 45 miles
SUN 20 to 25 miles
TUES 60-minute ride
THURS 60-minute ride
SAT 40 to 45 miles
SUN 15 to 20 miles
WEEK 5 TUES 75-minute ride, including 15 minutes at a harder effort
THURS 75-minute ride
SAT 45 to 50 miles
SUN 20 to 25 miles
WEEK 6 TUES Same as previous week
THURS 80-minute ride
SAT 50 to 55 miles
SUN 25 to 30 miles
WEEK 7 TUES 75-minute ride, including two 15-minute intervals at harder effort, 5 minutes easy recovery in between
THURS 90-minute ride
SAT 55 to 60 miles
SUN 30 to 35 miles
TUES 75-minute ride, including 20 minutes at a harder effort
THURS 75-minute ride
SAT 50 miles
SUN 20 to 25 miles
WEEK 9 TUES Same as previous week
THURS 90-minute ride
SAT 65 to 70 miles
SUN 35 to 40 miles
WEEK 10 TUES 75-minute ride, including three 10-minute intervals at harder effort, 5 minutes easy recovery in between
THURS 90-minute ride
SAT 75 to 80 miles
SUN 40 to 45 miles

NOTES: Do your longer rides at an easy effort, at about a 4 on a 10-point scale. You can swap the activities on the two weekend days if that works better with your schedule. And if you have time, consider adding easy recovery rides of up to an hour on Wednesdays and/or Fridays.


Rides of the Century

Here are five great 100-mile events, all within an easy drive from Chicago.

Most scenic

Apple Cider Century

When: September 25
WHERE: Three Oaks, Michigan
Miles from Chicago: 75
cost: $45 (free for kids 12 and younger)
Website: applecidercentury.com
The Skinny: Rolling hills, rustic farmhouses, colorful leaves, stellar support crews, and a long history—the event dates back to 1974—draw upward of 5,000 cyclists annually to the Midwest’s largest single-day century.


North Shore Century

When: September 18
WHERE: Evanston
Miles from Chicago: 14
cost: $30 ($40 after August 15; $50 day of ride)
Website: evanstonbikeclub.org/nsc
The Skinny: You just might find a new favorite local route as you pedal the tree-lined suburban streets north to Kenosha. Aid stations feature famously delicious homemade cakes, cookies, and brownies.

The Harmon Hundred  Photo: Dave Waycie
Most historic

Harmon Hundred

When: September 11
WHERE: Wilmot, Wisconsin
Miles from Chicago: 65
cost: $20 ($25 after September 8)
Website: wheelmen.com/harmon_hundred.asp
The Skinny: The event that bears the name of Phyllis Harmon, the grande dame of American bicycling, follows a peaceful, slightly hilly course along country roads, with rest stops legendary for pasta and subs.

Most hardcore

Horribly Hilly Hundreds

When: June 18
WHERE: Blue Mounds, Wisconsin
Miles from Chicago: 175
cost: $90
Website: horriblyhilly.com
The Skinny: The bad news: If you didn’t enter the registration lottery in February, you’re already too late for this notoriously grueling event (riders ascend more than 10,000 feet through limestone hills in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area). The good news: You’ll appreciate the extra year to prepare.

Most family friendly

Swedish Days Ride

When: June 26
WHERE: Burlington, Illinois
Miles from Chicago: 55
cost: $20 ($38 for families; $28 and $48 after June 6)
Website: fvbsc.org/swedishdays
The Skinny: Young riders are welcome, and there’s an emphasis on safety, including ham radio operators to dispatch support crews if cell service fails. The first 700 returning riders get watermelon and ice cream.


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