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Due to injury I've got to take a little time off from biking. My physical therapist recommended doing a "couch to marathon" program when I'm feeling better to get me back into the swing of things. But, being that I would rather ride a bike, are there any "couch to century" programs out there? The reason my knee problem has persisted is because I get too excited when it feels a little better and I overdo the biking right out the gate resulting in re-injury. So, I'd like something that takes me up to a century at a slow pace, maybe over a few months.

EDIT: In the spirit of less chatty answers, maybe a link to a specific training program would be nice.

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  • Any way to make this question solicit less chatty answers? It's a valid question, but I can see a lot of answers like "you should try X" showing up. Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 17:04
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    "...My physical therapist recommended..." So, I gather that you intend to ignore the physical therapist and get advice here?
    – user313
    Commented Oct 27, 2011 at 4:45
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    @wdypdx22: My injury is a running injury during marathon training and my physical therapist was just telling me I could start running again via a couch to marathon program once the pain goes away. He also said there is no issue with me biking once the pain subsides. Not ignoring his advice, just trading couch to marathon for couch to century.
    – J126
    Commented Oct 27, 2011 at 14:25
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    One thing that can't be emphasized too much, with a knee injury, is gear down! Also, make sure your seat is high enough -- should be about as high as you can place it without needing to rock side-to-side to pedal. Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 20:19

6 Answers 6

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I'm going to answer this as a true couch to century with a general plan. You can write books on this stuff. There have been books written on this stuff.

You have three major goals for a successful century:

  1. Get the raw fitness needed to keep the pedals going for 6+ hours.
  2. Figure out how much you need to eat while going for the entire thing.
  3. Do the above without getting any stress injuries.

The Plan

Off the Couch

You are off the couch. You have a bike, old, new, mountain bike, road bike, it doesn't matter. If you've never ridden, get something cheap so you're not out much money if this isn't for you. You have at least one pair of cycling shorts, gloves, and a helmet. The goals here are just to ride around. Don't go terribly hard; find some scenic routes; avoid steep hills if possible. Most importantly, work on pedalling smoothly: Nice circles with the feet.

Each week, try to get in three one hour rides.

Building up

Make your way up to 4 rides per week. Three shorter ones and one longer one, maybe up to 2 hours. On your favourite loop, you'll see your average times slowly dropping. You are still not trying to ride really hard. When you get to the point that your weekly 2 hour ride isn't leaving you wasted for the day and the century still seems like a good idea, it's time for the next phase.

Really Starting

Get a road or touring bike. Mountain bikes were fine up until this point, but unless your century is off-road, you will want a real road bike. Get fitted by a pro: this is possibly your single biggest injury prevention mechanism. Get clipless pedals. Practice with them on the grass until you stop falling over.

The following sections can be repeated as needed. I did not get to 'Month 3' for at least a year. Listen to your body.

Month 1

If you commute by bike, everything other than the 'long' ride could be 2 shorter rides. Always work on smooth pedalling. For the longer ride, bring a small snack and practice eating.

  • Week 1-2: 3×1 hour, 1×2 hours
  • Week 3: 3×1 hour, 1×3 hours
  • Week 4: 4×1 hour

Month 2

Once per week, on the one hour ride, spend about 20 minutes in a flatter section, riding harder. You want to hit a pace that's uncomfortable, but when 20 minutes is up, you can keep riding. You're not killing yourself here. You should be breathing hard, but if you really had to, you could go at that pace for an hour or more. This will take practice.

The longer rides now provide the constant threat of bonking. Try out gels, sports drinks, bananas, cold roasted potatoes and see what is palatable for you on the ride. Most organized centuries have food stops, so you need to know before you do it if the food they are going to provide will agree with you. Aim for ~300 calories per hour, but listen to your body.

  • Week 1-2: 3×1 hour, 1×3 hours
  • Week 3: 3×1 hour, 1×4 hours
  • Week 4: 4×1 hour

Month 3

Once per week on a one hour ride, do 2 of those 20 minute efforts with a 10 minute gap in the middle. Again, you're not killing yourself on these. It's uncomfortable. Your legs are telling you that it would be nice to slow down a bit, but you can tell them to shut up. Put one or two similar sections into the longer rides.

  • Week 1-2: 3×1 hour, 1×4 hours
  • Week 3: 3×1 hour, 1×5 hours
  • Week 4: 4×1 hour

Century

Once you are capable of a 5 hour ride, assuming that's not already century distance at your speed, you will effectively be capable of riding for 100 miles. It's just a matter of continuing to eat, drink and keep the pedals going.

Notes

Listen to your knees and joints. You will get more supple on the bike and you may need to get fitted again several months in. Fortunately, after that, you shouldn't change much.

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    Depending on progress and availability, I'd suggest looking into local group rides. Beginner oriented rides are generally 25 KM/H, and have a "no drop" policy -- there's the chance of coaching and/or riding partners.
    – OMG Ponies
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 22:22
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Rather than targeting a C (which I assume means you want to participate in a race and be "competitive"), maybe you should consider touring instead. Slower paced, non-competitive, emphasizes simply enjoying the ride. Can be day trips or weeks long, road or trail, self-contained or supported, alone or in a group.

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  • Great idea. And if you keep a log you can watch your progress (which is both a good prod and a good limiter at the same time). Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 12:46
  • I don't want to race. When I hurt myself I was trying to build up to 100 miles for the fun of it. But, I am certainly interested in touring. I'd like to do a tour next summer and thought century training would get me there.
    – J126
    Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 15:36
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    I'd recommend that you stop at a half C for now. The problem is that beyond that you get tired and sloppy, and sloppy causes your knee to get re-injured. Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 19:59
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If you're re-injuring, you have some technique problems.

Number one knee strain is gear mashing, known as pushing too high a gear: http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/triathlons/training/mashing-vs-spinning.htm see also http://sheldonbrown.com/fixed-knees.html

Work on pedaling form, know as cadence and spinning, so as not to strain your knees: http://www.cptips.com/tech.htm

Turn your bike into a trainer to keep your environment fixed while you build strength, also a training technique used by racers: such as
http://performancebike.com/bikes/Product_10052_10551_1111867_-1___
enter image description here

These fundamentals are the building blocks of any "couch to century" plan.

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Yes, there are "couch to century" training plans. Depending on your problem, a century can be easier on your knee than a marathon since the maximal force during cycling is lower than during running.

Here is a link to a typical "10-week" training plan. If you search around a bit you can find training plans from 8 weeks up to perhaps 14 weeks.

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I'd recommend getting the book "Crunch Time Cyclist" by Chris Carmichael. There is a review here for more details.

www.roadcycling.co.nz/Coach/cycling-book-the-time-crunched-cyclist.html

He has a specific 10 week program for novices raising their training to Century rides, but he covers so much more as well, background, nutrition etc. I'm sure you could use this to then build your own program if you want to do it over more than 10 weeks.

It worked for me, I went from a being a 10 mile commuter to a 2 day 170 mile charity rider in 8 weeks.

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The answer by mimi points to technique problems as the root cause of knee pain. That's plausible. However, I don't think the advice in the linked article is helpful.

If someone else is in this position, there is a good case for going to a bike fitter, and possibly a physical therapist on the side. A handful of bike fitters may be licensed physical therapists. In any case, having the wrong saddle height can be one prominent cause of knee problems, and that's mainly if your saddle height is too high (personal experience). Absent that, you could have a structural leg length discrepancy that you might want to adjust for, or some other musculoskeletal issue like muscle imbalances.

In this answer, I tried to give some checks that riders can do to see if their saddle height or horizontal saddle position are wrong. These are not necessarily simple to do for newer riders, but perhaps they can help.

Bike fitting is complex, and every time you adjust one parameter, other parameters change. For example, if you raised your saddle, you simultaneously put it further behind the cranks, and you increase your handlebar reach, and you increase your handlebar drop slightly. A lot of us do adjust our own positions as we get more experience, and we often get them more or less correct. However, there is also misinformation out there. This is why I'd have advised the OP to seek professional assistance.

If your knee pain is purely due to ramping up mileage too fast, then I have a feeling it will resolve relatively fast after some rest. In this case, the only way is to ramp up your mileage more slowly than before when you got knee pain.

I realize that this doesn't address the training challenge involved in the couch to century endeavor. I bring this up because I think it's likely that knee pain due to bike fit was the OP's limiting factor.

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    Thanks for the reply after all these years. I was able to complete the century in summer 2013. I found a bike fitter that was also a physical therapist, like you said. I also got a bike built to my specifications. It turned out that I did have some skeletal problems, that a couple of years of physical therapy helped with. I'm still biking to this day.
    – J126
    Commented Apr 24 at 16:54
  • @J126 Hi! I didn't expect you to see this. We are obviously glad that you both completed the century and also got help resolving your fit problems!
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Apr 24 at 16:55

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