how to go the distance in a 100-mile bike ride: lessons from a lake tahoe century

Potatoes and Salt
The AMBBR rest stop carb-fest includes boiled potatoes and salt. photo: velojoy
Ten tips from Lake Tahoe to help you nail a century ride: A 100-mile bike ride at altitude and on hills yields lessons about how to go the distance while still enjoying the view.

Thinking about training for a century ride? A recent 100-mile outing at America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride (AMBBR) around Lake Tahoe yielded a few lessons about going the distance – at altitude and on hills — while enjoying the view.*

View from Inspiration Point Lake Tahoe, CA
Emerald Bay as seen from the climb to Inspiration Point at AMBBR, Lake Tahoe. photo: velojoy

Make a plan –  Your fitness level and the event terrain will determine your ultimate needs, but a 10- to 12-week training program will help you build incrementally toward your goal. Make sure your plan includes not only volume, but also steady-state and climbing intervals. You’ll find plenty of resources online; I downloaded a free century training guide from For a coached option, sign up for a century ride with Team in Training to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. AMBBR is a national TNT event.

Warm up with a metric –  Especially if you’re prepping for your first century, notching a local 100-kilomenter, or 62-mile, event as you complete your training will provide valuable road experience and boost your confidence for the big day. My pick was the Bloomin’ Metric in Norwalk, Conn.

Have a pro pack your bike – If you’ll be shipping your bike by ground or air, and particularly if it’s your first time traveling with your ride, I recommend having your local bike shop do the packing. If your aim is to do it yourself next time, ask the bike mechanic if you can watch and learn. Need convincing? Read the sad story of my cracked carbon-fiber bike frame.


A bike rider ascends a hill at Lake Tahoe
velojoy plateaus between hills at AMBBR.

Prepare for thin air – Like the AMBBR ride, your century may take you to a destination with higher altitude than you’re accustomed to. If so, try to arrive a few days early. In a previous post, I outlined additional steps to help your body acclimate.

Layer up – Mountainous locales may surprise you with unexpected weather patterns. Toss extra layers, plus rain gear, into your suitcase to avoid being caught short.



Tune the bike –  The last thing you want is a “mechanical” on event day. Make an  appointment in advance to have your bike unpacked, re-assembled and tuned at your destination. Check your event’s website for partner shops, or contact the race director for shop recommendations.

Think before you blow off the final rest stop – Those last 5 to 10 miles, when you’re saddle-weary and your energy is ebbing, can be the toughest, both physically and psychologically.  Many events include a rest stop within a few miles of the finish. While I’ve passed these up before, I wish I hadn’t at Tahoe. In retrospect, I could have benefited from a brief pause to re-focus after the big hills and before the final rollers.


What goes up – I can hear the speed demons in their tight tucks tsk-tsking, but  as a flatland rider I found the +40-mile-per-hour, 6-mile descent from Spooner Junction at AMBBR a little scary, and I wasn’t alone. While it’s impossible to fight gravity, you can slow your descent. Lightly feathering your rear brake and adopting an upright, less aerodynamic posture in the saddle can help you feel more in control.

Snap to – Don’t fall for the “we’ll take a photo at the next rest stop” line. If you see the scenic shot you want and can pull over safely for a photo, do it, or regret it later.

Ride in the moment – Sometimes riders become so focused on the road or the next mileage marker that they miss the scenery.  Enjoy the vistas – especially the crystalline views of Lake Tahoe. Absorb the energy of those around you. Encourage fellow riders. Yodel while passing through auto tunnels (really). Thank volunteers. Savor the finish.

*Readers, please share your personal tips on riding a century for a future post. Also check my weekend joyride posts for summer century rides in and around New York City and the Hamptons.

Note: Eager to ride Tahoe, but don’t want to wait a whole year for AMBBR 2011? Check out the 72-mile Tour de Tahoe on September 12. Bonus: your legs will be fortified with a whole summer’s worth of training to power you up the big hills at Inspiration Point and Spooner.

Top: AMBBR rest stop carb-fest includes red potatoes and salt.


  • AMBBR2010 was one of the best days of my life…and yes Team in Training is the way to go. The coaches and the team aspect gets you through And so do those “uninspiring” potatoes Michelle

  • I am having a hard time trying to decide on whether or not to do the TNT Century Ride. NEVER done anything like it in my life. Never even done a sprint tri. Any suggestions? Any help>

    • Candy, I read your blog post about participating in TNT, and I’m inspired by YOU! In my own experience — two Olympic-distance triathlons — I found TNT’s coached and mentored approach to training super-supportive. Like you, I raced for friends who had cancer — one who survived and one who didn’t — and I will never forget crossing the finish line with them in my heart. Good luck and I hope you’ll share your race experience with us.

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