100 mile time trial – Training and pacing

A reader asked if I had any ideas training for a 100 mile time trial. Next year, the National 100 mile TT will be one of my main pre-hill climb season targets. Last year I finished 5th in a time of 3.46, and I hope to go a bit better next year. I set a pb of 3.34.17 in 2014


Basic Training for a 100 mile TT

At the risk of stating the obvious, the 100 mile TT is a formidable challenge. It’s one thing to ride 100 miles, but to race 100 miles, is quite a challenge. A quickish rider will be able to do it in 4 hours.

The record for 100 mile TT is  Kevin Dawson (03:22:45) in 2003. If you think that sounds fast, Ian Cammish did 3:31:53 in 1983 before tribars and discwheels.

A 100 mile TT is possibly cycling’s answer to the marathon; it’s a similar effort in terms of time.

Base Endurance

The obvious starting point for doing a 100 mile TT is to do sufficient aerobic endurance training. If you are starting from scratch, this will take a good 6 months to build up. You can do 10 mile TT or 25 mile TT on little training, but unless you want to suffer like anything, you need that base endurance to be comfortable sitting in the saddle and able to complete the distance.

Minimum base endurance

As a minimum, I would suggest you need one long ride of 3-4 hours every fortnight. If possible, you would make it more frequent and longer. In winter and early season, I would do these training rides around level 2, so it is around 70% max heart rate. around 60-70% max threshold power.  These aerobic training slowly build up aerobic fitness, fat-burning capacity and ability to cycle for long periods. There are also smaller benefits for top end performance, such as increased lactate threshold. But, this is the first priority in terms of training for 100 miles. At the least, I would do a ride of 80 miles before racing. If you’ve already done a 100, it will be good for your confidence psychologically. But, it’s not essential. I know a few good time triallistswho will only do over 80 miles in a 100 mile TT.

Optimal base endurance

To maximise my chances in the 100 mile TT, I will be concentrating on the winter months in building up a strong aerobic endurance. At the moment, in November, I’m trying to do two long rides a week of 5-6 hours (averaging about 16mph). The average speed is not important. These are the classic long slow distance rides (LSD); you can easily do it with other riders. With a couple of shorter rides, it provides quite a strong framework for later in the season. At this time of the year, I don’t see these as ‘junk miles’, but an important foundation for increasing intensity in Jan and Feb.

Throughout Dec, Jan and Feb, I will continue to work on this aspect of cycle fitness. I don’t rigidly stick to level 2, but sometimes in the year it is good to concentrate on a particular type of training, after a long seasons hill climbs, endurance training seems a nice break from top level intervals.

A very rough target is to manage 1,000 miles a month in winter. But, these days, I’m less religious about clocking up the miles. It’s important not to get carried away and maintain a good balance between rest and training. This balance is different for different athletes. In my first season, 1,000 mile a month would have left me pretty tired, after a few seasons accumulation in fitness, it is more manageable. But, in the winter, I still leave a good two days of rest or very easy riding. Also, in a month, it’s good to vary effort from week to week. Perhaps 3 weeks of 200-300 miles, and in the fourth week have much lighter week.

Sweat Spot training

A typical cyclist might be racing a 100 mile TT at around 80-90% of threshold power. e.g. if you average 300 watts for a 25 mile TT, you might do well to average 250 watts for a 100 mile TT. This effort level of 10-15 % below your threshold for an hour, is often termed sweat spot training or ‘tempo’ training.

It is called the sweat spot because you can gain big improvements in fitness, with only relatively limited muscle damage and tiredness. If you race at threshold or above, you can make more gains, but also face greater fatigue and need more rest.

Therefore, in training for a 100 mile TT, a very good training schedule will be to incorporate these ‘tempo’ rides into your training.

Early in the year, you can start off with just doing one hour at this tempo of 80-85% threshold power. You will need to concentrate to maintain the power and effort, conversation is no longer really possible; it will be difficult to do in a group, unless you have a small number of riders of similar ability.

As the year progresses, increase the duration of these tempo rides from 1 hour to 2, 3 and even four hours. This is training which closely matches your race pace, so it is targeted training to the race effort of a 100 mile TT.

The good thing about sweat spot training is that it is a lot of fun and rewarding. You can do quite a bit of it without excess fatigue. If you have limited training time, then I would concentrate on this sweat spot training. Effort at this intensity will bring substantially more gains than low intensity level 1 and 2.

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Building up the base miles

Since the National at the end of October, I’ve been taking it relatively easy. Apart from Zappi CC hill climb, I’ve had  a laid back approach to cycling – a bit of level one delivering letters around Oxford, the odd session on the rollers.  But generally it feels like a time to prioritise things other than cycling for a change. It becomes a bit of a relief to look at the pouring rain out of the window and know you can just stay indoors and without feeling like you’re losing form at the wrong time of the season!

To use an old fashioned cliche, everything has it’s season and November feels more like a season for eating cake and drooling over the latest TT machine.

The new Boardman TT bikes is tantalisingly beautiful. (Cycling weekly photos)  You want to buy it on aesthetics alone; how can such a wonderfully engineered bike fail to do anything but fly through the air – like the proverbial knife through butter?

Alas, there is always another bicycle to buy!

It’s also time to put some attention on that murky business of earning money so that I can re-enter the time trial machine arms race. We could declare a truce and mimic the UCI in not riding anything post 1976 and the Eddy Merckx era. But, although my credit care limit would be quite happy with riding steel frames, we would lose something if we didn’t have new bicycles to pour over in the winter months. If we didn’t have bike catalogues and internet sites to fill our winter months, we might find ourselves going out to train on the hard cold winter mornings and that would never do.


But, after a couple of weeks of easy riding, I find the old itch to get out on the bike returning. It’s one thing to pootle around Oxford, but when the sun comes out in November, I yearn to get out into the Cotswolds to enjoy the last colour of autumn before the winter gods shut up shop, leaving a bleak 3 months of austerity.

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Winter training rides

Winter training rides. Do you see winter training rides as something to be endured – long slow miles in cold, wet weather or an opportunity to enjoy the rigours of the British winter and display you’re the Flanderian hard man of your local area? Do you’re winter training rides involve 30 minutes on the rollers once a week or will you clock up 250 miles per week, whatever the weather?

There are some compensations for riding in winter – especially late Autumn before it gets really bare

Sean Kelly’s attitude to riding through winter, could be summed up by his quote

“I go out on my bike, I do my ride, and when I get back home I decide if it’s too wet or not!”

a bit of water never hurt anyone

I don’t think Sean Kelly would approve of long fuzzy socks and full length gloves in races… My attitude to winter training rides varies enormously. Sometimes, I’m an amateur who will spend 30 minutes on the rollers rather glad to listen to the rain beating down on the conservatory. Other times, I’m motivated to ‘get the miles in.’ and religiously clock up the miles and write them down in the training log. I become the proverbial mile-eater churning up the lonely Cotswolds miles through eerily quiet countryside and grim weather. After last season’s hill climb championship, my winter break lasted one day, before I couldn’t contain my ambition for next season, and before I knew it I had 2,000 km for November alone. This year, winter training rides are a bit on the back burner. I’m winding up a bit more slowly to those epic 100 mile winter rides. The only problem is that if you leave it too long, winter will fly by before you can say ‘who ate all the pies?’

Secret of Winter training rides


1. Do you need a winter break? It depends on your season and how tired you are physically and mentally. I would take a break, if you really want one or if you have a niggling injury. Winter is a good time to take a break. But, generally I don’t like to take a winter break. The reasons are:

  • After hill climb season of October, I’m actually quite keen to get on the bike and do some ‘normal’ cycling. The end of my season is very low mileage high intensity. If I’d done a 1,000 miles in October, I might feel like a break. But, in last few weeks, you’re not really on your bike that much anyway.
  • Not taking a winter break gives me greater freedom to take days off. If I took three weeks off in November, I would be keener to be quite strict to go out in December and January. But, I tend to find you might get an awful week of weather In January, a cold in December, and another week where there’s so much going on that you give the bike a miss. The winter is one time, where I prioritise non-cycling over cycling. I have even been known to make a vague effort to be sociable. Not taking a winter break works quite well for me because it gives a flexibility for taking time off at odd intervals throughout the worst of the winter.

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