by Janice Tower

Janice Tower is a licensed USA Cycling Level 2 coach and coaches professionally for Carmichael Training Systems. She is the director of Mighty Bikes, a mountain biking program for children ages 8 to 18. For more information on developing junior riders, contact Janice at jtower @ or visit


Leslie, an effervescent lady in her middle years, spun smoothly in the Ronsse Velogarage one frigid Alaska day. Leslie unwittingly rode about two thirds of an indoor century. She cheerfully dismounted when her allotted time was up, tucked her bike under one arm, trainer under the other and strode out the door into the sub-zero January weather. I enjoyed Leslie’s company on our garage ride. She impressed me with her positive attitude and willingness to churn the wheel with us like a gerbil, going nowhere fast.

Fast forward to mid-April. On a recent afternoon I was filling in at a local bike shop when in walked Leslie. Enthusiasm shone on her face. “So,” said Leslie, “what do you think it’d take to ride the Fireweed 200?”

From what I saw of Leslie in January and how she eagerly and fluidly rode that bike, I confidently thought, “Now here’s a lady that is perfectly capable of taking on a double.” With a positive attitude and the right preparation, a relative beginner can accomplish the goal of a double century.

Goal Setting

The first pedal stroke on the journey to completing the double century is choosing a goal that is far enough into the future to allow for adequate training and adaptation to not only make the distance, but to ride it with confidence. Unless you’re an already fit athlete or experienced cyclist, four weeks is more than likely not enough time to prepare. Accomplishing a goal with confidence is much different from barely surviving.

How much preparation time is required to complete a double century with confidence? That depends on your base level of fitness and your experience on a bicycle. If you have ridden a bike regularly for years, the preparation time won’t be as long as for someone who is new to cycling. If your selected goal is for early summer, hopefully you rode your trainer during the cold winter months or aerobically cross-trained with activities such as cross-country skiing or running. If this is May and you haven’t ridden through the spring, a September double would be more realistic.


Periodization is the cornerstone of any training plan whether you’re preparing for local club races or for long distance events. Coaches have different names for the basic training periods throughout the year, let’s use: transition, foundation, preparation and specialization.

Transition occurs in the fall after a long cycling season. Transition can last a few weeks or a couple of months. It is a time for active rest, to repair your body and regain mental freshness.

Periodization resembles a pyramid.

Foundation, the base of the pyramid, occurs during the late fall and early winter months in which the cyclist accrues base mileage. The goal for foundation is general aerobic and strength development.

The preparation period is a time to focus the training effort, gradually increasing volume (time on the bike) and intensity (how hard you ride). Training becomes gradually specific to your goal events. Preparation develops aerobic capacity and increases your lactate threshold.

Specialization, or peaking, focuses on the specific demands of your goal events. It is a relatively short period that achieves top form.

Within these basic periods are smaller training blocks lasting four to six weeks. In a typical four-week program, for example, there are three weeks of progressively increasing volume (time or mileage) and intensity (how hard you ride). Volume each week can be increased by 5 to 10 percent without inducing extreme overload. This three-week build period induces a state of physical overload in which the body is stressed and asked to work outside its comfort zone.

The fourth week of the four-week training block is dedicated to recovery. Fitness gains are realized during the recovery week. This is when your body rebuilds and repairs itself. It adapts to the training overload, making you stronger for the next training block. If you ignore recovery, your improvement will plateau and performance might even decline. Hard training, without allowing for recovery, can induce a state of overtraining; a condition that is difficult to achieve but can take weeks, possibly months to correct.

During a recovery week, training continues, but volume is reduced by as much as half of the previous week. Intensity is reduced but not altogether eliminated. Although the recovery week is a relatively easy week, you should still include some intensity.

Each 4-week training block builds on the previous one. Think of the training block as a series of stair steps. Three steps up (overload), one step down (recovery). Three more steps up, one step down, and so on. Your goal event sits at the top of this staircase.

Choose a goal event date, count backward, and allow yourself at least 3, 4-week training blocks to accomplish it. The more lead time you can dedicate to training, the better you will be able to accomplish a double century with confidence.

The Training Week

The training week contains a series of overload days and recovery days. Each week should contain one or two long rides at a steady pace. Long rides develop base fitness and endurance. Ride the steadiest pace you think you can sustain for the duration of a long ride.

A question that I hear often is, “How long do my long rides have to be in order to do the Fireweed 200?” The short answer is that you don’t have to ride 200 miles in order to ride the Fireweed. Marathon runners don’t have to run 26 miles to successfully complete a marathon.

A simple rule of thumb is to build up to a ride that is two thirds to three fourths of the distance of your goal event. For a double century, your longest ride should be 133 to 150 miles. Riding a century is a good step in this progression, but if your longest ride is a century, riding twice that distance is likely to be very painful. Allow one to two weeks between long rides over 100 miles to ensure adequate recovery and optimum performance for your next long ride.


Two days per week should be dedicated to intensity intervals. Intensity workouts are challenging efforts that train your aerobic system and increase your lactate threshold. Lactate threshold is the point where your body cannot efficiently clear lactate from your blood. If you were to undergo laboratory testing, LT is the point on a graph where blood lactate concentration spikes upward as exercise intensity increases. When you are riding, in practical terms LT is more or less the point when you feel like you need to slow down to sustain your pace for a half hour or more.

Thus, to estimate your heart rate at lactate threshold, race a 30-minute time trial. If you are fairly new to cycling, your average heart rate over the 30 minutes is a good estimate of your LT. Fit athletes are able to sustain a time trial pace a few beats above their true LT. To read more about lactate threshold and other excellent articles on training for doubles, refer to Penseyres, Hughes and Kostman at

Examples of intensity intervals are, in order of increasing difficulty, tempo intervals (88% of LT), steady state intervals (92% of LT), climbing repeats (95% of LT), and speed intervals (100% effort). The percentages given here are guidelines. Coaching systems may have different terms and definitions for these intervals, but their purpose is basically the same; in order to ride fast, you have to train fast.

Each day of training at or above your lactate threshold (LT) should be followed by a relatively light day or a recovery ride. Allow 24 to 48 hours to recover from a very hard workout.

Coaches describe the recovery ride in many tangible ways: take your bike for a walk; ride so slow that you feel guilty; ride so slow that you feel like you’ll fall over. A 30- to 60-minute recovery ride dilates the blood vessels to improve circulation, reduces muscle soreness and promotes healing and adaptation. Training adaptation occurs during recovery and rest, not during hard training.

At least one day per week should be totally off the bike to ensure complete recovery, prevent overtraining and maintain a fresh attitude toward the bike. If you are in tune with your body, you will come to know when an extra rest day is in order. Don’t make the mistake of pushing through excessive fatigue. It is counter productive and will only dig you a deeper hole.

Fueling for Success

No amount of training will get you through a distance event if you don’t pay close attention to what is fueling your engine. Many a rider runs afoul because of poor nutrition and hydration, or simply not taking in enough calories when you need them. Why do all that training only to bonk a few hours into the ride?

On training and race days, eating breakfast is mandatory. Exercising without eating breakfast is like working out “pre-bonked.” Breakfast should consist of a lot of carbohydrates and a bit of protein. A ham and cheese omelet isn’t a bad thing. Just make sure that it comes with a good portion of home fries or pancakes! One of my favorite pre-ride meals is brown rice with an egg and shredded cheese on top, nuked in the microwave for one and a half minutes.

Make sure you take in plenty of water the day before and the morning of a ride. You lose a lot of fluid during the night through respiration and perspiration, leaving you dehydrated by morning.

Experiment with your carbohydrate beverage or liquid nutrition during training, long before your goal event. Make sure that your stomach can tolerate your food and liquid choices. Avoid introducing anything new to your diet on the day of your goal event.

Bring plenty of ride food and eat small amounts often. You should begin eating within 20 minutes of starting your ride. Eat frequently at regular intervals. If you wait to eat until you feel bonked, you’re way too late. My name for bonking is “The Great Flush,” the sensation that I get as though someone pushes the lever and all the strength in my legs flushes down the toilet. It is very difficult to recover from The Great Flush, so it’s best not to go there. Eat frequently, at regular intervals.


Consider taking an electrolyte supplement. Low blood sodium concentration caused by insufficient sodium replacement and/or drinking too much water can contribute to muscle cramping and a dangerous condition called hyponatremia, or fluid overload. Lulu Weschler wrote an excellent article that every distance cyclist should read, “Water and Salt Intake During Exercise–Hyponatremia: How to Recognize Treat and Prevent It”.

A post-ride recovery beverage or meal is essential. Within 30 minutes of riding, eat or drink something that has roughly one part protein to four parts carbohydrate. Carbohydrate uptake is at its maximum when your metabolism is still running high after a workout. A drink or meal containing a 1:4 ratio of protein to carbohydrate will speed recovery by replenishing glycogen stores quickly. This “glycogen window” will close after about 1 hour of rest.

Remember: the goal of riding your first double is to ride it with confidence. One of the best ways to do this is to be confident in your intake of food and fluids. The only way to do this is through experimentation and knowing your body, what it likes, when. John Hughes and Susan Barr, professor of nutrition at the University of British Columbia, provide excellent nutrition advice in their article, “Experiment of One-Applying Ten Nutrition Mantras for Endurance Cyclists”.


Everyone looks forward to the taper. The taper usually lasts one to three weeks prior to an ultra. You’ve logged the hours, ridden the long rides, hammered out those intervals, and your body is a cycling machine, right? Not quite! Tapering doesn’t mean taking a hiatus from the bike. Nor does it mean doing sporadic, easy rides. Volume and intensity are reduced but not altogether eliminated. You must be careful to avoid detraining by continuing some intensity workouts during the tapering phase.

You should use this time to prepare your bike. If you’re not adept at bicycle mechanics, take it to a shop and have them go over it. Leave no bolt unturned. You’ve invested too much of yourself not to have a perfectly operating bicycle.

My new friend Leslie doesn’t know it yet, but she has embarked on a most incredible journey, riding her first double century. I’m confident that she’ll meet her goal and have a lot of fun training to achieve it.