You’ve built up to 75-mile rides and think you have plenty of endurance. But when you try to ride 75 miles slightly faster, you fade before the end.
Endurance is relative. Howlong you can ride is relatively unimportant. Anyone can ride a very long distance if they go slowly enough and take enough breaks. But most cyclists want to ride long at a specific pace. There’s a big difference between 100 miles in 8 hours and covering the same distance in 6 hours. And the difference becomes even more pronounced if you want to break 5 hours.
So endurance isn’t about how long you can ride but rather about how fast you can ride a given distance. How many cyclists have you heard bemoan their “slow” century time and chalk it up to poor endurance when they were actually upset about their speed for that distance.
Tips for Adding Speed to Your Endurance
Vary your training speed. The primary training mistake most riders make is riding at the same effort level nearly all the time. They lock into a pace that’s neither too hard nor too easy. As a result, they never go fast enough to promote improvement or slow enough to allow recovery from the harder efforts. Their training palette is a monotone gray rather than red-hot bursts of effort followed by cool green recovery rides.
So on long rides, don’t lock into a steady pace that’s “just a little bit hard.” One good way to spark up your long rides is to do several sprints every hour. You don’t need to sprint all-out. Simply get out of the saddle and sprint until you have spun out the gear then sit down and spin up to about 10 rpm faster. Hold this speed for another couple of seconds before spinning down gradually. Repeat 3 or 4 times per hour separated by 10-15 minutes of riding at your normal long-distance pace.
A good time to do these sprints is up short hills or as you flatten out after descents and your speed is already high. Spin a big gear to keep your descending momentum going for 10-15 extra seconds.
Ride fast when you’re tired. Suppose your best time for 100 miles in 5 hours and 20 minutes. Your goal is to break 5 hours. You probably find it relatively easy to maintain the required 20-mph average during the first 2 hours of a 100-miler. The third hour it’s tougher, the 4th hour you’re suffering, and the 5th hour—well, you can see clearly that you aren’t going to pass the century mark at your goal pace.
So riding fast when you’re fresh isn’t the problem. It’s the ability to ride fast when you’re fried that’s blocking your goal. The solution is to train to improve at your “sticking point.” Do a long ride (3-5 hours) at a steady and moderate pace. Then in the last hour, include 2 repeats of 20 minutes each. Ride at an intensity of about 85% of max heart rate. The effort should feel “very hard” on your scale of perceived exertion. Spin easily for 5-10 minutes between these hard efforts.
Be sure you’re well hydrated and have been consuming enough calories during the ride. You must have fuel in your tank when you start these intervals. They’ll train your body to go hard when it’s tired, helping you overcome the “last hour” fatigue that can derail your quest for a personal record.
Train for long-ride speed on short rides. Yes, you’ve got that right—you can build your speed for centuries by riding intervals on your shorter training days. A healthy dose of speedwork accustoms your body to going faster for short distances but it also has the salutary side effect of raising your cruising speed at any distance.
So if you can currently average 16 mph for a 3-hour ride, an 8-week training block of twice-weekly intervals (for instance, 5×3 minutes at an intensity of about 90% of max heart rate) can raise your long-ride cruising speed 1-2 mph. You’ll be going faster even though your perceived effort isn’t greater.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.