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Long Distance Competition/Ultracycling, Randonneuring and Endurance Cycling Do you enjoy centuries, double centuries, brevets, randonnees, and 24-hour time trials? Share ride reports, and exchange training, equipment, and nutrition information specific to long distance cycling. This isn't for tours, this is for endurance events cycling

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Old 08-08-12, 12:20 AM   #1
matthewk4
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I am soooo sloooooow - How to get to a century pace?

At my current pace, a century ride with any climbing at all would take me over 12 hours. This seems ridiculous. But all the riding I've been doing (which, admittedly isn't as much as I'd planned) isn't getting me any faster. So now what should I do?

Some stats:
I'm 43, just under 6', 220 lbs (back from from the 200 I'd made it to last year, it seems, which is probably half the problem). I'm riding a Specialized Roubaix w/Apex Compact.

This past Sunday I rode in my first organized ride, the "Tour de Peninsula" - 57 miles, 4068 feet ascent. 7 hours 0 minutes, including the rest stops. Putting me at *almost* the very last person to come in, even having taken the shortcut off the metric century route.

Two days before that I did 31 miles, 2040 feet ascent. 3 hours 26 minutes.

When I go up hills, I appear to be heart rate limited. If I can stay around 140 bpm, I'm ok. Once it climbs out past 155 bpm, I'm pretty much guaranteed to need to put my feet down by the time it gets to 160 bpm and let it come back down. A typical climb of a real hill around here (for example, Kings Mountain Road) has me in my lowest gear, doing 47-50 RPM, with my heart rate ramping up from 145 up to just under 160 at which point I'm just too winded and put my feet down until the HR gets back to 145, repeat.

That gaves me an average speed of around 4 MPH while climbing a real hill. On Sunday I spent quite a while trying to catch up to some folks who'd given up and switched to walking... that's how bad it is.

Then I make it up doing an average of 20 with peaks of 30 back down the hill, but there's no way to make up all the time lost climbing... so when all is said and done, I'm averaging 8 MPH.

A few weeks back I did a 46 mile ride along the Monterey Bay coastline, which is relatively flat, and my pace on the flats appears to be about 11.3-11.9 MPH. Which is better, but still nowhere near it needs to be in order to complete even a totally flat century in a reasonable amount of time.

What I can't figure out is that when I started training, my pace was exactly the same. I can ride a *lot* farther now than when I started... and I can keep pedaling a whole lot longer up the steep hills before I need a break than when I started... but my average speed has only gone up by a tiny fraction, if at all. My only comfort is that I now know that I can do 7 hours in the saddle in one day, after 3.5 hours only two days before.

So, as I kept meaning to ask the literally hundreds of people who passed me on both the flats and hills last weekend... what's the trick to going even a little bit faster?
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Old 08-08-12, 12:31 AM   #2
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So your endurance is improving, sounds like you need to work in some shorter/faster-paced rides. Do you have any riding buddies that can help push you a little?
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Old 08-08-12, 04:52 AM   #3
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When did you start with biking and what is you milage since then? What is your current frequency of biking per week and the overall weekly distance?
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Old 08-08-12, 06:03 AM   #4
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Ride more, monitor less. It's okay to be tired.
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Old 08-08-12, 06:26 AM   #5
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Your primary problem seems to be strength/fitness, secondary problem is your weight. I gained a lot of weight over the winter and currently I'm dieting, which is tricky. Although, with the amount of riding I'm doing it's a pretty generous diet, I'm just cutting back a little here and there.

seems like you are in a perfect area to get in a lot of hill climbing. Force yourself to go out a couple times a week and climb hills. That will help
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Old 08-08-12, 08:30 AM   #6
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focus on doing some short rides that make you very uncomfortable.

go as hard as you possibly can for as long as you possibly can. rest. try to do repeat that effort but even harder and longer next time. eventually you will see improvement!

i forget who the quote is from (some famous cyclist) but it goes something like; it never gets easier you just go faster.
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Old 08-08-12, 08:32 AM   #7
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Lemond reportedly said that

Get lower gears so you can keep the revs up on climbs. You really dont' want to be mashing the climbs

I agree with monitoring less. The ride is the ride, you don't need to depress yourself with stats. You will know when you are faster. I don't have an odometer, it's just a distraction. If I ever managed to get in really good condition and had a focused training program, I probably would get a gps and a power meter and try to figure out what works and what doesn't. Climbing is how I keep in shape, and if I avoid climbing my fitness is not that great
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Old 08-08-12, 09:00 AM   #8
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I agree with monitoring less. The ride is the ride, you don't need to depress yourself with stats. t

+1
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Old 08-08-12, 09:08 AM   #9
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Besides upping your cadence, I suspect you need to build your overall fitness level. Try spin class or running, I think you'll see your speed and endurance pick-up almost immediately.

I road with a newbie for a while, he had this tendency to slip back to a very slow cadence, like a moth to flame, like 50/60 rpm even though he was much better, happier climbing if he revved things up. I had to keep reminding him, "Yo, spin..don't mash". If you stay in the low rpm zone it's very difficult to improve climbing or speed, and it's tough on the knees.
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Old 08-08-12, 09:21 AM   #10
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Is it an option for you to ride your bike to work? I cycle-commute about 10 miles each way, and it's a great workout with a good mix of flats and climbs. I think my commute has helped a great deal with long distance rides. It's good for weight loss too.
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Old 08-08-12, 10:16 AM   #11
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Yeah, lower gears. Either a triple or a bigger cassette, or both. Probably both. You never want to drop below say, 65 on a climb. On my major, common climbs I gear so that I don't climb below 78 rpm. I disagree with the anti-instrument folks. My opinion is that the more information you have, the better you are able to control yourself and your riding environment. However! I never watch my speed. It's immaterial. I watch HR, cadence, odometer, and altimeter (for big climbs). Nothing else matters. If I had a power meter, I'd add that. I especially don't look at my average speed until the ride is over. No sense in defeating yourself during the ride.

So, how to get stronger? Understand that the way to improve your average speed in hilly terrain is to go easier on the flats and harder on the hills. On the flats, you have the "power required increases as the cube of the speed" problem. So biking is really all about climbing hills, which seems more than a little crazy to most people.

So first, get lower gears so you can climb at a reasonable cadence. Second, find the fastest way up each hill in your area. You want your HR to slowly but steadily increase as you climb, never decrease. So find the HR and pedal effort at the bottom that allows you to do that. You want to go over the top pretty much at your limit, then recover on the descent and flat leading to the next climb. Easier said than done, but it comes with time and experience. "Conditioning" is all about the ability to repeat. That's the most important thing. Which doesn't mean being able to repeat because you've been taking it easy. Quite the opposite. Find the highest continuous HR you can hold for 15 minutes straight. If you're breathing like a steam engine in full flight and feel like your brain may explode your helmet, you're doing it right. Note that HR. That's your climbing effort for 300' to 500' hills. You'll have to back off 5 beats or so for longer climbs. It will get easier, just not very quickly. It takes at least three seasons of doing this to build any real speed and endurance. Don't give up. It's a long term program, also known as the rest of your life.

This coming winter, work on losing weight. Shoot for at least 40 lbs., just not all this winter. Ride easy all winter and cut back on the portion sizes. Save the hard work for next spring.
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Old 08-08-12, 10:23 AM   #12
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Lots of good advice in the replies above. And I'd call those hilly rides - both are > 70 ft/mile of climbing. Be proud you stayed on the pedals!

Equipment can help some - get lower gearing. What do you have now? Apex compact is 50/34x??/?? The Apex rear derailluer (at least the longer cage version) will accomodate a 32 or 34t cassette. While the gear jumps between intermediate gears may be maddingly greater, 34x32 or 34x34 is pretty low gearing for non-touring road bikes. Assuming you are using a 26t largest gear now, a 32 will let you pedal at a higher cadence, which will be easier on your knees and quads and may help you engage (or shift to using) different muscles to make sustained climbing a bit easier, if not faster.

The essence of climbing is your Power/Weight (P/W). You have a good idea when you are going too hard and will blow up (your threshold); that is your limiter on the power output side. You can improve on power with various drills, they all boil down to rding intervals at a hard pace/effort above your threshold (harder pace @ shorter duration) followed by periods of easy ("I'm going so easy it's embarrasing!") recovery. Then repeat several times (less starting out, more as you get used to it. Most of the phsyiological benefit is from the last set). Depending on how quickly you recover, 2-3x/week typically (more than 2x/week kill me). Lots of plans and drills are online, try what seems to work well for you. Your threshold HR may not change much (mine did not), but the power you can put to the pedals will increase. Over time (weeks, months, seasons), you can increase the power you can sustain over the duration of your typical climbs. Depending on how well-trained you are starting out, I think increases of 15-20% are not unreasonable over several months. Unfortunately, it does not come quickly, but it feels GREAT when you realize you just cut big time of a troublesome climb. Note, too, that weight reduction (ride lots may help here), gets you the same/complemetry benefits in terms of P/W. Anything you do to reduce weight will help. You probably know that already, and @ 142#, it's easy for me to say that. [May I draft you on descents?] The ability to ride harder/faster on climbs will also apply to flat sections, although weight has a smaller impact there - it's power vs. drag (roughly, frontal area; P/CdA if you want to get technical).

The other thing you can do to improve elapsed time is check how you are managing your time at rest stops. I continue to shock myself just how much time I spend at ZERO mph on long rides. Depending on conditions and you, carrying more water bottles (I can manage 2 in the frame cages + 2 behind the seat) and learning to eat something while moving (precut/opened bars/cubes/gels in a bento box, tri-geek gel bottles, fig newtons, whatever works for you) can save you time here. One one local century I've ridden since 2003, I almost always skip the first rest stop - the 2nd is well-within my normal non-stop distance, the time saves skipping that 1st stop is worth several miles on the road.

You have plenty of endurance. A solid base like that is a great starting point. You'll have to spend time riding faster to get comfortable riding faster. I think it was Lemond who also said, "It doesn't get easier, you just get faster". (actually, it does get easier if you aren't at 100%)

The bottom line, however, is KEEP RIDING and HAVE FUN DOING IT.
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Old 08-08-12, 06:26 PM   #13
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"It doesn't get easier, you just get faster". (actually, it does get easier if you aren't at 100%)

+1

If I ride at 28km/h on the flat and just shift down and pedal faster on the hills I can ride all day with no real effort. If I ride at 35km/h on the flat and push to the max on the hills it hurts. BUT, not so long ago just maintaining 28km/h was a real challenge. Just keep pushing the limits and they keep moving out. Eventually (its a great feeling) you'll be moving at a good speed and not actually realize it until you look at the computer and think "wow, I can do that?"
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Old 08-08-12, 09:11 PM   #14
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Sheesh don't worry about. I just did a shorted version of RAMROD for grins and it took me 12.5 hours total time to ride 120miles. The first 40 were into a mild head wind. The next 40 climbed into my sea level lung altitude danger zone -> 5000ft. Over the next 40 I dropped down to 1900ft and back up to 4675.

To put in in perspective on a flat double with ok wind peaking correctly and riding with others my total time was 13 hours.

As for the whole climbing issue. Lose some weight, get a triple crank and find out if you have an altitude threshold where your performance decreases. For me at 3500ft over base elevation I start to lose performance at 4500 things start getting scary. Anything over 5000ft is a no go unless I have support or emergency services are available.

Pro tip: If you are having altitude issues don't try and drink while riding.

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Old 08-09-12, 11:22 AM   #15
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A cadence of 47 is really, really low. You definitely need a triple. That will help out tremendously. But to get faster in general you need to do interval training.
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Old 08-09-12, 12:06 PM   #16
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A cadence of 47 is really, really low.
Indeed. Hopefully, the OP wasn't sitting down for it.
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Old 08-10-12, 07:29 AM   #17
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Sounds to me as if you're just unfit. And while riding further will make some impact on that, unless you increase the intensity a bit your progress is going to be slow.

I disagree with those who say "monitor less". I'd suggest using your HRM to make sure you ride a bit harder on the flats, keeping your HR in the 130s, for a couple of hours at a time. Don't worry for now about the speed on the hills, keep the HR down to manageable levels and just keep plugging away. I agree with those who suggest a triple would help.

And lose the weight, if you can. Were you 6' and 180lbs, instead of 6' and 220 lbs, the difference in your ability to get up hills would be enormous.
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Old 08-10-12, 08:42 AM   #18
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For most of us, climbing speed is the biggest factor in our overall time. I'm losing weight, but not too fast, because I like getting faster. If I got down to my target weight I'm pretty sure my performance gains would plateau and I'd have to start working to get better. Where's the fun in that? I have lost enough weight that climbing is noticeably easier though. Went up a hill that usually kicks my rear last weekend. It still wasn't fast, but at least I didn't curse the day I was born the whole way up it.
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Old 08-14-12, 12:45 AM   #19
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So your endurance is improving, sounds like you need to work in some shorter/faster-paced rides. Do you have any riding buddies that can help push you a little?
Doesn't appear to matter how short the ride, I just can't seem to go any faster except if I just sprint and run out of breath. Is that what I need to be doing? And no, no riding buddies who are compatible with my terrible schedule.
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Old 08-14-12, 12:49 AM   #20
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When did you start with biking and what is you milage since then? What is your current frequency of biking per week and the overall weekly distance?
First week of May. Did 93 in May, 87 in June, 145 in July, 88 so far in August. When the rides were shorter, I was getting 2, sometimes 3, a week. Now it is down to about once a week, occasionally twice. Schedule doesn't really permit more than that.
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Old 08-14-12, 12:54 AM   #21
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Is it an option for you to ride your bike to work? I cycle-commute about 10 miles each way, and it's a great workout with a good mix of flats and climbs. I think my commute has helped a great deal with long distance rides. It's good for weight loss too.
Afraid not... the short route to work would be 39.8 miles and 2400 feet of elevation gain. While that isn't impossible, it isn't practical as a daily ride. And that's the weeks when I'm not in Europe.

The fact that I haven't gotten back to this thread for a week is a testament to just how my schedule is.
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Old 08-14-12, 01:08 AM   #22
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Lots of good advice in the replies above. And I'd call those hilly rides - both are > 70 ft/mile of climbing. Be proud you stayed on the pedals!

Equipment can help some - get lower gearing. What do you have now? Apex compact is 50/34x??/??...
It is 50/34 front and 11-32 rear... it'd take some searching to find something that gives me something even lower than 34 front 32 rear, as far as I can tell. Which means that the best advice (that I already know) is to lose some weight to make the climbing easier. And perhaps to try to work in some short but very fast rides (though those clearly won't be on hills).

And yes, I was pretty happy that I made it up Kings Mountain Road with just a few stops, rather than switching to walking as some of the other folks in the slow pack did... but I'd still rather not be in the slowest pack, lest it get too dark before finishing on a ride that was any longer.
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Old 08-14-12, 01:37 AM   #23
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First week of May. Did 93 in May, 87 in June, 145 in July, 88 so far in August. When the rides were shorter, I was getting 2, sometimes 3, a week. Now it is down to about once a week, occasionally twice. Schedule doesn't really permit more than that.
Then I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you simply aren't going to be able to make the improvement you're looking for on those mileages. You can't expect to get faster if you're riding less than a couple of hours a week. Before you are ready to tackle a century in something like reasonable comfort you need to be accustomed to riding 150 miles per week, not per month, or >60 miles in a single ride.
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Old 08-14-12, 06:01 AM   #24
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agree with chasm54. You're actually doing pretty well for those numbers of miles. Looks like your gearing is ok, you might consider a triple though. I would also look into a trainer. You don't have to ride huge numbers of miles, but an hour a day is pretty much required before you will consider yourself "fast."
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Old 08-14-12, 09:54 AM   #25
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Doesn't appear to matter how short the ride, I just can't seem to go any faster except if I just sprint and run out of breath. Is that what I need to be doing? And no, no riding buddies who are compatible with my terrible schedule.
Well, the best way I know to get faster is to ride with people faster than you. Based on your later admission that you can't get very much time to ride, it may be injurious to push yourself too hard on any particular ride. I like unterhausen's suggestion to get a trainer of some kind so that you can get more saddle time every day.
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