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HomeFive Ways to Get Faster

By Paul Pendriana at

For those of you who want to get faster this year, I have a little list of five things to consider. I was somewhat fast last year but I'm going to be really fast this coming year, and I'm going to do it by following this list myself. For those who want to keep up, I suggest they consider this list as well.


You may have heard me say this in the past: "If you want to go 30 miles per hour, you have to go 30 miles per hour." What it means is that if you want to go faster than you can now, you need to spend brief but intense periods of time fighting to go at those faster speeds, even if you can't keep them up for very long. This is what intervals are. The result is that your body starts getting closer to being able to do those faster speeds more easily. This applies to both hill climbing and flat riding. In talking to the best cyclists in the area one thing that is common amongst them and perhaps the thing that most separates their training from others is their adherence to interval training. Anybody who complains about being slow but doesn't do intervals needs to stop complaining.

Do we need a refresher on how to do intervals? Practically every book on training discusses various types of intervals, particularly in terms of cycles, heart rates, on/off times, etc. That's fine and I'm not going to bore you with more of this. But I will say that if you are not sure how to start getting into doing intervals or find the thought of them boring, try one of these techniques:

  1. Climb a 30 minute hill in 3-5 minute bursts with 2 minute super easy rests (still riding).
  2. Climb a 3 minute hill 5 times in a row has hard as you can staying seated in the biggest gear you can continuously turn.
  3. Go to the front of your local group ride and pull as hard as you can, regardless of the punishing outcome.

Intervals should only be done once a week, as any more would harm most more than it would help them. You should easily see noticeable improvements within a month of doing this.


The twin brother of intervals is distance. Needless to say, this means doing long rides. For most this means rides of 50 miles or more and for those interested in competitive road racing this often means rides of 80 miles or more. These should be done roughly once a week during the primary season. Doing long rides builds your glycogen (energy) storage capacity, burns fat, promotes increased metabolic rate, and just plain allows you go to longer.

Here are some ways to get in these distance rides without getting bored:

  1. Do organized centuries. Ride them any way you like. Many top (category 1/2) racers do these to add fun to their training.
  2. Do longer group rides. There's almost always some long ride going on every week.
  3. Do a double ride. For example, do a 20 mile ride at 7 AM with your buddy before doing a group 50 mile ride at 9 AM.


Rest is every bit as important as intervals and distance. The day after you do intervals should be easy or none. The day after you do distance should be easy or none. "Easy" can be defined in terms of heart rate but if you don't have one handy I can tell you now that it means no hard sprints, no big gears, no big hills, and no major distance. Also, if you can find the time, take an hour long nap after doing intervals and take a two hour nap after doing a century. Your body is especially active in rebuilding while you are sleeping.

Sugar and Protein

During your rides you need to be in taking a water bottle per hour and the equivalent of a gel packet every half hour. While fast-acting sugar is not a good idea during your working day, for the love of God get all the sugar you can while riding -- it will only help you. And the first thing you should do when you finish the ride (before taking a shower or anything) is consume carbohydrates and protein, in a roughly 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. These carbohydrates include sugars; a smoothie with a protein boost is almost ideal, as are commercial recovery drinks such as "R4", etc. Your body is particularly receptive to carbohydrates and protein in the first hour after exercise. Some people drink only coffee when they get back from rides. If you enjoy doing this, that's fine, but you are not maximizing your recovery and energy storage.


Study after study has shown that caffeine increases endurance and thus total power output during exercise and competition. There is probably no study that has ever shown otherwise. So unless you have some problem with it, you are best off taking 50-100mg of caffeine within an hour before exercise. You may have heard that if you take caffeine at the start of a ride you need to keep taking it during the ride else you will get some kind of caffeine bonk. This is untrue and is the cycling equivalent of an "old wife's tale." You may have also heard that taking caffeine during exercise is bad because caffeine is a diuretic and dehydrates you. This is nearly untrue and is another "old wife's tale." There is a diuretic effect from caffeine but it is small and not significant compared to the fluids you are in taking. Lastly, some people feel that they are better off not taking any caffeine only taking it on days of special competition with the idea that they don't want their bodies to get accustomed to it and thus have no effect on competition day. Well, studies have shown that even those who take caffeine regularly benefit on competition day. Whose output is higher on competition day is not clear, but one thing is clear: taking caffeine regularly on training rides increases your work capacity for those rides, leading to higher capabilities going into competition day.

The BCC would like to thank the Diablo Cycling Club for giving us permission to share their ideas and thoughts.