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It’s All In The Long Mileage…And The Mountains

August 2012

How I Beat The Cycling Plateau

A month or two ago I was opining that I’d hit a bit of a plateau.  I was stuck at about a 20 mph average on my better days and I didn’t like it.  Don’t get me wrong, 20 is respectable, but it just didn’t sit well with me that I was stuck.

To get a handle on my little dilemma, if it can be called that, I went to the only source that I really trust, the owner of my local bike shop.  I’ve written about Matt several times and to call him a guru or pro is to do him a disservice.  He knows what’s up, and then some.  Not only has he built bike frames that have been ridden to world records, he rides like it’s going out of style.

I explained to Matt where I was at, 20 mph average and I couldn’t do much better (maybe 20.5 if I timed the lights right).  He asked how far I generally ride and I explained; 16 miles on a normal day, 25 once a week, 30-35 on Saturday and 16-25 on Sunday – at least six days a week, often seven (oh, and the club ride – 35-39 miles every other Tuesday).

Without hesitation he recommended longer rides (I’m sure he’d have recommended mountain climbs as well, but as I’ve said, there are no hills on the Lennon Ride so I’ll get to that in a minute).  He also said that overall speed wasn’t as important as simply getting the time in the saddle.  Matt understands that I try to over-achieve almost every time out, so there was an unspoken understanding that while I didn’t have to push it to the limit on every mile, I certainly wouldn’t be dogging it at 15 mph either.  I took his advice.

After that I bumped up my normal daily rides to 25 miles and my Saturday rides up to 40-50 miles I did notice a bit of a difference, though it was small – certainly not big enough to justify all of the extra time.  It wasn’t until I started hitting the really long rides that the benefits started coming in – and quickly.  Just ten days after my Fourth of July I’d gone from an average of 20 mph over 20 miles to 22 mph.  Before that 90 mile’r I couldn’t have maintained 22 for 16 miles let alone 20.

Part of it was mental; hey, I just rode 80 miles at 19 mph, what’s 30?  There was a physical change that went with it though.  I was absolutely capable of putting more power to the pedals.

Jump ahead a week from there, I headed down to vacation in the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina where I rode almost every day, climbing hills and mountain roads. Now that was obviously slow work, but it’s hard.  I was down to 7-10 mph on some of the steeper climbs (8-12%).  Now, the rides down south were shorter than normal, an hour for the few days in Georgia and 2 hours a day in North Carolina where a hill that took 35 minutes to climb would take less than 6 or 7 to descend – (that’s right, three and a half miles in 6-7 minutes).  I rarely pedaled on the descents, at 45 mph why bother, but the climbs, even at 7 mph, were some serious hard work – and that paid off huge dividends when I came back.

So, the trick for me to getting unstuck from a plateau, at least this one, was adding a really long ride in there every couple of weeks (or so) – and making sure to take my bike with me on vacation (though I don’t see that ever being a question again after this one).


  1. This was very informative I am not that advance yet but I will try to ride 15 miles in the near future..

    • bgddyjim says:

      Start slow and go long – as you get used to the distance, speed up. You’ll be there soon… It 11 months for me to get to the Century mark at that speed. Enjoy the ride!

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