Speed Workouts
by Franz Kelsch

Why Do Speed Workouts?

Some cyclists think because they do not race there is no reason for them to work on their speed. Variation in your training to include some rides at a faster pace will make your other rides easier. If you always ride the same distance and pace then you are always riding your hardest ride. Speed workouts are especially important if you are training for ultra distance events.

Some ultra distance cyclists may feel that there is no reason to do speed workouts since they normally are only riding an easy pace but over a long distance. Every marathon training program will include speed workouts even though the marathon is certainly an endurance event in the world of running. Using speed workouts help you finish the ultra distance event easier. You will also have the speed you need to catch on the pace line as it is taking off from the rest stop. By doing these speed workouts you will increase your lactate threshold.

Below are three types of speed workouts that you can use. Normally you will only want to do one speed workout a week. You should mix the type between weeks..

These are for advanced training and are only for those who are in good physical condition. Check with your doctor before embarking on any training program.

Tempo Ride

For this you want to ride at a faster pace than you usually ride but not so fast that you can not hold the pace. Pick a section that will take 45 to 60 minutes to cycle. This can be a flat section, a long climb, or a combination but it should not include a significant decent. For those who like to climb a good choice is something like Highway 9, lower Mt. Hamilton, or Henry Coe. After you ride to warm up, then pickup the pace. Try to keep your effort just below your lactate threshold. It is best to use a heart rate monitor so you can keep the effort at the desired level as the grade changes. You need to avoid the natural desire to ease off your effort as the grade becomes flatter. Ride easy after the tempo section.


Pick a flat section where you can ride for 10 minutes or more without stopping for intersections. A good choice is Santa Teresa south of Bailey. First warm up for several miles at an easy pace. While intervals are often done over a fixed distance, for cycling it may be easier to use a fixed time since your pace will change based on the wind and grade. For each interval ride as hard as you safely can for 6-7 minutes, then back off to a very easy pace for 4 minutes. After the rest period repeat the interval. Try to work up there where you can do 4 or more such repeats. This type of interval training will be similar to doing mile repeats for a runner.

If you use a heart rate monitor during your training the graph should look something like this (your actually heart rate will varify, depending on your individual parameters). Your heart rate should pickup rapidly during the interval and hold constant during the duration. It should drop well into the recovery zone between intervals. If your heart rate decreases rapidly during the recovery period it is a sign of good conditioning. If you heart rate does not decrease to the recovery zone you need to extend the length of the recovery period. See the article on Zone Training.

Heart Rate Curve for Intervals

Hill Repeats

This type of speed workout is similar to intervals above but is done using a hill climb. This is very important for anyone training for an ultra distance event that involves considerable climbing as well as anyone who wants to become a faster climber. Pick a hill you can climb in less than 10 minutes. Avoid a hill where the grade is too steep or one that is too level. An ideal hill for many is Thomas Grade. After doing a warm up ride, climb the hill as fast as you can, keeping track of your time. Rest briefly at the top and then descend easy. You want your resting time to be about half the time it took you to climb the hill. Then repeat the hill climb and easy decent. Work on this until you can do 4 or more such repeats.


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