Trouble With Pacing

By Marilyn Trout | 08/07/12
Trouble With Pacing

Photo © Jonathan Devich/

We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

The following tip is a reprint of a 2009 question submitted by from Voler E-Mail List member Dan Simonsen.

Trouble With Pacing


First let me say that I read your answers to the questions and they are great stuff. I live in a very hilly area in Ruston, LA also known as the area of Piney Hills. Although not as hilly/mountainous as Colorado, it seems like I'm either going up or down a hill with very little time on flat roads. The hills range from 30-80 feet in climbing with generally anywhere from 5 to 19% grade (normally closer to 5-10%). It's generally 1-3 minutes to go up a hill. For exact specifics, you can take a look on I track my routes there. I usually try to ride at least every other day. Based on available roads/routes, rides are generally 14, 19, 21, 24 miles. I've been riding a lot more frequently lately because I need to drop some cruise vacation weight. I'm not familiar with steady state/threshold training.

What should I be doing to improve my training for when I do get to those flat roads? I feel lost when it comes to my pacing. Honestly my only real training regiment is to set monthly mileage goals.



You have the right ingredients to meet your goal of increased fitness and better health – setting goals, exercising consistently and frequently, adding some variety in terrain to avoid boredom and dropping some excess pounds.

There are a number of training aspects that come to mind from the details you have shared. Let me commend you for your knowledge of what you are “up against” in Piney Hills. Envisioning a route or climb certainly brings a confidence with a “known” environment. Speaking of confidence and “knowing” your environment, let’s talk about “lost in pace.”

At what intensity is pacing done?

Pacing is done within the training zones under the “endurance” category. There are three layers to endurance fitness – cardiorespiratory, aerobic and muscular. Cardiorespiratory is the most basic of the three and targets development of the heart and lungs, or central systems, whether on the bike or other cross-training aerobic activities. The next developmental layer is sport specific and improves the ability to ride greater distances. Aerobic Endurance (AE) develops fuel storage and transport as well as energy metabolism. Muscular Endurance (ME) is the highest level of endurance, near lactate threshold, and the training of it targets the muscle’s ability to tolerate higher lactate and glycogen depletion. Developing this end of the endurance spectrum allows the rider to ride faster and longer. You might recognize some of the ME workouts – tempo, cruise or threshold intervals. Threshold riding is the last phase of ME training and is considerably more stressful than workouts done in the early season for cardiorespiratory. All three levels of endurance are considered aerobic, with oxygen as opposed to anaerobic work done without oxygen. As fitness builds, the rider is able to pace at a higher intensity. Training suggestions can be found in the Voler archives, such as “Preparing for a Century on Limited Time” ( ).

Can pacing be trained under variable conditions?

If the ultimate goal of pacing is to maintain a steady, sustainable level of effort, then we need to find an environment where the variables that challenge the goal are kept to a minimum. Hills definitely present the greatest challenge although windy environs can also be nasty in developing a cyclist’s ability to ride in a certain training zone. If it is impossible to get out on the flats then the next best thing is to do the workout on a stationary bike. This is also a good option if you need an easy recovery ride.

Finding your optimal cadence range is critical to maintaining an even pace without “burning a match” or going anaerobic. If you go out too hard (intensity is too great) or push too big a gear at the beginning, there will be a steady decline in performance. Fatigue always wins out in the end when you ride this way. There is a difference between hills and flats with regards to your comfortable cadence range, (“Optimal Cadence May Vary with Terrain” July ’09). Riders can be spinning a gear at 90-100 rpm on a flat course and when the road goes up their cadence drops to 70 rpm. Both feel comfortable and give optimal performance. If on the other hand, the rider is used to climbing at 70 rpm and decides to mash a big gear at the same cadence on the flats, speed skill development takes a dive, which in turn affects pedaling economy. It would be like doing strength-training session on the bike. (There are times when this is OK. Cyclists that live in flat areas can do this type of force interval work to simulate hills.)

How will I know where I am? (Being “lost” is no fun)

Misjudging your pace is no fun whatsoever and can lead to discouragement time and again. The ability to gauge efforts of intensity takes a lot of practice, discipline and patience. Although several parameters could be considered as a pacing tool, like a speedometer, these won’t tell you how hard you’re working or how fast your heart is pumping, thus starting out too fast is very probable and dying usually follows close behind. The best monitoring devices to consider in helping you to develop pacing (riding within a certain training zone) measure the effort either from a cardiovascular (heartrate) or muscular (power) viewpoint. The powermeter is ideal since it isn’t affected by environmental or bodily changes as a HR monitor is, however, it is more expensive. The heartrate monitor is the most affordable option and would be quite adequate for your cycling goals.  The beauty of these devices is that they give us immediate feedback that reflects the effort or work being performed so we can avoid going over the aerobic cliff. In time, we become more aware of what our capabilities are. A fancy term for this is RPE, rate of perceived exertion.

Combining the physiological training parameters, minimizing the variable conditions of pacing, using a helpful monitoring tool for immediate feedback and developing your mind to discern your level of intensity, (RPE), does take time…time well spent in being able to pace yourself to meeting your cycling goals and enjoyment.


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