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I have recently taken up cycling after having to give up football due to constant injury problems and I am really getting into it.

I have purchased a Cannondale CAAD8 with a Tiagra set up and have done about 300 miles so far.

I am looking to improve both average speed and endurance and wanted to know which one i should concentrate on first. I can ride 20 miles no problem averaging around 15mph for the duration but after about 25 miles my speed does tend to drop slightly. I did a 40 mile ride a few weeks back and the last 5 miles were considerably slower.

So should i stick to a set distance and try to improve average speed over that distance or is it a case of spending more time in the saddle cycling longer distances with the speed improving over time.
 

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So should i stick to a set distance and try to improve average speed over that distance or is it a case of spending more time in the saddle cycling longer distances with the speed improving over time.
... yes, seriously. Then repeat.

For the most part, an increase in speed (to a point) will grow from endurance as long as there is some form of sustained aerobic intensity involved (with intensity being defined in several ways from mild to... ummm, intense).
 

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Burnum Upus Quadricepus
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As a beginner, one doesn't increase without the other increasing. (Assuming we're talking average speed over distance rather than bursts.) Someday, depending on your riding habits and physiology, you'll plateau speed-wise, but distance can always increase.
 

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Speed is a difficult metric to use in measuring fitness as well. You said you did a 40 mile ride, and the last 5 miles were slow. This could be due to fitness (bonked), but it could also be wind, terrain, or a number of other factors. Factoring in other variables (combinations of cadence, heart rate, power, etc.) can help get a better idea of what is really going on.

That said, the answer to your question will be largely contingent on what your schedule allows. If you are like me, most of the in-week riding comes during a very set amount of available time before work. Therefore most of my training time does not allow me to continually push distance. Therefore I work on speed. Intervals, either heart rate or hill, can be a good thing to help with this. As you improve you speed over shorter distances, your ability to do longer ones should also improve. Conversely, if you have time to push yourself on longer distances, when you do shorter ones you can go harder and therefore faster.

It was the same for me in running as well. I pushed myself to be able to run a half marathon at a reasonable pace (8:30/mile). By the time I was there, I was running a 5k race pretty darn fast (top 10 finish at a local charity run). Within reason and to a certain point, improving one will pay dividends on the other. But you will probably still want to mix in both if you can.
 

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Cycling induced anoesis
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... yes, seriously. Then repeat.

For the most part, an increase in speed (to a point) will grow from endurance as long as there is some form of sustained aerobic intensity involved (with intensity being defined in several ways from mild to... ummm, intense).
Succinctly (and well) put.

To what's already been offered, I would add that the OP should keep in tune with how he feels. Depending on a number of factors (but mainly, starting fitness level) a noob doing a 40 miler may be setting themselves up for an overuse injury - so avoid the too much too soon syndrome.

Recovery rides/ occasional days off help to rejuvenate the body. Don't view them as lost opportunities (to build fitness).
 

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I would suggest a combination of shorter intense rides with the ocassional longer slower paced ride. The short intense rides will increase your top end speed while the longer one will increase endurance. Try to increase your duration of these long rides ~15% or so each time you do them. Give yourself some rest every couple of days to recover especially after the harder days. There are many books about training you may find one of them useful if you are getting serious about improving, my favorite is Joe Friel's Cyclist Training Bible. It is geared towards racers with formal training plans, but the info is good for any cycling application and lots of info about nutrition on the bike which could be beneficial for those longer rides.
 

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As a beginner, one doesn't increase without the other increasing. (Assuming we're talking average speed over distance rather than bursts.) Someday, depending on your riding habits and physiology, you'll plateau speed-wise, but distance can always increase.
Exactly. And even if you are talking about short bursts.....road riding is such that you need to have endurance to put yourself in a position to be able to use those short bursts.
 

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I like to slowly increase the kilometres during the start of the year per ride, then usually the shorter, high intensity rides I do in a group get easier and easier. If you can ride 100 km and average 30 on your own then chances are you could average much faster than that on a 50 k group ride. At least that how it works for me, everyone is different though. Just make sure you don't do the same route every ride, make sure they vary in speed, elevation, intensity, etc.
 

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That depends on how your training is set up. If your training is restricted by time, ride as far as you can in that time frame. If your training is restricted by distance, ride as fast as you can. In the beginning just try and put as much time and distance on your bike as you can. The endurance and speed will come.
 

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I’m gonna make some assumptions – you are young (you said you played the foosball and older guys usually don’t play the foosball), being young you likely have more free time than someone with kids and a career, being you have more free time that’ll mean you can go for longer rides without being accused of familial neglect or threatened with job loss. And to top it off, you are a newb to cycling.

Considering all that, you should aim for endurance at this point. Being a newb you want to build up your base. That’s important because it’ll prepare you for well for harder efforts. Rather than cooking your legs on a 20 miler, I would work on going for longer rides as the primary and build in some speed and intensity work after a couple months – but just some. And yeah, don’t neglect rest and/or recovery rides.
 

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What is your goal when riding?

Do you want to ride long distances or do you want to have speed? These are not exclusive goals, but you do need to have something in mind. Personally I try to ride as fast as I can over a set loop. I have time for my road bike after work and have limited time to ride. So I have created a few rides from my house and simply hammer on these rides. My "short loop" is 17.6 miles and is a 48-55 min loop depending on wind, how I feel and how I catch the traffic lights. I also have 24 mile loop and have added some hill climb loops where I ride 20 miles, but try to get in a number of short hill climbs. My longest road ride was 31 miles, which is short, but was limited by time in the day rather than endurance. I do mtn bike rides on the weekends and my longest of those have been 27 miles, 26 miles and 25 miler. However dirt miles and road mile are very different. My 27 miler was a 4:30 min saddle time and 6hrs on the trails. However my 26 mile ride was 3hrs saddle and 4hrs total, but over completely different terrain. Most mtn bike rides are 2-3 hrs total time with maybe 15 min of stop time. Longest road ride was 1hr 45 min.

Now I find it easier to do my short loops and ride hard and then when I want to run longer back off the pace a bit (instead of 95-100% I go may be 90%) and keep riding. Even so I will build the distance slowly. Late April I have a mtn bike race that is 29 miles and I expect to take about 4hrs. This will be test of my endurance and speed. To prepare for that I want to run some long rides at high average pace. So I want maintain current speed over a distance.

So one more question. We you are riding at 15 mph how hard are you working? Personally I try to ride 100%, but for me that 100% is not burst power, but a pace I feel I can maintain for for a long time aerobically. I can go over 100% for a short duration, but I can't do that for more than a few minutes before I blow up and need to stop. If I have short 2 min climb I can go over 100% to crest it, but a long sustained climb I will keep my heart rate at high yet sustainable rate.

Unless you are in a recovery mode spinning for 4-5 at low heart rate is not doing a lot for you. I am not sure what 15 mph means for you and your effort level, but if you are not breathing hard I think you just putting down miles, but probably not doing much.

And final question... When you speed slows down is that because of breathing or tired legs?
 

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We you are riding at 15 mph how hard are you working?
I think people need to specify what they mean by "average speed." Do they mean the average speed on their GPS app or Garmin unit on a particular ride? Or are they actually seeing a 15mph pace on their speedometer most of the time when cruising? I live in an area with so many stop signs/lights that it's hard for me to average better than 15-16mph on Strava but I cruise at 18-20+mph for miles when conditions permit.
 

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As others have said, all about goals.

I think a good set of skills to learn about first are pacing in different circumstances. Flats, hills, long climbs, etc. This dovetails well with continuing to figure out the good routes in your area.

Technique is surprisingly important in cycling. It's not just getting on a bike and pedaling. Well, it is, but there are better and worse ways to pedal. So that's a good thing to think about if you have a compulsion to do something more structured with your rides.

What else... if you're prone to overtraining injuries, be a little careful. Even if you're not, cycling isn't supposed to hurt, so listen to your body.

When I first started road riding as a sport, I had a couple favorite loops I did a lot and I wasn't terribly worried about how fast I did them. I didn't even have a speedometer, so I really only had a vague idea anyway. After that, I rode from San Francisco to Santa Cruz - about 80 miles - a couple times. I find it pretty compelling that road bikes let me connect points on a map like that. I'd have to be quite a runner to do anything in the same order of magnitude under my own power and not on a bike.

Training goals can be fun if that's how you like to approach things. A Century's a good one - they're long enough not to be trivial, not so long that the commitment to prepare is crazy or that people have to have their preparation totally nailed, and round numbers are kind of fun. In a traditional year-long structured training program, people typically work on distance first and then speed, so if you like to have intermediate goals and events to bookend things, centuries are a cool way to mark the end of base training before moving on to a different area.

I think people miss out on a lot when they don't just see where their first seasons of cycling take them. But if you want to be serious about cycling, there's room in the sport for all different kinds of athletes, from guys who can develop ridiculous wattage for 9.5 seconds to guys who can survive trying to beat each other across a continent solo. With as few miles as you have, you'll get both faster and develop greater endurance pretty quickly for a while.

Whatever you do, have fun!
 

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It really isn't all about goals at this point though. The OP just started cycling.

No matter what his goals are the answer to the question is it's better to work on endurance first.

Even track sprinters build endurance before they start working speed.
 

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Cycling induced anoesis
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It really isn't all about goals at this point though. The OP just started cycling.

No matter what his goals are the answer to the question is it's better to work on endurance first.

Even track sprinters build endurance before they start working speed.
I agree. Someone mentioned building base miles and I think that (along with taking care not to overdo) should be the focal point when starting.
 

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It really isn't all about goals at this point though. The OP just started cycling.

No matter what his goals are the answer to the question is it's better to work on endurance first.

Even track sprinters build endurance before they start working speed.
Good point. But, I meant goals in a broader sense. Some people seem to be able to function only in structure and competition, and for that person, building a training plan even this early may make sense. And I agree - if one is to insist on going straight into structured training, base goes first.

A lot of my riding friends just like to enjoy going for a ride. They don't really work on anything unless one of them has corralled a few into doing the Ride From Seattle to Vancouver and Party. Part of where I was going with talking about riding a few loops near where I lived in my earlier cycling practice is that having no particular goal can be fine too. A lot of people come on the board thinking that they need to do some specific series of things to be cycling. Which seems like kind of a loss. See the other current thread, about just riding for fun.
 

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I agree. Someone mentioned building base miles and I think that (along with taking care not to overdo) should be the focal point when starting.
What is "Base Miles".. I don't think you mean soft pedaling at 12 mph for 4 hours. That to me not base anything.

How hard do you push on a "base mile" ride? Please define it after all we are in a beginner forum.
 

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Cycling induced anoesis
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What is "Base Miles".. I don't think you mean soft pedaling at 12 mph for 4 hours. That to me not base anything.

How hard do you push on a "base mile" ride? Please define it after all we are in a beginner forum.
Your question was answered in BostonG's post, whom I was referring to in my post. Read that and the excerpts in the link provided entitled "Importance of Base Training for Cyclists" and "How to do Base Training". However, simply put, it means building a cardio base while building saddle time.

I'd temper the advice in those sections with an individuals fitness starting point. In other words, lounge lizards probably wouldn't begin training at 65-80% of max, but runners turned cyclists probably would. A similar point is touched on further down in the article, under "Adjust Your Base Training to the Type of Cyclist You Are".

Cycling Base Training - How to Reach Your Full Capability
 
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