Suffering, making your legs burn and pushing yourself way outside your comfort zone. Telling your legs to shut up and keep going even when they are full of lactic acid, screaming for you to stop. Pushing yourself to this extent is needed sometimes in order to get faster. I am often asked the question of, “How do I get faster?” and the simple answer is, that getting faster is all about suffering and recovery. Obviously there are more nuances than that, but I feel like if you were to break it down to the simplest terms then there it is.
Many people that have asked me this question tell me that they go out and ride 2-3 times per week (maybe more if they are training for an event) but each ride they do is at about the same pace, on approximately the same terrain and always within their comfort zone. If you want to get faster you NEED to push yourself outside your comfort zone. If you do not, then you will NEVER get much faster than you are right now. Again to some people this seems logical, but sometimes you just need to see it spelled out in order for it to really click in your mind.
You need to push yourself to do hard intervals, push yourself to join a group that is quicker than your normal pace, climb a bigger or tougher hill than you are used to, just pop your bike into the big ring and really push it. Those suffer inducing activities will get you on the road to getting faster.
Now some people swing in the complete opposite direction and fall into the trap of pushing themselves hard all of the time. They ride their hearts out until their legs are on the verge of falling off every time they head out on the bike. If you do this there is a good chance you will burn out and want to throw your bikes into the river and let it wash away when your legs feel perpetually tired and you can’t keep up that same hard effort (I’ve been there!).
So the other key to getting faster is recovery. If you go out and do a couple of leg destroying rides then you need to give your legs time to rebuild. So, take a rest day, go out and do an easy ride and enjoy the scenery, let your muscles recover from the beat down you gave them. If you do head out for a recovery ride, make sure the ride is EASY and that it is actually letting your legs recover, if not you will just prolong your recovery time. It has been said that light exercise during recovery days can help stimulate blood flow and reduce muscular pain overall.
If you recovery properly after your hard days, not only will your legs feel fresh for your next hard ride or workout, but they will be slightly stronger from having been pushed and then allowed to have a day or two to adapt and rebuild after that hard effort. Training stimulus (a hard effort) + recovery = adaptation of your muscles. If you keep repeating this pattern you should gradually get stronger and stronger without burnout.