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Old 05-07-11, 05:56 AM   #1
cyclinfool
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The real secret to climbing?

We have had a few threads on "the right bike", "the right gears" and "the right technique" for good climbing, I'd like to change the subject to "the right mindset" which IMHO is the real secret.

I do a lot of climbing, on average about 4000'/week when in the peak of training season. Some weeks over 10K.

What I have noticed is that after you have the basic bike,gears,fitness, and technique to make it up a long climb it just still isn't a good climb unless you have the right thoughts in your head. I have not found that right mental attitude consistently. It seems to help when I am riding with other riders and holding my own or passing but the moment I drop down into that lowest of gears and falling back my mind will go into survival mode - just get over the top and forget about all else.

Early in the season, when building I use that mental game of - "if I can make to that mail box up there", then the next one and the next one until I am over the top. That's just grinding and grunting to the top but it does help you get started. Later in the season it's more about how much momentum I can sustain and I haven't found a good mental game for that. In a race there is that personal race plan, speeds and cadence at certain points in the race, but races are situational and sometimes you need to catch that other rider. Catching someone on a long climb takes the same mental concentration as a down wind sail boat race in light wind, focusing on every move and every incremental gain or loss.

What mental techniques do people use to gain the upper hand on a long climb (notice I did not say - just get over the sucker)? .
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Old 05-07-11, 06:30 AM   #2
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I was told by a friend & long time cyclist to find your own technic to climbing. I have found that keeping my cadence as constant as possible helps me on long climbs. On short steep climbs I stay in the saddle & if I slow I come out & attack. It's a mind game, don't curse the hills, it's always the topic on the ride back. I'll say it tho " it's just a hill, get over it "
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Old 05-07-11, 06:52 AM   #3
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Not so much a mental attitude but I do find that I have to get into a rhythm for the long climbs. That will generally be a compromise betwen cadence and gearing to get the right balance for the legs and lungs. I do find that cadence drops on hills to around 70 to 80 and I just cannot kep the cadence to my normal 90 to 95. Higher cadence and the lungs get hit and low cadence and it is the legs. Hence the compromise. Don't mean on the short sharp climbs where I know that once I reach the top there will be recovery time- It is those long hills where the top is around the next corner that is a mile up the road or even further- or- you can't see the top due to the cloud cover.

Those are the ones where "Pacing" comes in for me. I get it so that the legs are feeling the pressure and the lungs are just making it difficult to talk to a rider next to you-----That is if a rider is slow enough to have dropped back to me.

One thing I have found in my "Group"- We have riders that will blast up the first hill- Be in sight at the 2nd-Drop back to keep me company on the 3rd and have a bike problem that necessitates a stop on the 4th.

But that bailout gear. Once I hit that lowest gear on the bike- I am in it for a long time. It may be necessary on the steep bits of the climb but "Mentally" it takes a long time for me to get out of it.

Except on one climb I did--Mt. Ventoux. About halfway up I hit the steep section. Lowest gear and at one point it was even out of the saddle for a while. Then I wondered what had happened--The road went downhill and I had to change up. It wasn't that the road was going downhill- The 12% section had been so long that when I hit the 5% it just felt like it.
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Old 05-07-11, 07:10 AM   #4
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Now and then I'll practice very high cadence, say 120 RPM or more and begin to bounce in the saddle. This indicates that the peddle stroke is not as smooth as it could be. On the hill, a lack of smoothness is wasted energy. So for me, climbing tactics primarily involves working on being as smooth as possible.

But as you say, when current technique or level of fitness is about exhausted, I revert to the tactic of "The Little Engine That Could". I think I can. I think I can. I Think I Can, and so on and so forth. AKA get stubborn.
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Old 05-07-11, 08:21 AM   #5
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On long climbs (by long I mean anything over 2 miles) I change positions a lot to use different muscles. I keep an attitude the climb will be longer than it is to help me keep my pace in check as it is better to finish strong, ready for lies ahead beyond the horizon...
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Old 05-07-11, 11:40 AM   #6
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I started this thread as I was headed out the door to do hill repeats on a 3 mile 1200' climb about 20 miles from my house.
The plan for my training buddy and I was 4 repeats.
The first time was great - my attitude was good, I decided to hold one gear in reserve the whole way up and that's what I did. At the steepest sections I just focused my mind on my pedal stroke and breathing and glided up. On the way down I rested and thought about the next ascent. I decided to keep two gears in reserve except at the very steepest section - then drop back one gear. This went well but I lost about 20 seconds off the first ascent. Third ascent I decided to use all the gears, so when I hit the steep sections I was down to 30/25. At this point I was getting tired and my right knee (which is the weaker knee) began to bark a little. As I hit the very steepest part my mind shifted to - "just get to the top" mode. At that point I decided I was done, if I couldn't keep the mind together the 4th repeat was just going to be a painful slog, so I dropped out and let my partner finish #4, he is faster anyway and as I was headed down after my third climb he was already about 1/4 of the way up on his 4th - I just told him I would meet him at the bottom. The mind was not in it and there was no reason to kill myself, I have house work to do this afternoon anyway and a metric on tap for tomorrow. It's all in your head.
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Old 05-07-11, 12:10 PM   #7
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Well around here in central FL, we have some climbs but most are short (big surprise) but can be steep (up to 14%). I generally diagnose the hill as a approach and plan my attack. I will generally spin up it until a reach a point and get out of the saddle to the top (if it is a steep one). I recall Thrill Hill was the only one I ever walked. It goes down into a narrow valley and you can hit over 40 on the descent. I looked at the other face and figured I could roller coaster it. So I went up in my big ring at high speed and down shifted to keep my cadence up. Then I hit the deceptively steep section which is probably over 14% for a short distance. I knew it was double shift and hope I nailed it or crash. I figured why risk it? I just stopped, got off, and walked the little way to the top.

On long climbs, I have done mountain passes in NM, UT, WY, CO, MT, Alberta and British Columbia. I generally like to use a bike with really low gearing so I can sit and spin the whole way up. Most of the western climbs are not that steep anyway. I believe the nastiest climbs are in the east. There are some roads in GA and NC that go about 28%. Some of them are sustained climbs at over 12%.

I think climbing is largely conditioning and pacing. If you really hammer up hills repeatedly, you can easily blow up in mid ride. Also, like Yogi Berra said "90% of it is half mental". I recall on one ride we did Trail Ridge Road in CO which gets over 12,000'. We were staying at a high school some ways south of the climb. As we headed into town, I got suspicious. For some reason, they like putting high schools on bluffs (they do that in MI anyway). I looked at the nearest bluff to town and it looked like a school up there. So I figured we would have a short steep climb to the school. And we did. I was mentally prepared for having the steepest section of road on the last mile. Most of the riders were caught unprepared. I had to be as beaten up as they were but being mentally prepared for the climb made it no big deal.
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Old 05-07-11, 12:22 PM   #8
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I invoke the names of the saints.

Merckx

Coppi

And when it gets tougher...

Pantani.
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Old 05-07-11, 12:25 PM   #9
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What mental techniques do people use to gain the upper hand on a long climb (notice I did not say - just get over the sucker)? .
Same as always; I'm thinking about sex.
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Old 05-07-11, 12:28 PM   #10
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Increase power and reduce weight !
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Old 05-07-11, 02:03 PM   #11
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One foot forward, then the other. One foot forward, then the other. One foot forward, then the other. It's the only mindset that works for me. If I think about climbing too much it destroys the ride. Today, in fact, I did a 12 mile TT and had to finish it off the way I complete all of my rides --- up a 1/4 mile hill that peaks at 17%. I was spent from the TT. The only way I made it up, was one foot forward, then the other......
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Old 05-07-11, 02:04 PM   #12
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Try looking at the road three to four feet in front of your front tire. Don't look at anything else. Then get into a rhythm.
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Old 05-07-11, 02:10 PM   #13
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My daughter climbs hills like a goat on speed... has her own little mantra of "I don't see no stinking hill !" and explains that if there is no hill that riding is easier.

Or she sings while she climbs... when she stops singing I know she is hitting her limits and knows how to take a push from dad when the grade gets evil.

I have a love hate relationship with climbing... going to the dark side and focusing a little anger and aggression triggers a little adrenalin and endorphin boost and sometimes go up cursing like a sailor... when I am not with the girls.
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Old 05-07-11, 02:53 PM   #14
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I just imagine what this hill would be like with a full touring load. Suddenly the extra luggage that is attached to my doesn't seem so heavy.
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Old 05-07-11, 02:59 PM   #15
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Try looking at the road three to four feet in front of your front tire. Don't look at anything else. Then get into a rhythm.
This!
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Old 05-07-11, 03:56 PM   #16
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As a Last Year's Newbie I am still learning to do most everything. But, where I ride hills are unavoidable. My two mantras are:
>Patience. Don't try to go faster to get it over with. Don't "attack" the hill. Just keep pedaling.
>Don't feel bad if there is a need to stop for a break and a drink before the top. This isn't a live or die matter for me. It is something I do for fun and fitness. Besides, a stop half way up today is a stop 3/4 up next week and all the way up the next. Then after a few trips I can feel great that my times are getting shorter and my distances are getting longer.
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Old 05-07-11, 04:17 PM   #17
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At 205#, I'll never be a great climber, but I still love to do it when I'm feeling good. On a long climb or during a long climbing day I need to calm down and stay within myself. I try to concentrate on breathing and sometimes use "breathplay" to find a rythym. One breath for each 4 pedal strokes, or something like that.
Sometimes if I'm chatting with someone the climb is over faster than I expect.
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Old 05-07-11, 04:32 PM   #18
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Serious answer... mix up your technique a little by sitting and spinning in a comfortable gear and break that up by standing occasionally.

A simple technique that really aids climbing is to push down with your heel just a little which will relieve the quads. Shift your weight forward so that the bike is balanced as this takes some weight off the back wheel which makes spinning it easier.

Lighter riders have a better time of standing and if you pick a gear that allows your body weight to drive the pedals you can get up some pretty steep grades you may have thought was impossible.

The biggest key to becoming a better climber is to climb more.
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Old 05-07-11, 05:23 PM   #19
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Same as always; I'm thinking about sex.
I'm glad I'm not the only one that uses "thinking of sex" as a way to keep the mind off the burn or the grind on hard rides. "Try it, you'll like it."

I'm with cyclinfool on how hard it is to keep up the pace when you fall behind those you are trying to 'gain the upper hand on'. They just crushed your soul on the climb. You couldn't hold their wheel, and you are drifting back. It's an entirely different mental situation than it was before that happened. Thinking of sex, or distracting yourself isn't going to work unless you can combine that with maintaining the proper pace. That pace could be slower than you have been going, but is likely faster than the speed you slowed to when you realized they were riding away. I think the mental perspective should be:

1. Okay, I'll worry about them later.
2. What's the "proper pace" here.
3. Singleminded focus on that pace, with no thought of where you are or what you are doing.

For some of us, that pace is going to be based on perceived exertion. For others, it might be heart rate, and for some, it will be a range of watts. At my stage of development, it works best for me to use HR. I know that, if my HR is in high Zone 5, people are dropping me, and there is significant hill left, I'm in trouble. I can't just keep doing that, or I'll pay a huge price. I'll end up dropped AND needing a big recovery period. So I now target "high zone 4", and just lock into that mentally. Chances are I dropped below that when I realized I was being left, and so I'll push myself to HTFU and get my HR back up. This morning, I realized I was going OTB while I was still cranking hard, in zone 5.8. Instead of blowing up, I backed off a bit, and focused on keeping that HR just barely aerobic. I was able to also push down the hill, catching one of the guys who had crested ahead of me, and getting to the regroup only about 10 seconds behind the leaders. If I had kept it in Zone 5, I still would have stayed OTB going up, and I would have had to coast down the hill.

So.. find the ONE thing that is going to get YOU up the hill fastest, and focus mentally on that ONE thing.
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Old 05-07-11, 05:42 PM   #20
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Try looking at the road three to four feet in front of your front tire. Don't look at anything else. Then get into a rhythm.
I do this as well.
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Old 05-07-11, 07:21 PM   #21
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I like to look at the scenery. When there's no scenery, I look as far up the road as I can see. It's especially cool to be able to look up and see the top of the mountain that I'll be ending up on. I do a lot of climbing, often 800,000 ft/year or more, and a lot of 20k+ weeks in the summer. I don't feel a need to distract myself when I am climbing. I used to imagine giant invisible rubber bands pulling me up the hill. Now I just think about the same things I think about when I'm doing a flat ride.

I train with a HRM and power meter but for races and long endurance climbing days I go by feel. I pretty much know how hard I can go for the distance and amount of climbing. I don't always listen though.

Back in the 80s I spent a bunch of time teaching myself to synchronize my breathing to my pedaling stroke. But I found that it hurt my breathing- I'd breathe too fast when I was pedalling fast, and shallow quick breaths don't work all that well for getting oxygen. So I had to spend more time teaching myself to not do it. I do need to remind myself to relax my upper body on long climbs. Any effort that isn't going to getting the bike up the hill is wasted.
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Old 05-07-11, 07:29 PM   #22
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" it's just a hill, get over it "
Exactly. The more you think about it, the worse it gets.

I rather climb hills than fight a headwind (or worse, gusting winds) for 20 - 30 miles. Last Saturday and Sunday I did both and it felt great.

Ridinmurray, I like your attitude!
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Old 05-07-11, 07:44 PM   #23
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climbing is all mental attitude. I am 230#, live in western PA where we average between 3,000 and 4,500 feet of climbing on the average training ride. I will not profess to be able to hang with the 140# guys but I rather enjoy hanging as long as possible, longer than I am expected to and not being too far behind when we crest the top. Gearing, cadence, seated or standing and all of that is individual. Find your own technique by trying others advice, using what works and throwing out what doesn't... most of all, have fun - that's why we ride in the first place
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Old 05-07-11, 08:17 PM   #24
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Well now that the secret has been revealed can I take the little ring off the front crank and just use my mind powers to climb with the big one? Would save a bit of weight.
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Old 05-07-11, 10:48 PM   #25
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I did about 400,000 feet of climbing last year. And most of it was on the same climbs. It seems better if I know where I am on the climb and how I feel. Sometimes seeing the top is good. In the case of Mount Hamilton, I see the observatory at the top for a long time. With each switchback it gets a little bigger. When it gets tough, I count pedal strokes.
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