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Long Distance Competition/Ultracycling, Randonneuring and Endurance Cycling Do you enjoy centuries, double centuries, brevets, randonnees, and 24-hour time trials? Share ride reports, and exchange training, equipment, and nutrition information specific to long distance cycling. This isn't for tours, this is for endurance events cycling

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Old 04-16-13, 11:27 AM   #1
jrickards
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Noob: Hill strategy

I am training for my first ever long rides and another post in this forum prompted this question. What is the best strategy for tackling hills? My first couple of (planned) centuries have limited hills, my goal is to finish, not to race.
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Old 04-16-13, 11:46 AM   #2
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Crank up 'em at whatever speed you can manage, moan and complain, then tell everyone later how hilly it was. Or at least that's my strategy.

My philosophy is, you should never walk a hill, but it's okay to ride up it at 2 mph and stop to rest 8 times if needed.

On a wee little bump of a hill, you can avoid downshifting, stand and pedal and work over it at reasonable speed. On anything actually hilly, downshift as required so you can pedal at a reasonable rate and not feel like you're doing leg-press exercises.

I got used to riding a single-speed over hills, and there, I always worked very hard going up and then rested while I coasted down. The local rando club tends to take it easy going up, then form a paceline with a fast guy on aerobars at the front, and crank all the way down, which just seems unnatural to me. (And this is on "hills", not mountains, which we don't have around here.)

I have a triple on my single bike, seldom need it, but don't mind using it if I do, and the triple on my tandem sees a fair bit of service.

One other tip is "Don't be fat." Don't ask how I know this one.
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Old 04-16-13, 11:52 AM   #3
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One other tip is "Don't be fat." Don't ask how I know this one.
... but can I ask what "fat" is?
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Old 04-16-13, 11:59 AM   #4
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... but can I ask what "fat" is?
I weigh about 250, and for hill climbing that's fat. It's a lot less fat than I used to be (or at least more of it is muscle than there used to be) but I still find my weight-to-power ratio is too high.
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Old 04-16-13, 12:17 PM   #5
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I think it makes sense to take it easy on climbs. It takes a lot of power to increase your speed by a small amount, that's going to hurt you at brevet-distances.

I gear down and go quite slowly, and then do not pedal at all on the descent until my speed goes below 30 km/h. I try to get as aero as possible without putting any undue stress on anything, and stay off the brakes. I feel like this is a good strategy for efficiency on long rides.
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Old 04-16-13, 12:29 PM   #6
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I weigh about 250, and for hill climbing that's fat. It's a lot less fat than I used to be (or at least more of it is muscle than there used to be) but I still find my weight-to-power ratio is too high.
I'm about 175lb and like you, I lose inches in the summer but not much weight.

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I think it makes sense to take it easy on climbs. It takes a lot of power to increase your speed by a small amount, that's going to hurt you at brevet-distances.

I gear down and go quite slowly, and then do not pedal at all on the descent until my speed goes below 30 km/h. I try to get as aero as possible without putting any undue stress on anything, and stay off the brakes. I feel like this is a good strategy for efficiency on long rides.
I read something like this elsewhere, go easy up hills and fast downhill (but, like you, I'll probably coast until I can pedal easily).
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Old 04-16-13, 12:29 PM   #7
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I weigh 158 and think I'm too fat. On really long rides, say over 150 miles, sit and spin up the hills. Only stand to rest your butt and use different muscles for a short time. I use a heart rate monitor (HRM) and set some heart rate (HR) that I won't go over on a long ride, thus conserving glycogen. The longer the ride, the lower that HR. On a really long ride, like 150 miles and up, I find that by the finish I'll have a HR that I simply can't exceed even if I wanted to. That should have been, and hopefully was, the HR limit I set for that ride. I find that a HRM is extremely useful on long rides, because even a few beats makes a big difference in endurance. I suppose I say this because I'm always pushing my limits. I could just dial it way back and still finish within the time limit.

If you're new to long climbs, say over an hour's duration, don't feel any shame to stopping and resting for a few minutes every hour or even half hour. Your legs will love you for it. If you're doing a two hour climb and you rest a total of 10 minutes, that's probably not what's going to put you over the time limit. Hanging out at a control for half an hour can, though.

Century rides I regard as relatively short rides. If you are trained well enough, you can ride most centuries about anyway you want as long as you eat enough, depending on total elevation gain. When a century gets up to 6000' of climbing or so, I change my strategy to the long ride strategy above.

YMMV
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Old 04-16-13, 12:37 PM   #8
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This year, I'm doing my first centuries (most metric) so, yes, for you, that's just like going to the corner store but I've got to start somewhere. Likely, knowing me, I'll be over cautious on the first one and realize at the end, I should have pushed harder and finished with a shorter time but finishing the first one will be a feather in my cap, after that, I can look at what I did and raise the bar a little higher.
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Old 04-16-13, 12:44 PM   #9
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This year, I'm doing my first centuries (most metric) so, yes, for you, that's just like going to the corner store but I've got to start somewhere. Likely, knowing me, I'll be over cautious on the first one and realize at the end, I should have pushed harder and finished with a shorter time but finishing the first one will be a feather in my cap, after that, I can look at what I did and raise the bar a little higher.
Well, the thing about the shorter rides is you're never too far from home if you blow yourself up. On the 200s and anything shorter, I find it's pretty safe to just do whatever you want...should the worst happen and you really over-extend yourself you can always sit down at a cafe or diner and eat something. Then just slowly spin home.
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Old 04-16-13, 12:46 PM   #10
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If you ride a fixed gear, you have a built-in excuse for walking up hills. I usually wait until I'm struggling up at 5 kmh or slower (about 3 mph). I can walk at 5 kmh, so I'm not losing time by walking. At the Knoxville Double last year, it was hot and I was cramping, and Loch Lomond has at least a 15% grade (my limit for the 44x17), so I got off and walked over to the shady side of the rode and pushed the bike. And I was keeping up with the guys still riding.

In fact, I think that if you are riding slower on a geared bike than you would be if you were walking, then why ride? Pride at not having to get off and walk? But you've got guys walking up faster! This is why I've never liked having super low gears on a bike (unless it's a tandem, where you need the super low gears and the triple chainring). If your rear cog is bigger than the front chainring, you are seriously undergeared, and you will be riding slower than a walking pace! Relax, just get off and push the bike! Even the pro's will run with the bike (check out any of the Belgian races over the cobbled climbs).

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Old 04-16-13, 01:04 PM   #11
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^^ Yea I think it's good to walk. Uses different muscles, stretches everything out a bit and let's your upper body relax. Good for your body. I always tell people that when they're first starting out, many are 'ashamed' or something at having to walk. I say, why? We're still 'self-propelled'.
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Old 04-16-13, 01:23 PM   #12
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^ +1, that's good advice, thanks
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Old 04-16-13, 01:42 PM   #13
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Great thread! The vast majority of riding I've been doing lately is either on my 4-speed IGH or my 2x7 derailleur-gear bicycles. From personal experience, I'm finding that the best approach to tackling hills is to tackle plenty of hills. Around my area, there are lots of opportunities for hill climbing since there isn't really any way out of town that doesn't involve hills other than the towpath. I'm not inclined to ride my road bikes on a dirt path, well at least not very far.
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Old 04-16-13, 02:10 PM   #14
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There are definitely some ups and downs in and around town but none have significant vertical, nor significant grade except two which are about 5% over 900m (0.6mi) and another which is about 6% over 0.35mi, both with 8% sections within those distances. The first is relatively easy to get to, the other is out of the way. I could try to incorporate the first into a couple of training days: ride up the hill, coast down, ride back up, etc. However, for me, I'm trying to do flatter centuries at first so that a successful completion of an "easy" century is a success.
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Old 04-16-13, 02:32 PM   #15
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I am training for my first ever long rides and another post in this forum prompted this question. What is the best strategy for tackling hills? My first couple of (planned) centuries have limited hills, my goal is to finish, not to race.
First thing you need to understand is power levels. For each duration there is a maximum average amount of power that you are able to output. If the hill is very long as in the range of 15+ minutes, then you don't have many options if you want to do it without stopping you need to get into your long term power level, which you can maintain for that amount of time.

If it is a short climb in the range of 1-5 minutes, then you have options, depending on your goal. If you want to go as fast as possible you need to go all out on the hill and recover afterwards. But as you are going on a long ride, speed is not important and you are not sure of your fitness level yet, you might want to go slower up the hill, closer to the power level as if it was a 15+ minute climb and then go faster towards the top if you feel ok.

As long as you have low enough gears, hills are all about pacing. Just remember that the fastest pace you should be at is that pace that you can just maintain for the entire climb. You don't want to go all out for 1 minute up a hill and then find out that there is still 10 more minutes of climbing, then it becomes really hard.

If you have a heart rate monitor you could use your heart rate to guide you in finding that long term power range that you can maintain for the longer climbs.
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Old 04-16-13, 02:34 PM   #16
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When going long I like to downshift and keep a similar effort going as on the flats. If the hills are big your effort will go up but don't blow on the first climb. I generally try to ride at an effort that seems too easy early in a long ride and save some for later. You can increase effort later if you have it and want to speed up..
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Old 04-16-13, 02:34 PM   #17
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For me, charging hills is the best bang for the buck training component of my rides......I reward myself by doing some coasting on the back side
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Old 04-16-13, 04:20 PM   #18
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training is different. Go as hard as you want. If you are on a ride that you have some question about finishing, don't push yourself too hard on hills. Of course, if you want to stay up with a group that is giving you shelter, that may not be the best advice.
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Old 04-16-13, 05:16 PM   #19
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training is different. Go as hard as you want. If you are on a ride that you have some question about finishing, don't push yourself too hard on hills. Of course, if you want to stay up with a group that is giving you shelter, that may not be the best advice.
If you're fat you can let them get a little way ahead on the ascent knowing you'll probably catch them on the descent.

Being fat I tend to freewheel down hills faster than most people I ride with.
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Old 04-16-13, 06:27 PM   #20
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I have a 19.5 inch low gear and I am not afraid to use it.
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Old 04-17-13, 04:49 AM   #21
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I am training for my first ever long rides and another post in this forum prompted this question. What is the best strategy for tackling hills? My first couple of (planned) centuries have limited hills, my goal is to finish, not to race.
Sit-down and gear-down.

Ignore those that may be faster going up the hill. You're goal is to get to the end of the ride, with some semblance of dignity, and be able to do another 2 or 3 climbs if you had to.

Until you're stronger and smaller, Sit-down and gear-down.
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Old 04-17-13, 06:47 AM   #22
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All this talk about hills and training and strategy is making me sad that there aren't more or better hills in my area. This is all great information and advice, thanks all!
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Old 04-17-13, 07:38 AM   #23
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I'm a 49 year old, 215 lb perma-clyde (built like a linebacker) with bad lung issues. Wonderful combination. I tell people "imagine if Thor Hushovd was 25% bigger, and he sucked. That's me." I'm never going to climb well. Just flat out not built for it - genetics not in my favor. (Combined with the fact that I have few/none hills around me to even train on) So, my strategy is reduced to drag my ass up in any way I can. Yes, there's times when ego gets in the way and I push harder than I should, but I just keep telling myself "ride my own ride". My first brevet ever is coming up next month, and I'm really curious to see what the climbs do to my overall time . . . . . . I may end up being the guy who finishes just behind the guy who is known as "next to last". I have to get over that though. If it ends up being 13.49 hours, then so be it!
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Old 04-17-13, 07:48 AM   #24
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I'm a 49 year old, 215 lb perma-clyde (built like a linebacker) with bad lung issues. Wonderful combination. I tell people "imagine if Thor Hushovd was 25% bigger, and he sucked. That's me." I'm never going to climb well. Just flat out not built for it - genetics not in my favor. (Combined with the fact that I have few/none hills around me to even train on) So, my strategy is reduced to drag my ass up in any way I can. Yes, there's times when ego gets in the way and I push harder than I should, but I just keep telling myself "ride my own ride". My first brevet ever is coming up next month, and I'm really curious to see what the climbs do to my overall time . . . . . . I may end up being the guy who finishes just behind the guy who is known as "next to last". I have to get over that though. If it ends up being 13.49 hours, then so be it!
What I love about brevets is that if you blaze across the finishing line 1 second after the final control opens you're considered to have finished. If you limp across the finishing line 1 second before the final control closes you're considered to have finished.

For me the finishing line of a 200k brevet is its own reward. Truth be told even if I'd finished outside the time allowance I'd be pleased at having covered the distance.
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Old 04-17-13, 08:14 AM   #25
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All this talk about hills and training and strategy is making me sad that there aren't more or better hills in my area. This is all great information and advice, thanks all!
40 kph headwinds work too. :-)
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