Any advice for a newbie attempting hills for the first time? I've entered one race already, and it had a pretty steep hill that was considered either a run-up or a ride-up. I chose to run up it, since I have no experience riding on hills, but, having watched race footage from the other categories, it looks like almost everyone else was riding up. Are there any rules of thumb to follow when deciding whether to run or ride? Also, any tips for hill climbing in general? Is it better stand or sit? My current strategy is to shift into my easiest gear and do whatever it takes to get to the top.
What about the downhill? My current strategy is to shift my butt back so I don't go over headfirst and then hold on for dear life. Is there a better way?
To run or to ride is a question that frequently comes up in cyclocross.
As far as advice on technique, I think Ned Overend's "Performance Mountain Biking" DVD is a very worthwhile purchase. For your specific question on climbing, the lowest gear is not always the best to use. You want a gear that allows you the best transfer of power to the rear wheel, without slipping out. If the ground is slippery, you'll slip out if you take too much weight off your rear wheel.
When heading down a slippery slope...as we all do from time to time...keeping your posterior back is right on, but try a bit of a loose(er) grip on the bars and keep the knees bent all shock absorber like. Let the bike float under you a little and find it's line, obviously this feels funny but once you get comfortable with it you'll realize you do still have good traction. However, if you have a harsh transition/slop at the bottom be ready for that front wheel to try and wash out.
As far as run/ride the hill...I have been shocked at how fast hills can be run up opposed to riding. The people that can transition well from bike/run/bike can really fly. I usually opt to ride, but I climb smoother than I can get on/off the bike.
Don't wait until raceday to figure out what you do best. Find a hill that you can train on and practice dismounts to run-up, gear combo and balanced position (standing or sitting) to ride up, differing conditions dry/wet grass/mud.
On race day do a few recon laps to familiarize yourself not only with the course layout but any hills as well. Try what you've trained at and see what works best on those hills.
Note: be careful when riding up seated, in case you stall out, you might have a braking/balance/standing/clipout issue. Rolling and falling backwards downhill might be more than embarassing.
One more thing that helps on the bike-runup-bike transition: decide what you're going to do in the race before hitting the hill (and this may change from lap to lap, as the race takes it's toll), and before you dismount for the run, shift into the appropriate gear for the TOP of the hill, so you're ready to go when you remount.
Another point to consider on the run-up is the relative merits of shouldering vs. pushing the bike. I've benefited from shouldering more often than not.
One of my favorite things is running past folks trying to bike up. Hills can be a great place to make up some serious time - especially at the end of a race with a little discipline...
Riding hills on dirt is very different from pavement climbing. On the road the question is how much power your body can deliver, off road the question is how much traction have you got. Steep climbs will have you out of the saddle, but low on the bike, with your arms bent and your butt in front of the saddle. Slide your body forward or aft for maximum traction for the conditions. If you're doing it right the saddle will occasionally touch you in an inappropriate way. Don't talk about it.