Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Long, steady climbs

Old 06-11-05, 08:20 PM
  #1  
SimpleCycle
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Long, steady climbs

I've been riding for about three months now, and before that I was doing Spinning 2-3 times a week for two months. On the weekends, I ride with some experienced riders. They are stronger riders than I am, but for the most part, I can keep up reasonably well. Until we hit a long, steady climb. I'm slower climbing all the time, but put me on a 2 or 3% grade for 10 miles and I'm toast. By mile 5 or so, I've dropped to 10 mph and am in my granny gear. Another two miles, I'm going about 8 mph and my heart rate is about a million. (I don't actually have a heart rate monitor, but I'd guess I'm around 85% of max, even though my breathing is still pretty normal)

The guys I ride with theorize that I'm not eating/drinking enough in the way of carbs on the rides, but today I was really conscientious about it and I still was dying. Not bonking, just unable to go any faster. There was a headwind/crosswind for part of the way, which was when I really fell behind. I'm sure part of it is that I'm still just not in the best cardiovascular shape.

Right now I ride long rides on the weekends (55 miles or so) and whatever I feel like during the week. Usually at least one 20 mile ride, and a couple shorter rides, plus the 3 mile round trip to and from work each day (I don't really count that though). How should I better focus my effort so that I can keep up better next time? I feel like I'm really holding them back and am considering riding short distances with them (they drop me off and keep going) or riding on my own until I am stronger. Two of these guys are Cat 5 racers, and I think I'm just out of my league. I don't want to find a slower group, because I don't think the rides will be challenging enough.
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Old 06-11-05, 08:54 PM
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Make hills your friend.

There comes a time in most serious riders lives where they have to face those evil monsters called hills. Up to this point, they've cursed and hated them because they always kick their arse. So much so they'll do anything to avoid them.

But avoiding the problem isn't the answer - attacking them is.

The goal is to get your body working in a specific zone - just on the edge of fatique/exhaustion but still under control and manageable. For me, this is at about 80% MHR. At 80% and below, I can spin all day up hills, at 85% and above, I can't. Knowing where this threshold is and learning to stay at it is key to getting stronger.

Proper gearing is huge. If you are running a 39/23 combo up a hill and getting past your max HR, you are mashing too big of a gear. If that's the best climbing gear you have, then it will be real tough going. It's key is to have other gears that allow you to spin and stay in your zone at all times.

Try to find hills and train yourself to stay in this zone for as long as you can without blowing up. Over time, the gears you are using will become easier and you'll have a choice - either stay at that speed and take a physical rest or go to a bigger gear at the same effort level and go faster. Doing the latter is a sign of improvement.

Good luck.

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Old 06-11-05, 11:59 PM
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I learned very quickly that pacing is the answer to long climbs. The temptation was to go at a high pace, but it soon became apparent that there was a better way.
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Old 06-12-05, 05:48 AM
  #4  
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In a few short sentences these guys have boild down what it took me years to learn. I have nothing to add!
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Old 06-12-05, 07:59 AM
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55 rad is right. Conisder in addition there is this place you come to, a spiritual demension, a oneness with the road, pace at which you progress up the hill and are cleansed of all other thoughts, toxins are sweated out, and then you begin to feel live again.
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Old 06-12-05, 09:43 AM
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Sounds to me like your fitness is a step below your buddies. You need to train harder than them if you want to catch up. The best way to train for hills is to ride lots of hills.
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Old 06-12-05, 09:58 AM
  #7  
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Climbing long hills is partially mental as well. I do better when I don't think about how long the hill is and I just keep pedaling. I try to clear my mind on long hills and just focus on turning the pedals around.
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Old 06-12-05, 10:10 AM
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Originally Posted by nitropowered
Climbing long hills is partially mental as well. I do better when I don't think about how long the hill is and I just keep pedaling. I try to clear my mind on long hills and just focus on turning the pedals around.
Hill climbing is partially mental, but if his HR is over 85% for over an hour, then he has a fitness problem as well.
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Old 06-12-05, 10:20 AM
  #9  
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Your post reads like I could've written it. I'm over 50, have only been cycling for about 3 years, and do group ride with a lot of younger guys. I have the same issue wiht hills when riding with the experienced groups .I can always get up the hills at my own pace, but not at the faster pace of the group. Here's a couple of things I've found helpful: Try to stay near the front of the group (or at least not at the back) as much as possible. Adjusting to all the yo-yoing and changes of pace that are amplified at the back is exhausting over a long ride. If you do get dropped on a hilll, get back with the group as soon as possible, even if it means an all out sprint to catch back on. I've found spending the effort on the sprint to be less tiring than riding solo for a longer period. Stay close to the wheel ahead of you... more than a few feet back and you've lost most of the benefit of drafting. On the hills, I find that I am more successful if I go a little stronger (faster) at the beginning of the climb and then settle in to a pace I can maintain. This isn't always possible from the back of a large group since the group changes pace differently, often slowing more than would prefer initially. I try to either get near the front, or to the inside as we approach a hill so I can do my thing and not worry about adjusting to the rest.

Anyway, that's about all I've figured out so far, other than continuing to ride hills and work to get stronger!
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Old 06-12-05, 10:40 AM
  #10  
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The advice others are giving is great. However, my feedback, if you're seriously into improving is to do hill repeats above your Lactate Threshold...at least once a week. Find a hill about 1 to 2 miles long at a slightly steeper grade than what you currently climb and go at it for about 2-4 times at about 4 to 10 beats higher than your LT heartrate.

This is a killer workout and will make the hills you ride now become much easier...and fun!

This is provided that you have a good foundation of riding already...which it sounds like you have.

There's nothing better than riding up a hill...except maybe descending it.

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Old 06-12-05, 12:45 PM
  #11  
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[QUOTE=jedi_rider]The advice others are giving is great. However, my feedback, if you're seriously into improving is to do hill repeats above your Lactate Threshold...at least once a week. Find a hill about 1 to 2 miles long at a slightly steeper grade than what you currently climb and go at it for about 2-4 times at about 4 to 10 beats higher than your LT heartrate.
QUOTE]

I agree with periodization to improve climbing ability. However, be careful how you do it bacause there are many types of 'above threshold' efforts with varying duration, repetition and target zone. The workouts are different depending on whether you want to develop more leg strength or more cardio power.

I would suggest getting sufficient base millage before attacking hill repeats though.

There are several internet sites that gives good training principles. Check this one out for example :

http://www.pponline.co.uk/

Cheers. Hummmm maybe I shouldn't be giving out my training secrets.
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Old 06-12-05, 12:59 PM
  #12  
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i am a novice myself and live in very hilly terrain..

what i have found to help me once i start slowing, as you described, is to hop out of the saddle and climb that way if only for a few yards.
it really helps me get a grasp on the pedals again and might give a little break on the glutes or something.

anyway.. hope that wasn't too obvious.
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Old 06-12-05, 01:13 PM
  #13  
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How would you like to ride at the same speed you are now, but without pegging your heart rate? Sounds like you could use more aerobic base. Experienced riders may be able to "go all day" at 85% of max, but your number may be more like 75%.

Get a heart monitor and find out what heartrate you can sustain for a long time, then train from 10 beats below up to that number. This may seem too easy, but it will train your aerobic system. In the meantime, riding with a slower group may be just what you need at present.
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Old 06-12-05, 07:42 PM
  #14  
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Train on the exact hills that give you problems if possible. It builds confidence and you feel at home on the hills. Eventually it/they become "your" hills.
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Old 06-12-05, 08:03 PM
  #15  
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Change your gearing - at least go to a 26 or 27 in the rear. Maybe think about a triple up front. With the extra gears you will become psychologically (sp?) more confident because you always have the easier gears if needed. Onregular hills and grades of 2%-3% you will not need the 30 in front you get with a triple, but you may use the 26 or 27 in the rear. After 1000 or so miles you will find yourself climbing in the 23-24 and only using the 30 on real grades - 6% or better. The triple and the 26 or 27 in the back will make you more confident - and at the end of the summer you will have confidence and more conditioning to go with the confidence.
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Old 06-12-05, 11:21 PM
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Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone. I probably should climb out of the saddle more, but I'm not quite comfortable doing it yet. It's a skill I'll practice. Oh, and I already have a triple and a 12-25 cassette.

I think the biggest thing is probably that I need to achieve a higher level of fitness and endurance. Smaller hills aren't a big deal, just really long ones. I start out fine, but I hit a certain point where my heart rate starts climbing and I just slow waaaay down.

I'm thinking I'll get a heart rate monitor and start more actively "training" instead of just riding at whatever pace I feel like that day. I know I tend to take it a little too easy on easy rides, and probably don't go on enough harder rides.

I'm never going to be as good as my riding partners, but I'd like to at least reasonably keep pace with them on what are their slower rides and my harder rides. Right now there's a pretty dramatic mismatch in our fitness levels, but they seem intent on keeping me riding with the group. So I need to make sure I'm training on my own to close the gap a little. I've figured out a few loops that will take me up the grades that cause me trouble, and a few others with shorter (~1.5 miles), steeper climbs.

This is a total newbie question, but how do I figure out what my LT is, other than going to an exercise physiology lab?
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Old 06-13-05, 08:34 AM
  #17  
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Spinning classes are good for, ... well, spinning. They do not help you increase the force on the pedals to get up hills. The best aid for climbing is to increase your leverage. Hold the top of the bars and slide back on your saddle... right back. Now push the pedals by simply straightening your legs. It should feel like your just pulling your knees in, and not like your pushing down with your thigh. You want a low cadence 50-60 rpm. This is called the "Big Gear Grinding" method of climbing and it has two advantages.
1) It uses all your biggest muscles, especialy your butt, and lower back. 2) It does not use the muscles you use for 'spinning' and which are probably exhausted just by keeping up with your buddies.
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Old 06-13-05, 09:10 AM
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I live in the mountains of Vermont where there are few flat rides so since I can't avoid them I seek them out. I now do the climbs I used to avoid and they get easier. Also got some great advice on climbing from some other threads in this forum such as (and in this thread as well)...

-Stay seated and shift your weight back -- this allows you to extend the big muscles in your legs (as mentioned in the previous post as well)

-Get out of the saddle occasionally to mix it up

Also, don't be ashamed of your triple -- use it. I used to try to avoid using mine until I realized that my middle chain ring is bigger than the small chain ring on a double (42 vs 39).
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Old 06-13-05, 11:06 AM
  #19  
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Another area to look at could be weight as well. What does your body fat index look like? I know 5 to 10 pounds for me can make several mph difference on a long hill for me. Of course riding lots of hills will probably help with that problem too .
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Old 06-13-05, 11:17 AM
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Originally Posted by SimpleCycle
I think the biggest thing is probably that I need to achieve a higher level of fitness and endurance. Smaller hills aren't a big deal, just really long ones. I start out fine, but I hit a certain point where my heart rate starts climbing and I just slow waaaay down.
This is a total newbie question, but how do I figure out what my LT is, other than going to an exercise physiology lab?
It's the HR at which your heart starts pounding, your legs start burning, and you slow waaaay down.

There are some complicated ways to figure it out analytically, but just getting a feel for it that way is probably adequate for training purposes. I know that if I'm going at 175-176 I will probably be able to maintain a steady pace but by the time I'm at 177-178 my legs are getting that tell-tale burn and if I don't ease up I'll pop. Hence, ~176 is my LT.

Hitting the hills hard at the bottom, only to have my heart rate (which always lags behind exertion) skyrocket and send me anaerobic after a few hundred yards, is my big vice. Let the guys go, spin at the bottom, and slowly ramp your speed up for the second half.
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Old 06-13-05, 11:53 AM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by SimpleCycle
I've been riding for about three months now, and before that I was doing Spinning 2-3 times a week for two months. ...

Right now I ride long rides on the weekends (55 miles or so) and whatever I feel like during the week. Usually at least one 20 mile ride, and a couple shorter rides, plus the 3 mile round trip to and from work each day (I don't really count that though). ...
Not enough base mileage.

Re. hill cimbling abilities, it'll come with time. Climb more hills every week, short ones, long ones, and you'll get better at it.

Lots of good tips given to you so far, but there is nothing like experience. Go out there and climb hills, if that's what you really want to do .
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Old 04-12-06, 09:15 PM
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This is exactly what happened to me last weekend on a 6% climb. I didn't have any more gears, my HR was around 85-90% of Max. I tried varying the riding style, doing a little standing and working hard, but I just got dropped.

In the hills leading up to this 8km 6% climb (it is about an 80km ride in total), I was fine. I could eat the small hills that take two or three minutes to climb. But on the long, steady climb I was hopeless. I have been searching all these forums for advice. My problem is that during the week I am mostly doing a high speed, undulating 30km commute.

So, sorry to steal your post, but does anyone know if I can really improve my climbing by doing one morning of hill repeats on say a 6% 1km climb AND also once a week doing my undulating commute mashing a huge gear?

I have tried the later and managed to keep my HR down to around 70-75% of MHR without losing much speed (actually this was a huge surprise). I had started increasing my RPM on my commute because I thought it would save my legs (they were getting pretty sore.) But, I think that I have been sacrificing power for speed.

The jury seems to be out on mashing a big gear on the flats. Has anyone actually done it and found it worked?

Second question, where there is also conflicting evidence, can you train to be great at endurance, fast and also climb hills? Seriously, is it possible?
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Old 04-13-06, 01:07 AM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by ft_critical
Second question, where there is also conflicting evidence, can you train to be great at endurance, fast and also climb hills? Seriously, is it possible?
This year I am continuing to tackle double centuries and completed my first one a few weeks ago in two hours less than the previous year (same ride) and felt great afterwards (versus almost dying). I also did plenty of hill climbing in the early part of the year (Mt Palomar, 6%, 14 miles; Newport Coast, 5-12%, 3 miles) to improve my overall strength during climbs. That proves that you can improve your endurance, speed and hill climbing ability at the same time.

I have only found that climbing big hills helps you out in climbing big hills, but running a low cadence in a big gear while on the flats can train your legs to believe that they need to be stronger and not just faster.
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Old 04-13-06, 05:40 AM
  #24  
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Given the obsessively quasi clinical nature of this discussion, I've one thing to add: Challenge yourself yes, but ENJOY YOURSELF in the process!
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