Training: Taking on gravity

How to power up those hills

Riding for fitness can mean that you feel as though you have to endure slow, steady and somewhat mundane sessions all year round. This ignores the competitive side of the human psyche that some of us deny – but let’s face it, if we weren’t competitive, the dinosaurs would have won the evolutionary battle, right?

After all, isn’t half the buzz of riding being able to ride fast? Or testing yourself against a hill, a competitor, or the clock? In the case of a hill climb, you can combine all three of the above, and take on one of the most relentless forces of nature at the same time.

Don’t rush in unprepared

However, if you’re going to venture into the red-zone you must prepare correctly. And you must remember that you will only feel the benefit if you do the right things (remember to warm up, for instance).

To be able to ride your fastest, you will have had to have ridden consistently and aerobically for several weeks. If not, don’t expect miracles. Talent always shines but without preparation, this difficult task will become very, very hard indeed.

It’s not wise to ride into oblivion (as many hill climb finish-line watchers will attest) if you have only just got your fitness programme sorted. Your legs can’t deal with repeated high intensity strain and anaerobic overload without you getting ill, injured or both. Hard riders are built by hard sessions, but not overnight.

The 80:20 rule applies here. That is, you should ride 80% aerobically each week and have no more than 20% anaerobic work, such as intervals and races.

Doing the hard yards

These exhilarating sessions are fun when you are riding at your best. There are several ways to get prepared for hill climbs. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Enter some end-of-season short five- or 10-mile time trials maybe even as a 2-up team effort. These will get you competing, working flat out and feeling what it’s like to go hard, and too hard.

2. Do your own lactic acid tolerance hill efforts

  • Find a 30-second steep hill, ideally the same type of incline as your goal event
  • Warm up for 15mins steady riding then climb the steep hill five times
  • Once in a comfortable gear, try the next one a gear higher, working harder right up to number five, which is an all-out 30-second effort
  • Have 4.5mins easy spinning at the bottom of the hill after each effort

3. Add weight to the bike on most rides (2kg filled bottle strapped to the seat tub) but then strip your bike down for some fast hill climb ‘tests’ and of course go as light as you can for the big day.

4. Consider doing threshold intervals to help build fitness, lactic acid turnover capacity and power.

After a warm-up, do a series of intervals as follows: 5x 4mins at 20 beats above your aerobic threshold (around 25-mile TT effort if you’ve done one) with a 1min recovery. Build up one a week with every third week backing off by ten beats and holding the number of reps.

5. Be present!  On race morning use coffee, Pro-Plus, Red Bull or the new High Five Extreme drink to get your brain firing on all cylinders. It won’t dull the pain but it will reduce the time you have to endure it.

It may not be easy going up against gravity, but with your training in place, your bike lightened and your brain ready you can try to beat the hill. Or at least not let it make you submit.

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