I have dedicated the last 15 years of my life to help people improve their cycling, and climbing is almost always at the top of their lists of challenges. Every rider I work with needs to improve their Climbing, from Century rides, Gravel Grinders, Cyclocross to RAMROD to STP, it is the focus for most riders. I was lucky to learn to climb early when I moved to Colorado and began racing road in the mountains, everyone who races there is a great climber. My 2nd race was the Mt. Evans hillclimb (highest paved road in US over 14,000ft) and when I was a pro mountain biker I won a WorldCup medal for 3rd place with the best in the world racing up Mammoth Mountain, so climbing has been my cycling “thesis” and major area of study since 1987.
Climbing requires more than just fitness, I have coached some of the fittest riders around and often is is more subtle techniques like mental “fueling”, pedal stroke or fueling correctly that makes the biggest difference. Climbing will test you and *can* bring out the best in you, it can also allow you to find ways to give up early.
If you are trying to unlock your best climber, start with where you are with your fitness now and accept your ability and limitations as starting points. You have a pattern of how you climb, and if you want to improve there are a number of things you can look at BESIDES your training/fitness level to be sure you are climbing as well as you can:
1. Pedal stroke optimization
2. Breathing techniques for steady and hard climbing
3. Posture and hand position
4. Bike fit to allow full power
5. Pacing tools to fit terrain
6. Shifting smooth transitions and cadence
7. Standing skills, recovery and full-gas
8. Fueling precision
Skip the warm-up
When the temperatures are at or above 80-90 degrees, there’s really no reason to put in much of a warm up. You’ll probably find that it won’t take long for your muscles to warm up so I would recommend trying to stay cool. Stay in the shade, pour cold water over your head and onto your shorts and jersey. In even more extreme temperatures, I have used ice in my jersey as well as in stockings stuffed down the back of my jersey.
When you’re racing in temperatures over 90 degrees, heat exhaustion is a real health concern that I’ve personally experienced and is not to be taken lightly. If you start to get nauseous, dizzy or foggy/start to black out, then you are past ‘the point of no return’ and you should stop riding immediately and get cooled off as soon as possible. No matter how acclimated one is to the temperature, there is a maximum amount of time in those temperatures one can exhaust themselves in so don’t take temperature extremes for granted under any circumstance.
Part of staying hydrated also has to do with the proper amount of electrolytes in the liquids that you’re ingesting. The hotter it is, the more sweat and electrolytes will be drawn from your body. If you start a ride, whether it’s hot or not, already dehydrated, there is no physically possible way for you to make that up during the ride. Always start any physical activity properly hydrated and again, listen to your body for how often you need to drink.
Sipping more frequently is better than gulping infrequently for several reasons: it’s easier on your system to absorb water and electrolytes if taken in smaller and more spaced out amounts and also if you’re already taxing your body in extreme temperatures, adding another ‘pressure’ of having to deal with GI distress is only going to make your body’s ability to sustain the endurance &/or effort that much harder.
For a complete description of signs, symptoms and preventive measures to take for heat exhaustion, heat stroke and other heat stress conditions the Center for Disease Control has a complete list here
*”Heat Acclimation improves exercises performance” published in the October issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology
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Part 2: OK, you now can survive a race, hopefully you learned to draft and conserve so you can see the finish line with the rest of the herd. If you came into racing with a strong cycling background, it is possible that you won races, went right to the front of the pack, towed everyone around and still won. This is good and bad, good cause it is fun, bad cause you probably didn’t learn much so you might still be the same skill level as when you started. This can come back to bite you now that you are riding up at the next level.
For normal people, you spend time getting strong enough to survive, now you want to try to go for a mid race prime (prize) or see if you can finish in the top 1/3 of the results. You have enough strength and skill to survive, now you just need to use it smartly to best the others in your group. This is where reading the pack really comes to the fore. Here are some basics to live by:
1. Only move up when it is slow and try to find a wheel to get you up the pack instead of doing it yourself.
School of fish. Pack of wolves. Flock of birds. Surfer on a wave. When you decide to race your bike, you are assigning yourself to this kind of obedience and lack of control. Group think, primitive reflexive response to the flow and changes of the herd and conditions. You know what I am talking about? Then maybe you haven’t raced, cause when you decide to ride with a group of riders without the formality of pacelines or ride leaders, chaos ensues and the rules of how you thought you should ride your bike are out the window, and you need to become “subject to the herd”.
The good news is that once you learn the subtle art of riding with the pack, you will enjoy it and find much satisfaction from being able to fly along at twice your normal speed for hours on end, rocketing over the hills and dales of the country until the next climb starts. You will be able to take advantage of the turbo speeds, and launch yourself to the stratosphere of bike speed and performance, there is no other way to fly. The bad news is that not everyone makes the jump to good pack riding, and some of you will give up long before you ever accumulate enough skills and experience to truly enjoy the experience. There is always racing Time Trials, Triathlon, Mountain bike and Cyclocross, so don’t worry.
One of the joys of riding a bicycle is using this machine to get exactly the most amount of speed from the energy you put into it. When we teach our hill climbing bootcamps or private lessons, one of the biggest things we teach people is how to shift correctly to maintain momentum, utilize all your cycling muscles at the right cadences and to be smooth so you don’t strain yourself with sudden changes. This is the art of cycling. Using the bicycle as a machine to propel you smoothly to go faster with less effort.
Here is an example of what I am talking about. As I was riding to work, going down a steep hill which led into an uphill, I had to keep it in my big ring and my cadence slowly dropped as I was going through the bottom of the hill, and starting to go upward. I then started shifting with my right shifter 2 gears at a time to make it easier, pedaling as I went, with the goal of keeping my cadence around 80 rpm and applying pressure to the pedals to carry speed