Monday, October 20, 2008

The Lazy Man's Guide to Hill Climbing

Sorry I haven't posted in a few days. Things have been a little busy around here.

Still trying to get ready for the upcoming Pedal-2-Paris bike ride, coming up this weekend. Towards that end, I made the drive over to Mineral Wells, TX this weekend for the Kiwanis Crazy Kicker Bike ride. This was a really good ride, with a lot of very scenic countryside to ride through. For those of you from Montana or Colorado, you probably wouldn't think that it was that scenic, but for these parts, it was very pretty. And also, very hilly. Again, for those from different areas of the country, you would probably laugh at what we Texans thought was hilly. Kind of the same way we laugh at you when we here you complaining about the heat, when it's 90 degrees outside. Come talk to us about the heat when you break triple digits. But, since everything is relative, this was a very "mountainous" bike ride.

I did the 100k ride, which by my computer, turned out to be 67 miles instead of 62 miles. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but when those extra 5 miles come at the end of the ride, after you've been climbing hills all day long, believe me when I say they matter. If they could somehow slip those extra five miles into the middle of the ride, they'd be a lot less bothersome. But it never fails, the extra 5 miles always come at the end of the ride.

Anyway, while climbing what had to the the 25th hill of the day, I made a surprising discover. That after you climb that many hills, there comes a point where you really don't seem to notice the hills anymore. During the first part of the ride, as you approach the hill, that sense of dread starts creeping in. As you start the actual climb, you begin to feel the burning in your legs, and the closer you get to the top, the more and more it burns. But after a couple of hours of this, a rather pleasant thing starts to happen. The sense of dread doesn't seem as strong anymore. The burning in your legs doesn't seem as intense anymore either. This is either due to hypoxia, (not enough oxygen getting to the brain), or something else.

I think it is due to something else, and not surprisingly, I have a theory as to what that something else might be. Actually, it probably is due, at least in part, to hypoxia. But also something else. It goes to what I have dubbed my "standing in the rain" theory. If you go outside and stand in a driving rain for 10 minutes, you might as well just stand out there for another hour. You're not going to get any wetter. After ten minutes, you're as wet as you're going to be after an hour. I think the same is true to cycling, and particularly, hill climbing. There comes a point of saturation, when you're as tired as you're going to get. From that point on, it's just a matter of replacing fuel and water. As long as you don't just run out of fuel and bonk, according to my theory, you should be able to just keep riding.

I've always enjoyed climbing hills. Maybe that's because I'm such a lousy sprinter. That's not to say that I'm a great hill climber. I just said I enjoy it, not that I'm good at it. Not to toot my own horn, (oh hell, I'll just toot away), I've only ever had to walk 1 hill in my life. And I've climbed hills in Northern California and Montana. Let me let you in on my 3 secrets to getting up a hill. Now notice that I didn't say get up a hill quickly. If you're looking to get up Alpe d'Huez in 37 minutes, you are REALLY talking to the wrong guy. But if you aren't late for anything, I can get you to the top.

First rule is to be careful where you look. Don't look at your cycle computer. It's only going to show you how slow you are going. Don't look at your heart rate monitor. It's only going to show you how tired you are. And whatever you do, for the love of God, don't look up the hill. That's only going to show you how far you still have to go, and how steep it is. You should look at the road, about 6 feet in front of your bike. From where you are to there, it really doesn't seem that steep. Just keep pedaling, and when it starts to get easier, you're getting close to the top.

Speaking of just keep pedaling, that's the second rule. No matter what happens, just keep pedaling. I know that sounds simple, but if you've spent any time at all reading this blog, you'll understand that "simple" is right in my wheelhouse. As simple as it may sound, "just keep pedaling" actually works. Left foot over the right, right foot over the left, repeat as necessary. As long as you don't stop pedaling, the laws of physics say that you will eventually reach the top of the hill.

The third and final secret is also quite simple. Climb every hill you can find. This summer I was out on a ride, and the group I was riding with came to a point in the ride where you could turn left, and ride the hilly part of the ride to the finish. Or you could go straight, and do the flatter part of the ride to the finish. One of the guys I was riding with said that he wasn't a very good hill climber, so he was going to take the flatter option. I thought to myself, "now that's an interesting training strategy". Get stronger at climbing hills, by avoiding climbing hills. If you want to become a better hill climber, there's only one way to do it. Climb more hills.

Now, on a more serious note. If any of you are readers of The Fat Cyclist blog, you are probably aware that his wife Susan, has been battling a recurrence of cancer. Well, according to Fatty's blog posting today, it seems that things took a turn for the worse over the weekend. Susan was having problems breathing Sunday night, and required an ambulance trip to the hospital. That's all we know for now, but Fatty said that he'd post more info as soon as it was available. I know from reading Fatty's blog that he always reads the comments left by his readers. I'm sure he'd appreciate it if you left a good word for him and Susan. You can click here to go to The Fat Cyclist. Please keep a good thought for Susan, Fatty, and their kids. Win Susan!

Peace out....Nearly Famous Fred

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