Monday, September 9, 2013

Quick and Significant Hill (Mountain) Training for a Non-Climber?

As some are already aware, there is an annual ride I participate in and even though I say I'm not going to ride it - every - single - year, somehow I end up getting talked into doing it anyway. This year, I registered early to save myself the frustration because I knew inevitably some person, moment, or event would present itself and miraculously I would be doing the Venus de Miles ride. Why fight it was my motto this year and I started annoying friends and family early on to help me out with fundraising. I don't mind the fundraising, actually. It's the one consistently positive attribute of this ride and the money goes to a cause I whole-heartedly support. I also expressed plans early in the summer to complete my first ever century ride. So, since VdM has a century option, it seemed like a great idea to just go ahead and sign myself up. Even though I ended up completing my first century on an unsupported ride, I was still excited to participate in this event, if for no other reason than to compare the experience of riding alone versus riding in a supported, group event.
Venus de Miles starting line - August 2012
In past years, the 100-mile ride has gone up into the mountains and (among other reasons) this has kept me from really wanting to participate. However, when I first got a look at the route map earlier this summer, it had changed significantly. I realized no part of it was going into the mountains (Yippee!!!), but I also was not exactly thrilled with the roads we'd be riding. Many of them have no bike lanes, no shoulders, and they also travel through extremely high speed and high traffic areas. I was starting to rethink my decision to do the century with VdM. I even had a back up plan to ride a shorter distance with the group and then complete a century on my own just to avoid the route that had been planned. Oddly, VdM still had no route approvals just a couple of weeks ago and I started to wonder if the ride was going to take place at all. Then, just as I was starting to believe I was getting out of the ride this year, route approval came in... However, the ride had been changed back to climbing up into the mountains. This is where the big sigh was let out. This is also where panic set in.

I am not a climber.

Lots of people say it, and many actually aren't climbers at all, but I am really not a climber. I like to blame the excess mass on my body (which I'm sure doesn't help), but I've seen plenty of big guys rock the hell out of climbs, so I really don't think that's the problem. It's also not the bike as I've whittled my way down to a pretty light and fast bike. The sad but honest truth is that I just don't seem to be able to do it. I do climb hills, and I never walk them, but they are the most painfully slow climbs I think one could experience - even when they aren't notoriously difficult climbs. Knowing that the first 60 miles of the ride will be climbing (in one form or another), I am really concerned. The worst part of the climbing is that the actual mountain portion doesn't even begin until half way into the century. Call me a wimp, but four thousand seven hundred and sixty-four feet is a lot of climbing for me. A lot.
100-mile Route Map
In case you missed it in the photo above... this is what the climbing looks like. Yeah, see that scary, large hump to the right side of middle... that's the part I'm dreading the most.
Yes, 4,764 feet of climbing to do... and a lot of it will be starting as I'm getting tired
I have less than three weeks to go and I have no idea what to do to train myself for this sort of climbing. The century I did on my own was about half the feet of climbing this ride will entail, and I planned much of it to be early on in the ride, not after the half way point. In addition to just being naturally ungood (yes, I'm making up words again) at climbing, I have an injured knee and have been experiencing aching while doing even the most minor climbs over the last several weeks.

So, fabulous people of the interwebs... I need help, suggestions, thoughts... anything you think would be valuable to help me out as I attempt to train myself to climb in a very, very short amount of time. I know I can do the distance, but I am not so sure the climbing won't take me out of this ride earlier than I would like. I'm also a bit fearful of being able to finish out the distance after expending all the energy to attempt to get up the big peak, so any thoughts on that matter are certainly welcome as well.

19 comments:

  1. Change gearing if needed to get a ratio you can do comfortably for a long while. I spin a little slower on climbs than flats, but I still spin. Also, classic - use the muscles on back of legs to climb. Slide hips back on saddle and press down with heels to make leg biceps and glutes work. Practice this before the big day. Remember to breathe and have fun!

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    1. I think my gearing is good, but always a good reminder. I appreciate the thoughts to check how I'm riding/climbing up hills too. I'll have to be more aware on the next ride to see that I'm using all the muscles I should be. I suspect some of my problems may stem from long-term, permanent back issues as well, but I'm not entirely convinced that I can't climb because of these problems.

      Thanks again! :O)

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  2. I live in Seattle. Climbing is a fact of life here. Ditto for cross-country mountain biking. Check out a video on YouTube of the Tour de France riders in a mountain stage. Unless on the attack, they sit and spin. Watch their belt line from behind. Their hips are rock solid level while their legs pump. They only rock their hips when out of the saddle. No one can climb long out of the saddle. Save out-of-the-saddle climbing for especially steep sections to keep your momentum up. The Tour riders are masters at efficiency. Those of us with a little more heft need to be efficient too - so as to not go anaerobic on climbs. Keep your gearing and speed such that you are breathing hard, but not out of breath. Make sure your seat is adjusted fore/aft and high enough that your knees do not get sore. Low gearing saves knees too. Over time, you will get better and better at climbs. But weight is always a factor. Simple physics - energy needed to climb a height is directly proportional to weight. Since I weigh more than you, G.E. I know!

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    1. I definitely don't mash or stand while going up hills - at least not long climbs. I think the biggest challenge at the moment is just to stop fearing the climbing. There is no escaping it here, but when heading into the actual mountains I suddenly start believing that there's no way I can do it. I'm going to do my best to train as well as I can for the climbing in the little bit of time I have, but I suppose if the worst happens, I will simply get off the bike and walk if necessary.

      I used to think it was purely a matter of physics - but, I swear, I've seen some quite substantial individuals screaming past me while traveling uphill. I know that logically weight does play a role (how could it not?), but I can't help but think to myself, "I'm out riding every day, and I can't get that sort of speed up a climb!" {sigh}

      By the way, can you take your Seattle weather back? It's been raining/foggy for several days here and I feel like I'm losing my mind. :O) I need my sunshine back... even if it means 100 degree days.

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    2. If you fear the climb - and I understand, then don't be afraid to expand your gear range. Knowing you always have more gears can ease the fear. Remember, with a low enough gear, you can climb as slow as walking speed and your energy output is about the same as walking up the hill. Bicycles in the US are often equipped with close ratio cog sets that are perfect for an extremely fit racer. They may not be the best match for mere mortals. Most component groups offer wide ratio cog sets and they can make a big difference. Swapping out cogs is not super expensive and not that hard to do. Even with an IGH, you can make some adjustments to the cog and/or chainring sizes - within the torque limits of the IGH.

      As far as physics goes, the energy required to climb is directly proportional to weight, but let's face it. Some people can put out more power, or energy, faster than others. Maybe a long twitch muscle vs. slow twitch muscle thing? In any event, if you are in tune with your max energy output, the max without going anaerobic, you can ease the fear of climbing. You can keep yourself out of the red zone. And the more you train, the more you can shift your red zone - so climbing further or faster becomes within reach.

      Seattle was knocking on the door of 90 degrees today.

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    3. I have an 11-30 cassette on the rear and a compact crank, so I'm not sure I can get any lower than that - though perhaps I'm wrong? I think I'm just a weak climber... but I'm working on it. :O) I think David's suggestion below to actually do the climb that I fear before the ride makes sense... it's close by and there's no reason to not give it a go (except for my irrational fear of not being able to climb it). It's a ride I've wanted to do for a couple of years anyway because everyone talks about how beautiful it is, so I need to just get over it and go and do it. After our flooding stops, of course. :O)

      I know you are right about the physics of it, as much as I want to deny it. Knowing that I have never been an athlete or even athletic sort of person, the last year and a half as brought out a different side of myself and it's fascinating to see what I'm actually capable of doing when I let go of the fear of failure. So, even though I may not be sprinting up the hill like some of the 100-lb ladies, if I get the time in practicing, I hope that I can at least make it up - even if it's slow.

      Seriously... I'm completely willing to barter a trade with you. Take the rain back, and I'll take the warm/sunshine off your hands. :O) There are now parts of town floating away (I wish I were kidding), and it's not expected to stop until Monday. Maybe someone makes a floating bicycle so I can still ride?

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    4. Is your compact crank a double (two-ring) crank, or a triple? Your rear cassette is about as low as you can go, if you already have a triple. Conceivably, you can go to about a 34 on the rear, but there are limits to how much gear spread you can have due to the limit on how much chain a long throw derailleur cage can take up. A two-chainring compact crank might have a 50 and 36 or 50 and 34. When I had a road bike, I had a Campy Veloce triple crank with 30-39-50 chainrings. I think the rear cassette was an 11-29, as I recall. Anyway, the triple gives you the option of the combination of a small ring in front and large ring in back that would be lower than what you may have now. See this explanation for more info. on triple vs. double cranks: http://www.chainreactionbicycles.com/triples.htm The guy that wrote it explains increased gearing may actually allow you to climb faster - based on your body/power type.

      Colorado's recent rainy weather was featured on our local news this morning!

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    5. I have a triple on my Rivendell (9x3)... but my road bike is a compact double (10x2). I put the triple on the Riv because of its weight and attempting to get up hills was incredibly painful with the double. It worked out well on that bike. I suppose I don't really want to go through the work of finding a new crank (nor the expense), so I'm just attempting to figure out a way to make myself stronger. :O) Perhaps it would be something to consider over the long haul, but it likely wouldn't happen before the ride at the end of the month.

      The weather has been really wacky. Our city is split in two (at the river), dividing two portions. People trying to figure out how to get to work, how to get home when work is shut down... it's madness, certainly.

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    6. I agree - converting a double to a triple is probably beyond what anyone would want to do. My original comment pertained to swapping cogs, but only if you already had a triple.

      It hit 93 yesterday in Seattle, mid-80's today. Just means we will pay for it later this year . . .

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  3. I find that if I do a couple short rides each week focusing only hills, I notice an improvement in my skills pretty quickly. I keep the rides to no more than about 10-15 miles so I don't worry about wearing myself out on the hills. I make sure there are at least one or two hills that really push me to my limit - lowest gears, breathing hard. Then, when it's time to do the longer rides, I feel less anxious about whether I can handle the hills and just focus on spinning at whatever pace feels most comfortable. I'm still not the fastest hill climber, but I really do notice a difference. Good luck and let us know how it goes! I really enjoy reading about your rides.

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    1. I get a lot of hills riding around here, and I definitely think it helps to get them in regularly. I think my biggest concern at the moment is that 8 mile climb into Jamestown - as David pointed out below. I think I just have to get it through my head that if I need to stop on the way up, I will stop. Unfortunately, I just don't have a lot of time any longer to train the way I would like. I know that riding all summer has been training, but I think I'm just really fearful of the big climbs.

      I really appreciate your ideas too, CJ...and I will keep you all posted on how things go. Thanks! :O)

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  4. Go ride just to Jamestown slow and easy, enjoying the scenery on the way. You'll do it and be rid of the fear of the unknown. It is actually a lovely ride and you can take it as slow as you like, spinning all the way knowing there is no time requirement to bother with.

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    1. It's funny that you bring that up because I was just thinking it would be a good idea to just ride up to Jamestown. But then I thought that if I didn't make it I wouldn't want to do the ride at all. :O) Unfortunately at the moment we're experiencing so much rain and flooding that I can't really practice my climbing as I would like. Hopefully, by next week I'll be able to do the ride a couple of times though.

      Thanks for your thoughts - it's definitely what I need to do, even if I have doubts.

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  5. Make the switch to clipless pedals if you haven't already. Shimano spd mountain bike cleats at the loosest setting are easiest to learn on.

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    1. This is actually a point of contention in our household at the moment. I don't ride with any sort of clip pedals (I have varyious forms of platforms on everything I ride). I actually put the SPD cleats on my shoes the other day (I do have them, but don't use them) and I attempted to use the clipless side of the pedals on my road bike. It went fine as far as unclipping and clipping on my 30ish mile ride, but I had such anxiety about unclipping in time at stops that I didn't enjoy the ride at all. I do like that I feel more connected to the bike, but I'm not sure it really provided any more power... so, I ended up taking them off my shoes. Perhaps I should try again with these and get over (yet another) fear?

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    2. I rode with Shimano SPD clipless pedals for years and absolutely loved them. I used the mtn. bike version and was devout when it came to these clipless pedals. I found them much safer than toe clips or nothing at all.

      However, eventually, the hotspots they create due to the pressure point they induce under the ball of your foot caught up with me. Over time (about 10 years), I developed irreversible nerve damage in my feet. Similar to the nerve damage cyclists can get in their hands. May not be an issue for a smaller person, but with a larger guy like myself, the pedaling forces are higher but the base of the pedal cleat is the same size - therefore more force is transmitted through the sole of the shoe. On longer rides, the ball of my foot would get sore or go numb. Now the numbness is permanent. I am riding with platform pedals now. I do miss the physical connection with the pedal, however.

      If you decide to go clipless, the SPD system is really, really good. The copies are just not quite the same. I found that the SPD's can be adjusted loose enough to be able to pull straight out in an emergency or if you unexpectantly need to bail out. Even adjusted this loose, I never once came out when I did not want to. There are SPD's with platforms that might be a consideration to reduce the hot spot problem.

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    3. The pedals that I have on my road bike are one side clipless, and the other side platform (like these: http://www.ems.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3661465&emssrcid=PPC%3AgooPLAs%3AbrandShimano&utm_source=gooPLAs&utm_term=brandShimano&utm_campaign=Product+Listing+Ads+-+Out+of+Trade&device=c&network=g&matchtype=&gclid=CKXhuvn2xrkCFc4-MgodcgcA5g), and I like having the option for either. I know it makes it heavier, but I just don't want to be trapped with either being the only option, I suppose. I have a bit of a wonky foot on one side, so I have to adjust the cleats so that my foot can turn out slightly. Then I worry that this is doing damage to my knee... except that I ride this way all the time anyway without the clips, so I suppose I shouldn't be so concerned about that in reality. I plan on giving them a try again before the "big ride" though, just to see if I can work through my anxiety. They were fairly loose, but I kept catching the end of the shoe on the pedal which had me in a bit of panic. Perhaps making them just a bit looser would put my mind at ease. Thanks!

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    4. I believe those pedals you provided the link for give you the option of clipless or platform, but not really both. Therefore, the full force of the SPD cleat is transmitted through the sole of the shoe. That may not be an issue for you and many riders. It was for me.

      I had these pedals http://www.ems.com/product/index.jsp?productId=12790577&cp=3677345.3737446.3726839
      on a previous bike. They're Crank Bros. Mallet 2's and the clip in system not as good as the SPD system in my opinion. Shimano makes a similar pedal in the T400. The Crank Bros. do give you a two-sided pedal with a combo of clipless cleat with platform support. So no hot spots.

      I will say, setting aside the hot spot issue. If you ride clipless for ten straight rides, I guarantee you will become a devoted fan and it will be hard for you to go back - you will have traversed over to the dark side. Only because of nerve damage do I consider a platform option.

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    5. Ten rides! That's asking a lot of me as far as anxiety levels. It's probably the biggest issue though - that I keep switching back and forth - one ride I use them, then I don't for several, then I think I should try again. As I tend to be a bit scatter-brained, I worry that I will forget and end up laying on my side, cars running me over. At least I carry an ID, so they can identify the body. :O)

      The pedals I linked aren't the exact pedals, but they're close. I hadn't noticed any issues, but perhaps I should pay more attention... or, just give in and use the darn things.

      I will say, I get tired of the bike shop boys looking at me like I'm a crazy person when I tell them how much I ride, and then tell them I don't use any sort of clip system. It's kind of fun to mess with their heads a bit though. :O)

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