Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Working on Climbing

For my first year and a half of riding, I used a simple Cateye computer that gave mean real time readings but didn't record that data. I used my Polar running computer to record some basic information (time, heart rate and elevation), but without speed/distance/cadence plots to go along with it that data had limitations to it's usefulness. I finally got around to getting a proper cyclocomputer (Garmin Edge 705) earlier this year, which has allowed me to better examine what I am doing on the bike.

One of the aspects that I've been trying to work on has been climbing on the bike. Looking over my ride data, it appears that it's more of a psychological issue than a physical one. Even during the biggest climbs, my heart rate while ascending is almost always significantly lower than it is on long flat stretches (where I'm pushing to get the speed up). Further, my cadence is generally up around 110rpm which indicates that I'm shifting down too early and the fatigue is likely more from spinning like a madman than pushing too hard.

Part of this is simply a matter of being over conservative when it comes to budgeting available strength. On the flat segments I can go all out as when/if I get tired it's easy enough to slow down and/or stop for a rest. On a climb, however, you need a good amount of power to simply keep moving forward so tiring out is a big problem. Stopping is also not really an option, as trying to cold start up a hill is very difficult and walking it up is pretty much impossible with cycling shoes. Rationally, however, most of those flats last a lot longer than any hill around here so I need to learn to cut into some of those margins when heading up a heavy grade.

Naturally, the physical aspect follows the psychological one. By falling back to an easy gear too early, I'm not developing the force necessary to keep turning a large gear at lower cadences. That in turn reinforces the behavior, as it becomes progressively easier to rely on high leg speeds rather than high force when climbing as that's what the body is adapting to. As such, the only way to break this habit is to explicitly focus on correcting it.

As such, I've been trying to go out of my way to select hilly routes over the last few weeks to work on this. This morning the weather was a lot cooler than it's been lately, so I elected to give it an extra push when I got to the uphill bits. Whenever I hit a steep uphill segment, I left it in the big ring (bottoming out at 50x19, but typically at around 50x17) and forced myself to push through it. Fortunately, I was able to get up all of them without any trouble (although I had to break down and stand to make it up the last bit of the final hill), and while I felt like crap on the way up I recovered reasonably quickly afterward.

This is certainly not the optimum strategy for normal riding as it makes for a slow final stretch when the legs are fighting off exhaustion. Regardless, I figure that the exaggerated quantities of force required are a good way to train myself (both mentally and physically) to be a little more aggressive with gear selection on my ascents. It's naturally going to take a lot more of this to build my climbing strength up, but with enough work I'm hoping to get a lot better at this aspect of my riding.

Situations like this are where power meters come in very handy as they provide objective guidance on what can be sustained. If one can hold X wattage down a flat stretch of road for Y minutes, then the same can be done on a hill. The speeds and gearing will be radically different, but if you're holding the same power level then all of that is irrelevant. Unfortunately resources don't allow me to get that particular tool at this point, but it's definitely high on the list ;)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! I suck at climbing, and need to get over the mental part of hills both in running and cycling :P