Training for hills (when life gives you pancakes)

Leslie ShapiroPeak Pedaler, Prep, Training

I remember the first time I was accepted into Ride The Rockies. The coveted letter from the Denver Post announcing, “Oh, Happy Day! You’ve been accepted!” triggered both joy and fear in me. As an out-of-state rider, would I be able to ride 500 miles, in the Rocky Mountains?!?

I was thrilled to have made it through the lottery, and afraid of the climbs. Time to get into shape! After a cold and dreary (and low mileage) winter in Georgia, I hit the climbs of north Georgia. Now that I’ve moved to sunny Florida, I can stay in better shape year-round. But the acceptance letter triggered a different kind of fear. In this pool-table flat, sea-level peninsula, how would I ever be able to train for those high-altitude mountains?

For folks with hills within driving or riding distance, I have two comments. First, I envy you! Second, there’s no doubt that the best way to train for riding uphill is to ride uphill (A famous piece of advice: Don’t buy upgrades. Ride up grades.). When I lived in Georgia, I sought out the hilliest routes. Whenever I found myself going downhill, I would turn around and go back up before rolling on. Hill repeats close to home were always fun, too. Find a hill and power up it a few times each week. It actually doesn’t matter how steep the hill is – if it’s not too steep, just go faster. In addition to conditioning the body to go uphill, this was also great training for descending. I would get comfortable going faster and faster on descents as I learned the roads in my area – a great confidence builder.

Every weekend, cyclists from Atlanta flock to the N.GA mountains for training.

Every weekend, cyclists from Atlanta flock to the North Georgia mountains for training.

That was then. This is now. Hills? What hills? Miami is flatter than the earth before Columbus. Hey – Miami is flatter than Kansas! The only thing remotely resembling a hill is a causeway from the mainland to Key Biscayne. With a whopping 80 feet of elevation above sea level, it’s less than perfect for conditioning me for miles-high Colorado. While Denver is digging out from more snow, we’re already riding at sunrise to beat the heat. So what’s a girl to do? What Miami lacks in elevation, and elevation changes, it more than makes up for with wind.

There’s a reason why Biscayne Bay is considered one of the best sailing bays in the world. This time of year, in particular, the sea breezes really crank up. On cooler days it’s out of the north, but lately it’s from the east and south. Instead of finding rides that will minimize it, once I start training for RTR, I purposefully seek out those winds. I usually ride with my boyfriend, and instead of hiding behind him on windy stretches, I ride in front. Instead of tucking down into the drops or using aerobars, I sit up and try to take as much of the wind as I can. I also adjust my cadence. While it’s usually recommended to spin in an easier gear, on these training sessions I try to use a bigger gear to build up those climbing muscles.

Another trick I recommend is to set up intervals where the strenuous stretch is into the wind and the recovery section is with the tailwind. With intervals you ride shorter distances at a harder pace than you could maintain over a longer distance. It’s a proven and efficient method to increase your speed and strength. My favorite trainer interval workout is called Downward Spirals; it’s available as a download from The Sufferfest online, but you can use the same technique on the road. Push at your maximum effort for 2:00 minutes, then recover for 2:00. Push at your max again for 1:45, and then recover for 1:45. Push for 1:30, recover for 1:30. Keep reducing the time by 15 seconds until you do a 0:15 effort, then take a long recovery for 5 minutes and repeat the whole process. This gives you a massively effective (and HARD!) workout in less than an hour. If you can, do the hard efforts uphill. If not, do what I do – do them into a headwind.

Whatever your terrain, there are ways to make sure you show up in Telluride ready to rock. Ride The Rockies is not a race, but with proper training you can make sure that it’s a fun, recreational ride instead of a true suffer fest.

See you on the first climb to Lizard Head!