Mailbag: Some climbing advice

One thing I enjoy about blogging is the opportunity to meet new people and to hear of their experiences. It is funny how just coming here and telling what I did on a particular ride on the bike connects with people. I’m glad it does! The blog is accomplishing something if it is encouraging others to get out and exercise or to not take things too seriously!

I also get communications for advice from time-to-time. This post is a way to kill two birds with one stone — 1) answer a question sent to me, and 2) have something to blog about! Hope you learn something.

Jonathan,

I hope it is not an issue that I am emailing you with a question regarding your experience with TCCP.  If so, please let me know and accept my apologies.  If not, I look forward to your response.

Like you, I broke my neck while biking.  Getting back on the bike was a long and painful process, but I am proud to say that after 2 years of work I am biking again AND competing as a Cat 5 racer.  Last year was my first year racing, with horrible results.  This was partly due to recovering from my neck and having no idea of how to train for racing.  I thought training meant ride hard all the time…not so.

This year I purchased the book, and completed my training cycle about 4 weeks ago.  My results have all been top 20, with several “almost top 10’s”  (last year only 1 group finish).  I did just finish the Mutual of Enumclaw Stage Race with a 7th in the TT (no aero other than clip on aero-bars), 8th in the Crit, 12th in the RR, and 11th in the GC.  I am about to begin another cycle of the plan, but was not quit sure how to fit it into my schedule.  I am a teacher, and in 4 weeks I will have more than 6-8 hrs a week to ride and train.  When training this winter and spring I tried to follow the outlined times to the second.

Do you have any thoughts on using the training plan, but doing rides that are 2.5-4 hours instead of 60-90 minutes?

Also, I do not have a power meter so I cannot quantify my results like you did, but I can say that I made HUGE gains.  The one area I would like to see more improvement is in climbing.  I love climbing, I love the pain of climbing, but most of all I love the feeling of accomplishment once you finish a long climb.  I am not a bad climber, but for some reason I tend to lose contact near the end of 1-2 mile climbs while racing.  Any thoughts on how to improve in this area?  I live in Wa. State, so I have many places I can go to climb.

Again, I would like to apologize if emailing you is not appropriate.  If you do respond, thank you and let me know if I can email you with more questions.  I really enjoy your blog, and enjoyed following your progress through TCCP.

Rod

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Rod,

Thanks for reading the blog. I’m always amazed when someone contacts me and lets me know they enjoy it. I know my mom reads it, but never sure exactly who else does!

The first thing that comes to my mind is that it took much longer than I thought to get over the injury. It wasn’t just the physical aspects of it. Even when I thought I was doing better physically, mentally I was not there. Here is the catch… you don’t realize it until you are actually over it. I hope you are reaching that point. It certainly sounds like you’re getting there.

I am not a coach. So, I greatly hesitate to give advice on these matters. Plans typically are set up to be the optimum bang for the buck. My coach of two years always told me to follow the plan — and that includes not riding beyond the scheduled distance/time. I’d have to defer to him and Chris Carmichael and say that if you are going to do the plan, stick with it.

I also love climbing. I’m not saying I’m good at it, but I do enjoy it. For a 44-year old, 170-pound guy I tend to hold my own with other amateurs my age. I don’t know if the following will help you, but here goes…

Climbing is a science and an art. You have to know what your body is capable of, but you also have to tailor it to the terrain you are riding. I have a perfect example from two recent rides.

My power meter was acting up, so I set the meter aside and focused on riding up the local mountain near my home with only cadence in mind. The goal was to “feel” my way up the mountain while turning as high a cadence as possible. This meant that naturally, I was going harder where the grade was steeper and easier where the grade decreased. This is a 2.2 mile climb at an average 7% average grade. My time was 12:18.

I went out again several days later just to get a read on my power meter. Again, I didn’t look at the power, but this time focused on trying to hold a particular speed consistently up the mountain. I did it and finished with a time of 12:19. Very close times, but the second one was MUCH harder. The reason was because I was not adjusting my effort to the terrain — which gets much harder at the very end.

Most times when I have ridden this climb before, I put a focus on the power. I know how much wattage I can produce over a certain time and I know — to a degree — how much wattage I have to put out for a certain result. However, what I have found is that you can’t just go by the numbers. These “power attempts” put me at the top consistently around 12:40 to 12:45. The “feel my way up” approach on the very first attempt moved me into 12:20 range and the most recent one (mentioned above) was a PR for 2012 at 12:18.

The point I’m making is that climbing quickly is not always about going fast. That is true even in a race. You have to know your pace and ride to it. An old racing approach is to get to the bottom of the climb at the front. You then settle into the pace that you have trained yourself to go in order to reach the top in a certain time. When you get near the top, you should have a little bit left to turn up your effort. Once over, you recover. You may not be at the front anymore, but you are still with the pack. Don’t start at the front and attempt to race the others to the top! Ride within yourself and then let it go toward the end.

Obviously, the more you know a particular climb, the more you will be able to match your efforts to the climb. However, you can learn a lot by “feel” — that is the art of climbing. Learn how your body feels during various efforts on a favorite climb. Learn to sense what your threshold is on various grades. That feeling is something you can carry over to other climbs. The numbers give you the science, but the feel gives you the practice.

I hope this was a help! Let me know how your season goes.

Jonathan