Tag Archives: Climbing

What on earth are you doing?

I told some of my coworkers about the Rapha Rising Challenge and my plans to climb over 22,000 feet this week. One of my more plain spoken team members looked at me with a blank face and asked, “Why are you doing that?” “Well, ummm.” How was I going to explain this?

First, let me explain the challenge. Strava.com, a social website that brings together cyclist online from around the world, periodically offers challenges for its members to complete. There really isn’t any thing much to win — perhaps a “badge” or the opportunity to enter a drawing for a product.

Normally the challenges are related to some event that is taking place. For instance, the current challenge is related to the Tour de France. To be honest, most of the challenges have required way beyond what I have been willing to commit.

This one was different. It seemed doable and I was in need of some motivation. Here is how Strava describes it…

On 15th July 2012, the Tour de France enters the Pyrenees. The scene of countless historic moments in the race’s history, on the 18th the peloton will tackle the infamous Circle of Death, the fearsome loop that includes the Col d’Aubisque (1,709m), Col du Tourmalet (2,114m), Col d’Aspin (1,489m) and Col de Peyresourde (1,569m). Whether, with just four days remaining until the finish, the pre-race favourite Bradley Wiggins will be in yellow, only time will tell.

In the meantime, Rapha is inviting riders everywhere to join the peloton (if only in spirit) by challenging them to climb the combined elevation of the Circle of Death during the period Le Tour is in the Pyrenees. 6,881 metres (or 22,575 feet) between July 15-22. All of the riders that complete the challenge will receive a Rapha Rising roundel celebrating their achievement, plus the chance to win a limited edition Trek Madone 6.9.

As an additional challenge, there will also be a separate competition to see who can climb the most metres on Wednesday 18th July, the date of the Queen Stage of this year’s Tour de France. The KOM and QOM of this challenge will win a Rapha Race Bag containing a Rapha Circle of Death JerseyClassic Bib Shorts and a pair of Grand Tour Shoes.

I’ll be going for the roundel, but don’t plan to spend my Wednesday climbing! For me, the main motivation is the challenge itself. I’m not competing agains the other 9745 participants. I’m competing against myself.

Tuesday evening I completed 55% of the challenge. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get it done. I’ve limited myself to 2.5 hours a day for 7 days. If I have to, I’ll have an 8th day to wrap things up. However, I’m 3 days in and already past halfway. I don’t think I’ll need that extra day.

So how do I answer the question? The way I see it, there are some people to whom you just can’t explain what drives you to do these things. There are also those people who don’t require an explanation. They understand.

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.


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.




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.


watts = (kg*9.8*e/t)+(kg*9.8*e/t)*r

watts = (kg*9.8*e/t)+(kg*9.8*e/t)*r

This is the formula to help me find my goal for Paris Mountain success. It isn’t perfect, but it gives me a pretty good idea of how many watts I need to average while climbing the 2 miles and change to the top of Altamont Road. I’ve been playing around with it and have started landing some consistent results between what my power meter records and what the physics tell me should happen.

Math Equations

Math and cycling does mix!

Saturday, I weighed in at around 195. No, I don’t weigh that much. That is Me + Clothing + Water bottles + Saddle bag + Bicycle. All 195 pounds of me headed down the road toward Paris Mountain. The plan for the day called for a couple of repeats up Altamont Road. Granted, I was going to be exceeding the time of 12 minutes the plan called for, but I wanted to go all the way to the top.

watts = (89*9.8*e/t)+(89*9.8*e/t)*r

The first part of my equation was in place. 195 pounds is equivalent to about 89 kilograms (88.63636 to be exact). Of course, gravity doesn’t change. So, the second part of the equation was in place a long time before I was ever born… 9.8. Each time you climb the mountain you feel its effects. It is always working against you to keep you from getting that time you want.

watts = (89*9.8*241/t)+(89*9.8*241/t)*r

Another constant was waiting for me as I turned right onto the well traveled road. I knew that I would be climbing 790 feet — or 241 meters — over the next 2 miles. Oddly, the distance doesn’t really factor into the equation. The distance can also vary from as short as 1.9 to 2.2 depending on how you take the turns to the top. Typically, the distance I cover is around 2.1 miles. Regardless, I was going to be climbing 790 feet.

It was now time to introduce the largest variable into the mix… time. Time working within the equation would make all the difference in the result. It was up to me to make it happen.

Because I didn’t push on my way to the mountain, I was feeling pretty good. I started the climb in a little harder gear than normal. My goal was to climb at a pace that would keep the pedals turning over and try to maintain my momentum to keep from getting bogged down.

As I reached the top of the water tower section I noticed I was sitting at around 3:30. That was good… or maybe it was bad. It was good because I normally come across that section about 15 seconds slower. It could be bad because that might mean I was pushing a little too hard too early.

Still, I kept feeling strong as I reached the false flat just before the halfway point. Nice! I reached the halfway point at about 5:45. I knew now that even if I finished the second half in my normal time, I would beat my more recent attempts.

I kept trying to keep my momentum, but I did have to shift to easier gears at points. I also lost track of time. At the section where I normally start faltering — about two-thirds up — I felt pretty good about my time. Still, I didn’t know how to judge if I was slipping back or keeping the good time. The base of the wall would be my answer.

I reached it in under 12 minutes. Now it was time to give it all I had up the wall. It is amazing how much time you can lose laboring up the steep grade. You have to save a little something for this section or it will crush you.

watts = (89*9.8*241/763)+(89*9.8*241/763)*r

12 minutes and 43 seconds was the time showing on my Garmin. That translates to 763 seconds — the measurement I needed to complete the equation. By the way, it was my best time of the year so far.

So, why don’t I have the watts listed? Well, take a look at that little “r”. It stands for resistance. It isn’t just gravity working against you. There are various forms of resistance keeping you from fighting just against the pull of the earth. Wind is one factor. Road surface is another. I also throw in there the variations of my power meter. It could be as much as 5 percent off of the actual physics involved.

I have arrived at “r” by doing repeated climbs and comparing the power meter wattage with the formula. Typically, you should add 10% to the formula. However, I found that all other variables being known, 10% was a little too low. At least on Paris Mountain I found 15% to 18% to consistently return an equation wattage comparable to what my power meter gives me.

323 watts = (89*9.8*241/763)+(89*9.8*241/763)*.17

Here is where the math can drive you crazy! You can start playing around with the variables to get an idea as to what type of wattage you need to put out in order to get a certain time. I’ve always dreamed of making the climb in 11:15. Just insert the time 675 seconds into the equation and you get a return of 366 watts. Can I hold 366 watts for that long?

You can also start playing around with other variables. For instance, what happens if I drop 5 pounds? Ah, 356 watts gets me to the top within my goal. Interestingly enough, I was about 5 pounds lighter when I made my personal best of 11:24. At that time, I averaged 352 watts to the top.

Of course, all the math goes out the window when you start the climb. The road is not a simple steady incline. You can’t just get on a track and hold a certain consistent average. Sometimes you are laboring to get the pedals to turn over while producing 450 watts. At other times you are spinning away looking for more gearing and down around 250 watts.

The math doesn’t help unless you have proper technique and fitness. However, this what makes it fun! You can always work to improve both of those and then you get to see the results of your labor in that one little result: watts = (kg*9.8*e/t)+(kg*9.8*e/t)*r.