7 tips for tackling long climbs

By Steve Owens, Colorado Premier Training

The Courage Classic offers the opportunity to ride a Colorado mountain pass each day. Hills are a challenge for everyone. As Greg Lemond said, "You just go faster (when you're fitter)." Sometimes it's just easier to know that everyone else is hurting on those long climbs too!

  1. Mimic the event in training. There are going to be hills out there! Long distance, hills, tempo (faster pace) rides and even intervals (short but high efforts of 2-30 minutes) will produce results far more effective than simply "riding a lot."

  2. Focus. Focus on the task at hand by counting pedal strokes or breaths. Look just in front of you and not a mile up the road.

  3. Think positive. Look straight ahead and think about how powerful, smooth and efficient you are. You might come up with your own "climbing mantra" that you can say over and over to propel you up the hill. Something like, "I'm strong, I'm fast, I'm climbing this pass!" might work. Just keep it positive, personal and in the present tense.

  4. Posture! Keep your upper body relaxed, with your hands on the top of the handlebars. Concentrate on dropping your shoulders and elbows, so they are fully relaxed.

  5. Sit or stand? Climbing in the saddle requires less energy. Climbing standing on the pedals gives you more momentum. What's best? A good rule of thumb is to stand during short climbs and sit during long ones. But on long climbs you might alternate standing occasionally to stretch out your back. When you come out of the saddle, switch to one or two bigger gears then bring your hands to either the brake hoods or the drops of the handlebars. Then stand on a down stroke to avoid losing momentum. Keep your weight over the cranks. Don't bounce, but don't fight the natural side-to-side movement.

  6. Breathe! Holding your breath just makes the climb harder because you're depriving your body of what it needs most ... oxygen! If you keep your shoulders and arms relaxed, you'll find it easier to breathe, especially as you're working hard during a climb. Try to breathe from your belly. Practice off the bike: Lie on the floor on your back, and put a book on your stomach. Take slow, deep breaths. The book should rise and fall with your breathing. If your chest comes up and down, you're breathing incorrectly.

  7. Slow down. If the climb gets too challenging, if you're having trouble catching your breath, if your muscles are cramping, then slow down. Shift into an easier gear, but keep riding if you can. If you need to stop, then be sure to signal to your fellow riders, and be sure to pull off as far to the side as you can.