Easy does it up the hills.

Photo by: Bernhard Thompson

Hills are a part of of every endurance athletes life and you tend to either love them or hate them.

Personally, I enjoy riding and running up hills, and find that the more I train on them and focus on keeping a positive mental attitude toward them, the better I am able to conquer them.

Developing your own hill strategy during your training goes a long way to preparing you mentally and physically for what you will face on race day.

Over the years, I have noticed there are two general approaches amateur athletes take when riding up hills:

Strategy 1: Attack the hill with all your might. Hammer down on the pedals and see the heart rate go through the roof. Burn through a bunch of energy in no time at all. Set the quads on fire and get over the hill as quickly as possible. Hope to recover on the way down the other side.

Strategy 2: Easy does it. Keep your gears light and cadence up. Focus on keeping your heart rate under control and any extreme tension off the quads. No need to really recover on the way

Photo by: Runners World

The differences between the 2 approaches are pretty obvious, and if you are looking to break a course record or place in your age group, then you will have to condition yourself to tolerate these increases in output and suffering described in Strategy 1.

If you are middle of the pack to back of the back athlete, it is about keeping the number of hard efforts you do through the course of the race to a minimum. In fact, if you look at it from a Return on Investment (ROI) perspective, you will realize that:

Climbing using Strategy 1 requires a fairly sizable investment of energy, power and mental strength, giving back a fairly small ROI - perhaps a few kilometers per hour.

Climbing using Strategy 2 requires a noticeably smaller investment, delivering a smaller ROI - you do slow down, however...

The energy you save with a steady pace up the hill will provide you with a greater ROI while on the downhills and the flat sections. On these sections you are easily able to gain a noticeable increase in your speed, while expending much less energy than when you were climbing.

In other words, the physiological and psychological distress you place on the muscular system and the cardio-vascular systems, thanks to riding hills hard, is definitely not worth the momentary handful of kilometers per hour you gain over those around you.

So in my view, if you want to invest your energy wisely on race day -- save your energy and power for the flats and downhills. And always remember... easy does it up the hills!

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at MyPypeline.com, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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