Hillclimbers’ Training

Having participated in numerous hill climb cycling events over the past seven years, I felt compelled to capture some philosophical perspective on the subject. In this seven-year period, I estimate hill climb participation has quadrupled in the northeastern part of the country. Not too long ago, Mt. Washington would not reach the 600 rider limit.

In 2006, a second race was added when the August event sold out in three hours. Also in this seven-year period, annual events have begun at Ascutney, Whiteface, and Equinox with pre-registered riders numbering in the hundreds. Many riders are doing their first climb each year. Other riders are looking to improve their previous best times. I hope this guide will help these riders to attain their goals.

One of the best places to obtain additional information on any northeast hill climb is the Mt. Washington Hillclimb Racers Forum. Although this forum exists to support Mt Washington racers, anybody may post on this open forum. It has become the gathering place of northeast hillclimbers in cyberspace. Questions on gearing, tires, weight, training, weather and many other topics are eagerly answered here.

Ten topics were selected for discussion below. They are not necessarily in order of importance. Some of the topics such as Training or Diet could never be covered in adequate detail here, so references are given to authorities on these topics. If you have any questions on this material, feel free to contact me.

Advice for Hillclimbers – Rest and Diet

Rest

If you train hard, you must also rest hard. Some of the lunchtime riding group at work are perplexed by my riding habits. I may ride a pace they like in the winter or very early in the season, but as the season progress, my hard rides get harder, and my easy rides get easier. It doesn’t all get harder. You see, the harder you train, the more important recovery becomes, especially for somebody like me in their 40’s.

The lunch crowd likes neither end of my riding spectrum once winter passes. My hard is too hard, yet my easy is too easy. I often will do block training days, where two or three days in a row involve intensity work. Then I need two days of recovery. I rarely take days completely off, so I go out for short recovery rides and stretch afterward on my rest days.

The pace I ride at is one half my 30-minute power, which is roughly 60-65% of my max heart rate. This is a very easy pace and takes focus with HRM to keep it that easy  But if I go harder than this, I don’t recover as well, and go into my next intensity block with sore or tired legs. I find maximum adaptation is gained when doing intensity work on fresh legs.  For many riders, taking one or two days per week completely off the bicycle may be the best way to recover.

Burke Mountain and Bolton TT, Vermont

Burke Mountain, VT – Burke Mountain debuted in the hill climb racing scene in September 2007. I have ridden up Burke several times, usually on a mountain bike when I hit the Kingdom Trails.

This climb is tough, I suspect many find it more difficult than Mt. Ascutney. The average grade is slightly less, but there are sustained sections that are much steeper than any comparable sustained section on Mt. Ascutney.

For this reason, it is hard to find a rhythm on this climb. Except at the start area, it is all up too. Around the 2 mile mark, there is a section that approaches 20% grade for at least a few tenths of a mile.

I find it difficult to keep the front wheel on the ground. This grade is comparable only to the east side of Lincoln Gap in the Green Mountains. The race starts at the ski lodge base area, although in earlier days, the mass start race was neutral until after rounding the corner onto Mountain Road.

The profile below starts at the base lodge of the ski area. There is a slight drop approaching Mountain Road. Once the fork to the Toll Road is taken, the grade immediately kicks up to 14% and stays there until the 20% grade section.

The rest of the climb hovers in the 12-15% range. Ski runs are crossed several times on the way up, offering fantastic views and giving you a psychological boost in showing how dramatically you have gained vertical despite crawling at just a few miles per hour.