How about a hill climb for some ‘field’ top end tuning?

To give some context, whilst I’m a keen cyclist as part of being a triathlete and triathlete coach, my experience in cycle ‘events’ is limited to sportives and some informal 10k time trials.  So, when my local cycling club advertised a cycle hill climb, it was a completely new experience. In advance of the event, I could only think of the positives – taking part in an organised ‘event’ and as it was my first there were no comparisons so a sure PB!

As the first event approached, I did a bit of research, riders took as much off their bike as possible to reduce weight,and maximise mean power output (W kg-1). So off came my nutrition pack and saddle bag although I was keeping my bottle (half full).

The first event was a mere 2.2 k in length varying from 7 to 12%. I could ride to the start, pick up my number and spend 15 mins riding up and down nearby to keep warmed up.  Each rider starts at 1 minute intervals, with an electronic ‘count-down’ – which significantly elevated my heart rate as it descended, assisted by a friendly marshal.   At ‘Go’, I set off, fumbled with clipping in and started my garmin device. Supporters lined parts of the short route, with cowbells and encouragement (shouting ‘up up up’) and whilst enabling me to ‘dig in’ or ‘keep pushing’, there was nowhere to hide and I had to keep pushing. My heart rate rapidly rose to my zone 5, anaerobic zone…and stayed there! There was a slight leveling off before the final short ascent to the finish.  Increasing my seemingly maximal effort further I felt the tingling feeling in my quads due to lactate  build up.  Then, I was there -at the finish and it was done…in 10 minutes. With what felt like ‘exploding’ lungs I steadily descended to circuit back to the number pick up/drop off.

Since that first evening, I have completed a further three uphill time trials – two shorter ones and a longer one and the reason being, apart from the sense of achievement, feeling of being in an event with fellow ‘competitors’, it is also the training gains.  Compared to flat riding or even flat time trials, there is the additional gravitation force that you are working against. One ‘field’ study1 found that uphill cycling is performed at 90% of maximum heart rate and peak oxygen uptake (VO2 max) .   Whilst comparable efforts can be achieved on the turbo, it can be hard to replicate on an outside bike ride. The other question is ‘seated’ or ‘standing’? Several studies have looked at this question and the general consensus is that whilst power output is increased in standing, speed is similar to seated, due to additional mechanical forces in standing2, so the choice is yours. So, if you want to include some ‘top end’ training and enjoy being outside, think about incorporating some hill intervals.

1 Peinado, A.B et al (2018). Physiological Profile of an Uphill Time Trial in Elite Cyclists. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2018, 13, 268-273

2 Boulliod, A. and Grappe, F (2018). Physiological and biomechanical responses between seated and standing positions during distance-based uphill time trials in elite cyclists. JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCES, 2018 VOL. 36, NO. 10, 1173–1178 https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2017.1363902

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