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Climbing: Getting Your Groove On

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -Ernest Hemingway

I guess that I learned a little about the hills around Chestnut Ridge Park today. I was not planning on getting out for a hard ride today, but my brother-in-law pushed it, and my excuses fell apart when my wife said, "Go!" It worked out great because we went early and that left the day for family stuff.

We set out on a loop from the park and then up Scherff Road. This was a longer steady climb that took me about 8:20. It is 1.7 miles and a little under 300 feet of climbing. We did this with a loop around the park twice. It is definitely a ride I will plan to do lots of in the future, as it was a great blend of up and down.

On thing I love about going uphill is that you get to go downhill, too! Robin WIlliams was once quoted as saying that he lived cycling because it was "the closest thing to flying." God, was he right. I also think that descending is something that we all need to practice as well. Handling the bike, feathering the brakes, getting aero but keeping a look ahead, etc.... This loop was awesome, and I wish I could have done it a few more times.

We then headed across and did the Category 3 climb up Boston Colden Road and then onto the Category 4 climb up Cole. That combo was pretty tough for the first time tackling it. I had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed, and Brian laughed kater that he didn't tell me the category because he knew I could do it but didn't want to scare me!

At almost 90 degrees, I cooked myself after the Cat 3 climb and halfway up the Cat 4 climb. I dropped anchor and took my helmet off to pour some water over my head. I felt better until I saw a gentleman head past me on a steel bike. My heart dropped, but my brother-in-law told me later that the guy hadn't come up Boston Colden like we had, so it was not a big deal. I guess he wasn't so bad for a guy who just got me to do some hill intervals and then tricked me up a Cat 3 climb.

Some thoughts on climbing

1. Use your gearing to your advantage. Invest in a nice easy climbing cassette. I run a 11-30 and even though I have a 53/39 upfront which is probably too big for me, I can get up most anything with a little heart. I think it is also important to make sure your shifting and drivetrain are in top condition before going out to try to snap your chain on a steep gradient! More mechanicals happen on big climbs than anywhere else.

2. Spin your brains out. Get a high but comfortable cadence going. I like to try to get into a groove and maybe even hear some tunes in my head to pedal to. Focus on your pedal strokes and not on the searing pain in your legs. Get in a groove.

3. Stand if you like. I feel pretty good on a long climb when I drop to a slightly harder gear and stand for a little bit. It allows me to stretch the legs and back a little. Then I settle back into a spin at a high cadence and easier gear. Get in a groove.

4. Look at that blue sky. Think happy thoughts. Recite a mantra. Distract yourself a little. All in all, I think that positivity is your best tactic when the pain starts to settle in. Think light and happy thoughts. It really works.

5. Tackle the climb in little sections. Look for a pole or mailbox in the distance and just pick off one at a time. Breaking the climb down into manageable chunks is your best friend. It will help you stay positive because you are accomplishing stuff, and yet it tricks you into thinking that it is only a little bit more for now.

6. Just do it. To get better at climbing, you just gotta commit to get some more in. I need to do that myself. I hate driving somewhere to ride my bike, but as I have no steep climbs near me, I need to do that more. One of my goals for the next year is to climb a lot more and best some of my PRs on the hills.

7. Climb with better riders so you always have someone to chase and try to keep up with. It sucks, but it helps. Just regroup on the top of the hill. Having a mixed group really helps to lend support to each other as well.

I will leave you in the words of the great Eddy Merckx, "Don't buy upgrades, ride upgrades." You will be all the stronger for it!

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