Hill Climb Season

If, by chance, you are the orthopaedic surgeon that dug around in my knee a few years back to make the bone bleed and fill, at least temporarily, the hole in my femur’s hyaline cartilage, I am sorry.

This friendly surgeon confirmed what I already knew – competitive running (sprinting) and the training required to do it justice – was out from now on, as was football. ‘How about cycling?’ he suggested. I agreed and I bought a bike.


What he didn’t mean was cycle up very steep hills in a furious fashion. So I am apologising for entering several hill climb events (in Sept/Oct), one being the iconic Catford hill climb, the world’s oldest bike race.


Hill climbing is a sub-culture of cycling. It has its own season of local and national events, individual specialists, customised bikes, very light equipment, people prepared to drill holes into their bikes, supportive calls from the spectators of ‘hup hup hup’ mingled with the clamour of cowbells. It’s friendly and competitive. Veterans, ladies, juniors, tandems – all are welcome to have a go.

The physiological demands of hill climb training and the event itself are high. Specific training is important. Key to performance are:

– power to weight ratio. the power you can generate and sustain per kg of bodyweight up the hill is a primary metric. Lose bodyweight to improve this ratio yes, but not to the degree it affects your strength.

– form and efficiency: ideally you’ll be holding good form, sitting or standling, being relaxed and stable (as much as is possible when in such pain), with the correct cadence, as you apply power through the pedals. Core body strength and strong glutes benefit you here.

– thresholds: workouts that increase FTP (functional threshold power) or lactate threshold are beneficial in placing the thresholds higher. You want to be flooded (debilitated) by lactate/hydrogen atoms as slowly and as late as possible. Metabolic adaptations occur with specific training, even if you are 50+

– strength: training on (sub-maximal and anaerobic sprint and hill climb intervals of varying incline and length) and off the bike (plyometrics; targeted resistance training).

Psychologically, you need to be confident that you will conquer the hill, control the frenzy , and have the mental strength to dig deep, very deep.

And, not lastly, you’ll be wanting a light, often customised bike. Some are ridiculously light – and expensive.

Hill climbs, especially the steeper ones, place a lot of force through the joints, particularly the knees. Personally, I need to be careful with knee position over the pedals, not flexing too much, and maintain a relatively high cadence. I cannot churn as big/high a gear as those with younger or less damaged knees and will have to stop if I feel pain in the joint. If I cannot follow the training plan I’ve set due to joint issues, I’ll drop out.

So, of course, do not ignore medical advice. I am merely carefully testing its boundaries.

Hup Hup!

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