Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Climbing for Flat landers
The fundamental challenge in doing Everest challenge living in Florida is how to prepare for 29,000 vertical feet of climbing, when the only "hills" are Bridges 60 feet tall.
To start with, I'm really not a good climber, but I'm a surprisingly good climber for a fat old guy from Florida.Doing sustained climbs is all about putting out a lot of power for a long period of time. The only way to climb big mountains better is to increase your power to weight ratio, and/or increase the length of time you can maintain your power at threshold.Losing weight is the obvious side of the equation.
For the other side of the equation, increasing power, the key is lots of riding at threshold(functional threshold power if your training with power, Lactate threshold heart rate if you're training with heart rate.)Thus getting ready for Everest Challenge right now, we're doing a lot of steady states (long intervals right at FTP or LTHR) This week it was 3x15 both last night and tonight.It's easy to do these as hill intervals if you've got sustained climbs, because the hill forces you to pretty much go at a high power output. It's harder to do these on the flats pyschologically, because nothing but your own will is pushing you. You can figure out the power output necessary to do the climb your training for, at your goal pace. (use a calculater such as kruezotter.) Then in your training on the flats, you need to build to the point you can sustain that same power for the requisite time on the flats. Riding hard into headwinds helps. 350 watts at 8mph up L'Alpe de Huez, is the same as 350 watts at 26 mph on the flats in Florida. Only difference is its mentally tougher to push yourself to do it on the flats. (and that's just an illustration, not intended to be accurate mathematically.)So, you really can develop the power without the hills, otherwise you wouldn't have Dutch professional riders doing well in races involving climbing.
However, even if you have the power, there are still some challenges to climbing for which the flats don't prepare you . The position on the bike ends up being a bit different climbing, and stresses different muscles. I found in getting ready for L'Etape, doing some test rides up Hogpen and Brastown in North Georgia that my back hurt.A couple of answers to this problem were 1) core stregthening exercises, 2) riding deep in the drops, to simulate the angles you end up with climbing on the hoods with the front wheel raised by the grade, and 3) spending time on the trainer with the front wheel raised.
Another drill that can help in preparing for climbing is muscle tension intervals. Typically, 10 minutes or so in big gear on a moderate grade at 50-55rpm. In Florida there simply is no hill long enough to allow you do these properly on the road, because you can't get the sustained load given the lengths of the available climbs. I've found with a Fluid2 trianer and a 53/11 gear I get just enough resistence at 55rpm to make these worthwhile.(Typically the Muscle tensions would be done in the base phase of training toward the end.)
One often proposed answer is to bust repeated intervals up the local bridge. While I do some of this, I really believe it should not be a major feature of your preperation for big climbs. The climbs are just too short, and you end up training the wrong energy systems. So while bridge repeats will make you great at doing 1 minute climbs; they do not do as much to help you do 1 hour climbs as doing steady state intervals above.
If a fat old guy from Florida can finish Everest Challenge, get a top 10 finish in the Brasstown Bald Buster Century, and a silver medal in L'Etape de Tour, its shows you really can train for climbing on the flats.That said there is no perfect substitute for climbing big mountains, than big mountains. So we're planing two weekends in North Georgia to test how our training is working, and adapt as necessary, both the training plan,and our equipment (most importantly gearing selections.).