Thursday, June 2, 2011

Super Rambo! And climbing.

This past weekend I accomplished something quite impressive. Yes, I rode THREE DAYS IN A ROW. I know, I know. This sounds less than impressive. But hey, it’s been a tough year for me and riding time has been difficult to find.

So after an intense solo ride on Friday and a collegial yet sporting outing with the Morning Ride crew on Saturday, I woke up early Sunday to sore legs. After breakfast and coffee at 6:30 it was nice to hang around the house, play with my daughter and read the paper.

Around 10:00 I rolled out of the driveway headed for a ride I call “Super Rambo.” I’ll post a Garmin/GPS link another time, but this ride is the bastard lovechild of the Rambo Road loop, Four Mounds and Charles Road. So yes, it’s a lumpy loop sure to get a person’s heart rate up.

Because I didn’t intend for this post to be a ride report, I’ll move on, but first need to share a funny (I think) and pathetic (to be sure) story.

I haven’t been training and I ate an early breakfast. I was also tired, and left the house with no food and nothing put H two ohhhh in my bottle. As a result, after about two hours I began to bonk. Then I did bonk. Tunnel vision, flashing lights, the whole nine yards.

And here’s where the pathetic part comes in. I bonked hard enough that on the way home, I had to make a detour into the 24 Hour mountain bike race pits to find Two Wheel Transit’s support area so I could eat some of their race food. Bad form? Whatever.

Thoughts on climbing. The real reason for today’s post.

OK, so here’s the real reason I’m writing today. Climbing. I did a bunch of it on Sunday and started recalling the many questions I’ve had over the years about how to improve one’s ability to ascend. Now on the surface of things I might be a surprising person to ask about this. I’m a less than gifted climber. On the other hand I can occasionally hang with good climbers (and hopefully beat them in a sprint), and used to spend time with much faster people, who were incredible climbers. So, a person could be forgiven for assuming I know what I’m talking about.

Back on track. Here is my likely overly-pragmatic list of advice to improve your climbing. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

1. 1. “Be a friend to the climbs.” This was the advice my good friend, and a former US Postal domestique, suggested. In other words, don’t drive yourself nuts trying to figure out the best interval workout. Instead, incorporate as many hilly rides into your routine as you can. Go hard not for two minutes or whatever the guest columnist in Bicycling suggested, but until you get to the top of the hill. When in doubt, go uphill. Learn to spin up hills. Focus on your breathing. Be friends with the hills.

2. Position yourself. Too often those of us that don’t like going uphill start at the back of the group. Inevitably gaps open and it’s impossible to keep up. Starting out at the back makes a bad situation worse. Don’t think you can make it to the top with the leaders? Read the next entry. Oh, and you sure as hell shouldn’t be taking a monster pull before the base of the climb. I know it makes it an easier justification for going as slow as possible uphill, but it’s still unnecessary.

3. You can do anything for 15 seconds. Many moons ago, in a race that had way too many fast guys, and far too much climbing for my DNA, I tried something that actually worked. Halfway up the climb I was still with the front group, but starting to fade. I didn’t want to be the prick that opened up gaps, so I pulled over to the left, but forced myself to ride for 15 seconds next to each person as they passed me. By some miracle it worked. I faked it till I maked it. If you can’t do 15 seconds, try 5. Just try.

4. Shrug your shoulders. Want to see someone wasting a bunch of energy? Look at the rider next to you next time they’re on the rivet. I can almost guarantee you their shoulders will be scrunched up and their body twisted on the bike. This slows you down. Trust me. Next time you start to suffer pull your shoulders all the way up to your ears, then let them go. Feel the difference? Now…

5. Don’t forget to breathe. Sounds basic, but control your breathing. You'll be surprised at how much it can help.

6. Meat on Bones. Back in the day I hired a sports psychologist named Jerry Lynch to work with one of my teams. He used to drill into our guys, “Like meat on bones, like meat on bones.” What does this mean? Have you ever seen footage of a cheetah hunting? Check out its face. Loose, relaxed, like meat on bones. Want other examples? Look at a Kenyan marathoner. Meat on bones. Check out Alberto Contador climbing. Meat on bones. The point is that you want to focus yourself, and focus your energy on the muscles that are working. Similar to point number four.

7. Remember that the climb doesn’t stop at the top of the climb. Want to bring someone to the woodshed? After you crest the climb go hard for another 30 seconds. All those skinny climbers that loved throwing down going uphill? Return the favor at the top of the climb. They’ll hate you for it. Of course you're just keeping them honest. And that's a good thing, no?

8. Lose weight. Everyone, especially me, hates this advice. Except in pretty extreme circumstances, if you’re lighter you’ll climb better. A couple of years ago Rider Two lost 15 pounds, and bought a bike that was five pounds lighter than his previous anchor. It made for a very uncomfortable spring. For me. Others will have much better advice. Mine? Eat more vegetables and less bread.

9. Put your heart rate monitor/power meter/biometric brainscan device in your pocket. This is probably imperfect advice, but there’s nothing more annoying than someone saying, “I’m already at 165 beats per minute. I won’t be able to keep this up for much longer.” Are you sure?

10. Get new parents. This part sucks, because it’s hard to do anything about it. One of my favorite quotes was during a press conference at a mountain bike race. Someone asked Rishi Grewal how much of his success had to do with his genetics. His answer? “50 percent. 50 percent from Mom, and 50 percent from dad.” That’s funny!

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