Saturday, July 12, 2014

Advice for climbers

Recipe report: We tried grilled romaine for dinner. We left it for two minutes on its cut face and then sprinkled on grated Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar. It was a great way to deal with the enormous heads of lettuce we get from the CSA.

I wanted a spread for bread and was thinking about something artichoke-based. George chose Roasted Artichoke Lemon Hummus. It was good. I don't know what the roasting contributed but I liked the effect of the artichokes in the hummus. It lightened it up considerably.

Tomorrow is one of the regular Sunday training rides for the group which will cycle the Cabot Trail in 6 weeks. I can't go along because of my surgery last week. I was feeling guilty this morning about not being able to help people deal with the big challenge I set for them - repeats of two very difficult hills. So I quickly wrote them a note this morning.

I won't be joining you for tomorrow's ride, on my bike or in the car. But I will be thinking of you.

If I was present, here's what I would tell you about the ride I planned. It is all about the hills. And it is all about change. If you want change, you must face stress so that your mind and body can adapt to new demands. If you want to change the way you feel on hills, both physically and mentally, then you must do hills. You must practice and observe and practice some more. That's why you are going to climb, ride to the bottom and climb again.

Here are some brief tips on how to manage your climbing.

Approach with energy. You are defeated before you begin if you let the idea of the climb slow you down before you start. Harvest whatever speed you can on the run-in to the hill and adjust your mindset to success, not failure.

Stay relaxed. As the hill gets steeper under you it is easy to tense up and feel like you need to do even more work to meet the challenges of the hill. You don't and if you try you will fail. I am fond of suggesting that you 'float like a butterfly". If that picture doesn't work for you, develop your own imagery that will encourage you to stay light and relaxed.

Be content with slow. Every body and bike will go up the hills differently. Don't compare yourself to others. Make sure that you gear down so that you don't have a heavy loaded feeling in your legs until it becomes absolutely unavoidable. The fast pedalling (and slow speed) of an easy gear will save your legs - and you will need them for the next hill, and the one after that.

Break it down. Don't look at the top of the hill or even toward the top. Ride from driveway to driveway or telephone pole to telephone pole. Celebrate each achievement and then go on to the next. If it helps (and is safe) look down at the ground near your front tire. The road won't look like it has any slope at all!

Be happy. I wish I could play you some happy bouncing music while you climb. Try to reproduce the energy and outlook you have when you are at a party with good friends and good music. If that doesn't work for your personality, go inward. Celebrate the opportunity to see all the details of the world around you. Notice all the changes in your body. Be aware that this moment will never happen again.

I am not deluded into thinking that those tips will, on their own, get you up the hills you will encounter tomorrow or on the Cabot Trail. More than once you will come to a point where you can no longer pedal. Get off your bike when you need to recover, rest and drink. There is no shame in getting off. And there is no shame in staying off if you decide to walk to the crest of the hill.

Those of us with more cycling experience have all battled the demons which encourage us to stay on the bike no matter what and beat us up when we stop for a rest. We can testify that those demons disappear the first time you make the big decision to dismount. At that point you realize that you have actually won your personal battle by doing what is right for you. If you want to keep the demons at bay, take control. On a long hard hill make a plan in advance to stop at regular intervals, e.g. every third telephone pole. Now you are in control and you can't ask for more than that.

I am having you do repeats of each of the hills tomorrow because you will learn a tremendous amount from your first time up. Your second trip will let you capitalize on that learning. I think you will be surprised at how much your attitude and ability will change once you know a little more about what you are facing.

There is nothing particularly insightful about the advice. And it isn't particular to climbing a hill on a bike. The approach is universal but sometimes we all need a reminder.

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