The Ups and Downs of Hilly Rides

28 Aug

When I used to lead rides for Velo Girls, I would often meet enthusiastic new riders who could hang with the group overall, but would fall back on the climbs. They would ask, “How do I get better at climbing?” I’d give them the standard advice: don’t grind up the hill, spin in a lower gear, climb hills every week, and climb with people a little faster than you.

Occasionally I’d add my personal experience: don’t be surprised that after climbing improves, you don’t feel faster. The training that makes you a faster climber can make you faster overall. So you’ll ride with faster people and do steeper hills, but still lag behind on the climbs. Don’t get discouraged.

Yesterday, my friends and I rode Jill’s Ride for Hope, a hilly metric century charity ride: 62 miles, 6000+ feet of climbing. To train for it, we have been doing progressively hillier weekend rides for weeks. The day turned out to have perfect weather, the route was scenic and challenging, and we met a few interesting people along the way. But it was a day of ups and downs for me.

On a good day, I can climb alongside my friends for a while, then I drop back and finish alone. On a bad day, like yesterday, I see everyone pull away from me at the bottom of the hill. It was a long and lonely climb.

I met my friends at the top and we rolled south together on Skyline, past the summit at Castle Rock and through that secluded one lane section, so far removed from the cities below. Then we were treated to a stellar descent on Bear Creek Road with tight turns on good pavement, where I learned that Cindy C loves descending just as much as I do.

At the small mountain town of Boulder Creek it was up again–12 miles of climbing to get back up to Skyline. The first five miles were moderate, so we could ride together and chat. Then the road steepened and we strung out again. I wasn’t any faster this time, but there were other riders slogging up the hill with me so it wasn’t so lonely. We regrouped midway to use the bathroom and to stretch, which was nice too.


The sweet descent down Hwy 9 into Saratoga was a special bonus for Michelle and the two Cindys since they’d never ridden it before. The only car we encountered on the tight top section was the SAG wagon, who politely pulled over and let us pass. As we rolled into Saratoga there were “woo hoos” and “that was worth the climb!” It was a good ride. We all finished feeling good, shared a post-ride meal and headed off.

Still, when I got home I couldn’t help feeling blue. I hate that I can’t keep up on the climbs. Cindy S posted her ride stats: average speed 12.6 mph. I check mine: 12.1 mph. I’ve done enough hilly rides over the years to know that 12 mph is a good pace for me for a long ride with 100 ft/mile elevation gain. I know that I’m not a natural climber and have worked hard to be able to conquer these hills, but it’s hard to accept the advice I give to others and just be proud. Maybe tomorrow.

Do you have some advice that you freely offer to others, but is hard for you to accept for yourself?

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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Backroads


2 responses to “The Ups and Downs of Hilly Rides

  1. Cindy

    August 28, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Janet – you are a good climber! I think the different gearing is a big factor. You had fast times climbing on the mountain bike up in Humboldt where our gearing is similar. Just my 2 cents.

  2. ladyfleur

    August 29, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Thanks, Cindy. It’s another day and I feel better already (except for my legs, they’re TIRED!)


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