Client: I’m gonna do the Mt. Washington Hill Climb this year!
Me: Alright! Let’s get cracking!
[Googles Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb].
This thing is a beast. I’d heard of the race and knew it was brutal but it’s only when seeing the profile that you get a grip on just how hard this climb is. 12%, up to 22% over 7.6 miles. That’s pretty high on the OUCH scale.
Here’s PJAMM Cycling’s summary and profile map:
‘Mt. Washington is the steepest 5 mile segment in the at 12.7% (#23 World) and the third most difficult US bike climb behind Mauna Kea and Haleakala and #31 in the world.’
So, let’s look at how to get ready (or get someone else ready) for the Mt Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb race.
Tires me out just typing the name of it..
A bit of background…
I began coaching Jake about 2 years ago when he was living in Taiwan. His job at the time only allowed for 30 minute sessions three times a week, with one, sometimes two longer rides on the weekend. I had to make sure that within that short time frame we had to get in very focussed work in those mid-week sessions.
Quite a few of my coaching clients are very busy individuals, however you’d be surprised how much great work can be done over a 30 minute session. And how much it can hurt, too!
The longer weekend ride was usually a group ride over the big climbs that feature around Taipei.
Then in March of this year, Jake and his family moved to Japan for a couple of months and he was free to ride much more. From 5-7 hours a week he was suddenly able to get in 12-15hrs. His form shot up, all the important numbers steadily improved. The fact that this jump in weekly ride duration and distance didn’t overwhelm him was testament to how committed he’d been to the previous short program.
In May he then moved back to his home on the east coast of the USA, an area without many big hills, unlike Taipei and the area near Gunma and Fuji, not far from Tokyo. For a couple of months in the US Jake was ‘just riding’, cycling to maintain from and to enjoy the gravel roads around his town.
Then he decided to do Mt. Washington, about two and a half months out from the event.
As he hadn’t been climbing that much (due to the local terrain) in the previous 6 weeks, I got him to head out and to try to get as much elevation in 2-3 times a week as he could, to get his body used once again to the feeling of climbing. He uses Zwift too, so I had him do some of the intermediate climbs on there to get the feel of constantly climbing in the legs, rather than shorter hill repeats.
Around this time I had him doing flat and rolling TT style efforts to bring his all round game up, and also to work on the mental side of things. To push yourself at and above threshold for long periods is what hard climbing is, and if you live in a flat area, this is ideal for getting ready for long climbs.
One of my favourite workouts is to ask my clients to climb a long hill (we used Mt Ventoux and Alpe du Zwift), and to ride it like this: 1st 1/3rd easy, 2nd 1/3rd tempo, 3rd/3rd as hard as you can go (aka Balls Out).
I do this to get the rider to really think about gauging the effort and to have them listen to the body as much as the reading the watts, which are both invaluable on climbs. If you always start a climb at full gas then you’re are more than likely to be failing as the climb goes on. If however, you start just a little easier then you have something in the tank for later.
In addition to this work, I also asked Jake to find the steepest hill around him, no matter how short, and to go do hill repeats on that, for obvious reasons. When getting ready for a race, you have to deconstruct the route and create ‘jigsaw puzzle pieces’ from it – then you train for each piece. If it’s a crit and there are 33 corners, go train for 33 sprints. If it’s a route with a 3km climb you have to do 5 times, start doing that in training. It’s not rocket science to see this, but it is surprising how may people leave out from their training a vital element that will face them in a race.
Granted, training for a 7.6 mile 12% climb ain’t easy as it is very hard – no, impossible really – to replicate. So then you have to look at the demands that effort will make on the body, and try to replicate that as best you can in your training.
ON THE DAY
Bike racing is a little like life. If you get in debt early, it’s very hard to get out of…
A wise man once said that, and it was me (hey everyone can be wise once in a life!).
My advice to my Everesting and Taiwan KOM clients is this: at the start, go 5-7% watts lower than you know you can do. The reason is so they don’t go too deep and blow all the hard work they’ve done in the preceding weeks and months. The deficit you may accrue at the start, by going a little lower, can easily be made up later, but a bad start can often lead to a bad middle, and then it’s all gone to pot by the end.
Stay calm, ride into it, trust yourself, trust the training, and you then give yourself the best chance to live up to your potential on that given day. Accept that in an event like the Taiwan KOM, which is 85km long, there will be ups and downs (pardon the pun). Again, stay calm, manage the tough periods, exploit the good patches. This is where all the work in gauging effort, learning to meter out your effort, and that mental training all pays off.
Let’s take a look at some of the graphs from TrainingPeaks from Jake’s ride. Here below you can see the speed graph. This tells you just how hard this climb is.
The HR chart is mad too! 90+ mins at 170-190bpm…
Jake put in a really good effort here, but illness in the week or so before the event, a bad foot and the 6 hour drive, arriving late, meant the preparations were not ideal – and add on that a bout of Covid! Not ideal ata ll, but he put in a valiant effort.
You can see from the graph below, looking at the pink line, that the effort at the beginning was just a little too had, and this, combined with the other factors, meant that the watts dropped off as the climb went up.
I’d like to say thanks to Jake for agreeing for me to use his stats here, and we (ok, he!) will be back next year for Round 2! I’ll leave you with these great images he took on the day.
For coaching enquiries please email me here, thanks…!