Training for a hilly Ironman

author : Amy Kuitse
comments : 0

How to train for hills when you don't have any hills to train on

Member Question from Radar987

"I've been doing the miles and following my program, but am getting pretty intimidated by the thought of having to ride in the mountains-being a prairie guy. And I do mean prairie. I have managed to get in a few longer rides in hilly areas but I'm just not sure how to prepare for the 11 km climb of Richters Pass for Ironman Canada. The biggest hills within a couple hours of here are a couple hundred feet, not thousands. I seem to do fine on the gentler grades but once the steep hills start, I just don't seem to have the power to carry them for much more than a kilometer or two."

Answer by Coach Amy Kuitse
- Available with Online Coaching

Before we can go into giving you suggestions on how to prepare for the climbing you will do on Richter Pass, I have to say CONGRATULATIONS. A 25-minute PR (personal record) in your HIM this season is outstanding. This should give you confidence in the improvements you have made in your fitness over the last year.

Now, let's take a look at how you can work on the 11k climb you will be looking at on Richter Pass and some of the other hills you will be dealing with on race day:

Mental training

First we want to look at how you approach climbing from a mental perspective, knowing you have limited hills to ride on. The best way I have to describe how to approach this is to have you think of it from a RPE (rate of perceived effort), HR (heart rate) and/or watts perspective.

If you are using an HRM or a power meter there is a factor with each one of those devices that would not change how you climb. If you are using an HRM and you are supposed to be riding in upper end of zone 2 to zone 3, this stays the same if you are riding on the flats or climbing.

It is the same for power. If your watts are supposed to be between 160-185 it is the same regardless of the terrain.

So, yes, the hills and climbing are challenging, but if you follow your training plan you can be confident in riding within the zones or watts you have established on race day.

Suggested workouts

There are workouts you can do that will help work on the lower rpms to simulate climbing. These are done in the big chain ring in a gear that has you riding anywhere from 60-80 rpms.

You could start with 2 x 10-minute efforts with 5 minutes easy between. From here you can add to the time of each effort, working your way up to 30+ minutes. The workout could eventually look like 3 x 15' with 5' easy between; 2 x 30' with 5' easy between, and so on.

If you think about this from a climbing perspective, you recognize that our rpms often drop, but we want to balance this with a gearing that allows us to maintain a level of spinning and minimize the grinding. This will be different for each person based on their overall strength and power in their riding.

Hill interval workout

Another workout on the road could be shorter intervals when you could alternate between sitting and standing. With this workout I would recommend increasing the number of intervals and carefully increase your time up to 5' (on the higher end of the rpms). You will do these in the big chain ring and in small gears at 45-60' rpms. This may look something like 4 to 6 reps x 2' alternating between sitting and standing.

With both of these workouts, you want to make sure these do not create any knee pain. Especially in this second workout, you want to be careful, as the rpms are low and more likely to create a grinding effect. With this said, I would suggest no more than once a week for either of these workouts and also include a workout each week that includes speed work with higher rpms.

Road or trainer?

These workouts can be done on the roads or on a trainer. Some people prefer to do the shorter interval workouts on a trainer as the total time of the ride is shorter and they do not want to be doing ‘standing' interval work rolling down the road.

It is my opinion that you can do these shorter interval workouts on the road and get great benefit from them for simulating climbing. It not only simulates climbing, but in standing, it works on balance, and works on building strength & power.

The longer interval work I've mentioned above could be done in a 90-minute ride and longer. You could easily build these intervals into a long ride and finish these ride with some higher rpm work so you finish with your legs spinning at a cadence you want to prepare for in the run. This may include something like 4 or 5 x 1' efforts at 100 rpms or best-effort spinning.

In either case you want this to be higher rpms than what you have completed in the workout.

Mentally smart

Being able to train on a hilly course is always helpful, but not always possible. This does not mean though we cannot prepare for these courses with the terrain we have available to us. We need to prepare for this from a physical standpoint and also from a mentally smart standpoint.

We need to understand how to approach hills based on our training plan and tools we train with. Above are just several different ways you can approach training on the flats in preparation for a hilly course that has steep or long climbs. You can build these workouts into your training tools of RPE, HR, or power with your present training plan.

Feel free to visit the D3Multisport and the Beginner Triathlete website for articles on RPE, HR, power, and hill workouts for more ideas.

All the best for a great race and conquering your climb up Richter Pass. -Amy


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date: October 12, 2011

Amy Kuitse