Climbing Smart on Race Day

If you don't have one of these, you can use your feet as a guide (no joke!). Lastly, you can use your competitors as a spatial frame of reference.

Let's climb the hill, using these three tools:

Entrance of the Hill

  • With a Power Meter: Pay attention to your monitor and stop yourself from spiking your wattage.

  • Without a Power Meter: Feel the pressure on the soles of your feet and shift down through the gears as this pressure increases in an effort to maintain a steady, constant pressure to the pedals. Why? If you have begun to climb a hill, but are maintaining a constant cadence, you are now pushing harder on the pedals and will feel this increased pressure on the soles of your feet. More importantly, you have begun to increase your power output.

    In our years and years of power experience, we can tell you that this initial power spike is—98 percent of the time—far higher than you should be riding. Therefore, pay attention to your feet and shift down through the gears as you feel this pressure (power spike) increase. Your goal is keep a constant pressure on the soles of your feet by shifting through the gears as you transition from the flat to the entrance of the hill.

  • Visual Cues: The athletes around you will open up a gap at the start of the hill. You'll see them standing while grinding a hard gear. You'll hear the frame creak or the tires bite the pavement as they stomp on the gas. Remember: if you're not doing what everyone else is doing, you're usually doing the right thing! Having people gap you at the entrance of a climb is almost always a very good thing: they are working too hard, you're not.

    They will come back to you, either on this hill, the next, or on a flat, or on the run...or not. What's important is that you focus on the real game—the last eight miles of the run—and don't get caught up in fighting for three to five bikes lengths of real estate on some unnamed hill at mile 65.2 of a 140-mile day. It just. Doesn't. Matter.

Body of the Hill

  • With a Power Meter: Settle into your target wattage. A good rule is to climb at about 10 percent above your goal watts for the race.

  • Without a Power Meter: Settle in and expect your heart rate to rise to your target heart rate, much like the target wattage above. If you have avoided the spike at the entrance, you should stay at or below your target heart rate.

  • Visual Cues: The initial gap between you and other athletes will stabilize or decrease a bit. More importantly, pay attention to their body language. As their body realizes their initial effort was too hard you'll see them come off the gas a bit.

Crest of the Hill and Downhill (This is where the fun starts!)

  • With a Power Meter: Watch your power meter and hold your climbing wattage across the crest and into the first third of the downhill. Note we didn't say "hammer." You're simply making the hill a few seconds longer by maintaining your climbing effort across the crest and into the first third of the downhill. You will quickly accelerate through the gears and reach your top speed very quickly. Above about 34mph, get very aero and just coast.

    We recommend taking this opportunity to stretch your hamstrings. Put your pedals at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock, then stand to stretch. Reverse the pedals, stretch again. Carry this speed across the intervening flat and into the entrance of the next hill. In effect, you begin your climb of Hill No. 2 at the crest of Hill No. 1.

  • Without a Power Meter: Listen to your feet again. Maintain a constant pressure on the soles of your feet, quickly accelerating through the gears to your top speed, per above.

  • Visual Cues: Watch as others really step off the gas, while you simply maintain your climbing effort across the crest and into the downhill, and then quickly accelerate and coast by them as they continue to pedal.

In summary, your goal is to manage your effort up the hill without spending it needlessly at the start. Conserve your energy and then simply maintain it over the crest and into the first third of the downhill. You will quickly accelerate to top speed, carrying this speed across the intervening flat and into the next hill.


Endurance Nation is the world's only 400 person long-course triathlon team, with 25 to 35 athletes in every U.S. Ironman this season. Download the Endurance Nation Ironman Race Kit, FREE! The Kit includes: The Four Keys to Ironman Execution eBook, 6 x 30-minute preview videos of our Ironman Course Talks, and the Ironman Transition Training Plan eBook, a comprehensive guide for the "what now" questions rattling around in your head post race! The kit is our gift to you, as a demonstration of our commitment to changing the Ironman training, racing, and coaching game!

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