Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hills? What Hills?

Last week on the Train-This discussion board, there was quite a conversation about the benefits (or not) of riding with compact cranks.  Now if you are like me, you will probably say, "Compact what?"

Yes, it's true.  Even though I am a certified triathlon coach and have been racing 6 years now, the intricacies of bikes somehow allude me.  It's not that I don't want to understand, it's just that my mind does not like to work that way.  It doesn't like to think about ratios or numbers.  My theory is that there is just not enough room in there for stuff like that, but really it probably has to do with the fact that I really have to think very hard to understand mathematical concepts, even easy ones, and that is just...too hard.  I even struggle with 2nd grade math homework.

Anyhoo, there was this whole discussion about compact cranks, which, as I found out, make climbing hills easier (or so some people say), and have nothing to do with the length of the crank arm but the number of teeth on each of the front rings.  (Just in case you don't know, and, trust me, I am not judging, the crank is the thing the pedal is connected to.)

Now this was a fortuitous conversation because it was just the day before that I had been lamenting to Coach Mary about how difficult climbing was for me, and how I thought I must be doing something wrong because I struggled so much up hills.  This is what our email conversation looked like:

me:  "P.S. I seriously need help riding my bike on hills...I have no idea what my problem is." 
Coach Mary:  "1. You need to ride more hills  2. You need to change your attitude toward them. ;)" 
me:  "No, seriously.  I think there is something wrong.  What is this about "spinning" up the hills?  There is nothing like that happening with me.  Am I not pulling up as much as I need to?  Should I stand more?  What is my deal??"
Coach Mary:  "Low gear and relax. Let is come! Stop fighting hills and they stop fighting you."
 me:  "When I am climbing I am almost always in my lowest gear.  Relax, relax, relax...this will be my mantra."
Coach Mary:  "You have it. We just need to uncover it."
me:  "I'm going to think about this one."
Coach Mary:  "The key really is.... not to think. Let them come to you!"
After the whole crank discussion, I emailed Coach and asked her if I should get a compact crank.  (I had, in fact, already priced them out and was going to rush it so I would have it in time for Rev3Quassy.) She emailed me back and said, "I think patience and trusting in yourself is a cheaper but more valuable option!"

So today I went out to Green Lakes again to ride the hills.  I did two loops of the Green Lakes Tri course which I will be racing in two weeks.  The first loop was with a group of my athletes from the Y.  The second loop was pretty much on my own, since I was riding tempo.  My goal both times was to just clear my mind of judgement, not get all amped up by what was ahead, put my head down and ride.

And ride I did.

I'm not saying those hills weren't hard, but I just didn't let them beat me today.  Before I would see a hill and just try to attack it, then my heart rate would spike up, I would start gasping for air, and get all mad that I wasn't able to climb as well as so-in-so or whats-her-name.  Today, I just let them come.  I felt them, I adjusted, I kept moving, and before I knew it, I was over them! It wasn't about me or anyone else.  It wasn't about how fit or not fit I am.  It wasn't about how much weight I need to lose. It wasn't personal.

It was just about riding.


  1. I have a very difficult time with hills also and I have had the same conversation with my coach. I am still trying to relax and enjoy the hills but it takes time for me. I am just getting into liking "wind!"

    Good luck!

  2. i have had the same struggle with hills (and the wind!). This year I did as your coach said and decided to embrace them and learn to love them. It will come!!!

  3. Woohoo!! Way to conquer those hills!! I have a hard time with hills too, but I REALLY need more practice with them! I loved your attitude when you were out on your ride...the mental aspect of training/racing is sooo important!

  4. Kelly,

    Sounds like pretty good advice from your ooach!

    However, if you are riding/racing on some serious hills do not discount the value of a compact crank - especially on the longer courses (70.3 and up).

    My buddy Jon did an excellent write up on compact cranks. Check it out:

  5. I mean....for the rest of us, just speculating and taking it up as a sport....compact cranking is not an set a true and valuable standard Kelly, when demonstrating "just conquering". This way, the rest of us can believe more in ourselves than our bikes. AND BTW, I hate thinking about things like math too! Good luck next weekend and I will be praying you enjoy your race!

  6. I don't know what a compact crank is, but I do know that the smaller the crank (the less teeth is has), the easier it makes pedaling.

    I've only got two front rings and I sometimes wish I had three just because some of the hills around here are hard even on my lowest gear.

  7. I have a compact crank. I really like it but there are drawbacks to it on the downhills especially. I will say though, that I agree with your coach and I admire the way you put her advice to practice. So much of this sport is mental and the great workouts are designed to build our mental strength as well as our physical. Hills will soon be your friend!

  8. My road bike has a triple ring up front, and my new Kestrel has a double....I am interested to see how that works on the hills around here. I hope I have not gotten spoiled!


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