Tips For Keeping Your Cool While Cycling the Race To The Top Of VT
By Marilyn Ruseckas (Seven Cycles)
Bicycle hill climbing is a challenge that demands pain from a rider mentally and physically. Human nature is willing to overcome these discomforts in order to prove our strength and willpower.
I didn’t start climbing hills until I moved to Vermont and began cycling about twenty years ago. I live in the Mad River Valley where riding steep terrain is unavoidable. The more I rode it, the easier it became. I started to compete in mountain bike races and hill climbs in the early 1990’s. The biggest thrill for me was breaking the overall women’s record at the Mt. Washington Bicycle Hill Climb that had stood for 14 years. I held the overall women’s record there for 3 years and held an age category record for 10 years (30-39). Jeannie Longo nabbed the overall record and also held it in the 40’s age group. Now that I have turned 50, I think about going back to try again for my new age category. But for now, I am excited to defend my title as record holder at the 2010 FJG Race To The Top Of Vermont.
It’s a good thing the FJG RTTOVT takes place late in the summer. All season, I have climbed the hilliest roads and trails I can find knowing in the back of my mind that I will be competing at the end of August. I think about it every time I ride, putting in long sustained climbs as well as short fast efforts. I do this so I can assure myself that I’ve trained as much as possible. On the day of the race, I can then accept my fitness and concentrate on the job at hand.
I would apply this advice to anyone who will line up at the start. Put all your doubts and fears about your training aside and accept your fitness to date. Don’t panic and climb too much in the week just before the race. You will want to spin and have fresh legs. Rest is a very important part of training.
Racing is exciting. It gives you a charge, makes you feel nervous, maybe even nauseas. Everyone feels it. More experienced racers know the feeling and have ways to manage it. Knowing that it’s a part of the event and that you are supposed to feel that way can help turn a negative road block into a positive freeway. You will feel better once you get going.
Eat well and drink lots of water the day before the race. Have breakfast about two hours before the start. Arrive early and give yourself plenty of time to park, register, get ready, and warm up. Have an energy gel 10-15 minutes before your start time. All of that is the hard part. Once the gun goes off, you just go and the adrenaline kicks in.
With some hill climbing experience, you will know how to keep yourself from charging too hard on the first pitch. Keep in mind that the riders around you are all at different levels and you need to concentrate on your own pace. It is better to back off a little at the start and continue to have energy as you go along than it is to get caught up in the rush and burn out too soon. Once the group spreads out, you will find yourself riding with those at your ability. Here is where you can challenge your close competitors, settle in and enjoy the race within the race.
Mountain roads don’t let up much and they get steeper towards the top. I find things to do to occupy my mind and give my body tasks along the way. There are some things you can think about to take your mind off the monotony of a long climb. Breathe deep before you need to. In other words, concentrate on giving your muscles the oxygen they need before they are desperate for it. Switch up you cadence. Twenty pedal strokes seated, twenty standing up, fifty seated, fifty standing up. Pedal ten strokes pushing down, ten pulling up. Push hard to catch the guy up ahead. Don’t let that little kid catch you!
There’s no telling how you’ll place. It’s fun to pour over the results in hopes of beating your time from the year before or compare your time with that of your friends. One thing is for sure no matter how well you do, you will have a great sense of accomplishment when you cross the finish line! That is the lure of it all, the bait that keeps us coming back. Good luck and have fun!
Marilyn rides for Seven Cycles and is also a two-time UCI Masters Mountain Bike World Champion (1999, 2000), the current Masters Cyclocross National Champion (50-54) and the current UCI Masters Cyclocross World Champion (50+). www.MarilynRuseckas.com