I expect that you know that I am crazy about running. What you may not know is that I feel the same way about riding my bicycle. You can find me cycling 3 days a week, 50 weeks a year. Last night I was out on a ride, playing the role of coach/ambassador for a Tri club (Empire based in NYC) that I have long been associated with.
This was the first ride of the season, so I was not surprised to find that many of our members had let their fitness wan during the offseason. I ended up spending most of the ride with a woman who had not been on her bike in 2 months. She was in fairly good shape considering that fact, but was still behind where she was when we rode together the previous year.
On our ride she commented on the fact that this season she wanted to improve her cycling. She went on to say that she felt like she was particularly terrible at riding hills. She thought that this was because her body was just not built for this kind of work. When on a hill, she said she was always forced to breathe way too hard, which in turn left her very uncomfortable.
This didn’t make sense to me. Nobody’s body is built (or not built) for riding up hills. Anyone can successfully get better at dealing with them with the proper training. I asked her why she thought she was “not built” for hills. Her answer didn’t surprise me. She told me that when she was riding with a group (and she always rode with one), their pace up the hill would always her into the red zone. She would get out of breath, and have to work very hard after cresting the hill to keep up with them. She was fine on the flats, but hills killed her.
All of a sudden, the answer to her hill issue became clear. Her problem was not hills. It was the fact that she was riding them at a pace set by the group, instead of one she had selected. This caused her to work at a level that was more than her aerobic system could handle. This in turn caused her to feel out of breath, which made her feel inadequate when riding hills.
I explained to her that I thought this was the cause of her issues. By riding at the groups pace, she was forcing herself to go too hard on the hills. I went on the explain that if she spent some time riding hills at a slower pace, her aerobic system would develop to support her efforts. In time, it would develop to a level that would allow her to hold the pace her group was riding at, without getting out of breath.
We spent the rest of the ride going up hills at a pace she could handle. She was amazed at how much better she felt at this intensity. By the end of the ride, she had committed to working at a slower pace when going uphill for the next few months, to allow her aerobic ability to develop. I left her at the end of the ride, knowing that her days of being a “bad hill rider” were soon going to end.
Wondering why I am sharing this story on a site that’s primary focus is on running? I am doing so because it makes a point that is just as true for a runner as it is for cyclists. The idea is that with the proper training, you can get good at any aspect of your sport, such as the hill work in this example. Nobody is naturally bad at hills. The people who feel this way just have not spent the time needed to improve this area of their ability to the point where they feel comfortable with it. If you have an area that you feel weak at, why not give it a little extra focus. I expect that if you do, it will quickly go from a weakness to a strength. All it takes is a little patience, time, and effort.