Perhaps you live in a place where the biggest hill around is a freeway overpass and you are signed up for the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. Gale Bernhardt, USA Cycling and USA Triathlon coach, and author of Training Plans for Cyclists has some tips.
First off, build endurance for the event. I like the long ride to be some 50- to 80-percent of the time you think it will take for you to complete the event. You can also use distance rather than time; but keep in mind that if you live and train in a location that has no hills, riding 60 miles on the flats can be much less time than 60 miles in the hills.
1. If you want to be a strong hill climber, you need to minimize the extra fluff you’re carrying on your torso. This can be done by trimming a few calories (200 to 500 per day) out of each day’s diet, increasing your weekly ride time or some combination of both.
2. The first step in your progression to building more hill strength is working on your lactate threshold.
3. I begin with doing intervals just below lactate threshold, then progress to threshold after three to six weeks. In both cases, I begin with broken intervals to keep power and speed high. The work to rest ratio is 3 or 4 to 1. For example, 4 to 6 x 4 minutes holding the prescribed heart rate, taking 1 minute of easy spinning to recover between each work bout.
I typically begin with around 20 minutes of total work time and build at a reasonable rate per week from there. The majority of people can handle around 40 minutes of accumulated lactate threshold work time. For you, the work load that brings fitness improvement is the right amount. More than that volume can bring overtraining and injury.
4. After lactate threshold fitness has been built on mostly flat terrain for some three to eight weeks, it’s time to add hills. Do the workouts described in #4 on hills or do repeats up a single hill. If you don’t have hills where you live, simulate them by using a harder gear or pedal into a headwind for the work bout.
5. I like to begin building this accumulated ride intensity on the long rides a few weeks before beginning the structured intervals discussed earlier. The majority of athletes can handle at least one interval day with higher intensities during the week and a long ride with intensity on the weekend to form the cornerstones of the training plan.
6. After progressively building endurance and the ability to ride for longer periods of time at higher intensities (higher power outputs), put some tough days back-to-back. For example, some four to eight weeks before the event, do structured intervals with hills on Saturday, for a workout in the two- to three-hour range. The next day, do a ride in the three- to four-hour range where you ride every hill as fast as you can, at the highest intensity you can muster. Do not worry about watching your heart rate on these, just go.
If you don’t have hills, simulate them as previously mentioned. Another option is to make this second ride a fast group ride. Usually, other riders can help you ride faster than you would on your own.
7. More advanced riders can include a weekday ride with intervals above threshold, in addition to the back-to-back weekend rides. One example is to warm-up, then do 3 to 5 x 3 minutes on a hill that gets your heart rate slightly above lactate threshold. Hold it there to the end of the interval time. Recover with easy coasting downhill and spinning for 3 minutes. This is a 1-to-1 work to rest ratio.
Read more about how to avoid coughing up a lung or two during your elevation vacation.