Back to Basics

A guide to better climbing

Pav Bryan
Nov 17, 2021
6 min read
Racing

What is a hill climb

A hill climb race, sometimes a hill climb (HC) or hill climb time trial (HC TT), is a type of cycling race that tends to occur towards the end of the cycling season; often this is September and October in the UK. It is a simple point-to-point race that challenges cyclists to race as hard and fast as possible between the starting point, often at the bottom of a very steep hill, and the top of said hill.

Much like regular time trials (TT), hill climbs are a regular and popular fixture of the UK racing scene and are readily available, sometimes you will be able to find events every day, depending on your location, and at the right time of year.

How to enter a hill climb

If you like the idea of entering some hill climb events, the best place to start would be your local club. If the club you are currently a member of doesn’t participate in hill climb events, don’t worry, you can find one that does on the Cycling Time Trials website. You won’t have to leave your current club, but join the new one as a second claim. This will be important as you can’t race for a club without being a member, you also can’t usually enter races without being a member of an affiliated club, for insurance reasons.

There are typically two types of hill climb events, the open event and the club event. The open event is less frequent and attracts a higher caliber of competitor. The races usually cost a little more £15 instead of £5 for club events, but the prize money and recognition is greater. I’d recommend you starting with some club events and seeing if you like them. You will find all the support you need with the racing secretary of your new club.

Club events don’t require you to book in advance. You just turn up on the day, sign on (go to the time keeper, pay your fee, and grab a number), then warm-up and race. Open events typically require you to enter at least two weeks in advance (via the website above) and are a more formal affair (with a HQ, but still signing on and grabbing a number from the time keeper).

What are the key differences between hill climbs

Note that a key difference of hill climbs is whether they are a club or open event, for more information on that, read How to enter a hill climb.

In determining what methodology to use when prescribing your training we look at one main factor; the duration of the climb. Noting that we are talking about how long it will take you to climb the hill, not what others do, best times, and so on, it needs to be specific to you.

We split this into three categories; anaerobic (<3 minutes), anaerobic/aerobic (3-8 minutes), and aerobic (>8 minutes). Essentially, this duration will dramatically affect how your body copes with performing at the event, and therefore you need to approach the training in a slightly different manner.

For a more detailed look at the science...

What are the key elements of a successful hill climb

We wouldn’t be much of a companion app if we didn’t prepare you in a holistic manner. The training is important, obviously(!), but there’s a whole load of other aspects that can aid you in setting a new personal best, taking a win, or even just actually completing the hill itself…

Not listed in any particular order, but here are our top ten elements to consider for a successful hill climb:

  1. Bike weight (removing as much as possible)
  2. Body weight (especially using the facilities prior to the race!)
  3. Mindset (getting in the zone)
  4. Pacing (more so on longer climbs)
  5. Hydration (or perhaps tactical dehydration!)
  6. Fueling (specifically not overdoing it)
  7. Knowing the climb (practise makes perfect!)
  8. Training...

Beginner hill climb hydration and fuelling guide

In contradiction to everything you may have learned about fuelling and hydrating for a bigger, or longer, event, we are actually going to tell you to not worry too much about getting in those electrolytes and carbohydrates here.

Of course, the caveat here is that the longer the hill climb, the more you will have to fuel and hydrate, but, for those shorter efforts, you might actually be better off being slightly dehydrated and with an emptier stomach than you normally would.

Essentially, your body has, or should have, enough stored to cope with a short effort, especially those below three minutes, which is the typical duration of a hill climb time trial, but even those that last several minutes longer. Of course, we definitely don’t want you getting cramp or bonking prior to even warming-up, that’s why practising some of this during training will be of major help to you.

How to pace a successful hill climb

This will depend quite dramatically on a few considerations here. First, the duration of the hill climb will play a huge role in how you pace. Second, whether you are using a power meter or not, will also be a factor.

Anything shorter than 1.5 to 2 minutes you can almost certainly just go all out and hang on. Not a sprint type effort, but something maximal. You will experience some of these efforts in training and get used to how they feel. The first 30-45 seconds you might not feel too bad, but then it will be emptying the tank for the remaining time. Thankfully, these events, the open ones at least, are often lined with spectators cheering you on.

For anything much longer than 1.5 minutes, you will need to have a better understanding of what is your maximum. Don’t worry, you will get used to these types of efforts in training and, if you are using one, a power meter will help you understand exactly what your maximum is.

The biggest factor, when taking on the longer hill climbs, will be not going too hard at the start. Develop your pacing plan, utilising the sessions prescribed within the Pillar-app, and you will have no problem in pacing for success.

How to get your mentality right on race day

Like all race day preparations, we first start getting your mentality right in training. There are many ways to get mind in the right place for an all out effort, here are three of the main ones.

Train like you'll race

This might be somewhat obvious, but it’s something that we don’t always do. Each training session can be treated like a mini-race or a practise run of the event; especially those sessions that are at the same intensity.

It’s too easy to just ‘complete’ training. What we mean here is that training doesn’t have to be just focused on getting the session done. Consider warming up identically to how you will on race day. Consider implementing a meditation and affirmation practise into your day, even into your warm-up. Definitely fuel and hydrate how you will on race day. If possible, try to complete your training at the same time of day as the race itself, which might identify key areas that will help you perform, especially as club events tend to be in the evening and open events might be early or late morning.

Where possible, you might even go and complete your training on the hill itself. Not only will you be completing your training, but it gives you a chance to learn every part of the climb, get used to it, start to mentally conquer it, and develop your pacing strategy.

Are you as excited as the Pillar team for the start of this year's race?  If so, keep an eye out for more related Women's Tour of Britain posts and blogs.

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Welcome to Pillar! We’re a small UK-based team (full of real athletes) who are developing an app dedicated to all areas of cycling training. Whatever pains you can think of related to your training, we want to solve them. Pillar is still at an early stage. The first feature we’ve built is an adap…
‎Pillar
Welcome to Pillar! We’re a small UK-based team (full of real athletes) who are developing an app dedicated to all areas of cycling training. Whatever pains you can think of related to your training, we want to solve them. Pillar is still at an early stage. The first feature we’ve built is an adap…