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Climbing and heart rate monitors – how should you pace yourself by Adrian Fairbank

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When you’re cycling you cannot climb hills all the time and so quite a period of time is spent on the flat approaching the hill. I had the opportunity to speak to Steven Roche a previous Tour winner about riding on the flat and I asked him how you should pace yourself. Rushing like a mad thing at the beginning may get you ahead the first few miles but it soon catches up with you and you then slow to a crawl.

However dawdling along on a Sunday afternoon cycle ride didn’t give much pleasure either. He did not have an absolute answer here, but commented that the wind conditions the terrain of the road surface, the speed of the group and the distance you’re going are all relevant factors. He discussed something called ‘Gross Efficiency’ (GE) – this is a measure of how efficiently your muscles can convert chemical energy during aerobic exercise into power. This will vary from individual to individual and your underlying level of fitness.

What is interesting is that your GE doesn’t remain constant – the original theory was it remained the same week on week, month on month, for each individual, and only changed gently with increasing fitness. However this proved not to be true with further study, and in fact after hard exercise such as climbing a hill or racing a colleague the GE diminishes and as a result you are less efficient at producing energy aerobically. This means that you need to rely on anaerobic energy production more which carries with it the production of waste product – such as lactate. Getting cramp on a bicycle isn’t fun. The science behind this shows that if you’re going to be riding for a relatively short period of time, should probably reduce your initial pace slightly. Your heart rate is a good indicator of your aerobic and anaerobic exercise, because as you start to accumulate lactic acid in your bloodstream you get a demonstrable increase in heart rate. It is for this reason heart rate monitors are relied upon to give give good feedback.

Beyond this, many pros utilise a Power Meter. If you are faced with a hill – try to limit the increase in energy expenditure to about 10%. Of course if that’s the only hill you are doing it won’t matter but when you’re planning an Alpine Challenge and you have 8000 m of climb over three days this becomes quite important and will affect your overall time during the timed sections of the challenge.

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