Repeat the Hill Out of It

A lot of people that read my blog mistakenly think that I live in Spartanburg, Greenville or Asheville. Makes sense given how much I am up there, but no. I live in Columbia, SC. I have also heard from people that it is difficult to train for mountain rides when one lives away from major climbs. I beg to differ in most cases.

Hill repeats have become an essential part of my training. They aren’t nearly as fun as mountains, but in my opinion they are almost as effective. All that’s needed is a comfortable, short hill. It should not be too easy or too steep. It can be as little as a 100-200 foot climb. Ideally you will find a section with a number of different hills for variety, as there is nothing more monotonous than riding the same terrain repeatedly. Training isn’t always supposed to be easy.

I’ve spent a couple years looking for the perfect spot. I found it at the intersection between Harmon Rd and Mount Elon Church Rd. I start with one side of Mount Elon, which is the longest and steepest, about 150 feet at a 8-10% grade. Then I head back down and up “Harmon Hill,” over the other side and back up. That’s about 250 feet total. Then, back at Mount Elon, I take a right on the opposite side of the street for the steep section. It is a shorter hill, but hits about 11-12%. It lets me stand up and stretch my legs. An entire circuit takes me about half an hour and yields almost 600 feet in climbing. I am willing to bet that most cities have similar spots.

The one thing I am careful to do is to ride easy. This is not the time to hammer or hill jam and try to get personal bests. I always ride up in the little ring, mostly in the easiest gear. The idea is to just find a rhythm. In the process, the workout will gradually improve my power and climbing strength.

I used this often when competing in the Strava Climbing Challenge. Despite making numerous trips to the mountains, it was my local rides where I worked in hills that allowed me to succeed. This Strava link is an example of one of my hill climbing grinds. You’ll notice that the elevation chart looks like a set of shark teeth. Mt. Elon is also a Strava segment, which shows I did six circuits in that day. In order to complete the Challenge, I had to repeat “The Wall” on Fort Jackson, which you can see on this Strava segment.

Without living near mountains, this was my only means of completing the task, and it made a substantial difference in my training for Mount Mitchell.

A lot of people have told me that they have trouble training for mountain events because of the lack of climbs where they live. From what I’ve found, most areas have at least some hills. The best place to find them is near a lake or a river. Highway overpasses or bridges work if nothing else is available. I know some people who ride in truly flat coastal regions that use bridges and headwinds for training. The terrain is out there.

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