How to adapt MTB Marathon to improve climbing abilities

tldr: What can I do within my planned workouts to get better at climbing? Just slow down my cadence and grind?

I’m 34, 6’ 6", 220 lbs, and training for the Tahoe Trail 100 in Mid July. Decided to get back into the race scene after 10 years off and I’m new to structured training. Started the MTB Marathon plan 1/1/23.

My A race is a long way away, but I’ve been doing some B races for fun and the climbs kill me. I can push the pace on the flats with a naturally high cadence, but when thing turn uphill I can’t keep up.

So here are my questions…

Am I on the right plan for my ~6hr climbing heavy race in July?

Do I just slow down my cadence from high 90s to 60s during the workouts to gain strength and simulate climbing?

Do I just need more gears on my bike?

Add weight training?

All of the above?

It’s possible you need better gearing. But it’s impossible to say without knowing your current gears.

It could be beneficial doing some intervals at a lower cadence. Just be careful cause 60 is pretty low and some people get knee or other joint discomfort from lots of low cadence work.

Also, if the issue is that you can’t keep up with other racers on the ups then that might just be inevitable to some degree. 6’6” and 220lb isn’t real overweight but you will be bigger than most people you race against. So gravity is not your friend. And unless you have big fitness to counter your size, the physics is just not on your side in those situations.


Yes, the MTB marathon plan is just right for you.

@mwglow15 is spot on: consider getting easier gearing, you should avoid grinding when possible. By default most bikes come with a 32-tooth chainring and a 10–50 (SRAM) or 10–51 cassette (Shimano).

At least on the SRAM side you can go down to 26 teeth. I’d probably try 28 teeth, which effectively gives you an extra climbing gear. Also, if you have a SRAM drivetrain and your bike came with a 10–50 cassette, exchange that for a 10–52 cassette. (And yes, I’d do both.)

No, I’d just ride offroad a lot.

My preferred cadence on the trainer is higher than outdoors, especially offroad. Even if I choose a very easy gear (= low inertia, more similar to climbing at low speed), I typically want to be in the high 90s. Plus, offroad it isn’t just your cadence that is very different, but the power profile, too.


I did Tahoe with a 30 on the front and I was riding climbs others were pushing.

Do the work on the TR plan and keep riding on dirt. It will pay off by the time Tahoe comes around in July.


I’m 6’3”, 225lbs mountain biker. I run a 30t chainring (or 32t) with 10-51 Shimano cassette. I have lots of leg power and can grind climbs. But I’ve seen my best gains I’ve the last years by increasing my overall cadence on climbs. A few years back I typically pedaled at 75rpm, dropping on climbs. I worked on leg speed for the last 2 seasons and now climb at 85-100rpm. More aerobic effort, less muscular, more efficient overall. I have usually done this work in Low Volume sustained power build and Low Volume XC Olympic. Leg speed is the key for me.

Read about cadence here:


Thanks everyone this is helpful. Gearing is a good one. I’ll look into my options. I’m ready to start riding outside more when the weather improves and will generally just trust the process.

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I did a 60 mile race last July that has 10K ft of climbing. I feel my weakness is power after 2-2.5 hours mark. I did low volume last year with an added outdoor ride, sometimes 2 per week. I met my goal and felt I should have pushed a bit harder in my race. My goal was to finish. At 56 and never ridden close to 60 miles off road, I tried to keep myself in check. Planning to return this year to push myself for a faster time. I learned lots. This year I have added some weekly strength workouts which I have never done. Also adding running back into my weekly training.

I ran a 32T with a Eagle 50t cassette. Someone said you would switch to a 52T. Check on that, I have read and seen that the first Gen Eagle derailleurs will not work.


I run a first gen eagle derailller with the new 52t cassette. It works but is very fussy, and the shifting definitely isn’t as crisp.