Need Help With Hills

For the past 3/4 months I’ve been trying to train for a 100 mi / 6k ft gravel ride. I completed SSB 1 and 2 low volume and have been sprinkling in some weekend 60ish mile rides.

Well, I rode the gravel ride and the hills destroyed me. Everyone was so happy that I did it, but coming in close to last stings pretty good. To my credit this is by far the hardest ride I’d ever attempted - my previous long was 65 mi / 2k ft elevation - but I didn’t think I’d do so poorly. After some quad cramps about 30mi in - I really tried to save my legs after that.

I’ve always sucked at hills. I don’t know if it’s mental or physical or what. My FTP is pretty low at 215. Not sure if I should continue on to Build Phase or what. I feel like my cardio is pretty good… Advice/encouragement needed here. Wondering if I should hop over to Zwift for a couple months and rock some hard virtual elevation.

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What cadence are you using outside and how does it compare to your training inside?

Commonly on hills, it’s lower cadence that leads to more and earlier muscle fatigue. If you are training at 90 rpm inside, but end up at 70 rpm outside, that will lead to issues.

The overriding principle here is to “train like you plan to race”. That means looking at your specific needs outside, and attempting to consider and implement training inside that addresses those needs.

Essentially, we likely need more info to offer more specific recommendations.


Good job just finishing that 100 mile ride! The physics of going faster/easier up hills are pretty obvious either increase power or decrease weight. Using TR will help with both of those. I would keep continuing into build and specialty plan.

The other parts that might help you some would be looking into easier gears especially for at the end of a long ride this could help keep you in a comfortable cadence. Another thing would be (if you’re using a smart trainer) using TR while in an easier gear. This would more closely simulate climbing gravel hills with the low wheel speed but high power output.

The cadence/gearing issue can be huge. Pedaling at less than 70 rpm when you’ve done all your training at 90+ can hurt even at the same power. That brings up another point - do you have a power meter? If not, I’d venture a guess that you were actually riding those climbs quite a bit harder than you thought you were, hence the extra fatigue. It does not take long to shred yourself if you are repeatedly going over FTP.

As for Zwift, if you have a smart trainer I think it is a great way to get some simulated climbing in and is a great tool. Do not abandon your TR plan but if you have no access to real climbs, it would worth swapping out one workout every week or so for a climby Zwift ride. There is something about the relentless nature of a climb and the grinding away at low rpm you can not quite simulate by just doing intervals.

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Firstly, don’t beat yourself up!

An extra 35 miles and an extra 4000ft of elevation? That’s a MASSIVE difference to your previous hardest. Remember that it’s the extra 50km in races like Paris-Roubaix that knocks all but the strongest 25 riders in the peloton out of contention.

The advice about cadence and gearing is very sound. But mostly, just keep training. Try the Sustained Power Build plan. There’s no such thing as “I suck at hills” - the major factors are not some kind of innate talent, but power and weight. If you increase the former and/or decrease the latter, your climbing “ability” will come on in leaps and bounds.


@mcweerd I would consider 6k of climbing over a 100m ride to be a very ‘hilly’ century. And it was gravel…a lot of folks don’t consider the manner in which a gravel road is made. For a highway civil engineers might select a route with a lower gradient…or maybe blast out a notch at the top of the hill and move the overburden to the bottom of the hill & in so doing reduce the gradient of a hill.

That’s less common on a gravel road. They just create a cut, pack it, and throw some gravel down. That gets the job done but in many cases it means the last 30 to 40 meters of a gravel uphill can momentarily kick up to a pretty steep gradient. That means you wind up with these little mini-intervals that are low cadence and supra-threshold. Add to that the fact that most smart trainers don’t mimic the gradient so your muscles might not be used to working at those angles.

If you are used to doing a lot of sustained, constant power workouts those little hill tops can wear you out and break you after 30 or 40 miles. For me the solution was to just get out and ride hills. Now, I live in a place that’s actually called ‘flat’ so there aren’t a lot of hills…I would just go ride the few good hills we have about a gazillion times.

It helped me discover some little facts that make a big difference. My breathing pattern on descents wasn’t very good. If it was a fast descent I would catch myself holding my breath. Not good!

Also, if you session a hill climb to start to notice how much of a difference staying aero on the descent can make. Sitting up and sucking wind on the descent may feel good but if you add it up over 100 miles it adds a lot of time to your ride. Plus, if you’re a bigger rider like me those descents are where you can really pick up speed free of cost.

I think this is another question about your base. I was in really good shape when I first started road biking as a mountain biker who would race. My friends started me out on 45 mile rides, then 50, then 55, then 65. I would collapse quite frequently on these longer rides and suffer from massive cramps and fatigue. I was in great shape then, but couldn’t handle the longer sustained effort. Now 65 miles is about a good group ride distance because over years I’ve built a more substantial base. It takes time.

Easier said than done, at least if you’re not strong enough. I did a gran fondo this past weekend with over 2,600 m of elevation and even with a 32 cassette I couldn’t climb at more than 80 RPM. At the steepest sections I was down to 50-60. It was HARD.

It was also my first gran fondo and by far the most elevation I had to tackle in one ride, so there’s that. Need to get fitter and probably a couple more gears!


Keep it up!

I could never climb and have an even lower FTP. I did a whole cycle (well, I subbed a lot of outside rides during century specialty), but I finished my first gran fondo this past weekend: 100 miles and 2 600 m of elevation (over 8000 ft).

I was among the last 10% and honestly was expecting to do a bit better, but after a couple of days it has sunk in that it was a big achievement. And I can’t wait for my next one (hopefully much fitter!)

My mantra during almost six months of training was TRUST THE PROCESS. I have to say: it worked.


But that is entirely my point. I am not saying just increase the cadence outside on the hill to match the training. I put up a simple example in the absence of any from the OP, so I could point a bit in a possible direction to address the issue. It was a guess, as there is no additional info at this point, but I mentioned it as it seems to be a common problem we have seen here.

Ultimately, I am saying the opposite, with intent to setup the training to more closely match what is required outside. Regardless of components, if you expect to be stuck at 60 rpm for more than a few moments, you better be spending some time training at that range, with appropriate power and resistance as well.

  • Personal Example:

I applied this for some super steep and long climbs that I expected in my A-event last summer. I know there were to main climbs, 6-ish miles at 10% pitch and above (long ones at 12-15%). Even with my 34x32 combo, I knew I would have times at 60 rpm and below.

So, I included significant parts of my trainer time with SS to Thresh efforts at 5-20 minutes with continuous work from 50-70 rpm. I knew I would face stretches of 20-30 minutes at those efforts and cadences, and proceeded to train them. I didn’t do it exclusively, but I did it at least 2 times per week in the final month leading to the event.

Results are that I was totally prepared and met my goals for the day. They still hurt like crazy, but I was able to handle them and did far better than others on the same gearing with similar power. It is all about understanding the expected demands of the effort, and working to train for them as closely as practical.


Got it.

I should definitely have done that, but I didn’t know the course as well as I should. Next time I’ll definitely take your advice!


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Yeah, recon is useful and should be done if at all possible. Find Strava routes, info from the organizers, or even make your own routes in various apps (assuming you know the route in advance).

Looking for things like longer and steeper stuff can help prepare mentally at least. But often, we can try to mimic those demands even a little and we will benefit greatly on the big day.

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Thanks for the advice and the example! It makes perfect sense. I’m about 10 weeks from IMCanada 70.3, and I will have to tackle 1,200m of elevation as a bigger rider. I’m definitely gonna start applying this training method once or twice a week from now on!

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