Training for long (for me) climbs

Doing a MTB race, ORAMM, this summer that is 60 miles and 10,500 feet of climbing. One climb is 1-1.5 hours. Two are 45-ish minutes. Hard to replicate that here in Texas so I want to try on the trainer. What zone do you try to keep it in on long steady climbs? Endurance, Tempo,
Sweet Spot? I know there will be surges but what would you shoot for the bulk of long climbs? Looking at past finishing times and considering I’m a middle of the pack finisher, I’m looking at an 8+/- hour finish.

For training, mid to high tempo & low cadence for an event of that effort. Aim for increasing lengths of multiple intervals from 5-20 mins. Mentally monitor your knees, it can impact them so screen for aches and increase the cadence if they hurt.

I’m assuming you’re aware of your FTP, so during the event don’t exceed that on a climb unless its the last one / your making an attack and know you’ll have gas in the tank to the end, its a good measure to retain energy and muscular endurance to the end.


The longest climb I’ve done was on SM100, they call it the “death climb” but it’s more of a dirt road grind with a handful of pretty steep sections. It’s about 24 miles with 2400 feet of vert & it took me 2:40 (I will be faster next time!) The climb you’re talking about is a long climb & you’re going to want to be able to pedal from various positions on the bike. I’d be spending time practicing out of saddle pedaling for extended minutes & various saddle positions as well as specific wattage targets.


7 months after buying a road bike I did the DeathRide’s 15,000 of climbing on 5 mountain passes. At about 3W/kg the majority of my training was outside on completely flat ground (2016 before I had a trainer). Moving times for the 5 climbs were 80 minutes, 105 minutes, 113 minutes, 57 minutes, and 131 minutes. Those climbs were completed in mid 60-ish rpm and heart rate upper zone2 (endurance) and lower zone3 (tempo).

My training consisted of longer and longer sweet spot intervals at 70-75rpm. A lot of 1x40 and 1x60 minute sweet spot at 70-75rpm, on completely flat terrain, with 2 freeway overpasses and about 100 feet of ‘climbing’ LOL.

After that I bought a power meter and looking at a few big 2-3 hour HC climbs (3500-4500’) have done .78, .83, .88 IF. Training for all of those was around 8 hours/week over 3 months. I did better doing 1x40 to 1x60 outside, versus doing stuff like 4x15 inside. However part of that is I believe training outside in 80-100F heat always squeezes out more performance than training in my 60-80F (winter/summer) unheated garage. And inside I was following Coach Chad’s higher cadence recommendations instead of dropping down to 70-75rpm.


This is a most interesting question, and I don’t think we have a consensus. Here are some points to consider:

  1. The principle of specificity indicates that you should train to the demands of your race and this means perhaps some tempo or Sweet Spot training trying to match the duration of your climbs.

  2. There’s another school of thought that says you should instead focus on riding a lot of endurance volume, tempo and below and focus on short (10-15m) hard efforts and fatigue resistance. If you look at the training of professional cyclists, this is what they do.

I’m very curious to hear other’s perspectives.

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I’m doing 2 right now, and a couple weeks ago did a 5000’ climbing route with two ~30 minute climbs. Had no problems doing those tempo, finished strong, and followed that Sunday climb with another two 10-11 hour weeks. This approach appears to be working, although I haven’t tested it yet on a big climb. The other key for me over the last 3 months has been to do a lot of low/med/high cadence work.

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Get used to climbing Alpe du Zwift and VenTop on Zwift…and put the trainer resistance +75%, at least.

Simulates actual climbing and the lengths suit your goals.

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my 2cents for Z - slam it to 100% if you want to simulate actual climbing.

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In this video, Dylan Johnson advocates for a mix of the two approaches:

  1. Keep Volume High
  2. Count the long tempo, SST as one of your hard days.
  3. Keep it under 2 hard days.
  4. Use this scheme for the BUILD…after you have done a proper base season.

This approach sounds good to me.


This is almost exactly my plan - Tempo Tuesday, Endurance Wednesday & Tempo Thursday with 2 x long endurance at the weekend.

Moving into build next week for a end of March 6h race.


To add to what else is mentioned here… one other factor that can make climbing difficult is that while you are putting out lots of effort, you are moving slow. This means your real wheel is spinning slower than it would on flat ground for that same effort, so you have less benefit from the flywheel effect of your wheel. Anecdotally, this means my sustainable high-end power can easily be 20 watts lower than it would be on flat ground.

If you want to train this aspect on the trainer, then either use erg mode while in the small chain ring, or use resistance mode and do some of the climbs in Zwift if you use that.


As long as you have the gearing for it, absolutely. I have an old-school, dedicated trainer bike with a limited gearing range, so I tend to be ~60-65%.

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I know your issue. I visit CO each Summer to ride and those rides involve long 1-2 hour climbs. The advice above is basically what I have done - longer and longer tempo/sweet spot intervals on my trainer combined with long weekend endurance rides in the TX summer heat. You need both the sustained power for the 1.5 hour climb and the endurance for an 8 hour day in the saddle.

Although it looks like this course tops out about 5k elevation, keep in mind your FTP will drop some at altitude.

And check your gearing - you may want a smaller chainring for this than you might typically run in TX.

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Looking at the very long climbs I did in Tenerife in November I averaging just mid Z2 up 1-2h climb, with the occasional stuff in higher zones when the gradient needs it. It was faster than most folk I rode with though. I reckon for a one off I could have upped it comfortably as my fastest time up Teide was my 6th and last day cycling.

For training though in pretty flat here I followed a TR 40k TT plan which had a lot of SS stuff. With a mixture of the other zones.

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3 watts/kg is a good pace for these climbs in a relax setting, in a race you gotta give it a bit more.

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Thanks everyone. Looks like building longer tempo and sweet spot. Closer to the race I may join Zwift and tackle some of those climbs mentioned above. I do one trail ride on the weekend. Building on the vert each week as well as time. Don’t get the long climbs but lots of short punchy stuff that adds up. Don’t have a power meter on my mtb so I’ll be going off heart rate when I race.

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You are looking at a 5-6 hour net effort devided between those climbs.
Alls you can do is all you can do.
How hard can you ride for 5 hours with easy bits in between?
For this type of effort you need volume, volume and some more volume. All else is optional.

Some will say you need to work on “energy systems”. Intervals, cadance work, seated, standing etc. All small potatoes.
You need to put in the hours to survive. Get your body ready to ride and work for 8 hours. Get used to eating and drinking big amounts on the bike.

You do not need to do a single interval.

What effort should you ride those climbs at?
You will not have a choice. And after a couple of months you will know exactly.

RGT usually have the Stelvio or Ventoux free if you want a cheap alternative to Zwift.

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Empirically I see a lot of torque when climbing >6% grades, and for context I’m 2.7-3.0W/kg at FTP. So in my humble opinion, one objective is simulating that torque either on flat ground or on the trainer.

For example here is the last 3.3 miles at 7.5% gradient (the last third of a 9.85 miles HC climb), its about 36 minutes at an average speed of 5.5mph:

  • 30-36 Nm is the broad peak of torque (spent about 30% of time between 30-36)
  • 66rpm avg cadence
  • 230W NP
  • .88 IF
  • 149bpm avg HR

A month later I joined TR, and after a 3 week off-season did the TR 8-min test and dropped my FTP from 260 to 249.

Here is the 3rd 20-minute interval from Eclipse, about 2 months after the climb above. TR controlling trainer, recorded in Zwift:

  • 20-24 Nm torque
  • 92rpm avg cadence
  • 212W NP
  • .85 IF
  • 147bpm avg HR

Comparing the outside climb to Eclipse 20-min interval on the trainer, the inside one happens to have a little lower IF at a little lower HR.

The big difference is torque between those efforts.

You can train that in the big chainring on flat ground, or on the trainer. Here is the first 4x8-min interval at 80% FTP (.81 IF), where I dropped cadence in order to generate more torque:

The broad part of torque is 34-38 Nm, in line with the 7.5% climb above. That was done on completely flat ground at sea level, and its just as easy to do that on a trainer (using Standard or Resistance modes, or Sim mode and Zwift/RGT/etc). My coach likes to see these done fully aerobic, something around 75-80% FTP, rather than at higher power.

At least for this 2.7-3W/kg rider, focusing on torque, rather than big vs little chainring, is my objective in order to prepare for long climbs. I’ve done nearly all my climbing simulations outside in the big chainring at lower cadence in order to generate more torque. One of the long-time coaches in this area has focused torque work as part of his training plans (we are at the foothills of the Sierra mountains).

My numbers are my numbers, you need to look at your own numbers because torque is influenced by FTP, gearing, power-to-cadence, and gradient of climbs. Don’t use my example numbers above.

@Lennyeddy if you have power data from previous climbs, then take a look at that and I believe there are free tools that support looking at torque.

Hope that helps.


Wow, I should have finished my masters. I don’t have any power data from actual climbs. I’ve done some big ones in Aspen and Bend but I don’t have a power meter for my bike, just the trainer. I’m gonna read through your post more thoroughly this weekend. Thank you for the the info.