Some days, the hills just stand up and laugh at you.
But with judicious shifting, proper pedaling technique, a positive attitude and persistence, you should be able to laugh right back -- and get over the top with some wind left in your sails.
"The only way to get good at hills is to do them," said Lydia Barter of North Brookfield, a racer in the Worcester Road Club. "A lot of people avoid them, but you'll never get good that way." Not that hills can be avoided in Central Massachusetts.
Barter, 43, was the East Coast women's champion of the Masters Cycle Racing Association in 1991. One hill she tackles regularly goes up to the center of Hardwick from Route 32A.
"It climbs, steadies off, climbs again, levels off again. For people just starting to ride, that type of hill is good. You get time to rest and recover while you're making progress," she said.
Most important, she said, is "to pick your own pace, not keep someone else's pace."
Often, the challenge is as much mental as physical. That's where "The Little Engine That Could" theory comes in. "If you say to yourself, 'I can make this -- at my own pace,' it helps relax you a little, and you're fine," Barter said.
"Once you start climbing comfortably, you actually start looking forward to the hills," she said.
"I try and don't even look up at the hill. I'll keep my head down most of the way so I don't lose confidence," said Andrew Mills, another Worcester Road Club member from North Brookfield. Barter described him as a rider who "kind of floats up hills."
Mills, 16, placed second last Sunday in his category in the New England Regional Road Race, the U.S. Cycling Federation championships for the six-state region. Starting in Ware, the juniors 15-16 course ran 33 miles along the edge of the Quabbin Reservoir.
Mills' advice for hill climbing: "Never push too big of a gear."
Instead of stomping on the pedals, strong riders use a technique called spinning -- pulling the pedals around and up, as if scraping mud off the shoe. It means keeping a fast, steady rhythm (at least 70 pedal revolutions per minute) and shifting gears one by one as the road or trail ascends to maintain that cadence.
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