By Greg Conderacci
During his life, the great Native American chief Crazy Horse found himself pursued many times – by the U.S. Army, scouts, and members of rival tribes. But they could never catch him, despite riding their horses into the ground in efforts to do so.
After his death, a friend disclosed the great warrior’s secret. On level stretches and down hills, Crazy Horse would ride fast. But he walked his horse up the hills.
The lesson for long-distance riders is profound: don’t jam up the hills and don’t coast down them. The chief was no exercise physiologist. But he knew what any of them would tell you today: it’s hard to replace the energy you burn at peak efforts. And the corollary principle, (as Dr. Roger Bannister preached before breaking the Four Minute Mile Barrier the first time), is that a relatively even heart rate will give you the best performance in the long run.
Destroying the Pack – or Yourself?
Yet on many rides, testosterone-infused riders will go sprinting up hills like they’re out to win a polka-dot jersey in the Tour de France. The reason is, of course, is that’s what the pro hot shots do. But the pros are trying to destroy the rest of the pack before they destroy themselves.
On many century rides, long Randonneuring brevets, or 12- or 24-hour races, that math doesn’t work. In those events, there won’t be much of a peloton after 30 to 50 miles. You’ll be riding alone or with a couple other riders that you’ll want to keep to share the drafting duties.
I came by this wisdom naturally – by getting too old to keep up on the hills. To my amazement, I caught riders going down the hills who had dropped me on the way up. Very often, on the longer rides, it took me 50, 60 or more miles to “catch” the polka-dot jersey contenders who often finished many miles behind me.
So, the next time you’re on a long ride, resist the temptation to go rocketing up the hills. To use a metaphor Crazy Horse would appreciate, “keep your powder dry.” You’ll need it down the road.
Greg Conderacci is a marketing consultant and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, non-profit entrepreneur, and investment bank chief marketing officer. In Getting UP!, he brings you the same skills he teaches at a top graduate school and Fortune 500 companies. Lots of people promise better performance … Greg proves it. Using his energy techniques, in 2015 he rode a bicycle across America in just 18 days — averaging 150 miles a day.
Knowing this great advice and actually applying it are two different beasts! Maybe I’ll “get it” some day. In the meantime, wanna race to the the town sign? ; )
Wow, what an interesting article. Way back in the late 70’s and into the early 80’s when I use to race unprofessionally in the mountains of S California, I use to go down hills pedaling as fast as I could even if there was not felt physical effort on the cranks I did it anyways, but my thought was to keep my legs moving not about why Crazy Horse did that, then on uphill climbs I wouldn’t try to max out my cardo system or my legs because it would make me too tired to go fast and maintain a faster speed on flats. I don’t know if my tactic worked though because I never won a race! All I know is that by doing what I did I had more energy for doing faster flats.
Rolling Wheels says
Before I starting riding I was a runner, I have run 14 Marathons, and practiced go out and run the first half slower then the last half, couldn’t believe how many I caught that passed me, I do the same when I ride a century go out easy with a comfortable pace and slowly increase my speed in the last half, ,let the downhills be your friends
Jeff Branstetter says
Great article, thanks for sharing this wisdom. This strategy of going easy up the hills will help my “old” knees as well.