Strava Climbing Challenge Wrap-up



March 15th – April 30th – 96 rides, 3084 miles and 468,661 feet of climbing – the Strava Specialized Climbing Challenge is done.

Last year I climbed a lot because I really like climbing (and descending). This year in this climbing competition, I was driven by a desire to win so I climbed more and rode much more than I have ever ridden before. Jeremy Philippe still has a chance to win if he has any more rides that he hasn’t uploaded yet, and if he does win then he deserves it because all of his climbing was on real mountain climbs in the French Alpes. Earlier in the competition, it was a race to see who could get to the prescribed climbing total 105,312feet first, and Robin Squire in England came out on top there reaching the total in an amazing 9 days. My climbing has been on the short, steep (sometimes super steep) climbs in the southern suburbs of Birmingham. Almost all of my climbing has been on three different ridge lines with hundreds of different roads criss-crossing through neighborhoods on the sides of the hills – see maps below showing only the 96 rides that counted towards the climbing challenge.

Birmingham climbing – routes overlaid on top of each other – darker blue means more times ridden – click to enlarge

Birmingham zoomed out with double oak way ridge line (click to enlarge)

Climbing challenge – rides in three states

The nice side effect of all this riding and climbing is that my racing has gotten even better as well. I assumed that there would be a trade-off as I bumped up the volume, my high end intensity would tank. But this didn’t happen – instead, I tied an all-time max heartrate at the end of a 422 mile week racing the Mississippi Gran Prix. Then the next week, I finished 26th in a really tough Sunny King criterium with some of the best criterium pros in the country near the end of a 475 mile week. Then towards the end of 510 mile week on the 75th mile of the day I finished in the top 20 (20th) of the Athens Terrapin Twilight criterium. I think there really is something to a term that a friend of mine coined – terrain based training (thanks Warren!) The secret is one word – recovery. Terrain forces you to go easy. If your legs are shredded from racing, then when you climb a hill you have to go so slow that it gives your legs a chance to recover. Whereas if you are on flatter terrain with smaller hills, then you might be tempted to punch it up a hill or maintain a fast speed if it is flat. If you are climbing a 15% grade, then it is easy to go 3-5mph and weave up the entire climb, and there is no mental pressure to go even the slightest bit faster. Plus you have a downhill coming up soon where you can coast, soft pedal, or tuck-and-fly instead of having to keep on pedaling on a long mountain descent or on flat roads. I’m going to write up some more about my training strategies in another post.

For now, here are some highlights/timeline from the final day of the challenge:

  • 7:30AM – walk the kids to school
  • 8:15AM – first ride – commute to samford with mind-numbing 25 repeats of skyland dr – 40+mph to 5mph each repeat
  • 9:20AM – teach languages and theory course at samford
  • 10:30AM – help student with senior project
  • 11:30AM – second ride – run into Mark Fisher (almost literally) while doing more repeats on skyland – ride together doing some of my favorite climbs/descents in vestavia
  • 2:50PM – finish second ride and pick up kids from school (literally – see photo below)
  • 3:15PM – third ride – combine mountain brook climbing route with hoover – bluff park climbing route – new max speed coming back down from bluff park
  • 6:45PM – finish third ride, shower, and go on date with kristine while grandparents babysit the kids – firebirds for dinner, world market, barnes and noble coffee, awesome
  • 9:30PM – upload data – see that Jeremy hasn’t uploaded any more rides – start to get paranoid
  • 10:45PM – fourth ride – laps in the dark, tired but full of adrenaline, hammer out 30 laps
  • 11:50PM – upload last ride and screenshots, for some reason i really wanted to get all my data uploaded before midnight

Kristine got a video of Analise and Josiah running with me up the hill to our house on what I thought was going to be my last ride of the day. See video below:

Riding with Josiah after school at the end of my second ride of the day.

Between my third and fourth rides, Kristine and I had an awesome date night.


7 responses to “Strava Climbing Challenge Wrap-up”

  1. Joe Keays Avatar
    Joe Keays

    I think sqeezing in the date was the coolest part. Great summary of the challenge and final day.

  2. Warren Avatar

    Brian – Ok, riding 125 miles and doing 24K feet of climbing is impressive. But taking Christine on a date in the middle of it all? You’re seriously making the rest of us look bad!

  3. aaronwest Avatar

    Awesome achievement and what a strong finish. I barely finished the challenge and it was among the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I cannot imagine all the time you put into this. Congrats on the win!

  4. Fredrik Johnsson Avatar
    Fredrik Johnsson

    Nicely done.

    I really like the way you plot multiple rides on the same map. What software/tool/website are you using to do this? I have been looking for a way to do this for some time.


    1. kartoone Avatar
      kartoone … try it out here – but be forewarned that it will probably be slow and have lots of bugs!

  5. Greg Hill Avatar

    Hey Brian, Awesome… I am a numbers person and I have been curious what bikers could do. Was the 468 661ft a combination of the up and the down? Both ways? or just up?

    I climbed 2 million feet of backcountry skiing in 2010 and I always wondered if it would be possible to best that with a bicycle or running. With your numbers it would seem like you could crush my 2 million feet..


    greg hill

    1. kartoone Avatar

      The 468,661 ft only includes the amount climbed (i.e., “up”). Last year I climbed 2,134,824 ft – you can see all the stats from 2011 here: I’m on track to hit somewhere between 2.5 million and 3 million ft of climbing this year. My wife was a cross country skiier in college (UW-Green Bay) so she will be happy to see that a skiier has read my blog!

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