real life cycling

Why ventilate, when you can hyperventilate?

As anyone familiar with the cycling press will be aware, it is awash with articles promising fantastic improvements in bike related performance; If you want to become faster on your bike, there are hundreds of journalists out there telling you exactly how to go about it.

What does this tell us?

It tells us that an article with the title “how to ride faster in 5 easy steps” will generate enough hits to keep a cycling website in business for another month – add another ‘confession’ from Lance Armstrong and a story about an angry motorist attacking a cycling commuter, and you’ve got the holy trinity of the cycling press.

It also tells us that although everyone wants to ride faster the sports science behind this is not always black and white, and so the magazines and the websites become clogged up with theories about how your average rank amateur can up their game.

Someone needs to cut to the chase…

You’ve tried spinning, interval training and clocking up base mileage, your diet consists of fruit, nuts, and a variety of so-called super-foods, and you’ve refined your riding position so that aerodynamically speaking you resemble (at least in your own mind) a stealth bomber wrapped in lycra.

The time has now come to take that final step, and embrace that much underrated training state of the true amateur cyclist: hyperventilation.

Put simply, if you’re aren’t hyperventilating, can you really look yourself in the eye and say you are trying as hard as possible?

To find yourself hyperventilating is to be truly examining the outer limits of your potential – it’s that fine line between pushing the boundaries and pushing up daisies which really makes you feel alive.

(Not to be confused with the humble panic attack, the fitness benefits of which are, at best, inconclusive.)

I did my own brief study on this recently as, while out for a ride in Cumbria and with a good few dozen miles already in my legs, I approached the mighty Hardknott Pass: 2.5 kilometres in length and nearly 300 metres of height gain, with a brutal gradient which hits 33% in places.

Hardknott Pass – Images:

As it loomed on the horizon I felt my heart start to race and my legs quiver at the mere thought of what was to come. I instinctively knew that this state of rising panic was not going to help my efforts to scale this climb – even the audience of docile Cumbrian sheep seemed to be showing signs of mild concern.

Taking strength from the moral support of the sheep, and making a mental note to cut down on the pre-ride caffeine intake in future, I had reached a point of calm by the foot of the climb, but this respite was brief.

Within a couple of murderously steep hairpins I had already reached that Zen point of hyperventilation that reveals a fundamental fact of cycling: the world is a very simple place when it’s reduced to two simple tasks…

Keep the bike moving forward, and don’t black out.

Over the course of the next kilometre I did indeed keep the bike moving forward, but my memory of how I achieved that is sketchy at best. As I reached the top, in my mind’s eye I had the heroic look of a pro-cyclist cresting an alpine summit, all lean rippling muscles, wide eyes, and grimace of perfectly photo-shopped suffering.

Hardknott Pass (Image:
Hardknott Pass

In reality I was gasping for breath, bent across my bike in effort, and undoubtedly weaving slightly in a battle with gravity. In short, I was deep into the embrace of hyperventilation.

But you couldn’t fault me for effort – that’s the beauty of it.

Of course, if I’m going to go to the trouble of hyperventilating my way up one of Britain’s most fearsome climbs then I want to know what my PB is. How else can I bask in the fitness benefits to be gained from this most pure of training techniques?

As the saying goes: “If you see me collapse, pause my Garmin”.

Famous last words?

I wait in great anticipation for the next round of articles in the mainstream cycling media: “Hyperventilate your way to sportive success”, “How to turn your panic attacks into marginal gains”, and “Why ventilate, when you can hyperventilate?”

Watch this space, it’s bound to catch on.

20 comments on “Why ventilate, when you can hyperventilate?

  1. Excellent suggestions there. My own next blog will be entitled “5 easy ways to drive Lance Armstrong off the road”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice post brother, it never fails to surprise me how many different ways they can come up with to write “Speed=Duration×Intensity”. Pedal stroke tips are great, as are intervals and hill repeats (or one at 20-25% [!]) but in the end, it’s just duration and intensity.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If you see me collapse, pause my Garmin. Nice. Very envious you’re in the Lakes. Love those climbs and valley rides. Was there last year to tackle Hardknott on my birthday. Not much of a gift!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s phenomenal cycling country – not much in the way of flat tarmac that’s for sure, but even beyond the well known climbs like Hardknott, Honister etc. there’s a whole world of proper rugged riding. I’m in Lancaster, so its only a short hop North for me.


      • I’d be there every week! Well, once a month when the legs have recovered! Have you made it over to Great Dun Fell too? A much more gentle affair but a great climb.


      • I haven’t got around to riding Great Dun Fell for some reason, but I hear great things about it – it’s definitely on the to-do list. A steady gradient with steep sections I believe, which is just my cup of tea

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “Moral support from the sheep” – great.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. gerry miller

    As someone once said – “you know you’re climbing too slowly when a butterfly can fly into your spokes and out the other side

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like that! On the steep stuff in Cumbria the bike stops between pedal strokes, probably enough for a small bird to slip between the spokes!


      • gerry miller

        I was once climbing so slowly up the Mur de Peguère here in Ariège (the T de F went up it in 2011 or 12) that I’m sure one of our local buzzards went between my frame tubes …

        Liked by 1 person

  6. LOL. As one who has written my share of articles on how to ride faster, I marvel at your good spirited take down and extremely well written and funny piece about an actual riding experience. Chapeau!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Look mum no hands! | ragtime cyclist

  8. Pingback: How to be a cyclist when you’re “lockdown fit” – road|THEORY

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