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Learn to Climb a Hill

posted Jun 18, 2015, 12:55 PM by Scott Pell   [ updated Jun 18, 2015, 2:14 PM ]
If you've ever read a good management book, it is usually packed with great, simple analogies. Business, as it turns out, is mostly the application of common sense and wise experience. Most of us have to get our head out of the weeds to be able to come up with good ideas and apply our learned common sense. These opportunities can be few and far between, so you have to take advantage of any opportunity to lift up your head and put down your pencil.

Throughout my career, I've always had something to divert my attention for an hour or so. It has normally been some sort of exercise. When I was younger and a bit more daring, it was cycling. During the week, I would get 20 miles a day, or so, and on the weekend I would get in a long ride. It is certainly a way to clear your head, but it does take a good bit of time. The biggest benefit of cycling is the challenge. There is always something to challenge you, like scorching heat, a nagging headwind or a faster rider that you are trying to keep up with. The biggest challenge is facing a big climb. To survive, you have to learn to climb a hill.

Now, my diversion is Iron Tribe. I've definitely upped the ante on challenges, while reducing the amount of time required. Who knew that 45 minutes could kick your butt more than anything else. But like cycling, there is always a hill to climb. My latest hill was to perform my first unassisted pull-up. Cyclists aren't known for arm strength. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever spent any significant time with any weights that weren't attached to me. On June 9, 2015, I performed my first unassisted pull-up. Now, every day I start and finish the Iron Tribe workout with a pull-up or two, just to make sure I can still do one.

Pull-ups, hills and business problems go together hand in hand. They are challenges that you may or may not be able to overcome, right now. If you want to succeed, you have no choice but to press on. This is why you need to learn to climb a hill.

Climbing hills on a bike are unique, because you cannot quit. If you want to get where you are going, you have no choice but to continue climbing the stinkin' hill. Quitting in the middle of the hill only signs you up for a long walk in cycling shoes, dragging or carrying your bike. If the hill is steep enough, you might need to turn around, just to get the momentum to get up the next rise. Add a few turns to the hill and it feels like it is never going to end. Add a hairpin and you quickly find out about O2 debt. Add a cemetery sign to the route and you have the makings of a great de-motivational poster.

To climb a hill, you have to develop a strategy. Conditioning is necessary, but if you don't have a strategy, you will fail...and you will still have to finish going up the hill. There is always going to be a hill bigger than what you trained to climb, so always have a strategy. Mine is easy:
  1. Know the goal. We don't climb hills, just to climb hills...well, except for a few buddies of mine. The rest of us climb a hill to get it over with then continue the ride to the finish. By the way, races that end at the top of a hill? They really suck.
  2. Don't die. If you die, then you'll never climb the hill. People run out of gas on a hill because they started way too strong. There comes a time when "I got this" don't got this. If you can't see the top, don't climb it like you can see the top. Start slow, conserve energy for when you need it. Believe it or not, you can climb a hill faster, if you have something left in the tank. Sprinting at the end carries much better results than sprinting at the beginning.
  3. Establish a rhythm and stick with it. The best way to keep up a pace is to create a simple rhythm that you can repeat, a whole bunch of times. My rhythm ends up being a 4/4 kinda thing. Then, I get a song stuck in my head, like a hymn in which I can't remember all the words. Humans are creatures of habit, so create a habit and take advantage of it.
  4. Don't stop. The single hardest thing to do on a bike is restart after stopping. Once you restart, you wish you'd stayed by the side of the road a little longer. If you're going to die, well then stop, but make sure you only give yourself a little bit of time. Once you are in a rhythm, it is easier to keep it than start all over.
  5. Get help. I don't care if you like Lance Armstrong or not, but the dude can ride a bike. He also needed help the whole race. Teammates would play their part to get him to the next spot where he could use his strengths. He was pretty awesome on hills, but he relied on people to get him to the point where he could turn on the jets. The helper can help by giving you pointers and advice that make the job of climbing the hill easier.
  6. Be help. Return the favor, do not leave your climbing buddy partway up the hill. The easiest way up a hill is to coach someone up a hill, really. If you're cheering someone on, it is more genuine if you don't look like you're going to pass out. So, suck it up and coach someone up a hill, as you ride alongside.
  7. Repeat. In a tough climb, you have to re-convince yourself that you are going to finish...not just the hill, but the race.
Interestingly enough, this strategy helped me with my first pull-up. I actually did that first pull-up, while showing someone the technique. After working on form for months, a few of us were trying to figure out the timing of a kipping swing. The coach demonstrated, then I helped explain to another person, who was struggling with it. Step one, then step two, then pull-up. "Hey! You did it!!" said the coach. I did it.

Hills and pull-ups, big deal. Do you have any goals at work that look like really big climbs? Same strategy. Personal battles that need to be won? Same. Raising kids? Yep. Exercise goal? Proved it. Now, go climb a hill.