I’m a fat cyclist and here’s how I made peace with climbing

‘These techniques help it suck a little less, and sometimes, I even find myself smiling up a climb,’ says Marley Blonsky

Marley Blonsky riding her bike on the road
(Image credit: Marley Blonsky)

Please welcome our newest Cycling Weekly contributor: Marley Blonsky! Marley is a paid athlete, the co-founder of the All Bodies on Bikes movement, a podcast host, model, advocate and consultant. Honestly, there's not much Marley can't do. She's been a industry friend and inspiration to me for well over a decade, and I'm excited to have her share her wisdom with our Cycling Weekly readers. 

If you've got any questions or topics for Marley to tackle, shoot us an email at: anne.rook@futurenet.com.

- Anne-Marije Rook, North American Editor

In my early years of riding, I hated climbing hills. As a fat cyclist (and yes, I use the word fat intentionally as a neutral descriptor of my body type), climbing hills can be especially challenging due to physics. The heavier the load, the more effort (power and watts) it takes. 

I would go out of my way to avoid them – choosing to load my bike on a bus or riding longer routes that avoided the steepest roads. Looking back, it's kind of amazing how much time and effort I put into avoiding climbs.

Since those early years, however, my attitude towards climbing has changed. While I’m still slow, I’ve learned a few techniques that help it suck a little less, and sometimes, I even find myself smiling up a climb. Here are my top three techniques to embrace climbing, no matter your body size or experience level.

Find the gear and pace that make climbing sustainable for you

Shimano GRX 12 speed

(Image credit: Mirror Media)

I liken climbing a hill to running a marathon – slow and steady wins the race. To make this a reality, however, you need to be intimately familiar with your bike, gear-shifting and your body. Depending on the grade and distance of the hill, pick a gear that allows you to spin comfortably for a long time.

Most of the time for me, this means I’m in my smaller chainring in the front and, depending on the incline, close to (or in) the biggest cog in the back (I’m running the Shimano GRX 2x12 mechanical drivetrain with a 48-31T chainring.)

Maybe more importantly than the gear I’m in, I use my heart rate to determine effort. My goal with this is to keep my heart rate relatively steady even while climbing. I know I’m doing it right if I can maintain a conversation while climbing and roll through the top of the climb without needing to stop, savoring either the flat or downhill that’s to follow.

 Play a game and set small goals during the climb 

A road sign warming there's a hill ahead

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I like to play a game on especially challenging climbs as a way to both motivate and challenge myself. I’ll pick an object 50 to 100 feet in the distance – a telephone pole, sign or tree, and tell myself “ride just to that tree. You can do it.” And when I hit that marker, I pick another one. I repeat this game until I’m up and over the hill. 

This tactic allows me to attack the hill in smaller sections - instead of worrying about the entire incline, I’m only thinking about the next 100 feet.

Savor the sights, smells and, finally, the downhill 

Marley Blonsky races Unbound in 2022

(Image credit: Marley Blonsky)

There’s something magical about slowing down.  Moving at 3 to 4 miles per hour  you can observe everything: patterns on a tree trunk, the crunch of your tires, the smell of the forest. While you’re chugging your way slowly up the hill, savor these sights, sounds and smells. 

When that glorious downhill comes (as it always does), soak it in and let gravity do the work.

Sometimes though, even with my best efforts, I find myself walking and honestly, there is no shame in that. Whether it’s one step or pedal stroke at a time, each forward motion helps get us to our destination.

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