The recent Discovery program on Lance Armstrong shows that the top rider in the world trains very hard and obsesses over technique and equipment. That is why he’s the top rider in the world.
The Armstrong team are concerned with 10s of grams and how much time penalty there is for them over many, many kilometers. They are concerned with less than 1/2 centimeters of equipment adjustment. They are concerned with elbow positioning and its effect on wind drag. They are concerned with power transfer to the pedals through the shoe base. They are concerned with the positioning of individual seams on his cycling jersey. The list goes on and on to every single aspect of the cycle, clothing, nutrition, technique…
A more technical approach to your question, Steve, might be roughly sketched something like this, but first rephrasing as: “How can I improve my performance for the same race next year?”
You will need to improve conditioning both aerobically and anaerobically.
You will need to improve your hill climbing technique - balance, spin, various macro forms (climbing, seated, arm movement, etc).
You will need to improve your connection to the unicycle, based on #2. I’m thinking here about handle, seat type, seat height, crank length, Q factor, pedal type, footwear type.
You will need to improve your unicycle for climbing. That includes tire type, tube type, tire pressure, unicycle weight, wheel type, frame characteristics.
A very different approach to planning your next race is to say: “How fast do I want to do the next race?” Pick a reasonable improvement; since you (were) a new rider, 50-100% might be reasonable, say 50%. This determines your ground speed. Now take your current unicycles, 24 and 29", and calculate the cadence required for that ground speed. This is how fast you will have to pedal uphill, on average, for the entire race. Now… take your existing unicycles to the race course, and try riding that cadence for a couple of miles uphill on each. Get a feel for that cadence on those configurations.
Now, think about how you might adjust each unicycle to achieve your goal. At the same time, think about how you might adjust your training to achieve your goal. The two work together.
Basically, if your legs are burning, this is an indication that you should: lengthen your cranks, work on leg strength, work on spinning.
If you are gasping for breath, this in an indication that you should: shorten your cranks, work on anaerobic conditioning, work on spinning.
By integrating this sort of steering into your workouts, you will basically steer in a controlled, stable way into a body and unicycle that are the best for you for that race. I imagine that a first-cut suitable unicycle configuration will make itself clear within three months of dedicated effort. Make small changes slowly, but inexorably, like the eye doctor swapping lenses for your glasses.
Since both unicycles are square taper, you are in luck in that you can have a variety of cranks around and swap them back and forth. By spending about $100 or so you can have a huge range of cranks that are suitable for both unicycles.
Although there’s no substitute for training and heart and guts, there’s also no substitute for good, properly configured equipment.
Anyhow, there’s something else to think about in addition to the august opinions above.
I can see you next time, reaching that cheering crowd, but you don’t see them, because you are tight, focused, leaning into the hill, sprinting for the best time possible.