Wednesday, 4 November 2015

10 thoughts I had during a Hill Climb

There is nothing quite like travelling hundreds of miles for less than 5 minutes of racing. Welcome to the wonderful world of hill climbing. Of course though, it's not just about the actual race. It's the nervous prepping beforehand, the heckling at fellow competitors and not to forget the coffee and cake that is almost always present at a local village hall or church, often dished out by a cycling legend from the 1970s who's job is now also chief timekeeper. What a time.

Hills have long been a favorite of mine, and over the past few years I have seemed to get better and better at getting up them. Last year I took part in my first proper hill climb event, albeit only doing 3 of them and seemed to do ok. This year I was keen to enter a few more and hopefully improve on times/courses that I did last year...

First off were Catford & Bec, two famous hill climbs on the same Sunday in October in Kent, then was the triple header of Riber, Beeley and Bank in the Peak District (again, all on a Sunday) and finally Mott Street in Essex at the start of November. There were a few others I was keen to do, namely the nationals, but that will have to wait until 2016..
  • Catford HC - York Hill - 0.4 miles - 256ft elevation - 2:13 (20th)
  • Bec HC - White Lane - 0.4 miles - 285ft elevation - 2:12
  • Riber Road HC - Riber Road - 0.8 miles - 372ft elevation - 4:09 (16th)
  • Beeley Moor HC - Beeley Lane - 2.5 miles - 734ft elevation - 10:06 (7th)
  • Bank Road HC - Bank Road - 0.4 miles - 258ft elevation - 2:26 (20th)
  • Mott Street HC - Mott Street - 0.6 miles - 213ft elevation - 2:16 (1st)

So, 10 thoughts I had during a Hill Climb?
1) What am I doing?
Pretty much every hill climb I did this year I was sat in a que of 4/5 riders all waiting to set off. Always thinking, what the hell am I doing? Although I do enjoy climbing hills, i'm not quite sure I enjoying climbing hills under such pressure. You too will have these thoughts when you do one. There is always some chat at the start, sometimes along the lines of "shouldn't have eaten that pie yesterday" or "why do we do this?" It's nice to know you're not along in thinking this, yet being a little bit odd, and still wanting to hurt yourself. Before you know it, you're being held up and have a 30 second countdown. Last thought that goes through your head? Pain.

Catford HC

2) How the heck to I pace myself over a 2 minute effort
Earlier in the day, or maybe the night before, you'll be trying to think what kind of pacing strategy would you employ. I often thought this, studied the gradient, the road, looked on street view a few times, and if possible, rode the hill before the event. However, in reality, I found that any pacing ideas or dreams I had were quickly shattered about 5 seconds into any hill climb. I only went full gas. Catford for example is a cruel hill. You start off quick easy, very quick, you know what's around the corner, and you know there are two ramps of 20% + I hit the first one and pretty much stopped, maybe I got my pacing wrong here, but on a hill of around a 2 minute effort I couldn't really take it easy on the "lower slopes"

Bec HC

3) 20 second in, this isn't so bad.
That's what your mind and maybe your legs will tell you, but after about 30 seconds you'll want to cry. I generally found whilst building up speed and a rhythm the pain wasn't too bad, it was all quiet exciting really. Riber HC, for example, starts off on a wide B road, the gradient at this point is around 6%/7% and the pace quite hot. I was feeling great and knew the hill well, there was a small let off in gradient before it ramped to the castle up those 30% switch backs. I paced it perfectly upto here, getting my breathing right and allowing my legs maybe a slight rest... However the final two bends I was a mess, I was on for a good time, but feeling slow and really not sure I could keep going, maybe I went out too hard, maybe everybody feels like this now though? 

Riber HC

4) This is 20% i've pretty much stopped
I had this thought during every hill climb. Catford, yup, Bec? That's right. Riber? Too right. It's the shock to your legs but also your rhythm that does this, sounds obvious, but there is always a bit in my head that says don't slow down, so when you do inevitably slow down don't panic, everybody does, well I hope so. 

Riber, more than 20%

5)  I'm going to be sick
Absolutely guaranteed to think this. It's the pain in your legs, your arms and your lungs. Rarly do you feel this pain in anything other than a hill climb. That said, I've never actually been sick, or even seen anybody be sick, and that's with a Cornish pasty before the Bec Hill Climb.

6) I thought the finish was around this corner?
So i'm about 3/4 way through and all I can think is where is the finish? It doesn't matter how many times you have ridden the hill, there is always an extra bend and one section longer than you think. Riber is a classic example, there are 5 hairpins, I always think there are 4. Beeley Moor, at 2.5 miles is the same, a fantastic climb through the woods before a long (very long) straight section of road that gradually lessens in gradient. This tricks your mind into thinking you should be going quicker than the Garmin was telling you. There are no landmarks to aim for, just a bleak moor. 

Beeley Moor Finish

7) Is that blood in my mouth?
It's usually the last 30 seconds to a minute that hurt the most. It's also usually at this point you get a weird taste in your mouth, I'm not sure what this actually is. The combination of (usually) cold and wet air and your lungs and heart working at maximum capacity means it's not enjoyable. Riber was a key example of this. Awful. 
I'm going to be sick

8) How can these guys knock 30 seconds + off my time?
You don't really have too much time to think about anything but the pain, but I remember this during Bank Road and Beeley Moor in particular that I know guys will be knocking 40 seconds to a minute in some cases off my time. Seriously, I'm giving it everything I have, literally, nothing left. It's perhaps even more impressive when you see these performances, like at Catford & Bec, and seeing Richard Bussell (now national HC champ) storm to victory on Catford, was incredibly impressive, mainly because I've just ridden up that same hill, but 25 seconds slower over the 0.4 miles. Just how can I get that quick? 

9) Why am I doing this, i'm 6ft4". I'm never going to be a lightweight
Right after seeing other riders do the climb, and do it quicker, you start to think where can I get some help, the obvious place is the bike. I'm running a Giant TCR Advanced, Mainly standard bar the wheels, that are the latest Ultegras. So it's fair to say I could knock a fair bit off the big to make some gains, I mean though, I didn't even bother removing the bottle cages. I went through all these thoughts, but then it kind of hit me, I'm 6ft 4" I'm never realistically going to weight in at sub 65kg... That said, that Froome champ seems to climb well for a tall fella...

10) That was awesome, what's the next one?
I've basically listed 9 points why I would not do a hill climb, or why I wouldn't recommend one to a friend. However, after about 10 seconds from when you've finished you'll be thinking about when the next hill climb is. The whole event and race are superb, truly British in tradition and a right laugh. If you've never done one, just git it a go, I mean, what's the worst that can happen? 

Mott Street Cake.

So, that's my take on hill climbs. I love them, I love everything about them, but they are certainly interesting.

I'm pretty pleased with how I did in general this season. My Catford time was quicker by 2 seconds, which was both a surprise and a pleasure, Bec slightly slower, but then that's no big deal. Perhaps one of the important things I'll take away from this short season is that longer hills are better for me in terms of performance, and I proved this on Beeley Moor where I came 7th, chuffed with that, and it was great to climb/race up something longer than 2 minutes... Next year I'll be looking to ride the national and improve on this year's times, might even remove my bottle cages, you never know.

Thanks again for reading. 

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