Why hillclimbs?

i rode my first competitive hillclimb of the season ‘proper’ this week. that’s discounting the Shap Fell back in May and the Gillingham club event. It took in Stout’s Hill in the Cotswolds, rising sharply up the escarpment at a pretty intense rate. Whilst riding the warm-up and then the race i got to thinking about the low-level psychopathic disorder that surely leads people to choose hillclimbs as their event of choice, and questioned why i was doing it, but perhaps more pertinently, why i was enjoying it. i came up with the following reasons, some of which aren’t reasons at all…

1. whenever driving up a section of road with gentle inclines, then hairpins, perhaps a stupidly steep section, i always imagine what it would be like to ride it and feel a sense of regret that i’m not on my bike at that precise moment.

2. hillclimbs are utterly, completely honest. they really hurt. they are not gifts. it doesn’t matter what day of the week or time of day it is, it’s going to be incredibly horrible, and if it isn’t, you haven’t put in enough effort. furthermore, a conventional ‘float’ day would probably be even worse; hot, clammy and oppressive.

3. specific hillclimbs aren’t comparable to any other event. you can only compare your result on a hillclimb with the same hillclimb, either a year later or whenever else you get to ride it. this is unlike timetrialling, where a 57 on a sporting course is probably a far greater achievement than a 53 on the r25 (imagine the racing sequence in disney’s original version of tron and you’re getting close to the outright rapidity of the r25) and yet the times stand for comparison in race entries. Absurdly quick times acheived on drag strips tell you little of the all round abilities of the cyclist involved (having said that, i would very much like to post an absurdly quick time on a drag strip anyway).

4. there is something intoxicating about the relentless drive to surge uphill in a hillclimb, how within a few short minutes you experience a huge range of utterly overwhelming competitive and anti-competitive instincts. never is the urge sharper to give up than in a hillclimb, this is because of the excess of pain and the mental turmoil caused by seeking to overrule the pain for those short, few minutes.

5. they are great for me personally because i am relatively good at them. i am not going to ignore this fact in terms of morale and confidence. it’s great to feel that you are good at something. when i turned up the Dursley event this week, in the absence of James Dobbin everyone seemed to unanimously accept that i was going to win. i knew it was likely, but refused to countenance the fact that i might. however, i was happy and felt a sense of gratitude towards my peers who clearly had a level of respect for my hillclimbing.

For Thursday’s event i rode the hill before hand as a warm-up, assessing the hill and when to really floor it. this took 5.50, which wasn’t that much slower than my PB last year of 5.30. this was interesting. In the event itself i managed a 5.11, 10 seconds outside James Dobbin’s course record and noticeably quicker than this time last year. this suggests my season’s base is working well, that i am ahead of the curve compared to last year, and if train hard and choose my events carefully i could be in for a good season. fingers crossed.

Here’s the warm-up compared to the actual climb…

Warm Up
Climb Proper

An interesting observation: hillclimbs are intense efforts, it’s very hard to dose it when your heartrate shoots through the roof even on the warm-up which was pretty much also in zone 5. I love the green elevation lines on these graphs, they make me laugh.

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