Swains Lane hill climb race

Climber’s cough plagues me. My lungs burn. It is six hours since I raced up Swains Lane in the brilliant Rollapaluza Urban Hill Climb race. Regrets? Sure, but only my tactics!

Hosted on my local hill, Swains Lane, a short sharp lung buster I’ve had an on-off relationship with for many a year. I’ve climbed it 94 times in 4 years, a tiny amount considering I think of this as my local hill.

Why? Mentally Swains Lane has gotten into my psyche. It is the hill I think about when I talk about hill climbing, the hill I think about when I imagine pain. Lots of pain.

Climbing Swains Lane

Rollapaluza Urban Hill Climb 2016
Almost there

Many a moon ago, I was the fifth quickest rider up this hill, my personal best is now down to 17th on the Strava leaderboards. I remember that old ride, it made me happy for at least a week (I’d been focussed on this achievement for about two years!)

There’s just something irresistible about this hill. It’s a mere speed bump in the grand scheme of hills yet any hill ridden full gas will challenge you. Especially this one. It’s a bugger to pace.

The steepest section is near the middle leaving you with the hill climber’s classic dilemma: fast start or strong finish? If you think you can have both you’ve not ridden hard enough!

Tucked away from London traffic on a way street, walled on either side once you hit the halfway mark, the climb becomes your very own amphitheatre of pain, a walled colosseum where the ferocious gradient awaits, the crowd baying for blood, sweat and tears.

The race

Rollapaluza Urban Hill Climb 2016
Yours truly

This was my first Urban Hill Climb and only my second competitive race. Once again I loved it. Big crowds, lots of noise, photographers, commentary on the tanoy – this is as close as most of us will get to feeling like a pro.

Not that I felt pro when I crossed the finish line. I felt pains I’ve never had before despite many years of hill climbing. My hamstrings were crying, a weird pain I’ve never experienced.

Lungs burning, I gulped for air like a fish out of water. My whole body was trembling so great was my effort. Not as bad as the chap who puked up though. Oh no.

I remember only snippets of the climb. Accelerating away from the start gates and reminding myself to stay low, to get seated quickly. Almost half way and checking my heartrate – high, but as planned, trying to pace myself for the steep wall ahead, of which I remember nothing!

Steep gradient behind me, I was out of the saddle mashing a big gear way too slowly to be efficient, that horrible feeling of coming to a standstill. The finish, the pain.

How did I do? A modest 55th, my time ‘only’ 20 seconds off the podium. Those 20 seconds are a lifetime on Swains Lane yet my 3 year old PB is a good fifteen seconds quicker than this ride, so I have hope, assuming I’ve not long since peaked!

On the day I’d given the climb 100%. My only errors were starting too quickly (amateur!) and trying to grind my way to the finish when I would have been better off sitting and spinning.

All in all I was happy with my performance. The wheels have fallen off my training plan in the last couple of months and I never expected to set any PBs on this ride. My focus now is to continue my improvement in form with the aim of setting a few PBs up certain local hill climbs later this month.

Entertained by pain

Cargo bike at Rollapaluza Urban Hill Climb 2016
A welcome helping hand

Once again I couldn’t resist watching the pain faces of my fellow riders, clinging on for the finish line, weaving and wobbling, the weary dance of the wounded, the finish line their only hope of respite. Huge respect to the riders who rode up the hill on cargo bikes complete with small child in the front! Ouch.

It was great to see so many youth and women riders, super quick too, especially the youth, some of who finished in the top riders overall.

A huge well done to the winner, Isaac Mundy who smashed the course record and finished 10s ahead of the nearest challenger. Just 4 seconds separated places 2-15! Emma Grant took the QOM and David Dugdale was the strongest veteran. Nathan Huynh was junior champion from a very strong youth field (joint second in the overall too – wow).

A great day out courtesy of the organisers and volunteers, oh, and the weather gods who held back the majority of the forecast rain everyone had feared.

The next day I went hunting more hills, beating four long standing PBs, my legs loose, as if the race the day before had unlocked some new super hill climbing power. Or form, as others call it! Onwards, and as ever, upwards.

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Image 1, Ben Scruton, image 3: Yours truly, courtesy of Andy Thornely (thank you)


5 thoughts on “Swains Lane hill climb race

  1. You’ve captured it nicely. I see the national hill climb champs is on next weekend near Matlock in Debyshire – hill climbing seems to be drawing crowds and getting some decent attention these days. As you say, entertained by pain!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks RT – yes, very exciting for next week. The event’s becoming quite big now, you can even bet on the national hill champion! I love the fact that it’s essentially a month of pain and then we all go back to riding those beautifully flat roads for a while. In fact, season ends and the climbing we do is on to the sofa!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really great post!! As always, your writing is extremely descriptive, leaving me feeling like I did the ride myself. The way you capture the feelings that a cyclist endures during such things is incredible!!! And, hey, there are more of us female riders out there than you realize 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks JustAGirl, glad to take you along on the ride! It’s been really great entering these hill climb races and seeing so many female and young riders, great for cycling. Hopefully we’ll see more media coverage of the women’s tour at a pro level too.


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