Not today. It’s Sunday. Rest day. No work, no nothing. Two horrible hill climb races in one day? No thanks, not for me. I awoke rested but still sleepy, my body refusing to wake as if it knew what was ahead. Eugh.
Where the hell was my inner chimp when I needed him? Any other time he’s roaring me on, daring me to ride harder, to hurt more. Only he chooses today to disappear, perhaps finally committing to his long overdue visit to the vets for some rabies inoculations.
I climbed into my Lycra with all the enthusiasm of a human cannonball climbing into the cannon, ready to suffer to entertain others. Yet body and mind both knew there could be no surrender, no DNS next to my name just because I didn’t feel like it. Even if I really, really, really didn’t feel like it. The problem is, hill climbs are as much a mental effort as physical. My legs felt good, not so my head. A long day loomed.
Catford Hill Climb
The most famous hill climb in the UK? Perhaps. I certainly felt honoured to be one of the starters. Until that is I reminded myself that I’d need to climb Yorks Hill, a horrible wall that touches 25%.
I’d only ever ridden the hill once before and so arrived on the start line with a vague idea of the challenge ahead, not quite remembering which of the two gradients I’d studied I’d be climbing first.
Not the best of planning. The week before I’d ridden up my local hill climb, thrilled and buoyed by the nervous anticipation. Not this time. Ahead lay only pain and an unknown climb, difficult to pace, no plan in place.
Sun shining, air crisp, the chill cut through my two autumnal layers. I tried but failed to warm up sufficiently. I arrived at the start line and felt like a fake, a cheat. Intense faces all around, nervous excitement quietening the riders as we awaited our turn.
The starter seemed to have psychic abilities, telling me this was just a club ride, you can do it, he said, nothing to worry about. I needed no calming. Five seconds to go.
3… 2… 1… Go
Heart and head not in it, I span away, the wrong gear forcing an early gear change. With no plan I was riding on feel only I didn’t feel like riding.
The gradient stunned my cold legs and forced me into my lowest gear, legs spinning away, heart rate a good 10bpm below where it should have been. Caution was fine I told myself, there’s two stretches of 25% ahead, I thought, when in fact there was only one as I’d confused the gradients and this was not the Bec climb.
The quiet serenity of the first half of the climb began to fade as the gradient increased and spectators began to holler and shout. You can do it, come on, they encouraged. Unlike other hill climb races I could hear individual chants and quickly lost what little focus I had.
Up, up, up, oh god, that feeling when you know the hill has already beaten you and the worst is still to come. Up, up, up, the crowd thickening, road thinning. A mighty roar. This is brilliant I thought to myself, sedately dragging my sorry self ever upwards. I could almost feel the crowd’s pity, their confusion, for surely I wasn’t even trying?
Reluctantly I climbed out of the saddle, a naughty schoolboy pretending to write when the teacher’s eyes fall upon him. I envied the crowd’s energy.
Out of the saddle, the 25% gradient felt easy, a sure sign I’d gone too slow on the first half of the climb. It dawned on me that I was near the end even though I was expecting the road to climb further still. I span out my easy gear Chris Froome style, speeding over the finish with a little whelp. Man, that was slow, I said to myself between gasps.
My time was 2:36:2, placing me 76 out of 127 starters. In my head I’d had a target of under 2:30, so not far off, yet I’d been quietly hoping to be a good way under my target. Not even in the top 50%! Bah.
Very disappointing, yet such was my mood I really didn’t care. I tried to pick myself up and tell myself redemption was just a few hours away on the Bec hill climb. My mind just laughed. You can kid others but never yourself.
Intermission – The wait
I had over three hours between the two races, enough time for a lovely ride only I couldn’t as I wanted to save my legs for the second race. I bought a coffee in the hope of waking my inner chimp. Amphetamines and electrodes beneath my fingernails would have been a better choice.
Food did little to cheer me. I read the packet of the turkey sandwich. Turkey = 80% turkey. Jesus. Nothing today was giving it 100%. Leaving my warm toasty car and climbing back on my bike seemed to sap any remaining strength I had. Echoes of the crowd from earlier. Up, up, up, up, up.
Bec Hill Climb
White Lane, another hill of much pain, marginally shorter than Yorks Hill yet steeper with two brutal sections of 25% plus. A proper little treat!
Warm-up time. The coffee kicked in. Energy from nowhere, I began psyching myself up anyway I could. Eye of the tiger. Chariots of fire. ET in a basket on the front of my bike, I’m racing to get the little fella back to his spaceship. One man, one mission. To ride as hard as I could.
My legs were less confident, the morning’s effort heavy in my thighs. I arrived early and watched the pain faces of others, poor buggers I thought. Poor me.
On the start line, race face on, ready. Off I went, solid rather than exceptional, my pacing strategy much improved, although I regret remaining seated for the 25% sections.
The crowd roared me on, telling me to breathe, willing me up the climb. I responded and shot off, too early, the finish line still far from reach, pace slowing, argh, legs burning!
Done. 2:23.9 and 65th from 119 starters, again not quite cracking the top 50%. My aim is to finish in the top 20 within in the next two years, so a long, long way to go. My time was 17% slower than 20th place at Cat and 16% slower than 20th place at Bec. So not a lot in it considering how bad I thought I’d gone in the first ride. I’ll be back!
Enjoy the pain of others. Go on…
Catford hill climb video