Sunday, 3 October 2010

Hell Climbing, I mean, Hill Climbing Joy

(courtesy of clubmate Nick Hussey)

I sort of fancy myself a climber, though in reality I'm more of a pint-sized rouleur than a lightweight grimpeur. Still, when the road goes up I tend to do well, so what better way to top off a fine racing season than to try some hill climbing time trials?

Mistake #1: hill climbing is nothing like climbing a hill in a race. Following wheels, attacking off the front, marking others' attacks and setting tempo on the front are all completely different from the all-out lung busting effort that is a typical UK hill climb (more or less five minutes at ~10%). Rarely will you find me at my all-out 5-minute power for longer than a minute or two in a road race unless it's the final few minutes. And most importantly, the pyschological distraction and stress of other riders makes climbing at that intensity in a road race quite a bit more tolerable.

Mistake #2: pacing is pretty crucial. Going out even a bit too hard will be repaid in a thousand agonies. If the race is a short two or three minutes, you might get lucky; at least it's over quick. But for anything longer than five minutes, pacing is really important.

Mistake #3: underestimating how badly it will hurt. I've done three hill climbs now and I feel I've learned a huge amount between the first and the third, but the one thing that hasn't changed is how awful it feels while you're doing it. Proper pacing makes it manageable but that wheezing chesty cough still happens after every one. I have yet to puke at the top so maybe I'm not going hard enough though?

So what is a hill climb about? It's the most intense experience of time-trialling that exists. It's all you and nothing but you out there. The clock is ticking somewhere far away, but in the here and now it's just you... suffering, hearing your own ragged breathing, struggling to turn over the pedals, thinking how badly you're doing, wondering when it will end. If you're lucky you'll see someone ahead of you floundering even worse and use it as mean motivation; if you're unlucky you'll be overtaken by your minute man which only serves to dampen further any enthusiasm you have for hill climbing. The final seconds are a sweet respite as the sight of the finish line promises relief that this will finally be over.

But it's cruelly deceptive, as the first few seconds after the race is over are nearly more painful than the race itself. Gasping for breath, legs jellified, skin tingling, brain insisting that you never do one of these again! All of which disappear in the next minute or two leaving you feeling exhilarated and full of adrenaline. And those feelings last long enough to sign up for the next one.

Me climbing through cowbell corner at the John Bornhoft Memorial Hill Climb (courtesy of clubmate Rich Allen)

1 comment:

RunAbq said...

Your last paragraph very aptly sums up how most of us feel after a grueling race. Very well said!