It’s been nearly 10 weeks since I last raced. The European Duathlon Championships were the priority for my season and since then I’ve just gone back to basics and enjoyed my training. In the past couple of years I’ve tended to fill the season with as many races as I can squeeze in. Races can be great, they provide a focus to make you train rather than putting your feet up, drinking beer and eating barbecued food like a normal person all summer. They can also be an antidote to periods of self-doubt as they provide regular feedback on fitness. I rarely train as hard as I race so when I’m not racing it can be difficult to truly know what my current level is.
However, one of the issues I had last year with such regular racing was the mental toll that they can take. I don’t really race for fun. I enjoy the feeling after a race, but the build-up to a race can be a bit stressful and the races themselves always bloody hurt. So after Romania I decided that I’d look ahead a few months and focus on hill climbs in the Autumn, and then after that the small matter of a local Ultra-Marathon in April (more about that another day…)
I love the local hill climb series. For about 8 weeks in September and October there are a handful of short races on steep hills in obscure places, involving skinny people in not-enough clothing racing uphill as fast as they can. I now organise one of the races in the series.
This weekend was the start of the series and I travelled down to the Quantocks with a club mate to race up a one mile hill with an average gradient of 8%.
It’s not really a form of racing that suits me. You need to be super lightweight and be able to generate huge amounts of power for a short period of time. It sounds like a sprint but it’s more like a one mile running race. Pacing is everything.
My aim for the last few weeks has been to increase my 5 minute power and lose some weight. Both things that I’ve improved marginally, but nowhere near as much as I hoped.
Luckily my club mate is very similarly matched to me, so we have signed up to a few of the same races and can have our own private battle. Outside of that, my goal was to try and crack the top 20 in a highly-competitive field. People take this weird little niche sport very seriously. Perhaps that’s why it’s so much fun.
I’d never ridden this hill before so we arrived in plenty of time to get in 3 climbs as recces / warm-ups. I did the final one at about 80% effort level. My race went well. It’s hard to describe but roughly somewhere around the minute-mark you go from thinking “this is feeling good” to “Oh my f**king god this is painful, can I sustain this?”.
I tend to start a bit too fast and fade a bit near the end. These days I have a power meter so it’s quite interesting to see the data and compare it to the winners. For this climb I averaged 360 watts for 5 minutes 18 seconds. The top guys are pushing somewhere around 500 watts and finishing a minute faster! Unlike other forms of racing it’s uncategorized so you could be up against Cat 1 or professional riders. The guy who won is National Hill Climb Champion. He did 4 minutes and 10 seconds! I finished 20th so just squeaked my first goal. My clubmate did 5 minutes and 21 seconds to finish in 21st so I just pipped him.
I also spent the rest of the day coughing as a result of the intense exertion. It was a good day out and nice to bump into lots of the hill climb crowd, people who feel like friends even though we only see each other a few times a year standing around feeling slightly awkward in our lycra eating cake in a village hall. Next week is a short half-mile hill just around the corner from home. Already looking forward to it!