I don't know what type of rider I am (apart from a slow one who is enthusiastic but always needs an inhaler). My relationship with hills, in particular, has been an interesting one.
During my first road ride (on a second hand bianchi that I drove 3 hours to pick up), I saw hills as an immediate stop sign. Every speed bump filled me with fear and caused me to change route. Resulting in a short and frustrating ride. When I moved to London in 2014, my head would still go before my legs and I'd clip out before even dipping my toe into the pain cave.
Fast forward past many emotional rides, several years and 1 back operation later and last month I voluntarily cycled to swains lane and repeated it 5 times (just for the fun) and visited Mallorca for a Mountain filled holiday. You've changed.
Everyone has their own way of mentally and physically tackling hills. I’m not a very good climber and it'll forever be a love hate relationship, but here are a few insights I've picked up whilst on the gradients:
Comparing is for silly people.
Every cyclist is well aware that riding is constantly balancing the mental and physical battle. It’s why we love it so much - it feeds a variety of our human needs. One way I have countlessly lost this battle is comparing myself with others. As soon as someone passes me on a hill, I get so demoralised that the pain I was pushing through becomes over bearing and pointless (how dramatic of me). But you don't know their story, their hill tekkers or the amount of training they have done. Ride your own hill. If you don't focus on you, who will?
Suffer to the beat.
Music normally features in all of my blog posts. We know the health and safety rules of headphones, but I’d be lying if I didn't admit to this being one of my hill helpers. It drowns out my heavy breathing which is off putting for everyone involved and I convince myself that I'm having a ‘dance on the pedals’. When in doubt, what would Beyonce do?
Miles for smiles.
I’m procrastinating riding hills by writing this blog about riding hills. We all analyse, read reviews and talk about them a lot. Go find them, be rubbish at them, learn and do better next time. It’s simple and obvious and that's why it works. If you’re concerned about people judging you (which no one does, ever, by the way) go out by yourself. Just you, the hills and Beyonce.
'Shut up legs' - Jens Voigt.
One huge error I make time and time again is stopping when I feel pain. Telling myself that the burn equals failure. Thankfully, I’ve learnt it's quite the opposite. The pain just means you’re pushing yourself - so keep going you hill hero. Our bodies do this wonderful thing of alerting us when we are putting strain on ourselves. What if that signal wasn't an “Owh, you’re hurting me. Stop!” but a “Shit you’re good. Keep going, we're on to something here". Please do this with care - don’t push till you pass out, but try to pedal past your comfort zone. It took me a while to take that leap of faith, but hopefully you’re less of a wuss than me.
'It never gets easier, you just go faster' - Velominati Rules
Following on from the above, don't expect the pain to go away. It doesn't.
Everyone feels fear and everyone feels pain. As soon as you accept that, you’ll be less hard on yourself and your erratic emotions in the saddle. Reach out to others on your ride and speak to them about how they tackle hills. You'll connect in a way only 'cyclists through suffering' do, and they’ll more than likely have better advice than me.
'Not all those that wander are lost' - J. R. R. Tolkien
One way to finding more confidence (and therefore more speed) is finding new hills. Every hill has its own personality, character, beauty and shitness. Meet more and you’ll start to find techniques, coping mechanisms and interesting stories from each of them.
Have a partner in 'hill' crime.
My boyfriend and I set out on a task. We bought the ‘100 greatest climbs’ and started to make our way through them. Planning the route together and knowing we are one step closer to completing all 100, has definitely given the pain a point. Ticking off something on your to do list - we all know how rewarding that feels.
Effort over outcome.
If you based your hill climbing on effort not outcome, you would never fail.
There's so many variables when climbing: weather, fuel, tired legs, breakfast choice or mental capacity that day. Don't be disheartened by the outcome. Every hill effort is worth it. Congrats in advance for your next one, no matter how it goes.
Imagination can sometimes beat reality.
Here is the embarrassing part of the journal. I reveal something I instantly regret.
My name is Kitty and I pretend to be Lizzie Armitstead when climbing.
I visualise the crowds, the peloton, my team mates and what the commentator might be saying about my performance. I'm partly hoping I will attract what I think about (law of attraction) but most of the time, I just like to keep myself entertained and allow my imagination to speak louder than the acid building up in my Lizzie-less legs.
If we didn't like suffering, we wouldn't cycle.
And if we don't cycle, we'll be sad.
So it's simple. Next time you're on a hill:
Be more Beyonce and pretend you're a world champion.