Until now, I have tried to make my cycling trips as flat as possible. I have focused on trying to get some miles into my legs without making the miles too hard. Although this is easier said than done in the North of Scotland, the distances I’ve been covering have made it possible.
This has been a good strategy in building my general strength and fitness, as well as developing my bike handling skills, but it’s only going to take me so far. In particular, I’m going to need to get used to some more challenging hills before I am ready to take on the “Ride the North” (RtN)challenge in late August.
Today was the first of my introduction to hills. To provide the education, I rode with two friends who will be joining me on the RtN. They are experienced cyclists and more than happy to share their knowledge (if only it was so easy to share strength and stamina!).
The plan was to head into the hills and attempt the most challenging climb we’d face during the RtN (The infamous Suie). Recognising that it’s not to be taken lightly, we took the hill on the “easy” way. This meant it would be less steep, but longer. A stiff and chilly wind, bordering on “brutal” at times, made the whole outing a bit more “fun”.
The first two lessons of the day had surprisingly little to do with hills:
- Be precise on your meeting instructions
It turns out that even relatively small towns can have more than one shop of the same brand. Our plan to “Meet outside the Co-Op at 07.45” was slightly flawed. Less than 100 metres apart, the two shops were not in line of sight from each other. Inevitably, therefore I waited outside one, while Mr P & Mr W waited around the corner, thinking I’d slept in.
- Check your bike after it’s been to the shop
It wasn’t until we’d set off that Mr W discovered his seat had been adjusted while it had been in the (bike) shop. This resulted in an abortive start to our outing. Fortunately it was a simple fix, and we had the necessary tools. Today it was an amusing irritation, but t could easily have been something more material which would have ruined the ride.
- Start slow, build momentum
I struggled on the first two significant climbs of the day. My heart rate shot up quickly, rocketing above my maximum level. Unfortunately I didn’t have the gears to allow me to change down and catch a breath. Instead, I had to experience the humiliation of completing some of the climbs on foot.
By the third climb I had a better strategy: Rather than pushing hard, I eased right off at the start of the climb, changing down into an “easy” gear. It’s much easier to avoid hitting the wall, than it is to re-cover from it (while still on the bike at least!).
Even with this approach, I may still invest in some new chainrings before the RtN to give me a little extra scope on the steeper hills.
- Don’t expect to do it all in one go
When I did athletics, we’d describe a sudden and catastrophic loss of strength / energy as “dying”. This phrase has taken on different connotations for me over the past 9 months.
I now recognise that it’s important to stay within safe limits and not push myself too hard. There is absolutely no reason to risk hurting myself.
If this means getting off and walking from time to time, so be it. There’s always next time.,, next time I will be better prepared, and more able.
So, I’ve had my initial introduction. The big hills still make me nervous. We’ve confirmed that I have a long way to go before I’m ready to take them on, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. After all, I can only prepare one turn of the pedals at a time!