It’s a simple line. A line you choose to cross, then a line you must cross, a line that marks the start and the line that marks the finish.The problem with a Line is that it can have so many meanings. It can also be the line attached to the hook that draws you in …. then where do you draw the line ? A line you, yourself, have drawn in the sand….
Hello. They call me Rapid, or Rapid Rich if you want to be formal. I’ve been asked to contribute to this Blog because of my exerts. Not because I am an athlete, or a talent, or physically fit. Or even that competitive in my chosen sport, but because I cross that line.
I cross that line most weekends during September and October because that is when Hill Climbing season starts !
Before I explain the incredible sense of achievement and amount of effort that contesting a Hill Climb brings, I would just like to explain my story and how I became transfixed (some say obsessed), by this purest of sports.
Virtually 6 years ago to the day, I was 51 years old and creeping up towards 15 and half stone ( 98 kgs). Being only 5’8”, not only was I NHS ‘obese’ but much, much worse. I had to ‘un-tuck’ my shirt ! The other tell tale sign was that I didn’t recognise myself in photos. Surely that swollen featured human was not the ‘Rapid Rich’ that I had known since he was a skinny kid !
Although I did play a little squash and even went Fencing, I had no real fitness. I turned to ‘The Bike’. Initially I spent about £800 with the theory it was enough to keep me at it, but not too cheap that it was poor equipment. I need not have worried. I did a 6 mile Ride and fell off on my cleats as soon as I got home. It mattered not. As I lay, slightly embarrassed with a bleeding knee on the floor, I was hooked. That was the first Line I crossed.
My riding went crazy. From struggling to do 35 miles on my first ‘big run’ within 9 months I rode 200 miles in one day solo from Doncaster to Anglesey. And that was the day after my biggest Club ride of 126 miles! I even started Racing! I was getting fit for the very first time in my life since I lost my natural youthful fitness, and I loved it.
I found myself walking tall, feeling (and looking) good in smaller size clothes. I could even ‘tuck in’ again. Knowing very little about Cycling, the Sport or its history, a friend of mine introduced me to something you probably all know about now – STRAVA!
This was the next line I crossed. It gave me segments which are only ‘virtual’ start and finish lines, and this gave me quantifiable results and self drawn targets. I just had to improve. I had to go faster, harder. I noticed the best segments where I could excel were hills – especially short sharp ones. I simply loved the feeling of giving everything I had and as soon as I got home I would ‘upload’ my Ride to see my PBs, Cups and KOMs.
( You do however need to also consider this was in 2012 /13 and there were far far less people on Strava than there are today, so it was much easier to get top 10 places).
Now, I’ve raced Motorcross (badly), motorcycles and cars on the track (with some success). I’ve driven a Rally Car including doing the RAC Rally for 5 years. I threw away a brilliant result in 1995 of 27th overall in a 2 wheel drive non works car. Me and my Co-Drivers desire to drive ‘flat out’ resulted in a last stage crash with less than 12 miles to go. This meant we dropped down to 47th (still not bad). – gutted.
It is this competitive element to be the best or fastest that has not left me. As I said before, I am no athlete. The years are clocking up, but my brain is still of the 17 year old motorbike Racer that believes I am competitive. I am Rapid Rich!
Is this my problem? My brain will simply not accept that I am not competitive? So when I (almost accidentally) came across Hill Climbing, it was my brain, my competitive spirit that got me up those Hills. My brain, my desire to succeed, was my biggest muscle by far.
I’ve just finished my specialised, bespoke Hill Climb bike. Less than 5kg of pure beauty. A machine made to do nothing but go up hills. Fast. Although I have a fair engineering background, I’ve had great support, help and advice from Cycles In Motion on this project and it continues to develop.
A full season on Hill Climbing in 2017 gave me some fair results for my age. But seeing the efforts by the other talented Riders simply inspired me.
This was a sport that had no prima donnas. Each competitor was equal. Not in time and ability but in effort. That was the attribute I had most of; effort. The determination and an inner drive to make me push my body far, FAR beyond its own real limits.
The beauty of Hill Climbing is that even the top Riders give you total respect for pinning on that number. As long as you give it 100 % .I don’t mean 99%, that just does not cut the mustard.
I ride for 3RT Cycling. On Hill Climb events I’m usually accompanied by a couple of close friends and great competitors, Rick Bailey and Calum Brown. They have simply inspired and driven me to push myself even further. As a trio we are called ‘The Northern Shandy’s’ with the ethos of the name being ‘undiluted effort’. … As a true northern shandy comes without the lemonade!! #nails
So what is Hill Climbing ?
Well it’s a Rider and a Bicycle. Its two Lines. One at the bottom of a Hill, and one at the top. Oh, and a stop watch.
Its been part of the British Cycling scene for well over 100 years and usually tagged onto the end of the Race Season. But now it is a hugely important discipline in its own right. It’s a Time Trial basically with Riders setting off generally at 1 minute intervals on a Hill (obviously). The nature of the Hills can be very short and steep, 500m up to 5 miles. The longer Climbs are generally less of a gradient.
The short ones can have ramps of up to 30%. Most average anywhere between 10 and 15 %. Regardless, as you are still going ‘balls out’ and Racing they are simply the hardest single effort to do in Cycling. Pacing is more important on the longer ones, but the short ones are just a sprint against gravity.
No Quarter Given
You will see from the photos, that Hill Climbs demand maximum effort There can be no quarter given and they aint for the feint hearted. That said, however, there is a fantastic camaraderie between the Riders as we all know we are going to give our best on the day.
So how do you get involved I hear you ask ? Sorry ? SO HOW DO YOU GET INVOLVED ? That’s better!
Well you need a Bike. You also need to be a member of a CTT (Cycling Time Trials) Club and that’s it. It will help if you are good at hills or sprinting or you are very light but its not prerequisite. Neither is the bike. Nowadays there are many with bespoke Hill Climb machines built specifically for the job. Mine comes in at about 4.9kg with 11 speed and pedals and it was as much fun engineering this machine as it is contesting the event.
A light bike helps but as I have found out does not turn you into a winning athlete. It does help a few seconds or even a 10th here and there. The general consensus is once you got rid of the easy weight saving modifications like chopping bars, removing bottle cages, bar tape etc it generally costs about £1.00 to save 1 gram ! But this budget can be smashed with the fun of making, converting, buying second hand or borrowing parts. Most beginners simply stick with their Road bike and take off the bottle cages on the day. You make it as cheap as you want and its much more fun.
The other thing is first find a Hill Climb that suits you, there is no point entering a short sharp steep Hill if you are more suited to the longer Time Trial type of ‘sit down’ hill. Personally I love anything up to 1 min 30 seconds and after that I’m so far into the pain cave, I’ve lost my torch and cant get out !
If you are genuinely interested, try the UK Hill Climbing page on FaceBook which is full of friendly, helpful posters and great information.
This weekend sees the culmination of the Hill Climb season with the National Hill Climb Championship which is being held at Pea Royd Lane, Stocksbridge on October Sunday 28th at 11.00. 300 Riders will contest to win their various categories and have the honour of wearing the National Stripes for the next year.
The top contenders are simply stunning to watch and if you have ever ridden Pea Royd Lane you will simply not believe the speed and power these lads can hold. If your Strava time matches them, then I suggest you get entered for next year NOW !
I have my thoughts on this weekend’s Winners, but I will leave those personal. What I can tell you is that they will be crossing their own lines, they will be putting it all out and their best effort on the line and just hoping that they have done enough !
Whatever, they will put themselves through a completely different level of pain than you can ever imagine, unless you pin on a number yourself.
As I said before, I’m 57, I’m not an athlete, but I like to push myself.
For you stats people, I’m 5’8, about 78kg and can push about 1450 watts peak, 277watts 20 min FTP and can hold about 600 + watts for a minute. Although those are fairly impressive, I have no lungs or stamina and suffer with heart rate going straight up to 195 bpm + !
I was asked by a ‘non-cyclist’ the other day “Why do you put yourself through this pain?” I thought about it carefully;
Because it is simply the best feeling in the world !!!
You enter an event on a Hill that you are more than capable of Riding up but because you’ve entered, you feel sick for a week before with worry and you question your ability. I’ve even questioned myself if I can even get up it !
As the week goes by you’ve talked about it, discussed lines, gearing, weather, wind, tyre pressures and then ensured your bike is simply in tiptop shape. Sometimes you even recce the Hill and usually a sorrowful time puts you further into the depths of despair and self doubt .
Turning up on the day is a joy, maybe after a Road Trip with fellow masochists. It’s great to see the familiar faces of friends. Unlike many sports the Top Riders not only talk to you but give you mutual respect.
You Versus The Hill
The next minute you are on the start line .. it’s You vs that Hill …vs the Clock vs Yourself . All you want to do is see those number fall, stop the seconds, stop the clock. You want to use every fiber in your body, every muscle every breath, every beat of your heart, use up every ounce of energy that you have.
Once you start, the Hill fights you at every pedal stroke, it rears up in front of you when you think you have nothing left, it litters it’s surface with obstacles like change of surface or gravel, or pot holes that might slow you or puncture your machine. It sometimes teases you with a short respite, but as you attack again it’s riposte will be of another ramp to put you in a place of deeper despair.
There is only you. You and your machine that you have created, engineered and developed to work with you. Like a trusted steed to help you slay the tarmac wall of the monster that will kill you if you show any weakness. You feel at one with your machine, as the pain increases the distance to go always decreases, but the hardest is yet to come.
But you can see and feel progress. You are on top of your game, you will not be beaten and then you suddenly have allies – spectators. They can’t give you any more power or the oxygen that you crave, but the crowd are your friend. The encouragement, the faceless wall of noise, the recognition of your name, knowing your friends and direct opponents are all rooting for you. They give you your final boost, the catalyst that somehow, miraculously, gives you inner strength, the will to go on. The final push to the line, where regardless of time, regardless of the other warriors fighting the same battle and regardless of your position you have Won. You are a Winner. You have achieved and you beat the Hill. You crossed the Line ….
Fight To Breathe
It’s over but now another fight starts. The fight to recover, to breathe. The finish line is like a tap, an adrenaline tap that slams shut, and without this incredible, self dealt ‘drug’ you are a simple mess going through a natural ‘cold turkey’. But as the body revives, the feeling of exhilaration kicks in. The euphoria caused by endorphins flooding through your veins giving you another massive natural high. You see your time. You smile….
That’s why !!
Oh, and I’m not really that busy on Sundays !
The Dave Rayner Fund
This year, I have embarked on an idea to raise money for the Dave Rayner Fund, a fund set up to support UK talent to become professional cyclists.
The idea is called the #PBChallenge and I pledged £10 to the Dave Rayner Fund if I beat my previous years’ PB and £20 if I didn’t ! …. The only thing is, this really took off and people started to Pledge for me, so there have been tremendous donations. Out of the 11 contested so far I have PB’d 8 … 2 to go. Send me a pledge if you want!
Great talking to you and I hope I’ve inspired you to pin on a number.
(Featured Image Courtesy Of Sportpictures Cymru)