“I’m not going to make it!”

The first time I rode my bike up a hill I had to get off and push. I pushed my bike over the brow of the hill and slumped down on the verge to admire the view. I had no sense of satisfaction, I had hardly justified a rest, but my wobbly legs needed to regroup. The pros make it all look so easy, so effortless. The reality, I found, was somewhat different.

I had tried everything: standing up; sitting down; swearing. Nothing seemed to work.

I wasn’t riding a terribly heavy bike, I wasn’t especially unfit, and with a triple chain ring, I had almost as many gears as humanly possible. Still, when the road kicked up steeply, I was no match for it. I had tried everything: standing up; sitting down; swearing. Nothing seemed to work.

The experience however, sparked something within me. The next time I rode up this hill, I was going to make it!

You might think that your legs are in charge, but it’s a mental battle.

There is no shortage of technical information out there to help you improve your climbing, ride just below your functional threshold (no one wants to stop functioning half way up a hill!), keep your cadence high (we all know that once your legs stop turning you topple sideways!), don’t go into the red (easy to say, but this bike cost a fortune!). However, the likelihood is that when people start out they don’t have power meters, cadence meters or heart rate monitors. Without this technology it’s just you, the bike and the climb.

If it's too long or too steep, split it into manageable sections.

You have to ride, assessing how you feel as you go; you might think that your legs are in charge, but it’s a mental battle. Your legs will always tell you that they can’t do any more. Your mind has to work out that they’re lying. This is true whether your aim is to keep pushing yourself to go faster and faster, or whether you want to get to the top without pushing.

For me, riding up a hill is all about breaking it down. If it’s too long, or too steep (or both!), my preferred strategy is to split it into manageable sections in order to get your mind on board. Whether you’re trying to get to the next lamppost, or to the top of Tenerife’s ‘pro training ground’ El Teide, is inconsequential. You can’t overlook the fact that your goal is made up of the sum of its parts.

Everyone is different and only you can work out what feels right.

I play games with myself; originally to see if I could make it. Now I do the same to see if I can do a section more quickly than before, or in a harder gear, or focusing on my pedal stroke, or chatting to people as I go. Everyone is different and only you can work out what feels right. Finding out what feels right for you is a huge part of the battle won. I almost never stand up when I climb and I like to keep my legs spinning pretty quickly at a high cadence. If there’s a view I try to enjoy it. I’ve worked out that I climb more quickly and painlessly this way.

I now love the simple pleasure of the challenge of a climb. They are psychological, tactical and most importantly rewarding: with a little practice you really DO get better!

The second time I rode up that hill, I did make it. And a few years later, at the age of 36, I have just taken part in my first ever bike race: a 12.5km uphill time trial...

 

The Author: Carolyn Gaskell is the entrepreneur and designer behind the stunning VeloCity range of urban cycling clothing.