You may have seen my tweet earlier in the week about overtaking two men on a climb. I have to say I was feeling rather smug at the time. I eased by not one but two burly men and, as I did so, I casually turned and said ‘you alright?’ I was expecting the standard return, ‘yeah, you?’ but instead I got, ‘I think I am. We’re on mile 60 of an 80-mile UK Cycling Sportive’. And that was when the smug little smile was well and truly wiped clean off my face. Here I thought I was getting fitter and quicker up hills. Turns out I’m only marginally fitter than 55 year-old men who have ridden through the Forest of Bowland for hours on end, one of whom, God forbid, didn’t even have on lycra or clippy shoes.
Although my husband and I bought our bikes at the same time, he’s now able to power up hills effortlessly, his cadence unaffected, his breathing uninhibited. I yell, from the bottom, ‘see you at the top’ as I watch his silhouette fade into the distance. And then I grit my teeth and repeat the refrain in my head ‘push, pull, breathe’, ‘push, pull, breathe.’ Eventually (after he’s stopped to have a drink, check his messages and make a phone call) I catch up to him, all red-faced and panting, and say ‘how do you do that?’ and he says ‘I just want to get it over with’. I’m thinking, ‘so do I, but that doesn’t give me super powers.’
I swear there are some hills on which I just want to unclip and walk. The first time I suggested this to him, he simply said, in the gravest of voices, ‘you do that and you’re not a cyclist’. I could see he was actually disappointed in me, like I had suggested selling state secrets. Clearly, ‘you do not get off your bike and walk’ is the first rule of Cycle Club.
So, I dug deep and carried on at a snail’s pace. Sometimes, especially if the wind is blowing ever so slightly the wrong way, it actually feels as if I’m going backwards. The peak, instead of getting closer, seems to move further and further away from me with every grind of my pedal. And really, after a year of cycling, I still feel that I’m expending way too much energy moving slowly uphill. Maybe I shouldn’t measure my performance against a man’s. Or maybe it’s simply the curse of where we live. It’s stunning countryside on the three borders of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria, but God are there a lot of hills! Strava says that I’ve climbed 11,211 feet in 12 rides. That’s a lot of feet, right?
I know what you’re thinking … when there’s an uphill, there’s always a downhill. And, yes, this does ease the pain somewhat but here too I’m always playing catch up with my husband, who goes hurtling down full speed and fearless. I, on the other hand, exercise the caution of a woman who doesn’t want to orphan her children. It costs me in brake pads but it pays off in living to see the kids grow up!
I’m not ready to face the fact that I may only be a decent domestique on flat roads. I don’t want to be defeated (at least not so badly) by a man or a hill. So, if you have any advice for me on making climbs less painful and more satisfying, please do get in touch. I need your help!