Slow start to the Hill Climb season

Slow start to the Hill Climb season


It’s absolutely bonkers that someone would spend weeks training, following a structured training plan and being careful to avoid any unnecessary carbs and fats for an effort that lasts under 2 minutes. But that’s hill climbing!

A few weeks back I devised my own little training plan in order to help me achieve a PB at the Monsal hill climb. I was actually fairly ambitious at the time, and rightly so because in the months prior I had improved by leaps and bounds. In the first half of the year I had hit some huge personal bests, improving on my century time, longest ride, FTP, and of course smashing loads of local climbs. I’d also got involved with a few different clubs, which introduced me to some much harder rides and further improved my fitness.

I’d had a small crash which set me back a little bit, but with the help of a loaned Cervelo S5 I was back on the roads fairly quickly, and fortunately my fitness was still good. I even then managed to stick religiously to the first half of my training plan, adding in additional sessions where I could to absolutely hone in on those leg muscles.

And then, feeling like an apex predator ready to annihilate any hill that came in my way, I got onto a 16-hour flight and spent 2 weeks off the bike. At the time it all made sense, this would be when I would recover from the previous few weeks of training and give my muscles time to adapt and strengthen.

Adapting and strengthening.. that’s what I’ll call it.

In practice it didn’t really work like that. I returned after another 16-hour flight 2 weeks later feeling pretty jet-lagged and exhausted. Riding the next day, nothing felt quite right. Overall power was down and my rate of perceived effort was not far off max. Not a huge problem I thought, just a minor setback. A few days of hard efforts and good nights sleep and I’d be back to the pre-holiday fitness.

Unfortunately, I only managed one more training session before I got struck down by the almighty king of all inconveniences; the cold.

A cold at any time of the year is horrible, but a cold during a crucial make-or-break period of your training schedule is absolutely catastrophic. Instead of intense efforts to get back into shape I was blowing my nose intensely into a tissue. So that was another week off the bike.

Strava Fitness and Freshness – A visualisation of my fitness rolling down a hill.

By the time the Withington Wheelers hill climb came around, I’d managed two short Zwift sessions and that initial ride back in just over 3 weeks. My fitness was therefore none existent and I’d had no opportunity to recce the climb, so it was no surprise that I wasn’t able to achieve a PB. Although on a slight positive, the cold had just about blown over.

With a week to go until Monsal I had two high intensity training sessions, including a recce of the climb and Zwift race in an overly-optimistic category. Rest was also extremely important now because my legs were pretty much equivalent to a new born baby that couldn’t walk with all that time off, so I made sure to have 3 days to rest after the last workout.

On the day of the event I woke up after a phenomenal night’s sleep, and my whole body felt good. Even warming up I felt the strongest I’d been in a while. I’d also just picked up my brand new bike the previous day. On my recce I had decided that my best opportunity to improve my time would be to go relatively easy at the start and explode for the last few hundred metres. It was this game plan that was on my mind as the timekeeper counted down from 10.

Even as I hit the base of the climb I still felt good, but I restrained myself and held back on the power. The previous few weeks had made me lose a little trust in my strength and the last thing I wanted to do was blow up early. The falling rocks sign then appeared which was my cue to get up out of the saddle and go for it. I managed to stay out of the saddle until I was caught at the line, which was when my Garmin buzzed to alert me of my new PB. 1:57.4. It was just over 2 seconds improvement from last year, but given the dire build up to the event it was good enough.

The only problem was that I hadn’t collapsed on the floor at the finish. I realised I hadn’t gone hard enough. I should’ve trusted the early signs and gone hard from the off because there could’ve been another 10 seconds in those legs!

Overall though I couldn’t complain because I still managed to improve my time and I’m confident that I had it in me to push even harder. I mentioned in my training plan post that if something unexpected went wrong in the build up to Monsal I would turn my attention to Bank Road, so that’s what I’ve now got to do.

I’ve got Holly Lane this Sunday and then one more week of training before my final event of the season. After that I can finally go back long slow rides and beer. I can’t wait.

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