Sunday 25 October 2020

Photo of the day - 25: National Hill Climb Championships - over (the hill) and out!

National Hill Climb Champs souvenir - There was a brownie too, but that disappeared quickly!

Who would have thought I'd be doing a National Championships cycling race, let alone this year! Yes, I did the National Hill Climb Championships on Streatley Hill, near Reading today. With the year being as it's been I was just keen to make the most of any racing that was going on, as I realise that there's nothing that beats pinning a number on and getting into the thick of a competition - even if you're not in contention to win. There is still an adrenaline rush as you try to be the best you can be and chase down your nearest rivals. In these Covid times of social distancing, time trialling is probably the most socially distanced sort of cycle racing you can do. So that has been taking place, albeit with a reduced calendar. So I did one or two of those, and then I signed up for some hill climbs not too far from home. I did a couple around the South Downs - up Steyning Bostal, Firle Beacon, and Mill Hill. I also went further afield to Bank Road in Matlock. I had hoped to do the really excruciating Riber Castle on that same day, but that was full - what a shame!

The National Hill Climbing Championships take place in various parts of the country - from down towards Cornwall and Devon, to up in Northumberland. Having them in the South-East of England was comparatively local for me, so it would have been rude not to go! I actually missed the deadline for entry and had to contact the organisers to see if they could let me in under the wire. Luckily that was possible, so I was able to line up with around 100 other women. This year's competition was noteworthy for the number of female competitors. A campaign had taken place to get 100 women to sign up, and it seems that many people answered the call. That is great to see. For me, I guess The campaign did not necessarily influence my decision to take part, but I guess it meant that I would be less likely to come last given that I have been no stranger to doing races where I was one of only around 5 or 6 women, and I was the weakest link! 

My aim today was just to execute my race as I had predicted in my rough analysis. Based on my results I should finish between 2 minutes 30s and 3 minutes behind the winning woman. Streatley Hill is half a mile long with an average gradient of 13% and a short stretch at 25%. It is less steep in the first 50 metres. Then from there on, it becomes very steep on a bend, then moderately steep, and then after another bend it becomes even steeper before flattening off at the end. The profile was similar to Bank Road, which I had done the previous week, though longer and marginally less savage. I also did a very quick recon of the climb en route to the road race I did yesterday in Abingdon On the basis of my analysis I thought I would do around 5 mins 30. I decided that even if that meant I would come last I wouldn't mind as long as I did the race as I had planned it. I kept focused, did what I had planned and managed 5 minutes 27s, finishing in 90th place out of 93 competitors. The winner, Bithja Jones, did 2 mins 47. That was a record as previous results had shown winners (including when she raced it a month ago) having done 3 mins 5s. 

I was pleased with my result as I gave my best and really left it along with dribbling, snot and sweat on the road. It was a good event, with all the fan fare of a National Championships, compared with other events where the HQ was sometimes just the boot of someone's car in a remote car park. It was great to bump into other competitors that I had seen at other races. There were no airs and graces between the fastest and the slowest. Even though spectators weren't allowed, there were enough marshals, officials and photographers on the hill to shout encouragement and ring cow bells at us. Sadly, I couldn't acknowledge them or say anything back, given that I was otherwise occupied! It was painful at the time, but when I look back at the event I am glad I did it, and have definitely got the bug for this sort of thing.

So, that's the hill climbing season over. Thanks to Christina Gustafson and her team at Reading Cycling Club for putting on this great race. Also thanks to all the other organisers plus the Cycling Times Trials association for putting on the races particularly during this testing (pardon the pun) season. Looking forward to next season!

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