Friday 29 October 2021

Winning on Winnats (Part 5): Becky Hair on the National Hill Climb Championships

Continuing my mini series on women racing in the National Hill Climb Championships at Winnats Pass, in the Peak District, here are the words of Becky Hair (Magspeed Racing), who has been an ambassador for women's cycling, and a real advocate in encouraging women's participation in cycle sport.

Becky Hair on Leith Hill Climb (photo: Kingston Wheelers)

"In 2020 I managed to come 9th at the National Hill Climb Championships [at Streatley Hill, Oxfordshire]. I’d focused my training on the hill climb championships during lockdown (as a distraction from my work in critical care throughout the pandemic). I think I managed to do better than expected, also because quite a few people couldn’t attend.

I happened to be up in Chapel-en-le-Frith for a hen do the week before lockdown in March 2020, and I knew Winnats was close by, but I don’t think it had been announced as the National Champs at that time. 

On my way back to Cambridge I stopped off at Sparrowpit and popped down to do a recce and to tick off another ‘100 climb’. I don’t think I knew what was coming. I’d seen pictures of it, but hadn’t even driven up it before. As I cycled down I was awe struck. It was so beautiful, but so fierce. I then paused in Castleton before riding back up it. 

I went too hard, got too excited riding up Winnats Pass, and couldn’t get to the top. My heart rate was in my mouth, and I am not sure the hangover helped. In a stupid moment I clipped out, and there was no way I was getting my foot back into the cleats again, so I walked to the top, cars streaming past me and my head hung. 

That was my first experience of Winnats Pass, and something I won’t forget lightly. It’s the first hill that’s ever beaten me and taught me a lesson. So I need to give it the respect it deserves when it comes to racing it. The iconic 2021 hill climb doesn’t really suit me as it’s about 3 minutes too long, but there’s no way I’ll give up a chance to race with this backdrop in my first National Championships where spectators are allowed!

I’ve since ridden Winnats twice, and thankfully have made it to the top on both occasions. I’ve played around with my bike (Specialized Aethos) but have not made any major modifications to it - lighter wheels, changed the saddle, lightweight inner tubes, and taken off bottle cages but that’s it. 

It weighs in about 6.5kg - not the lightest I know, but when I was looking at making it a single ring front cog they’d run out of the size I wanted and it was too close to race day to make the change and practice on it! I’m lucky enough to borrow a bike from Specialized each year and as it’s not really mine I can’t go and chop it all up! Perhaps one year I’ll take the time to really make a specialist hill climb bike.

In terms of training this year, it’s been mixed. I focused early in the year on increasing my aerobic capacity for my road races and crits too. It's something I don’t have and have never trained, as 2-hour rides used to be the longest I ever did. I rode the hilliest coast to coast (the Albion 500) in July over 3 days and this really helped get me psyched up for the hill climb season too. 

Living in Cambridge is hard sometimes and I needed this to boost my confidence to ride some of the hardest climbs in the country back to back. Over the summer I probably ran a little bit too much, with races being back on, and my running club group were back together – I think this has hampered my ability to cycle and was my own fault as I thought I could do everything well! In hindsight I didn’t get a 5km PB (I scraped in at 17:54) and I wasn’t racing regularly enough on the bike over summer to have a decent crack at any crit races. 

However, the last 6 weeks have mainly been really good. I did an excellent training camp in Mallorca in mid-September. But then last week, when I went down to the athletics track I sprained my ankle in the warm-up and thought I’d broken it. Thankfully, one x-ray later it was okay and I was able to have a go at Bank Road last Sunday. 

My coach, Nat Creswick (Team Headset) has been an absolute dream and is a close friend of mine too. She has helped me reframe my anxieties and has told me when I’ve been doing too much. Me and Nat have also been coaching 17 women online over the last four months in a plan called ‘Upwards’. This has included cycle coaching from Nat, and strength and conditioning plans from me (I’m a physiotherapist by trade!). We backed this up with monthly webinars around sport psychology topics. 

Doing this coaching plan for them has actually really helped me and reminded me that the whole aim of this is to get more women on the start line, off the back of last years campaign #climbhighertogether. We’ve had people enter hill climbs and completed them with determination, tenacity and strong will. It’s something I’m really proud of and I hope we have planted the seed for them to return to hill climbing in the future.

Looking back on my race season last year, I rode eight hill climbs with mixed results. I’ve learnt more this year and done some of my hardest bike sessions ever - 7 mins of Tabata style sprints (20 secs on 10 secs off) x 3 is the most brutal thing I’ve ever done. This year I’ve ridden 10 races so far and have managed two wins, second place four times (always the bridesmaid to Rebecca Richardson!), third place three times and fifth, with a personal best at the Monsal Head hill climb. 

This gives me the confidence that I’ve had enough practice on the bike to do my best this weekend, and I am really hopeful that I’m ready to smash it given all the rest I’ve had this week!"

[Becky sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.25:30seconds am on Sunday 31st October]

Related posts

Winning on Winnats (Part 4): Frances Owen on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 3): Rebecca Richardson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 2): Mary Wilkinson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 1): Bithja Jones on the National Hill Climb Championships

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