Great Expectations

On every ride I go on, I battle my demons who tell me to unclip up hills or just avoid them all together. I know deep down though that hills are necessary evil. I zig-zag, I scream, I curse, I say nasty things to myself until I get to the top and it all suddenly becomes worth the awful pain I just experienced.

Chief Packer, Ben Cope and his minions Pete and Joe

Chief Packer, Ben Cope and his minions Pete and Joe. I was Chief Coffee-Getter.

On Saturday 15th October, I did the hardest ride I think I’ve done all year or ever. Rapha Cycling Club went to the Trough of Bowland starting from a lovely little cafe called The Green Jersey in Clitheroe, Lancashire. The predetermined route was 98km with around 1600m of climbing (according to RideWithGPS). It would be a big day no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise. Part of the route covered pre-chartered ground from this year’s winter training camp in Carnforth (become an RCC member and you can join next year’s!), though the weather was significantly more grim back then. I hoped the terrain would be kinder given the forecast.

There were probably six main climbs today (I forgot about the sixth until it happened though) with less significant but little-ring-worthy climbs in between. I realised my fate pretty early on: I was dropped and ran out of gears (that’s normal on a lumpy ride to be fair). I hoped everyone else had prepared for a proper day out instead of telling the wife they’d be back early afternoon. Not happening on my watch!

Bowland Knotts by Ben Cope. This was the fast group though - I'm nowhere to be seen!

Bowland Knotts by Ben Cope. This was the fast group though – I’m nowhere to be seen!

All the climbs continued in a similar fashion. Each time watching my friends become tiny little dots in the distance, each time questioning my ability to ride bikes properly, each time getting further and further into the red and each time resisting the urge to apologise for myself. Our big group of about ten had split into a group of six and four fairly early on. I was in the “social” group obviously – there’s no way I was keeping up with the fast guys even on a flat ride let alone in the hills. I was with Joe, Matt and Dave for the day.

I was the only girl on today’s ride, I’d been battling a three-week long cold and my easiest gear was 34/28. In hindsight, I might’ve been better with my other bike which has a 30T!

Trough of Bowland Climb

Trough of Bowland Climb

When I got home, I had chance to think about what I’d actually done while eating pizza (2,500 calorie debt thanks to those climbs!) and I had moments where I thought:

  • Maybe the guys would’ve been better off without me today
  • I seriously need to get faster – I’m stopping everyone else having a fun time
  • If I lose five kilos, will I be as fast as Joe up those hills? I’ll eat really healthy starting Monday
  • I’m not doing my Giant Propel any justice, I look silly going slow on a fast-looking bike

I stopped myself.

Strava told me I got five trophies and 18 PRs, which, to the non-cyclists who might read this, means there are five parts of today’s ride where I’m in the top-ten women who have ever done that particular section and there are 18 times I did better than I’ve ever done before. I shouldn’t be thinking about how without me, perhaps the group would’ve been finished an hour earlier or how if I’d maybe trained a little harder during summer maybe the rest of the group wouldn’t freeze at the top of the climb waiting for me. I tried my damned hardest and Strava told me so!

The point to this ramble is I’ve decided I need to be kinder to myself. Too often, I beat myself up about being slow or holding everyone up when in actual fact, I’m killing it out there. I might not be a mountain goat or the next member of a Women’s WorldTour Team (if I had the choice, I’d obviously go with Canyon//SRAM) but I’m getting up those hills whether I like it or not. Whether I’m fast or not. Whether my friends have to wait for me or not.

Thankfully my club is full of the nicest people on two wheels you could ever hope to meet. They understand my mood-swings as I attempt to defy gravity up a hill, they get that I always try to get up there as quick as I possibly can, they get me. And I get them as my clubmates but more importantly as my friends. Big hugs the RCCMCR crew for forever having my back…or forever letting me see theirs anyway!

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  1. Well done Grace – those hills are a challenge for anyone, fast or slow.

    If you fancy a route for your training camp later in the year, I live just outside Carnforth and know these roads well – happy to help you plan something.

  2. Just read this and honestly makes me feel a whole lot better. I’ve never liked hills, avoided them at all costs but this year I’m tackling Ventoux so there is no escaping them. Your thoughts basically mirror mine! #KeepClimbing

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