After the prize ceremony, someone asked what the secret of winning hill climbs was. I don’t really know, but I guess these things help:
Power to weight ratio
In the genetic lottery, I hit the proverbial hill climb jackpot and probably got the best possible frame build for long aerobic climbs. Ironically, I didn’t always appreciate having a stick insect frame and inability to put on weight. I remember once as a teenage getting fed up with the ‘jokes about being an extra from Schlinders list’. I also felt pretty useless for being unable to do a proper press-up. I remember once making a half-hearted effort to put on weight. I even went out and bought this ‘weight gain powder’ – It tasted absolutely disgusting so I’m afraid I threw it away after one effort. That was about my only sustained effort to put on weight. But, whatever I eat, I never seem to go over 63kgs, and usually hover around 61-62 kgs. I once went on a weighing scale in Boots, which said my weight was 2.5 stone underweight for my height. I think the technical term is an ectomorph.
I doubt anyone would believe the quantity of carrot cakes / plain chocolate digestives I’ve eaten since the start of the hill climb season on the 1st September. My lodger would believe because he watches with a suitable degree of envy. But, I suppose there’s no justice in this world. If you’re one of those people who puts on weight just by looking at cake, I can only slink away into the corner, feeling a little bit guilty, but secretly just a little bit smug and grateful. It’s probably not much consolation, but being stick thin does make you very prone to the cold. The national 100 was run in a heatwave, I still wore 2 pairs of socks. But, I suppose most people would trade having to wear 2 pairs of socks in summer for a metabolism which burns up sugar like dry leaves in a furnace. There was a time, when I wanted to be just a little less skinny, but now I’m a hill climber, I can’t really complain!
When I read Tyler Hamilton’s book I was shocked by the drug revelations, but also shocked by the efforts he went to losing weight. I don’t think I could cope with that kind of dietary control. It’s probably a good job I’m not a pro, I think I might become a little unpopular if people saw how many cakes I ate and still looked like I was on starvation rations!
My diet is pretty good, I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit (I’m vegetarian). I try to mix the carbohydrates up to reduce the amount of gluten. I often have lentils and rice rather than pasta and bread. For protein, I often eat quorn, vegetable sausages and eggs. After a training ride, I usually have a whey protein shake. My one weakness is that I probably eat more processed sugar than is good for me. Because I don’t put on weight, there is less motivation to cut it out. But, I know the GI index of most food and try and manage blood sugar levels to a certain extent.
Power and Training
It’s one thing to be thin and skinny, but you still need power. I didn’t start racing until I was 28, so I’ve been a late developer. I have found over the past few years, I feel able to do more intervals, and train harder than when I first started out. I guess, you need a certain degree of patience and build up over the years. Usually my training involves nothing more than riding up hills as fast as possible. But, this year, training was a little more structured. I did many short intervals of 1 minute and then 5 minute intervals – a form of pyramid intervals. I was training fast twitch muscles and not just the short twitch. It’s always hard to measure, but it felt beneficial.
I bought a Quarq power meter for the first time this year. It took a few months to arrive and after a few weeks of use it broke. It somehow wasn’t meant to be. But, when it’s fixed, I will be using next year. I only did one race with a power meter
- 390 watts for a 12 minute climb on Snake pass. 6.4 Watt / kg
- A 5 min climb in training I did at 438 watts – 7.2 watt / kg
It would have been interesting to know the power output of other hill climbs later in the season, but I don’t think it would have really changed anything.
Hill Climb Specialist
One of the great things about the hill climb championship is that it attracts a range of riders. A few time trialists, a few road men, a few hill climb specialists, and perhaps a few who thought they were entering a sportive by mistake. My primary target of the season was the hill climb championship at the end of October. I did have sub-targets along the way (e.g. National 50 (9th) and National 100 (5th). But, essentially my main aim was to peak for October 27th.
Many of the top road men, like the Rapha CC boys will definitely be peaking for other events in the year. On the one hand riding a hard road season, and week long stage races, gives you a great level of fitness, but it can make it hard to peak for the end of October. For example, if I’d been riding the Tour of Britain in early September, I’m sure it would have made hill climb season a bit more difficult. True, I’d be very fit, but also tired and in need of recovery. Hugh Carthy who came 4th, I believe spent the previous 10 days to national going inter-railing around Europe with Tour of Korea winner Mike Cumming! Jack Pullar also made an interesting comment in Cycling Weekly preview – for short hill climbs you can get away with relying on natural talent. But, for a long 8 minute effort, you really need to be in top aerobic fitness – and that’s hard to maintain through a long season – however good a rider you are. Another example is Chris Froome – in the July – by far the best rider in the world. In September in the worlds he got dropped. When margins are very small, it’s all about peaking at just the right time. This often tips the scale in favour of the amateur hill climb specialists racing against better road riders. I believe Granville Sydney would do nothing all year before appearing at the hill climb season in the peak of form.
Meditation / Self Transcendence
Sri Chinmoy (my teacher’s) philosophy is self-transcendence – not to compete with others, but to compete with yourself. Keep trying to do better. With this philosophy it is not winning, but the striving to do better that is the goal. Meditation also gives you a certain detachment and helps remind you that there is more to life than winning bike races. I think this was very helpful in the past 3 years, when the national results were perhaps disappointing. It’s one thing to be disappointed, but if you’re too disappointed and unhappy you can lose motivation and give up. But, if you can remain cheerful, it makes it easier to come back and try next year. Before races I do meditate for a short while. I also try to be in a cheerful and positive frame of mind; I think this is very helpful. Meditation can help give a certain focus and concentration which is beneficial for any athletic endeavour. Even if not interested in the spiritual element of meditation, good concentration and focus is vital for any athlete.
Part of the reason I enjoy racing so much is that it is a little bit like a meditation – during the race you are completely focused and determined on one thing. There is physical pain, but also a great release from the usual mental baggage.
Spend a fortune on wheels
Another secret is to spend a fortune on light weight wheels.
The real secret
The real secret is of course to wear two pairs of fuzzy socks and forget to do your number up properly in the most important race of your career (See photo at Cycling Weekly)
- Hill climb page at cycling info