OFFICIAL START TO HILL CLIMB SEASON - Rebecca Richardson
Jiggers Bank, Ironbridge. Heading for a win and course record.
Nova Raiders Hill Climb. Photo by DJPERRY @DJPERRY instagram
As far back as I can remember hills and mountains have been the backdrop to my life. I grew up on the side of hills. The first one in Wiltshire, up a steep un-tarmacked track. My parents lived in a converted forestry hut, it was their ‘self-build’, named Fox Farm. My Dad made the trip to Machynlleth, Wales to the Centre for Alternative Technology, and from that trip, they purchased a small wind turbine. There was no electricity on Fox Farm. The hut sat on top of the plains, surrounded by woodland on three sides, with a wide view over the cornfields to the south. Our woodland walks that my mum would take me on as I learnt to walk at the age of 3, would take us to the famous “Wardour castle’, the setting for the Robin Hood, Kevin Cosner film. To get to Fox Farm you had to ascend a 25% steep rough stone track, which only our old landrover could tackle. At that point, I was only riding a kids trike (being 3yrs old), but living on hills became a theme for my parents. As Wiltshire became gentrified, the local estate cottages sold to Londoners as second homes, my mum and dad felt the draw and tug to move away, and like many from the south, they moved to rural, beautiful, and cheap Wales. Without much guessing, you can imagine the scene of the next few houses we lived in. Up tracks, always on a hill, invariably 'off-grid', always on well water, before the days of UV filters. My stomach must be made of iron! Dad was always off mountain walking and bike riding, so as soon as I was old enough I would beg him to take me with him. The honour and privilege of going forced any complaints about the toughness of these days out to the back of my mind, but I do remember countless drives home from North Snowdonia to our house in Mid-Wales where I fell asleep halfway through my fish and chips after a long day on the mountain.
Then fast-forward to my late twenties when I really started enjoying road bike riding as my single sport. Having a baby curtailed the long weekends away from sea kayaking and mountain walking. It was inevitable that my favourite part of biking was going uphill. It must be ingrained in my psyche that going uphill is a past-time, something to be enjoyed. I can think back to small moments, ten years old and my Dad saying “get to the next telegraph pole” as my little legs struggled on climbs. I still use this method now, making little markers for myself on difficult climbs. The other day my son Arthur, aged 8yrs old, was struggling on a climb, I could see it wasn’t a physical struggle but a mental struggle. I asked him, “What's up?”, he said, “I see the way ahead up the climb and I feel that it is so far away”. The struggle is real.
This year I have tried many different types of events on my bike and dallied with time trialling and longer distance time trialling. And now the hill climb season is here, it reaffirms how my passion is truly to go uphill. I find it the ultimate test on a bike, one that I get a lot of satisfaction from. I enjoy thinking about the nuances of a climb, and last night on my drive to the Mid Shropshire Wheelers, Stiperstones Climb, I found myself wanting to ride up other climbs that I drove over too. One of the competitors asked me whether I get nervous on the start line. I don’t get nervous. Hill climbing is a race of truth, so why worry about what you can’t do, the hill will soon sort everyone out! All I can do is ride the hill to my best ability, as soon as I start thinking about my watts (power output); or my average speed, or, what another competitor may do, then I stop enjoying the climb. I think climbing is a lot about riding to feel, as sometimes I do look up ahead and feel dejected that the end seems so far away. I would say that 100% of a hill climb effort is in the head.
Bike set-up. Disc string wheels by Zedbikewheels.com , Aethoes Sworks frame. Created by Rick at Gritspoke and the Dream Build team. Willomore Bank Hill Climb, Wrekinsport CC. Photo by Rich Smith
I have a very lightweight bike this year, although not significantly lighter than my old hill climb bike, but certainly a marginal gain. It epitomises another area of hill climbing that makes the sport quirky and niche. There is something in hill climbing for everyone, and the ‘tech’ geeky side is a big area of the sport. It is fun to chat about chain rings and wheels, I never thought/contemplated that I might say that! It is great to see a widening scope of hill climb bikes at events now, especially in the women's field. I remember Lucy Lee’s stand-out hill climb bike in 2019, and this year it pleases me to see other women purchasing string wheels as they look for those marginal gains. I love when people take joy in trying their best up a hill including thinking about equipment. Most of the hill-climbing events I have done were on my road bike, making small changes to get what weight I could off it. The obvious one is bottle cages and a bottle, and take off your saddle bag! Next up would probably be some lighter wheels. These are the easiest changes to make.
A big question that comes up every year as hill climb season starts is body weight. This is a topic Liam and I take seriously, and not for the reasons you might imagine. I now weigh 2kg heavier than I did two years ago, and I feel that it is important to recognise that some of the top hill climb athletes in both the men and women's categories are healthy body weights, with the focus being on power and strength, not on unhealthy BMI's (Body Mass Index). I focus on maintaining my body weight for optimum race performance, going against the grain of trying to drop kg’s in the run-up to my goal events. This means eating a whole-food diet focused on nutritional and calorific foods that reduce inflammation build-up and satiate my hunger. It is quite easy really as my body just does what it wants to do, and generally sits at the same weight throughout the year, but the main thing I do as I head towards peak performance times of the year is that I optimise my diet to be less processed foods and eat lean meats so that it changes my body composition of fat/muscle as opposed to focusing on losing weight. My focus is eating enough food to thrive, and not just survive.
Getting back into racing after a bit of time off this year, I feel fresh in my head. I am really enjoying going to events and pinning numbers on. There isn’t any pressure in my mind, and although I have been up against some strange online bullying, I don’t find that I have any problem with the notion of ‘losing’. I am strangely happy and inspired to see so many women competing and I will continue to stand up and be confident and proud of all the achievements that come my way, and I welcome other women to do the same. The women are already creating a huge stir and interest this year in hill-climbing, there is a growing pool of super-strong riders that are making the racing very exciting. The men's racing is also as exciting as ever, and it is super cool to hear spectators and competitors speculating and ‘betting’ on who they think will win not only the men's competition but also the womens. I think 2021 will be a very exciting hill climb season for those looking in on the scene.
So, let the games commence!