I don’t hate hills any more

May 30, 2012

First of all, I’ll be clear.  The definition of “hill” will vary from rider to rider; and I fully realize that with my current (but improving!) level of fitness, what I consider very tough is warm-up material for strong experienced riders.  Similarly, dependent upon fitness, skill, experience, equipment etc, different cyclists will refer to different levels of incline as “incline”, “ascent”, “climb”, “hill”, etc, etc.

But, without wanting to get all philosophical and abstract here – and trying not to sound presumptuous beyond my gray old age of several months as a cyclist – I imagine that the abstract concept of the hill doesn’t much change from rider to rider.  That is, just as artificial intelligence is always defined as “something machines cannot currently do” – just as one’s view of wealth is typically a little beyond what they have – just as a “big boat” invariably starts at a size just a few feet bigger than what you have now – so the concept of the hill is something challenging, something that’ll push you, something that’ll make you work, that’ll raise the heart rate and the breathing, fire you with vitality, lure you with the siren song of ever-higher crests for just a little more effort and work.

I described in this post my vow to turn my weaknesses to strengths.  I recognized in myself a decent ability to ride over long distances with favorable terrain, but a big weakness in anaerobic fitness, in the ability to climb hills, fight strong wind, etc.  I vowed to integrate much more of these conditions into my training than has been the case, as that’s the only way I will get better.  By “turn weakness to strength” I referred not only to ability, but to mindset – that is, I intend to work sufficiently hard to shore up this area that I will come to actually embrace hills and wind.

Jon Jones, the current light-heavyweight champion of the UFC, has said “I [am] comfortable being uncomfortable: A lot of people, once they feel uncomfortable, will simply stop whatever they’re doing.  But I believe in order to succeed at anything, you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”  Faced with this self-assessment from someone else, two routes are possible: dismiss it as clever-sounding but ultimately empty drivel, or choose to find value and meaning in it.  The latter is me; Jones’ statement resonates with me, especially in regards to cycling.  I think he has it right.  In order to succeed, you need to work at it until you’re comfortable being uncomfortable.

Recently I’ve mobilized my plan.  I’m tackling harder routes during my rides, and seeking out tougher terrain.  I’m trying to find routes that will push me, challenge me, make me work, and gradually push me up to the next level, where I will seek still-harder challenges.

As a result, I can truly say I no longer hate hills.  I still don’t love them – yet.  But I feel gratitude for them, because I know that they are essential tools in my quest to become a “strong cyclist”.  Hills don’t have emotion or vengeance; they are what they are, and if you approach them with the right mindset, they are passages through which you can travel and emerge on the other side closer to your dreams.

Take it from the abstract to the tangible.  Today I returned to a route that I first took about a month ago.  The mix of pavement grades, hills, open riding where you are prey to wind, and distance makes this a very tough route for me.  In fact, the ride a month ago was one of my two hardest rides to date, period.  I didn’t full-out bonk during that ride, but I was very close.  I was pushing extremely hard and stopping much more frequently than normal.  At the end, I cut the course short by a few miles of what I planned and made a beeline for the house, happy to arrive alive.

Fast forward a month, in which I’ve lost 15-17 pounds and become a little bit stronger & more experienced rider.  Returning to this course seemed a logical way to gauge my progress.

The wind today was less favorable than it was the first time, and during stretches I was certainly working hard.  There was a time or two when it crossed my mind to bail out and just double back toward home, but I stayed strong and fought through.  It certainly wasn’t “easy” today, but I’m very happy to report that it was much less tough than last time.  I stopped only about as frequently as normal, and I arrived home much stronger than the first time.  I even tacked back on the extra few miles I’d lopped off of the first run, including another ascent on by-then-weary legs.

Always a work in progress.  Again, to my earlier point, the concept of the hill, I think, remains, unless you are one of the very few elite super-stud riders who can shrug off any amount of climbing like water off a duck’s back.  “The hill” is always there, just at the edge of your abilities and comfort level, but beckoning you in to make you better.

Below, an assortment of miscellaneous pictures from today’s ride.


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