Friday, September 06, 2013

Unscared of Hills

I used to be scared of hills on my bike. I'm not anymore. So many cyclists are worried by hills, but I've finally made my peace with them, come to embrace their challenge, and even love them. The only reason I can think of is just that I've done a lot of them in the last few years.

Crossfitters like to use the word "Unscared". I like it. It's stronger than "unafraid": Being scared of something is just a notch worse than being afraid of it Maybe it's a bit better than being terrified, but "Unterrified" doesn't have the same ring to it.

So I was scared of hills. When I first started riding around here, there was this Big Hill on one of my regular rides. I always dreaded that Big Hill. I knew it was coming, steeled myself for huffing and puffing my way to the top, and was relieved when it was over.

Here's the hill profile for that ride:

That Big Hill in the middle is about 75 feet tall. I used to have to stand on my pedals to get to the top.

Here's one of the rides I did recently:
The hill you climb (twice!!) on this ride is over 3,000 feet tall. Yeah, no kidding. A 75 foot hill used to have me quaking in my bike cleats, and now I can toss off 6,000 feet of climbing in a day and still get up the next morning and go for a run.

How did I come to love hills? It's been a gradual attitude adjustment on my part. Firstly, somewhere along the way I stopped being scared of just plain old working hard. When you see a hill, you know it's going to be hard. Assuming it's not so steep that you're in danger of falling over (I have worried about that on a couple of them), the worst thing that will happen is that you will go really slow, it will be hard, and it will take a long time. That's not so very terrible, once you get used to the notion.

Secondly, I decided to prepare for the hills I would encounter in racing by doing even harder hills in training. One year I trained for a Half-Ironman that was reputed to have a 14% grade. So I went out and found a hill with a 15% grade, and went up it repeatedly. By the time I got to the race, I knew I could do it. I was Unscared.

Lastly, this year in training for the Leadman (two weeks away, but who's counting, right?) and training for last year's Ironman Coeur d'Alene, I knew I would have to do a lot of climbing in my training rides, so I've sought out the hilliest rides around, deliberately. Going out and looking for hills to do sounds crazy, but once you start embracing them, hills lose the terror factor and become your friend. I'm still not the fastest hill climber on the block, but I can do them and I'm no longer scared.

And when you get to the top, you get to look out over the universe, see down to where you started out, and know that you earned that view.