HOLY HILLS. That was the hardest but most rewarding workout I’ve had to date. I am not a climber. My favorite races are pancake flat with the occasional hill or overpass. That’s why when I saw a workout prescribing five 10-minute hill repeats in the middle of a longer bike ride, I nearly fainted. The only hill that I thought would fit the bill is a climb worth ascending for the 40-mph downhill you get on the return trip. The first time I rode it, sometime last summer, I dropped my chain and nearly toppled over. Going into this, I thought only one of two things would happen: the hill would dominate me and I would manage two or three before giving into the hill, OR I would eek through it and then go pass out afterwards. Luckily, neither of the above scenarios played out.
I rode conservatively in my warm-up, a good 45-minutes to get to the obstacle. As I approached it for the first time, I passed a woman, mid-thirties, starting to make her slow ascent. I hit the bottom part hard, trying to stay seated the whole time and panted up it as fast as I could without getting dizzy and sending my heart rate too high. You reach a false flat about 2/3 of the way up and think you’re over the worst of it, but then you turn the bend and hit the second riser. I powered up the rest and then S-L-O-W-L-Y u-turned around before making the descent. Now, normally I fly down this because it’s so exhilarating. This time, however, I liberally used the brakes and cruised down the hill at maybe 15mph. I was going to make the most of this short rest before I attempted round to. Even as I approached the bottom, just in time to turn around and do it again, I was still huffing and puffing.
Round two. Really, I'm only half-way done? This. Hill. Was. Never. Ending. UGH! The poor woman from before was still riding up slowly, maybe 2/5 of the way now.
Round three. Weirdly, it felt slightly easier. Still huffing and puffing but my body had given up rebelling against the ungodly resistance. On the way back down, the woman was no walking the bike, off to the side.
Round four. I think I had one of my typical exercise black outs. I really don't remember it, other than the fact that as I got to the top, I passed the woman for the last time, just as we both got to flatter terrain. I waved goodbye and headed back down again. Surely, she thought I was nuts.
Round Five. Final round… and this one was rough yet again. I was gasping for air. Clutching my horns, worried that I would black-out from lack of oxygen. I quickly gathered myself on the short flat before doubling up and powering through the last bit. You know when you’re right at the end, you can finally give it your all.
And then it was time to turn around and bike home. Normally a hill is a means to an end, geographically—wide open roads to bike, a good destination—but today (in the middle of it) climbing the hill seemed pointless. It was only once I got home, showered and propped up my legs did I realize: the hill’s was a means to an end—the end being physical, not geographic.