Returning to Great Hill.

My last ride was superb. The wind dried, frost hardened ground rode like it would have done in summer, in places. A real treat in our coldest winter in 10 years. I’d hoped that the cold conditions were going to persist to give me another good ride but things have warmed up by quite a few degrees and the mud has returned with a vengeance. It would have been foolish to repeat the last ride, adding in the summit of Great Hill, which had been my best hope but I thought I could avoid the worst parts and still reach the top of the hill. I’ve ridden less often than usual over the last few weeks so looked forward to a good training ride, today.

I started by using an exclusively road route towards White Coppice then took an off road short cut to Brinscall Woods, avoiding the village completely. I’d been putting a good level of effort in so far and continued this up the steep fire road. After a short section of tarmac on the narrow Edge Gate Lane I was ready to climb al the way to the top. A Strava segment begins here, goes to the top and back to the start point. It’s called “Great Hill out and back” and last year I targeted it as an annual challenge with the intention of beating my previous best time. According to Strava I equaled the time at exactly 22 minute and 19 seconds, though the stopwatch had recorded in my favour, so I considered the target beaten. When I looked at Strava after the ride I was surprised to find that that occasion was the last time I rode the challenge.

My intention today was to keep up a good pace without going all out for a fastest time. The gravel road was loose and slow then later there was some sticky mud which also made it hard work. I approached a descending walker higher up and hopped from one rut to another. This movement was enough to make my right calf cramp. I kept pedalling and tried to stretch the knot out. My left calf felt as if it could also cramp but by dropping my heels as I turned the pedals I got relief. I am definitely prone to cramp. It often happens when I’m not even doing anything athletic. I might just be playing with the dog or even getting out of the car and some part of my leg tightens up, which can often be persistent and painful. The tendon to my big toe cramps when taking a stubborn sock off or washing between my toes in the bath! (It’s personal, don’t tell anyone). I continued to the steeper section and on to the top. Because I wanted to record a good time on Strava I didn’t want to stop to take a photo, so below is the view from last summer.

Winter Hill, to the south and some 250 feet higher, is visible above. This year I intend to link Great Hill to the 3 hills to the east and north. That’s the nearby Darwen hill, then Pendle Hill and Longridge fell, making a route of well over 100 km. This is my biggest challenge which I’ve set myself for this year. My hope is that it will motivate me to ride harder and sometimes longer when I’m out. My target to ride the Mary Towneley loop last year did exactly this for me.

I quickly turned around and set off down, remembering to be cautious near the deep sumps of mud which had me going over the handlebars last year. I was still working hard and kept it going back to the segment start. My stopwatch time was 27 minutes 33 seconds which was later confirmed by Strava. Whilst way slower than my best time I wasn’t surprised, given the ground conditions. Although only a handful of riders have attempted the route this year, my time proved to be the quickest so far. I decided to throw caution to the wind and ride a long downhill in the woods below. It was muddy but still a good blast. The fatigue was really building up by now so I decided to miss out Healey Nab on the way home, though I did add in a road climb and could really feel it. I didn’t slow on the way home and could still feel tightness in my calves, especially the troublesome right. I seem to be OK now but know I put in a big effort today. It was a quality training ride and maintaining the pace kept it exciting from start to finish.

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