Challenging myself with lots of climbing.

Having cancelled my plan to ride over 100 km with perhaps as much as 6,000 feet of climbing last Saturday I started to think more about my current fitness. Would I really have been fully prepared for such an enterprise? Since my big ride is postponed for an unknown amount of time it has given me a chance to test my fitness further. I rarely ride my mountain bike on a route with substantially more than 1,500 feet of climbing so I thought it was a good idea to do some concentrated climbing and knew an ideal circuit for such a test. What would be the point in doing a lot of climbing if the downhill wasn’t fantastic? My best bet was to ride my favourite circuit in Brinscall Woods but not just ride it once. I’d ride 10 laps, each lap ascending and descending by 270 feet. The length of the lap is 1.07 miles and I knew from my last ride that I can lap easily in 12 minutes and some seconds. Including the ride to the woods and back I’d cover 20.88 miles with 3,044 feet of climbing.

I arrived at the start of the circuit at it’s lowest point and started the climb. At first it rises on rough stones set into the surface then smooths but steepens. After an ascent of 115 feet you join a gravel road which rises little and brings you to the toughest sections. Climbing the woodland floor is hard with some very steep parts over tree roots and rocks, some of which are loose. Finally the gradient slackens but there’s still a rocky hump to get over. The first climb took a little over 9 minutes followed by an exquisite, 3 minute downhill. I was in my element. Hopping over a fallen tree and it’s twisty single track for a good distance. Another log hop leads to a tighter segment with roots which can have a wheel hopping sideways at any moment. Through the ruins of an old farm and back on single track and the challenge goes on. A steep drop across the gravel road leads to 3 rocky drop offs which start a section which on the app. Strava is entitled “Better than going straight down”, and it definitely is! On my last ride I tried hard to become Strava King of the Mountains on this trail and managed 52 seconds, enough to secure me the crown but Strava had other ideas. I don’t know if the GPS signal is somehow affected by the trees but last time the app. didn’t accept that any of my 3 runs followed the trail. Today 3 of my 10 laps were recognised and I tried hardest on the first lap which secured me 55 seconds, 4 seconds better than the existing KOM. So I took the crown!

My first 3 laps felt easy enough and took around 37 minutes and 5 seconds. By lap 4 I started to feel the effort of the climbing and wondered if 5 laps might be enough for me. After lap 5, though, I was keen to see what another 5 laps would feel like so pressed on. I had a few slips and slides on the fast downhills but was starting to notice how the work done so far was affecting my climbing. I was trying to take it too easy on some of the more difficult parts when I should have been using nearer to maximum power. Laps 4 to 6 took about 37 minutes 45 seconds so I was maintaining my pace quite well.

On the next 3 laps I could feel myself slowing. I had some tightness, particularly in my right calf, and tried to drink water to help. It’s not easy to drink when you’re panting up hill and impossible when you’re concentrating on the descents. Laps 7 to 9 took a longer 39 minutes 17. My last lap only took 12 minutes 59 because I put the work in on the trickier steps and rooty bits so wasn’t stopped at all. I rode it as if I was riding into Paris wearing the Gilet Jaune, leading the Tour de France. The leader is traditionally never passed riding into the capital and nothing could beat me now. 10 laps was hard and I was glad I didn’t have to do any more, though I still had to get home. I finished my water when I’d stopped in a total time of 2 hours 7 minutes and 52 seconds. It was a very worthwhile ride. I’d loved the downhilling and enjoyed the climbs. I was pleased that I hadn’t given up before the 10 laps were completed. I proved to myself that the bigger amount of climbing wasn’t going to beat me and I’m sure I could climb a much greater amount on lesser gradients. The average gradient of the climb is a little over 10% but many parts are less steep so others are much harder. I’m sure I’ll remember today’s ride for a very long time and wouldn’t be shy about trying something even harder in future.

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