Thursday, September 17, 2009

2009 National Hill Climb Championships

Several weeks ago I took part in the Irish National Hill Climb Championships. Like last years great event, they were being run by the North Pole Cycling Club on the Mamore Gap.

With the previous year in mind, this year I prepared a little differently for it – first off I got myself an 11-28 cassette (with the steepness and headwind last year, a 25 was not low enough) and trained on a few steep hills around the Dublin Mountains – The Devils Elbow being one of them. One of my main problems in 2008 with the climb was that I went out too hard, this year, as I would be doing the climb with a Powermeter I had my max wattages sorted for the first two minutes to make sure I don’t blow too badly by the end. Training went well but the World Marathon Championships 6 days earlier (with lots of traveling) was going to cause some recovery problems before the race.

Like last year, due to the distance to the race, I was not going to get a preride of the course in. I had the profile from my Garmin so I knew what to expect (during the ride last year, it was all just a cloud of pain and suffering!).

I was staying in Monaghan the night before the race (Dad kindly offered to drive me the two and a half hours up to Mamore in the morning) and just as I fell asleep I got a call from Mel – why was she calling me at midnight? She let me know that I forgot my Garmin 705 in Dublin but she offered to leave at 3am and cycle/take the bus to Monaghan with it so that I would have it in the morning for the race. I was really annoyed that I left it in Dublin as a lot of my pacing plan for this short event was based on wattage (it is such a steep hill it is really easy to go out way too hard, especially when the adrenalin is pumping!). But since her making her way up in the middle of the night without a car I told her to relax and I would figure something out.

As Dad and I drove up to Donegal, I stopped in a few places to see if they had any Garmins in stock – no luck, and I arrived at sign-on computerless. I know, I know, I should be able to pace without a computer, bla bla bla, this is true – in an MTB race or road race, I don’t use power as a feedback to my effort – I use it for data recording and to see what I actually do – this race, being a time trial uphill was different and I relied on it – especially on a hill I don’t know well.

Sign-on was smooth and I was soon out on the Saris turbo warming up for my turn. The weather was very different this year, last year's strong headwind and rain was met with a large tailwind – times would be quicker.

During the warmup, I didn’t really feel it – the legs felt heavy and my breathing was not great. I had traveled for almost 5 hours to get here so I tried to get my head into the right place, which for this type of "sufferfest" is almost the most important thing.

With a couple of minutes to go, Dad called me over to the startline and I tried to focus at the task at hand – keep it easy at the start, keep it easy at the start, I repeated to myself. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and I was off. My bike felt really smooth as I started up the hill with the Zipp 404s making that distinctive carbon tubular hum noise on the tarmac. I kept it as steady as I could and about 2 minutes in hit the first 6-7 second descent. Last year, I remember being destroyed at this point, but this time around I felt okay. The middle section, before the second rolling part, I pushed on but felt I was holding back too much – I wasn’t/couldn’t give it everything. Before long (time actually seemed to go by quickly) I hit the last long steep stretch – it was a lot easier this year with the tailwind and I felt I still had good power (that should not have been the case), at least until the final few meters when it took everything just to keep the bike moving.

7:31 after leaving the start gate I crossed the finish line, placed the bike on the side of the road and promptly lay down in severe oxygen dept. My breathing was really labored (I didn’t feel okay for several hours later) but I was glad to be finished – before hearing times or anything I was not too happy with my ride but again, under the conditions, gave it everything I could.

Later, back at race HQ, The Rusty Nail Bar, I found out that I finished 3rd, been beaten by 5 time National Hill Climb Champ and Pro rider, Paul Griffin and Mark Dowling in 2nd place. Paul traveled all the way up from Tralee to take part and sat down an amazing time of 6:49 – a time, even if everything went perfect for me, I don’t think I would have beaten.

Thanks to all the organizers for putting on the race and all the competitors for making it the most attended hill climb championships Ireland has ever run!

I’m not sure where the race will be held next year, but I’ll be ready – there is a green jersey I want to claim.

Full results, reports and photos can be found here.

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