Hills....a love/hate relationship

Some of you are going to say, you live in Florida, you don't have hills, you have bumps.

Compared to some parts of the world, I absolutely agree with you! Realize, this is what my legs have to climb. Four years ago, I was telling my friend Matt, my legs don't do hills. He told me I should because they would make me a better cyclist, which is true. I didn't know that at the time.

"Do you not see, my short little legs?" I retorted. "They don't do hills. They are happy on flat" I had done a couple triathlons at this point and my main concern was how flat was the bike course was, after all flat is fast (right?).

"You're going to learn to do hills. Everyone can and needs to do hills." he said, not as mockingly as he could have made this sound but still delivering a point.

He had a rule. One simple rule that I would at first consider infuriating and it was that I could stop on any hill I wanted but I couldn't make forward progress unless I was actually riding. In other words, no getting off the bike and walking to the top of the hill. The first couple of rides into the hills I whined about everything under the sun. It was too hot. This was too hard. I can't do this. My legs are too tired. You name it and I tried to use it as an excuse.

But soon enough, hills started to become a challenge that I sometimes enjoyed. Sometimes being the key word.

Fast forward to 4 years later.

Our triathlon team had a ride over the weekend, with appropriate social distancing, throughout the hills of Clermont. The same hills that I had spent the last years developing a love/hate relationship with. Our coach outlined a loop of approximately 18 miles with 1200 feet of climbing. After looking at the loop, I decided at my current ability that I could make 2 loops and have a quality ride. I was discussing this during our swim practice on Friday where one of my teammates overheard me and challenged me to do 3 loops. Now a days I'm not one to back down from a challenge, so with a few curse words going through my head, I smiled and said ok.

Later that evening, I see the route posted on my triathlon group's Facebook page, with a note from our coach that the goal is to go faster each lap. I'm going to try my best I thought.

I woke up very early, had breakfast, and headed to the meeting spot. We headed out as a group and I got dropped from the main group of riders on the first hill. I knew that if I stayed with the front group each lap would definitely not get faster and I had a goal to make.

I stayed with my plan to make the first lap something that was a good performance but that I knew I could push and beat on lap 2. The loops I was riding happened to have a few of the most well known hills on it, these same hills that I had spent years getting stronger at climbing. First up was the Wall and then came Buckhill, while it was tough, it somehow felt easier than I remember. Breathe I told myself, you have climbed this plenty of times. Then after traveling the roads, I came to the backside of Sugarloaf Mountain. Sugarloaf Mountain being the big hill that is most famous.

I'm not sure if it was because I had come to Sugarloaf last and knew it was the last hill of the loop, as I reached the summit I could feel my legs still under me and overall it didn't feel too bad of a climb. I spun around and started heading down, wondering if I could tackle all three of these hills again, and if could I beat my first lap. I smiled as I flew down the hill. My bike computer read 39.4 miles per hour(mph). "Awe Shucks" I thought to myself I didn't hit 40. But I still have 2 more loops to try again.

I made it back to the car, and lapped my Garmin. It read my time for the first loop had been 1:23. I switched out my water bottles, and headed back out thinking I'm pretty sure I could beat that. I completed the next loop with my bike computer hitting 39.8 mph as I flew back down the back side of Sugarloaf. "Come on!" I said out loud. I knew I was going to beat my time so I enjoyed a nice easy 2.75 miles back to the car. My Garmin read 1:17 for this loop. "Uh oh" I thought, I was hoping to go around 1:20 and break 1:20 on the last loop. Now I had something of a dilemma, having set a time on loop 2 that was faster than what I had hoped to accomplish.

I grabbed my last 2 water bottles out of the car, and sighed. I knew this was going to be a push and this was going to hurt to beat that time. Every hill hurt this time, I could feel each pedal stroke and the slow crank of the chains moving as I propelled myself up the hill. I had a little voice in my head that told me to keep peddling slow and steady. On the flat parts, I pushed as hard as I can. I had completed the climb on the Wall and Buckhill leaving only Sugarloaf standing menacingly in the distance. "One more time" I thought to myself as I charged the hill, my legs rhythmically stomping up the climb. I was not going to be stopped this close to the end, I hadn't even looked at the clock but knew that if I was going to have any chance at beating my time I had to go.

I let out a deep breath as I finally made it to the top of Sugarloaf. I didn't have long to wait and turned my bike around and started the descent. As I flew down, my garmin finally read 40mph. "Alright" I thought to myself that's one goal down. I looked at my watch. This is going to be close.

I had a decision to make, I was about three miles away from the car and the end of the loops. I could go at the speed I wanted to go and miss my time, or I could decide life is going to suck for the next 12 or so minutes and I would beat my time. I decided life could suck for 12 minutes. It hurt and I was inwardly cursing the whole time, but I made the turn to get to my car and hit my lap button.

My Garmin read 1:15 for the lap. I had done it. I had climbed 3400 feet and went faster on each lap. The most I had ever climbed before that in a ride was 2400 feet. I smiled, grabbed my recovery drink and went to talk to my teammates before I headed home.

As I spent the rest of the day thinking about the ride, I really loved the training. One of the hardest things for me is not going out the gate like a bat out of hell, because well....I feel good. Wow I feel good. This is going to be a major pr day. Then halfway through the race I'm thinking I made a mistake. As many of us know, this is a hard cycle to teach yourself. Well it happened last race, but today is different, and it isn't. At the end of the race, you wonder why you did this to yourself. For me, training like this helps me learn that balance of how fast can I go vs. how fast can I go and have a great race. Could I have gone faster on the first lap? More than likely yes. I'm still learning that balance in myself and I feel many athletes are. One of the things I love about the sport of triathlon is I don't think you can ever stop learning about yourself and how to race. There are always new things coming out there, but remember keep being you and keep showing up.

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