September 3, 2015

Towards the end of August I went to Ambleside in the Lake District for a small cycling holiday in the hope that it would kick start my training. I set myself the aim of doing 40miles for 4 days and climbing one of the biggest hills in the UK, Hardknott Pass. Unfortunately I failed at both.

Hardknott and Wynrose Pass

On my first day I set off like a spring chicken towards Hardknott & Wynrose Pass. The roads in the lake district are notoriously hilly and your average speed can change drastically every mile.

I cycled through Little Langley and reached the entrance to the two hills where I was greeted by a huge warning sign outlining the fact that the following roads reach 30% gradient and motorists – or anyone really – should take care.

By the time I reached the bottom of Wynrose I was a little bit tired. I had cycled around 10 miles and there had been a few 10-15% climbs along the way. You can’t see much of the road for the first few hundred meters but when I had a clear view I looked up and felt quite scared!
I have never not got up a hill before, but I was sure my undefeated record was going to be wiped out here. I could see where the summit was, it was about 2x longer than I have ever climbed before and at a steeper gradient with a headwind.
It was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Looking back it’s all quite blurry. I was going at a snails pace all the way up and when I got to the top I was so tired I had to lie down, I was well and truly gone! The view from the top is absolutely spectacular, one of the most beautiful scenic views I have seen in the UK.

Wynrose Pass view

Wynrose Pass view

I got up and freewheeled down the descent towards Hardknott and even without seeing it I knew I definitely wouldn’t be climbing it today, I was shattered.
I read the two hills being described as the ‘King and Queen’ of hills, with Hardknott being the king. I had no idea what to expect but I couldn’t really imagine anything harder than that monster I had just climbed.

Wynrose descent with Hardknott in the background

Wynrose descent with Hardknott in the background

As I approached I immediately understood what all the fuss is about. It is an absolute beast of a climb. It twists and turns and I could see just how steep some sections were from the bottom. I knew that the other side was the tougher side and my mouth was open in awe of both the hill and the fact people can cycle up that thing. I turned off to loop round back to Ambleside with my tail firmly between my legs feeling well and truly defeated, there is absolutely no way I could climb that. I didn’t realise it would be possible to be scared of a hill but Hardknott scared the life out of me.

Hardknott pass from the 'easy' side

Hardknott pass from the ‘easy’ side

When I got back to camp I got showered and changed and planned to have lunch at a nice pub I spotted on the route and then drive up and over Hardknott to check it out.
It’s massive, absolutely massive. Incredibly windy and no matter which line you take, you can’t avoid considerable sections of 30%. It’s not massively long but it’s incredibly steep, I can’t understand how people don’t fall backwards. Most people would struggle to walk up it, the clutch on the car was smoking and it was even difficult to drive up. I decided that I wasn’t going to attempt it at all on this trip, it would leave me really disheartened and I knew it was too much too soon.

I reached the top, admired the amazing scenery and then headed down the “harder” side of the hill (via Eskdale). It’s hard to evaluate the difficulty of a climb driving down but it was definitely harder than the other side. I had to continuously stop for cars and I can imagine this is extremely problematic for cyclists. If you get stuck behind a car there and have to pull out of your cleat there’s no way you would get back in again, it’s just too steep.

I’m definitely going to re-visit these roads again for some rides before I head off to America with the ultimate goal of defeating Hardknott.

The tour

I managed 3 days in a row with around 40 miles and I was really struggling. My legs felt like lead and they were worsening badly each time I went out. It’s scary to think that I will need to do 3x that everyday, for 28 days straight, it’s safe to say the ‘tour de lakes’ has been a massive eyeopener. I took a rest day and did my 4th 40mile the day after on a relatively flat course achieving a respectable average speed. This tells me that I’m capable of 40 miles but – understandably being such a novice – it’s the multiple days that I’m struggling with.

I’m really pleased that I went on this trip as it has made me realise how much training I need to be doing in order to succeed. Like most athletes on Strava I became obsessed with improving my – and beating everyone elses – speeds, distances and averages. I’ve decided that I’m stopping focusing on the stats and concentrate on my condition at the end of the each ride. My aim is to complete rides feeling decent and able to go again the next day. I’m going to increase the ride distances in multiples of ten until I reach the required 120 miles. I won’t feel comfortable with the ride until I can reach 120 miles with relative ease. I’ve a year to achieve it, wish me luck!



The story

The ride

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