In my first season of racing bikes, I focused on a small hill not far from my house. It’s somewhat funny to describe Lookout Mountain in that way, because there was once a time when I thought it was a big hill far from my house! Later that season, I raced in the Guanella Pass Hill Climb. Similar to many other race results, I didn’t come in first and I didn’t come in last.
I remember getting out of the car that morning and looking up at Guanella Pass from Georgetown Lake. The wind was howling and I began to wonder about what I had gotten myself into. There I stood, a petite woman closer to 5 feet tall rather than 6, looking up toward the summit of Guanella Pass towering over me at 11,670 feet above sea level. The only things between me and that summit were 10 miles and 2,900 vertical feet beginning at 8,500 feet above sea level. I was not concerned about the distance itself, but the elevation. Denver is known for being the Mile High City, so I was already somewhat used to thinner air. But this race started so much higher! I’d never actually ridden up a mountain pass at this point in my short cycling career.
I did not have the opportunity to do a pre-ride of the hill climb, so I had no idea what to expect. I was thrilled to have such a nice smooth road to ride upon. Immediately out of Georgetown, some fairly steep switch backs get your blood pumping and thin out the racers. Then the road levels out for a few miles before the sustained climbing begins. Looking back on the Strava data, there is one section with 27% grade…that’s probably where I was doing a lot of visualization. It was all I could do to keep going. I finished the race and even went back for more the following year. I cut 13 minutes from my time from 2012 to 2013. I’m signed up to race this hill climb again this Sunday; I’m not sure what exactly it is that keeps drawing me back year after year. A part of it is the satisfaction of conquering something so much larger than me. Mantras and visualization were a big part of what got me through that thin air and up the steep sections.
This year I have a new bike. People have told me that I’d see a big change in my performance with a new bike. I’m a bit skeptical about that, honestly. When it comes to performance at my level, there certainly is a percentage that can be attributed to the equipment, but I believe the bulk of my performance is due to the training. I’m in a completely different place in my cycling journey than where I was two years ago.
The constants from year to year, however, are the thin air and steep sections. I’ll arm myself with some new mantras and perhaps some additional visuals. I’d share those with you IF I thought they’d work for you. Unfortunately, much of this stuff is concocted as I pedal through the discomfort and is unique to me. Just like I can’t pedal the bike for you, I can’t tell you what you need to hear to get through the difficult stuff… whether it’s on a bike or anywhere else. You need to look within and determine what kind of inspiration you need to keep going. Then create it for yourself or find it externally.