Anatomy of a Road Climb

Elevators do it half the time.  Space rockets do it most of the time. Prices, it seems are always doing it.  And recently so am I.  What on earth are you babbling on about I hear you ask?  Going ‘Up’ of course.  But is it just as simple as getting on your bike and riding up a mountain?  Well, probably. Okay it is, but that wouldn’t make for a very interesting blog post would it? So I’ve analysed it to death. Made a cup of tea and analysed it a bit more, watched a bit of TV, made dinner, gave up on my analysis and made something up instead.

Controversially I’d say that attempting some of the larger road climbs in the Alps is like coming to terms with a chronic illness. Okay, bear with me. Anyone who has watched the second season of House (This is where all of my medical training comes from by the way) will know that there are five stages that a patient goes through when coming to terms with difficult and troubling news.  Well here’s where I draw parallels because on closer examination I experience at least three if not four of the five stages on a regular basis.  Let’s take a closer look.

  1. The first stage is denial.  Denial usually comes in the form of stepping out the front door and telling yourself ‘I’m just going for an easy spin today, give the old legs a break’, an hour later your slogging it up some insidious incline, jaw locked shut, breathing hard through your teeth with eyes out on stalks, not really knowing how you ended up there.
  2. Denial generally fuels anger and often sets in at the point of the climb when pride won’t allow you to turn back.  Renowned cyclist Bernard Hinault used to deal with his anger by punching things, people, bikes, cars, trees, small animals, large animals.  This isn’t recommended unless there’s no one else around then knock yourself, or anything else for that matter, out.
  3. If you’re riding on your own then its now time to enter into negotiations, with yourself.  Your now aching legs open talks with your brain attempting to convince it that you’re more the ‘sitting down type’ and that perhaps cycling should only continue as far as the next lamppost, phone box or sign at which point you will head home for some serious sitting down practice.  Your Ego being the arbiter in this situation generally shuts down all negotiations and climbing continues.  This can often lead back into anger followed by more bargaining.
  4. Failed negotiations can then lead into depression and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness especially if the only way to salvation is up. Joining a support group can help. On the way up you may encounter groups of people in similar situations.  Groups allow people to meet others with the same problems who are still active and accomplishing goals like turning the pedals once, twice or sometimes three times. This is highly encouraged in order to progress to the final stage.
  5. At last. Acceptance. Though climbing for long periods of time can bring emotional upheaval, it also brings the triumphant feelings and strength that come with overcoming obstacles and the knowledge that it’s now downhill all the way back to the pub. Unless the pub is still the next valley over in which case you had better be prepared for another rollercoaster of emotion. With each success comes the confidence that you’re able to go out and do it all again. Or not. Well you’ve done it now and there’s no need to put yourself through ‘that’ again especially when you’re indoors, as is the fridge, which contains such delights as pies and beer.

It’s worth noting at this point that if you believe that you are stuck in one of the first four stages permanently, you may want to consult with a therapist.


Mr Spock relives the climb up to Col de Joux Plane

To see a breakdown of some of the climbs we’ve been slogging up in the last month or so  see our website where we’ve broken down the climbs per kilometer, altitude gained and gradient percentage so you can see exactly how much it will hurt…but then it wouldn’t be a challenge would it?

Happy Climbing!