In May this year, I went to a charity event hosted by NRC pro Burke Swindlehurst (who had just finished ahead of Lance Armstrong at the Tour de Gila). It was a dinner and Q&A on Friday night followed by a ride on Saturday morning, all benefitting Team Give, Burke’s sponsor. Well, the Q&A session was awesome. I probably asked more questions than anyone else present, about all kinds of stuff, and Burke was nice enough to keep answering my questions. I learned that his favorite form of winter cross training is, drumroll please … SNOWSHOEING! Cool. I officially love snowshoeing. We heard some cool stories and got to know a really awesome cyclist. Hearing him talk made me feel like, hey, he’s a normal human being; if he can do it, maybe there’s still hope for me.

So the morning dawned on the ride, and Burke said he was going to take it slow … and he meant it. He rode really pretty slow. It made me wonder if I’m polarizing the intensities in my training enough. (But that’s a different subject for a different day.) We rolled along at a leisurely pace until we got to the big climb of the day.

Now, some background here: The first time I rode this climb was with one of the vice presidents from the office (no, I won’t reveal where I work—this is the internet!). Well, I beat him to the top. In fact, I beat him to the top almost every time we rode this climb. One time, I didn’t beat him to the top, and that was at least partially because I had to jump off my bike and fix something related to my shoe velcro coming apart. And that was the last time we’d ridden before the climb, until this ride in May. So he was the reigning King of the Mountain at the office.

So back to the charity ride: The Veep went to the front of the group on the climb, and I followed. I knew he’d try to hammer the whole thing. He always does. So when he started drilling the beginning slopes, I conserved behind him. We rolled up and over the first climb, and honestly, I had plenty left in the tank. We got to the really steep part, and I was chatting his ear off (I always do) while he was gasping. We’d been joined by another guy, and there was a cat 3 up the road (who we were closing the gap on), but I wasn’t about to ditch him. I just wanted to beat him and no one else.

On the steepest part of the ride, traffic forced me to go to the front for a bit. But then I waited for him and resumed my spot on the back of the breakaway group. We cruised up to the last steep section by the crest, and I finally let loose. I’m pretty sure I hit more than 20 mph, and I looked back to make sure he wasn’t following. He wasn’t even out of the saddle. It felt easy.

Now, truth be known, I’ve been working on my climbing all year. And every time I’ve seen another cyclist, I’ve made a point out of trying to hunt him or her down—even if they go by in the opposite direction from me on the same road. So one day, there I am climbing my local hill, and I spot two cyclists up ahead of me. Naturally, I shifted into predator mode and start working up the hill to catch them. When I do catch them, I find out that one of them had just taken third overall at a local series sprint triathlon with a 2nd-fastest bike split. Cool. He and I accidentally drop his friend, and then we began approaching the steepest section on this particular climb.

The weirdest thing happened.

It started when he stopped talking with me. I was trying not to drop him, but I didn’t want to drop into my granny gear—suddenly, those two goals became mutually exclusive. I was rolling along at what felt comfortable, and in an instant, I’d dropped him—involuntarily. And, oddly enough, a real gap opened up. And it got bigger and bigger until I’d really dropped him. It seemed the steeper the terrain got, the greater the disparity between our speeds. What do you know—all of a sudden, I can ride okay on steep roads.

And when I arrived home, the first place I went was the computer. It was time to find a hillclimb to enter …



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