On Saturday I competed in my first ACT Hill Climb Championships. The format for the race was basically an individual time trial, where competitors ride off at 30 second intervals within their relevant race category and go as fast as they can to the top of the climb. The race course was from the bottom of Corin Road to just past the Corin Forest Recreation Centre, which is roughly 12.5-13kms, with an average gradient of approx 4.5% but with some steeper sections getting up to 12-13%.
Most of the Vikings met up at Point Hut Crossing and rode up to the start line / registration desk together (we call this the race bus). What was clear from the start was that it was going to be a pretty warm race - it was already over 22 degrees when we were riding in at 8am (and given recent temperatures in Canberra it felt all the warmer).
Some of the girls and I had been chatting on the race bus about what category to enter: the usual grades weren't being run as it was the ACT Championships, so those under 30 would all be racing each other in the "Elite" category, and those over 30 could either enter Elite (if their licence had the option) or their relevant "Masters" category. This is quite significant as there were medals up for grabs for each category (and what girl doesn't love a bit of bling!?). After a moment of indecision I decided to bite the bullet and enter Elite, despite me being more than old enough to race in a Masters category. Most of the Valkyries that raced had to enter Elite through default (due to them being under 30) so we were all going up against each other in the fight for bling.
We did a bit of a warm-up up and down Corin Road waiting for the start, checking out the wildlife which included a flock of emus! I've been down to Corin quite a few times and have seen quite the array of wildlife, but never emus before. It was pretty amazing.
And then it was time for the Elite women to start (both the men's and women's Masters categories started first). It was a held start (where someone holds your bike so that you can clip both pedals in and push off as fast as you can). I found it a little disconcerting as it was only my second held start and it did feel a little bit like I was going to tip over on the start line, but fortunately it went off without a hitch. I was the 3rd rider to go, so the first girl had a minute head start on me, and the second 30 seconds.
I kicked it pretty hard from the start, as I know I'm not as strong on the lower flatter sections of the climb as I am when the gradient becomes more consistent so I wanted to minimise any advantage any of the more powerful girls would have had on me over these sections. But it's always a fine line between kicking it hard v kicking it too hard (particularly too early). I think I may have been borderline going too hard too early, as my heart rate spiked pretty quickly up to 185+bpm, and once it goes up it's hard to get it back down again in a race situation.
I caught the rider who started 30 seconds before me pretty early on, and then focused on catching the rider who started a minute ahead of me. I passed her at about the 3km mark, and then focused on trying to maintain my momentum, keep my heart rate consistent and catch some of the Masters category men who had started before the Elite women.
I know the Corin climb quite well, having done it quite a few times recently, and I think this definitely worked to my advantage. But it doesn't meant the climb didn't hurt any less! The conditions were really not optimal: my Garmin was telling me the whole way up that the temperatures were pushing 30 degrees and it only seemed to be getting windier and windier (typically of the headwind variety!). I had a few moments during the first 5kms wishing, almost praying, for a mechanical or even just a flat tyre so that I would have had a legitimate reason to quit.
Fortunately I kept going as the second 5kms didn't seem to hurt quite as much as the first 5km. I was watching my 5km splits closely and trying to gauge how I was going speed-wise for achieving my goal of doing a PB. Unfortunately where I usually measure my splits from and where the race started were at different points so it was hard to compare times directly, but I could tell that I was struggling to achieve my sub-36 minute goal, particularly when I hit the steepest part of the climb (just past Billy Billy Creek) where the wind seemed to be howling down and doing its best to push me back down the hill.
The only saving grace of cresting the Billy Billy Creek climb was that I knew it was the last big climb of the course: after that the terrain is really only undulating for the last 2kms or so. I took a moment to recover at the top of Billy Billy Creek and then kicked the gears up and tried to push towards the end, still fighting the headwind. Competitors that had already finished and spectators were on the right-hand side of the road just before the finish line (it was an uphill finish) and it was great to hear them cheering for me as I was going past. And then it was over - hoorah! I hopped off my bike pretty much straight away and desperately hoped no one expected me to be able to speak anytime soon as I could barely breathe. I wasn't sure if I wanted to lie down or keep walking (I was feeling a little nauseous at the time!) so I compromised by leaning on my bike and puffing frantically, using hand gestures to try and communicate with anyone who seemed inclined to talk to me at the time.
Once I'd sufficiently recovered I wandered down to where everyone else was enjoying an ice cold soft drink and some lollies to watch / cheer for everyone else as they finished their races, and to debrief our own races. And that's one of the things that made the slog up the hill worthwhile.
Presentations were held not too much later, and it turned out I'd won Elite women in a time of 36:23. I was obviously very pleased to have won, but was also a little bit disappointed not to have achieved the sub-36 minute time I was hoping for. I know the conditions were against me in going sub-36 with the wind (and heat to some extent), but I'm still a little disappointed and even frustrated with myself. Oh well, I'll just have to get back out there and have another go some other time. :-)
All in all it was a good day of racing for the Valkyries (in our new Siren kit!) with Deciana also winning Masters Category 1, and Tegan coming third in Elite (with Ches and Anna finishing not too far behind her). Top effort ladies!