Mel vs Hills. Mel Wins.

Anyone who knows me will know I like a good hill. I train on hills, I try and race on hilly courses, I’m all about the hills! I also have a fear of going fast and using aero-bars  so hills are helpful here as I don’t need to do either.

I’m not sure exactly where it comes from but I remember that when I first bought a road bike and started cycling properly even the little inclines around Richmond Park struck fear into my heart and most of the time I would be found taking the anti-clockwise loop around there! However with a bit of persistence, hard work and consistent training the impossible became possible and I was soon able to take on the baby ascents of Richmond Park at a respectable speed and HR! After a year of training only in Richmond Park I started to get brave and headed out to the country lanes of Surrey and their selection of hills put in some consistent training. Half the time I think it’s as much about controlling your mind and the little voices as it is about strength!

This is why when I read about the Rapha Rising Challenge on Strava it looked perfect for me! Having got my A race out of the way for the year I liked the idea of a different kind of challenge.

Taking inspiration from the Tour de France the challenge set was to accumulate over 7,235m  of climbing in 8 days. This total is apparently the same amount of climbing as elevations of the Peyresourde, Ventoux, Sarenne and Alpe d’Huez combined.

Given the challenge began on a Sunday and ended the following Sunday it made most sense to break it up into 3 weekend rides and one mid-week ride….

Chiltern 108 miles of hot hilly hell

Chiltern 108m Hilly Hell

For my first ride I hit the Chilterns. It is up and down the whole way round (as you can see from the profile) but scenery is gorgeous and the roads are generally small country lanes, although you do have to watch out for potholes which are sometimes more like craters than holes.

It was one of the hottest days of the year so getting nutrition right was key to having a good ride. Unfortunately, I was so intent on not getting lost I spent the first 50 miles staring at the route on my Garmin and not getting enough food and drink in. Not a nice feeling! I had a spent 20 mins sitting under a tree eating a sandwich and drinking a coke before setting off again. Unfortunately the damage was done and the next 58 miles passed at a snail’s pace, a very sweaty snail! But, I knew that if I wanted to complete the challenge I had to the get the climbing in so I plodded on round. While it was painful at the time I think rides like that are great to have in the bank. When things get tough in a race or training you can look back and remind yourself just how bad it could be!!

Total climbed: 2,439 mtrs

Midweek Top-up

Midweek Top Up

By the time it got to Wednesday I’d just about recovered from Sunday’s fun so I took advantage of the glorious weather and flexible working hours and headed out for my usual Surrey hills loop which gave me another 750 mtrs to add to the pile!

Total climbed so far: 3,189


Legs of Steel

Legs of Steel


For Saturday’s ride I talked fellow BLL’r Paul D into a circuit of the Legs of Steel route. It definitely helped to have some company to distract from all the climbing. Unfortunately, the Garmin lost a few 100 mtrs climbing so I finished the day slightly down on where I should have been. I also had to admit defeat and take the train home.

Total climbed so far: 5,085


16 Ascents of Box Hill 

Box Hill



The final day I still needed 2,150mtrs of climbing and really couldn’t face another long ride around Surrey to get the final metres. I had discussed the idea of doing hill repeats of Box Hill on the previous days ride with Paul.  At the time it seemed like a crazy idea, but now faced with the prospect of another loop of the Chilterns or Legs of Steel route it looked like quite a good option… I started out early. Funnily enough I found the first 4 or 5 laps the hardest but once I’d got into a rhythm it was actually quite relaxing. It’s also great people watching, I hadn’t realised quite how popular Box Hill was until I’d done this. Every descent down I passed a constant stream of people making their way up on all sorts of bikes at all sorts of speeds. A great people watching and bike spotting opportunity!

Finishing the 16th lap was a great feeling, not least because I could finally stop at the cafe for a well deserved slice of cake! It was a great challenge to do, so satisfying that I’m thinking of making it a regular event (when I say regular I mean once a year regular ) So let me know if you fancy joining me in 2014….!

And if you’re interested the overall winner managed to accumulate over 41,000 mtrs of climbing over 7 rides during the 8 days. Now that’s impressive!

Total climbing at the end: 7,293


My top challenging hilly routes:

Chiltern 100 169km and 2,400 mtrs of climbing

The sportive is held once a year and offers 3 different distances. I use these routes as training rides when I fancy something different to the Surrey or Kent hills. The routes are mainly on country lanes and all your efforts on the climbs are rewarded with stunning views across the Chilterns and some fantastic descents. You are also treated to some fantastic place names, I challenge you not smile as you whizz down Pishill! But my favourite place name is Speen, probably because it is a sign you’re on the home straight!

Legs of Steel (long) 81km and 1,600 mtrs of climbing

This is probably a staple hilly route for anyone who cycles in Surrey. Again it is a route used for an annual sportive, but is a well trodden circuit for Surrey cyclists all year round. It takes in all the classic Surrey hills starting with Leith hill and finishing off (finishing you off) with Box hill. It’s a course that keeps your interest by combining long grinding hills with some short-sharp-take-your-breath-away-hills!

 King of the Downs – 185km and 2,700 mtrs of climbing

I first did this route a couple of years ago with two friends. It seemed like our day was doomed before it even started.  It was pouring with rain, a man was sick on our bikes in the train (one of the many hazard of the first train on a Sunday morning), one friend fell off his bike before we’d even started and then realised he’d only bought one booty and no waterproof.  We then proceeded to start the race by cycling in the wrong direction. However once we got over these issues and got on the road it turned out to be one of the most challenging and fulfilling days climbing I’ve had. The route takes you around Surrey, North Downs, Ashdown Forest and Kent and takes you through a “greatest hits” of climbs in these areas.


Guest Blog: From Triathlete to Cyclist

Nicole Oh

Pearson Physio and friend of Black Line London Nicole Oh guest blogs about her journey from iron woman to competitive cyclist.

“Retired Triathlete” – that’s what my twitter bio says. And having made the transition to “Road racer”, I’ve learnt just how different Triathlon and Cycling can be.

Cycling is a hard sport, period. Not being one to sit on the fence, I will just come straight out and say that it is harder than Triathlon. The main reason is, in road racing, you almost always have to go at the pace of other riders. You could be pushing as hard as you can, just holding on, with bleeding lungs and burning legs, then someone decides to attack (again), and if you can’t find that extra little bit at that moment, you’ll be dropped and essentially, your race will be over. And to make matters worse, your competitors are looking out for that weakness, so they can put the boot in when it will cause most suffering. Sometimes I think that those who do best in road racing are those who can hurt themselves the most, something I am yet to master…

In Triathlon, form aside, generally the strongest/fastest person will win. Triathlon is about pacing and control – what pace you can sustain for a certain period of time without blowing up. In road racing, tactics, thinking, and team work play a huge part. Often the smartest rider/team will win, and not necessarily the strongest. This is one of the reasons I like road racing!

The majority of triathlon injuries are overuse injuries in some way, which normally involves some degree of training error or bad decision-making on your part sometime in the process. Whilst these injuries are also quite common in cycling, the risk of you crashing, often at high speed and often entirely not your fault, is far higher with a bunch of 50+ riders travelling over 25mph within inches of each other. You could be in the best form of your life, when someone comes down in front of you, and in a few seconds, your season could be over. Bad luck definitely has it’s part to play.

You become very unbalanced as a cyclist… in body shape that is! (some would argue in mindset as well). In a sport where a good power to weight ratio is essential to being competitive, upper body weight, even if it is muscle, is dead weight, and therefore not needed. I have gradually over the past year felt my legs getting bigger and heavier, and my once quite developed shoulders and guns shrinking. And for the first time ever I care about what I weigh, and even went on a diet… a proper one,where I counted the number of calories that went in and out.

Further to the imbalance, my core stability has never been so bad! I feel myself having to make an effort to sit up against gravity, both on the bike and in everyday life. I have turned into one of those cyclists who just rides their bike, the type that I often lecture in my clinic! I have taken for granted how much just a little bit of swimming and running help to maintain your core muscles, and I have fallen out of the habit of going to the gym just once a week to do some S+C.

The training is different. I know it’s obvious with 3 disciplines, but triathlon involves a lot of volume and does take up a lot more time, and hence requires a lot more organisation to be able to train consistently. When I was training for Ironman, I didn’t really think about it, I just programmed it in to my routine and did it. Now that I am out of the routine, I can’t imagine ever fitting it all in! The fatigue is different too – my legs are often tired and heavy with cycling training, with Triathlon, my whole self felt shattered!

Road racing is great if you’re not a morning person! The earliest road race I’ve ever done started at 9.30am, but is usually more likely to be 1pm. Training camp rides start at the civilised hour of 10am. This is in stark contrast to the 6.30am trips to the lake on Saturday mornings, or loading the car to go to a race at 5am, as party-goers stumbled out of clubs in Clapham!

I do miss triathlon and being a triathlete, especially around the time of the year when everyone goes off to lovely European destinations for races. However, for the time being, i am enjoying the new challenges of road racing, especially as i have an awesome bunch of ladies in my team, Les Filles RT, to race with. I also love some of the traditions and romanticism of road racing, from the unspoken peloton etiquette to the tea and homemade cakes at race HQ (usually a village hall) after a road race.  However, I’m sure my days of clipping on a race belt are not over yet…

Who better to treat your triathlon and cycling injuries than Nicole? Find her at and on Twitter @PearsonPhysio

Stef Wyman Interview : #FanBackedWomensCycling

Stef Wyman picture

If you watched the thrilling women’s road race at London 2012, or any of the incredible moments in the Velodrome that made household names of some incredible young female cyclists, you might think that it’s a sport in rude health, right?

That is not quite the case, but there is something pretty incredible happening right now due in no small part to the efforts of one guy – Stef Wyman. Owner/manager of Matrix FitnessPrendas cycle team and key protagonist behind #FanBackedWomensCycling Stef is a doer with a great story and one which resonates with Black Line London’s own ethos.

You can listen to the Fan Backed Womens Cycling story from the horses mouth and follow Stef on Twitter @DS_Stef