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  • Writer's pictureStars and Spokes

The hills are alive, with the sound of internalised screaming!

Hill climbing is an art, it transpires that neither Dan nor I are artists. This is somewhat unfortunate, given that our ride across the USA will involve 110,000 ft of total climbing (equivalent to four ascents of Mount Everest). In the past few weeks of training, we have intentionally included a number of hill climbing rides. The aim has been to determine where we are at, in terms of natural hill climbing ability – the most polite way to describe our current ability level would be ‘room for improvement’!

This period even included a couple of ascents up ‘Bealach na Ba’ (Pass of the Cattle, in Gaelic) in the Scottish Highlands, a total of 2000 ft of ascent on each occasion, one of the highest paved passes in the UK. The views were sublime, the picture below hopefully goes some way to capturing these magical vistas. We both have a solid base of endurance fitness, which we will steadily improve over the next 10 months, ahead of our cycle start date. However, neither of us are naturally gifted cyclists, this becomes particularly apparent when we meet hills along the way....

'Bealach na Ba' in the Scottish Highlands - One of most iconic hill climbs in the UK

This lack of natural cycling ability is precisely why we chose this activity for our expedition. It’s all about taking ourselves out of our comfort zone, in doing so we hope to show others what can be achieved through a structured training plan and a lot of hard work – you can basically achieve anything in life using this approach. In raising funds for mental health in the military through our ride, we wanted to do something iconic and truly challenging. Beyond any doubt, it is delivering on the latter!

So, back to these hills. How do we get better? As with most things that are worth achieving in life, there will be no short cut to success. According to those in the know, the best way to get better at hill climbing on a bike climb lots of hills on your bike. Turns out, it’s not rocket science! We have since identified a number of bits of the UK that are particularly hilly (think Scottish Highlands, Devon and Cornwall, Yorkshire, Snowdonia – other suggestions are welcome...), it’s now a case of getting out there and getting better.

There are of course other ways in which to improve our performance. The two primary components being to a) reduce weight, and b) improve strength.

Reduce Weight The less weight we have to haul up the hills, the less effort required. For us, this weight comes in the form of body mass and equipment. Being in the Royal Navy, we are blessed with access to some of the best physical trainers and nutritionists in the UK, with whom we will be working in order to ensure our body composition is best suited to the hills (i.e. less body fat!!). On the equipment front, in the coming months we will be looking at every single piece of our equipment, to see where any weight can be saved.

Improve Strength As above, strength and conditioning is another area where the expert advice available to Royal Navy personnel will be invaluable. All overseen by the fantastic Institute of Naval Medicine (INM) facility in Portsmouth, we will have a small team of sports scientists, nutritionists and physical trainers on hand to guide us through a training programme that will build strength in key areas.

Plenty of work still to do, it’s not going to be easy, but then it was never meant to be! We will be posting regular updates on how our training programme is working, over the coming months.

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