A look inside The Struggle Hill Climb above Ambleside in September 2021
In 2021, we were delighted to be able to sponsor four female riders to enter The Struggle Hill Climb. By offering to pay their entry fees, we were able to encourage and enable these four novice hill climbers to have a go at an event that each of them said they never would have done otherwise.
Whilst Frankie and Lauren have competed a little in mountain bikes and road crits respectively neither had entered a Hill Climb like this one prior to our call for riders to sponsor. And Kate, who has only recently had her first baby, hadn't ever attempted bike racing at all. We asked our fourth sponsored rider Katie Hurt (perfect name for a hill climber, Ed) for a summary her experience on the day. And better still, her friend Max was on hand taking some great shots of the event too.
On the morning of The Struggle hill climb I was up early to begin a ceremony of caffeination, fuelling and trying to find a way to keep my hair off my face with no helmet. This was followed by an uneventful drive to the start, in which I repeatedly assured my parents that the rain was definitely about to stop. (Turns out it really was not). (Again, sorry for the bad prediction on our part, Ed.)
When we arrived, I was blown away by just how many very fit people with very fancy bikes and very tight kit could fit into one car park. Suddenly my own bike felt very inadequate and I questioned whether I too should be oiling my legs and removing my bar tape. (The answer to both of these was no by the way).
Nerves were substantial by this point and many trips to the bathroom were made, although this proved surprisingly social, giving an opportunity to chat to some of the other competitors. In between these trips, and the bouts of torrential rain, I squeezed in a quick warm up on the turbo. Unfortunately, unlike others, I did not have a very useful person to shelter me under an umbrella whilst I did this so everything got a little bit wet.
And all too soon it was time to race. Now if you don’t know The Struggle, I’ll paint a quick picture. It is a brutal Lake District climb from Ambleside up to Kirkstone Pass. The stats come out as an average of 8% gradient over 2.7 miles, with a maximum gradient of somewhere between 20-24% depending on who you ask. However, this doesn’t really do it justice as there is a significant flat/downhill section around 1.3 miles in, meaning the remainder is long stretches of gruellingly high gradient.
Indeed, the race itself is mostly a blur of suffering which I have fortunately mostly forgotten - I think kind of like how you forget about the pain of childbirth.
I do however remember the way the starters put me at ease, the cheering of the supporters scattered up the lower slopes (which at this point still elicited a smile) and the raucous noise of cheering, cowbells and horns at the top (which by this point could not have elicited a smile but did spur me on and, more importantly, alerted me I was near the finish that could still not be seen through the mist). All this is to say that my key takeaway from the race was how incredibly supportive everyone was and I really couldn’t have asked for more from a first race.
After that came a car ride back to the bottom as it turns out I did not fancy a wet, misty and, of course, steep descent when I could barely remember my own name. Then the award ceremony where I found out that I somehow managed to scrape a third place (albeit several minutes behind second and first). And finally a nice burger in a local pub to round the day off perfectly.
All that’s left to say is a big thank you to the race organisers for doing such a good job for an even better cause, to Cold Dark North for sponsoring my place and to everyone who supported me and encouraged me over the last few months. I definitely wouldn’t have had the guts to enter this without you all but I’m so glad I did.
And from a supporter's perspective, Max Boardman writes:
After ascending Kirkstone Pass in the torrential rain and mist, I knew it was going to be a tough day for both riders and supporters. Visibility was poor and the wind was howling, although luckily for the riders at least, it was blowing them up the hill.
Despite the weather, there were still a plethora of die-hard spectators towards the top of the climb, a select few having been dedicated enough to make the ascent by bike. After a few minutes of spectating and cheering, I decided to get out my camera to capture the
atmosphere of the crowd, the determination of the riders and the conditions faced by both. In the end, the majority of my photographs are output in black and white to reflect the dramatic nature of the event.
The first few riders up the hill showed just how hard 20 minutes at an average grade of 8% really was. Though you couldn’t actually see the riders approaching, the clanging of cowbells announced the imminent arrival of a sacred struggler. Whilst some managed to put on a brave face, most riders appeared to be showing exactly how hard they were suffering.
As the riders continued to climb I descended the near 30% gradient in an attempt to capture the solitude of these surroundings that is more normal on any other day. All the while I was keeping an eye on the time, to make sure I was ready to cheer Katie on at the top.
Back near the summit, more spectators had gathered and more and more cowbells could be heard along with the occasional viking blowing horn and vuvuzela.
All in all, the event was a success, with the great organisation meaning it was enjoyed by many. Thanks Jack T and the organisers.