As with each of the previous editions of the Struggle Hill Climb, in 2023 we took the early decision to sponsor the entries for a number of underrepresented riders at the event. This year we focused our efforts on increasing the "Older Women" entries - the term wasn't pejorative or (intended to be) provocative.
Being the Nationals, we knew that the entries would be significantly over subscribed (550+ entries in the end!) but we wanted to try and boost the number of women competing in the Veteran 40+ category. Not "old women" or "old birds" or any such nonsense. Just support for some amazing women to race in a CTT defined category that is sadly traditionally under represented. In the end, we backed five women in a superb field of nearly 100 entrants. Our team of Deb, Isobel, Aisling, Susie and Gemma smashed it on the day. We couldn't be prouder!
Our sponsored rider Aisling Patterson gives us a flavour of the experience of taking on the Struggle as part of our team and we're delighted to be pairing Aisling's words with photography from the event from our friend and talented amateur snapper Lewis Guy.
No stranger to the Lake District, on hearing that the UK National Hill Climb Championships was taking place on The Struggle in Ambleside, my attention was immediately grabbed. The Lake District is one of my favourite places, and as a three times finisher of the ‘Fred Whitton Challenge’, I was all too familiar with the Lake District climbs ("Our other hills are much steeper" - Ed).
I saw the post asking for "Older Women" applicants on Instagram and I applied for the sponsorship - but I didn’t hold out much hope. On receiving the news that I had been selected as a sponsored rider by Cold Dark North, part of a dedicated V40+ Female Vets squad, I was beyond excited!
The Struggle to those who are unfamiliar is a brutal Lake District climb which links the town of Ambleside with the summit of Kirkstone Pass. It is longer than your average competitive hill climb at 2.67miles and with an average gradient of 8.3 % and a maximum gradient of 24%. This year it was to be the showpiece season finale for the short UK hill climbing season - the Nationals!
On the morning of the event, I woke early after a fitful nights’ sleep, frequently stirring to the sound of rain pelting on the window pane. I immediately opened the blinds to check out the conditions, albeit with a sense of foreboding! It was typically "lake districty" - misty and grey, damp and dismal, but it wasn’t raining! I felt an enormous sense of relief, it gave me a surge of hope and with that I got up and pulled on my lycra.
On a quest for fuel, I followed my usual race day ritual of caffeine and carbs. Then said goodbye to my friend, Abi who was heading out onto the climb with other friends to support me at the summit. It was time to get warmed up. I shook out the nerves on a small hill near my friends’ house - ideally located for frequent trips to the bathroom and conveniently close to The Struggle. Soon it was time to queue in my pen at the start area. My start time was 09.46:30.
Wahoo had set up a covered area near the start and supplying rollers to warm up on. The YouTube channel GCN Tech were also present interviewing competitors. There was a great buzz in the air and the atmosphere was electric. It was at this moment the pre-race nerves started to kick in! My heart was pounding and I had a knot in my stomach.
Finally, it was time for my push off… by now the adrenaline was pumping! It’s a long climb and a difficult one to pace. There is no easing into it, the Struggle ramps up straight away. I tried to avoid going too deep too soon, but it wasn’t long before my breathing intensified and HR cranked up. The roads were slick and greasy, it was a damp grey day. Knowing that my friends were out supporting on the climb kept me going and spurred me on. After the first couple of hairpins… there they were, on a layby. I could hear them even before seeing them, cheering spectacularly, eliciting a big smile from me. I promise you that was the last of the smiles, as my face soon turned to grimaces and gurns. After 1.3 miles the climb begins to plateau, and hits a series of false flats with a descent thrown in, but not to be deceived the steepest is yet to come!
On the final double hairpin at 20%+, The Struggle was real… legs and lungs were burning! I started to look for ways to distract myself from the pain including reading the motivational paintwork on the road… “I like Pain, you like Pain”, “Gurn Baby Gurn”, “Sucking on Fumes” and so on. It was then that the spectator support came into its own, uplifting cheers providing a necessary boost. Not far from the summit now, I could hear the deafening crowds on the final ramp, cowbells ringing, horns blowing, dinosaurs, sharks and a huge handmade Salbutamol inhaler on a stick! On turning onto the final 500m ramp at 24%, I knew the end was in reach. Although the summit was still shrouded in mist with poor visibility making it impossible to see a finish line.
I can honestly say that I have never experienced spectator support like it, the crowds ruptured, the cowbells clanking, supporters heckling. It was euphoric, raucous and somewhat overwhelming. Suddenly the finish line came looming into view, I crossed it elated but exhausted, and was immediately held by a catcher who helped me off my bike and provided a space blanket. What an unforgettable experience! Once my HR and breathing had settled. I immediately searched for my team mates. We shared a great moment of triumph at the summit of The Struggle with a finisher photo to boot.
Thank you Cold Dark North for sponsoring my place. It was an amazing experience to be part of the V40+ female vets team, the support, solidarity, team cohesion and above all team spirit was just incredible! I came away feeling very inspired. (It was great to have you in the team Aisling! - Ed)
So, would I do it again? Hell….yeah!
Special thanks to Jack Talbot for organising and overseeing such a brilliant event for a fantastic cause.