How to avoid having a heart attack halfway up a hill

OR: cycling in Bristol.

Before I moved here, my single most pressing concern was how I was going to manage to cycle around such a hilly city.

“You’ll just get used to it!” and “Your legs will get really strong!” was just some of the helpful advice I heard.

But what is it really like cycling along the intimidatingly named ‘Two Mile Hill Road’ everyday? And what can you do to make it a bit more manageable?

bike

First of all, use your gears! Having come from a very flat county, I confess to never having used gears properly before I came to Bristol and was forced to learn. Now I switch up and down depending on the gradient I’m faced with, and although you don’t feel as if you’re getting anywhere fast, it is significantly easier.

Distract yourself.¬†Nothing matters as much as it does when you’re thinking about it. I use anything I can think of to stop noticing how much pain and effort is involved, from singing nursery rhymes in my head to noticing details along the journey (a funny coloured house, a poster, other cyclists) and planning meals.

Set yourself markers.¬†The most ferocious hill I face each day took me over a week to get to the top without stopping. So each day, I’d set markers – a sign, a particular lamppost – and try and go a little bit further each time.

Get off and push. Having said that, you should never feel ashamed about getting off to push your bike. You’re doing something amazing, so be kind to yourself while your body adjusts. Also worth remembering; falling slowly backwards down a hill is probably MORE embarrassing than having to walk up it pushing a bike.

Eat more.¬†Believe me, you’re going to need the calories. So treat yourself to something delicious and have some food whenever you start to feel hungry.

Be inspired. My first week here I went to see a cycling film festival, which included a documentary about one of the first female speed champions on bike. Eileen cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats, over mountain ranges, in just under three days. By comparison, it is possible for you to climb one or two hills each morning. People (including you!) do incredible things every day.

Hills are pretty horrible, there’s no getting around that. But all those irritating well-wishers are right.

You will get stronger, the gradients will become more normal, and after conquering this? Well, anything’s possible.