With the right mix of strategy, tactics and a pinch of good luck you too can win a hill race!
BE FASTER – To win a hill race you have to be faster than the other folk there. Thems the breaks. But that doesn’t mean you have to be ‘super-fast’. Take me for example – at my very, very best I’ll win a rainy club handicap, sneak in to the top-10 of a final Scottish champs counter or podium at a low-key regional Half. So I’m not super-fast. But I have won a hill race.
BE FIT – Do your long run, do your reps, keep up the mileage, eat well and get plenty of sleep. You want to be as good as you can be. That doesn’t mean you have to be at your best though – for me this year has been a frustrating mix of illness, injury, personal worsts, drop-outs and infuriating disappointments. But I’d kept at the training and felt pretty good on the day.
PICK YOUR RACE – Now this is important. You probably want a race that’s difficult to get to from…most places. Ideally not listed on the SHR calendar. And held at inconvenient time, like a Sunday evening. The weekend after a gruelling long champs counter. The same weekend as British champs counter in England and a well-loved Long Classic on the other side of the country. The same day as the Men’s Road Race World Championship in Glasgow. Ben Kenneth ticks all these boxes.
CONTROL THE COMPETITION – You might have friends who are faster than you – keep them away! But do so intelligently to avoid accusations of poor sportsmanship. Specifically invite people in January and never mention it again. As the year rolls on if you mention the race to pals, keep your plans vague and make them vaguer the closer to race day you are. Invite folk to a ride-out the same day but don’t tell them you won’t be there. Don’t be above telling club-mates you have ‘secret plans’ if they ask you what you’re up to next weekend. Put out an invite on the club WhatsApp as soon as the final CalMac has left the mainland. Be smart.
YOUR RACE SHOULD HAVE A SUITABLE COURSE – Important, but not as important as you might think. Rough, boggy, slipping steepness with properly wild swimming on the out and back isn’t exactly my sweet-spot but I still won Ben Kenneth.
KNOW YOUR COURSE – Again, less important than you might think. When I asked the race organiser where the route was he just smiled and said I should go to the top of the hill and back. None of the locals seemed to know either but the lad with the house on the course said that if I had wee schnifter at the start and big schnifter at the end, the cold water wouldn’t be a problem. Glasgow-based Lewis expat James recognised me from the Kilpatricks and kindly recommended a few nice lines before the swim. Otherwise I was going in fresh, with the added stress of being at the front the pack. But it was fine. I won’t say much about the course (find out for yourselves!) except that swimming is definitely the best option.
EXECUTE PERFECTLY – Aside from one head-over-heels tumble on the descent, this was one of those satisfying efforts when everything went right from start to finish.
ENJOY YOURSELF – Ben Kenneth is a hoot! Excellent course with multiple route choices, slick low-key organisation, £1 EOD, wonderful Hebridean scenery, a big competitive field, what felt like the whole town out cheering & peeping their horns in the final straight and good vibes with live music at the evening knees-up – even if I came last I would put this as one of the best races I’ve ever done. A huge thanks to the race organiser and everyone who raced – lots of impressive efforts on the hill! No doubt the obscurity for non-locals is part of the charm, but more people should do this race.
I hope the above is helps you all to enjoy a successful career of winning hill races!