The challenge was set by Rapha to raise money for charity – and Katie Kookaburra decided to give her Endurance SL some elevation gains on her local climb.

No images were taken during the challenge due to social distancing – so this is a corker of Katie climbing Mam Tor earlier this year

One hill. 26 times. The only rule was it had to be your local climb and needed to be completed over 7 days.

My local climb – and a bit of hidden gem – is Ashworth Valley in Heywood, Manchester, and only a short ride from my house. This little cracker of a climb is 3.8km in length and has steep sections of up to 17%. It’s great once, but would 26 times be a bit too much to take? I guess we were going to find out.

Climbing. Climbing. Climbing.

The challenge was Rapha’s slant on the nationwide 2.6 challenge to help raise funds for the charities across the UK who would lose out to the many events that had to be cancelled. Ambitious About Autism was the charity of choice as Rapha CEO Simon Mottram’s son, Oscar, was diagnosed with autism as a child.

So with a really worthwhile charity in mind, I just had to get a rough plan together on how I was going to do this due to the current situation.

Without wanting to be out literally for 12 hours I decided to break up this challenge into three days – climbing 9 times a day twice and then the final day (just) the 8 reps.

I’m going to be honest, the first rep I really questioned why I picked such a grippy climb. My legs were burning. I did have a moment or two where I was trying to think of easier climbs I could complete and just slowly ride off from this brute. Then I thought of all those people who had completed an Everest cycling challenge (riding one climb until you hit the elevation of Everest at 8,848,) and realised I was being soft. So I kept climbing.

Up to the finish. Back down. Up again. Down again. Up again, down again.

You get the picture.

I was riding my summer road bike – the Endurance SL which is the perfect climbing bike for me. It’s light and has my beloved Ultegra R8000 rim brakes on there (I know, it’s going to cause debate amongst us cyclists) and the ULTIMATE gearing; a compact 50/34 and a Shimano Deore XT M8000 40 cassette. This is the perfect set up for big climbing days and multi-day climbing events.

Cracking view from the top of the climb

The weather was really good each of the three days – if not for a slightly chilly start on the third day where long sleeves and tights were needed for the 6C climate. But to have done two-thirds of the challenge in shorts and a short sleeve jersey, I couldn’t complain.

There weren’t any hiccups, it all went really smoothly and I even got some claps and cheers from a few walkers who kept seeing me heading up and down the same climb.

Oh and then there were the builders at the bottom who were working on a house. They insisted on timing each rep, and then I had to explain why the last rep was slower. And why the following rep was even slower. My ‘excuses’ such as stopping for a chat with the alpacas and eating a bit of mint cake were met with laughter one chap covered in plaster, saying: ‘Rubbish, you need to give each one full beans lass!’.

So, off I went to try and beat my time – for the builders at the bottom of the climb who had guilt-tripped me.

Each of the three days totalled around 80km and 2100m elevation – so, not too shabby.

Being honest, the first rep was the hardest of all of them – on any of the days. Maybe it was just getting my legs warmed up, or maybe it was the mental aspect of knowing I was going to have to do it 26 times, but it got easier the more I rode.

I just settled into the rhythm of the climb – I knew where each gear change was going to come and it made me just really appreciate the climb and how stunning it really was. Partway up there were three alpacas in a field that I would say hello to each time. And there was also a lovely sign that read ‘Toad Crossing’ – for the apparent swarms of toads (I Googled what the correct phrase of a group of toads was and it’s a knot – so one for the pub quiz – you’re welcome).

Anyway, fewer toads and more riding. What really came to light during this challenge is how much of riding is a mental game. I mean I knew that before but it really did hit home during this challenge. Seeing the same fields either side of the climb, riding over the same stretch of unforgiving road surface, and climbing the same 15% sections time after time just enabled me to work on my mindset; switching off from looking at stats, data, and just enjoying being the moment pushing the pedals.

The last rep I was ready for it to be done as it was the coldest day and I wanted the comfort of warmth and my PJs. I felt elated to have completed the challenge. I got home, showered, and got into the aforementioned outfit and donated my £26 to Ambitious About Autism.

Total stats as follows:

Reps: 26

Total Distance: 234km

Total Elevation: 6,307m

It wasn’t until I looked at my Strava the following day I realised even though it showed on the elevation screen I had climbed it 26 times, I had only got the segment 25 times. Well, you know what that meant.

I had to go back one more time because if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen (even though it technically was on Strava but you know as cyclists we love a segment).

Using my newly acquired in-depth knowledge of that climb to my advantage I did an effort up there – taking around 2 minutes off of my personal best and getting 4th woman on the leaderboard.

I might have to head back soon to have another crack at it and aim for the QOM. Maybe. Or maybe I will give a few more climbs a visit first.

Find out why Katie loves her Endurance SL so much and options she chose to achieve her ideal fit. Read it here.

Why did a Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling Team rider leave his job in London to become a pro cyclist? Read Damien Clayton’s story here to find out why.

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