Heart rate: 185bpm, my lungs feel like I'm inhaling fire, they're searing, every breath is bringing a wheeze with it that makes me sound like I've got emphysema, need to take deeper breaths.
Shouts ringing in my ears.
I need to get out of the saddle, keep turning the pedals. Cowbells.
I'm staring at my front wheel, hunched low over the bars, trying to wrestle the bike up hill faster than it wants to go.
I look up, the next bend taunts me, I go back to staring at the front wheel, it's torture.
Out of the trees... sunlight... the gradient slackens, it's all I can do to jam my fingers at the shifter and click up a couple of gears then sprint for the line. It's not a sprint, it's a pedal-mashing lunge.
I'm wheezing like a broken bellows. I can't stop the bike or I'll fall over, I cough... tastes like blood.
Hill climbing is painful, you know it's going to hurt but you still do it, you know you're not going to win, but you still do it. Bike and rider versus gravity, or is it all a mental challenge, to keep pushing yourself when every fibre of your being is telling you to stop.
It's addictive. I hate it. I love it.
The Stirling Bike Club end of season hill climb takes a tortuous route up the road to the Wallace Monument in Stirling, in 2010 I did 2mins 27sec, this year it was 2min 03sec. Good enough for joint 9th place. I was elated and equally dejected that I didn't get under 2mins. I could've tried harder, I know I should've pushed harder. Next year.
I don't know why hill climbs are so attractive, they hurt, they're intense, I'm never going to win one, but I've entered another, the Up the Kirk hill climb at the end of September. I know the road well, I cycle it once ever couple of weeks or more, I also know I'm not quick up it. There's a great prize fund, I'm not going to win any of it, but I'm going to do it. I'll hate it, but I'll love it.
What's wrong with me?