Similar story here!
Been doing 2 hill training rides a week for the past 2 months. Started doing a 20 mile loop with 4 "mega hills" (aka hills that require my lowest gear to climb). Each time I do the 20 I cut around 6 minutes off of it, which is really damn encouraging. Every time I do flats, I can barely cut any time off at all, so to get 4 straight weeks of cutting 6 minutes off each attempt is bloody fantastic to me.
Last month I tried extending the ride to 30 miles, but I hit "the wall", or the "uber hill"; the first hill I've ever come across that made me get off and walk. It was disheartening, so I kept doing the 20 for a few more weeks. Finally today, I felt like it was time to hit "the wall" again, as the 20 miler just doesn't seem long enough anymore. It was also the hottest day of the year, but I've put off my hill training this week too long already so I forced myself to try the 30 mile ride, leaving myself an option to bail out to do the 20 if it was just too hot out. I left at 7:30pm so if all went well I would be done with the majority of the descending before dusk set in, and brought my 5 hour headlight battery for the remainder of the ride.
So I hit the first "mega" hill. As usual, my gears started rapidly going down, one by one. But a funny thing happened. Suddenly, for the very first time ever, I didn't need to switch to my lowest gear. I didn't know which gear I was in because my shifters don't have a display, but there was enough play in the shifter to let me know that I had at least one lower gear... which I didn't need! I got to the top and then shifted down just to verify what gear I was in, and found that I was in the 2nd lowest gear.
My first victory of the night!
Sweat was pouring off of my body at this point so I drank a lot of water and kept going. Hit the 2nd mega hill, thinking to myself that it would be nice to do it in 2nd gear again, but not necessary. I felt very tired, like I had expended all my energy on the 1st hill, but oddly enough, I got down into 2nd gear again and didn't go lower. Amazing!
Third mega hill. Shorter than the others, but steeper. Always requires lowest gear too. I thought to myself, surely this time I'll need the lowest gear
, but miracle of miracles, I did this one in 2nd too!
I was gobsmacked. I knew just by the fact that I did all 3 mega hills in 2nd gear that I'd have shattered all of my personal records again, so I was feeling pretty damn confident in myself by this point. The 10 mile bailout point came... and went. Screw it, I'm taking on the uber hill, and nothing is going to stop me.
Hit a "nice" hill inbetween (nice hills don't require the granny gear), then... I saw... "the wall". It loomed before me, looking like it went pretty much straight up. "It's go time", I said to myself, and started watting like a madman. I must have inhaled a dozen bugs as I was yawping for oxygen like never before. I started a very slight 2-feet diameter weave so I would somewhat lessen the grade, but still remain within the shoulder about 80% of the way up. My legs felt like they were going to begin locking up, but I was already happy with myself because I had climbed at least 60 feet higher than the last time I tried the hill and gave up. Finally, I reached the top, my heartrate peaked at 150, a magnificent feat for someone on beta blockers, and screamed in victory, because I had finally conquered "the uber hill".
Saw a magnificent sunset at the top of the hill, the cherry on top of the sundae if you will. Rest of the ride was mostly downhill, but I still sprinted on the flats, amazed that I still had any power left over after all the climbing.
Honest to god, this was the best ride of the year so far. I think I'll do it at least 2 more times before I move on and try to find even more challenging hills.
So yeah, progress is awesome. I don't know why I can't seem to make any progress on flat rides; I almost never gain time on those anymore, but whenever I climb hills, I gain at least 5 minutes every time I do them compared to previous attempts.