Reliving My 3 Peaks Challenge – Sunday 10 March 2014

I’ve been talking to a few people who are doing the Falls Creek 3 Peaks Challenge next year, plus I’ve been looking at the 7 Peaks Ride that encompasses many of the same climbs plus more! So I decided it would be opportune to relive my ride report from when I completed 3 Peaks in 2014. Here it is – enjoy the read!

This is an epic post to describe an epic ride!

That wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve done, but in some ways it was harder than I expected. My training paid off. All of my logistics preparations went well. The organization and support by the Bicycle Network and their mountains of volunteers was fantastic. And my experience with similar events helped me prepare and know what to expect. But it was a very long and hard day on the bike!

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Food an supplements for the day! 

It was a mild morning as we assembled in the darkness in preparation for the start at 6:45am. But as dawn approached, the temperature dropped to a chilly 7 degrees. We started in waves, I was about 3/4 of the way through the field and I started around 7am. I was pretty happy not to be right at the front with the fast riders as I haven’t been doing a lot of technical descending lately and I didn’t want to get freaked out by riders cutting me off.

My descending was pretty crap. I quickly lost sight of all the riders I’d started with. I think I only passed about 4 people on the descent, whilst I was passed by many. I blame the bumpy unfamiliar road and the cold. Plus of course my lack of practice. I definitely lost at least half an hour on the 25km descent.

We then passed through the town of Mount Beauty, where it was time to remove the warm layers before turning left into the first mountain climb of the day, Tawonga Gap. I figured now was my chance to start making up some lost time.

Tawonga Gap was a relatively short mountain climb, only 12km with 7km @ 7% gradient. It was a nice climb, sweeping hairpins so I took the outside line to keep the gradient low. I passed loads of people 🙂

Across the three mountain climbs, I think literally only a handful of people passed me in total, so I was stoked with that. Of course I was in the back half of the field, I’m sure the guys at the front would’ve passed me quick smart, but it is still nice to be relatively strong on the climbs.

I stopped briefly at the rest stop at the top of Tawonga to refill my bottles and scoff some food – a gel. Then zip up the wind jacket and a fun descent down the other side. I was more relaxed for this descent and the road was not so bumpy, so I was more confident and a bit faster.

After the descent was a 20km flat section to Harrietville. Lots of groups formed along this section, and I managed to tag along with some guys who were going at a good pace for me, a pace that didn’t require me to work hard to keep up.

I stopped at Harrietville, which was the first of three valet food stops. We packed our own food into bags, which were delivered to the valet food stops along the route. It was a great system and ran smoothly. I grabbed my food bag, refilled my water bottles, and went to the toilet. Then repacking of my pockets and organising all my food and gear ready for the 30km climb up Mt Hotham, which started less than 1km from the rest stop. I unpacked my sandwich and quickly ate it as I rolled slowly to the start of the climb. My rest stop was as fast as I could make it, and it was still 15 min long! I was only 45 min ahead of the Lantern Rouge when I left Harrietville.

The Lantern Rouge is the time cutoff, a Bicycle Network rider who starts at 7:15am and finishes at 8:15pm. There are specific time cutoffs for each section of the ride.

So, onward to My Hotham. I was feeling pretty good and again figured I could make up some time on the climb.

My Hotham is a 30km climb, which was longer than anything I’d done previously. But I’d been told by a guy on the start line that about 10km of the climb was ‘false flat’ where I’d be able to get into the big chain ring, so I hoped it would be manageable.

The first 5km or so were pretty steady climbing. The next 10-15km were mixed with some false flat and even downhill sections and the rest steady climbing. I passed TONS of people, particularly on the flatter sections as I changed straight into my big chain ring and kept the power on, whereas most people slow-pedalled and took it as a chance to recover.

There was a rest stop about 2/3 of the way up, where I stopped briefly just to refill one water bottle.

In the top third of the climb, the climbing got serious. You know it’s serious when there are road traffic signs saying “steep ascent, change into low gear”. I took their advice! I was so happy with my gearing combination, compact chain ring and 32 tooth cassette. It meant that for most of the climbing, up to around 9%, I was able to maintain a cadence of about 80rpm.

The top part of Mt Hotham had three sections in excess of 10%, which was pretty hard after already climbing for 20km! But I just decreased my cadence to maintain my power within a reasonable level and continued on.

The top of Mt Hotham appeared unexpectedly and was marked only by a town sign. No rest stop or ” congratulations you made it” signs. I wanted to take a photo of the view I had worked so hard to reach, but there was nowhere good to stop. So I continued onto the descent. It was only 12km down to the Dinner Plain rest stop. It was named after the town, but a very appropriate name as this is where lunch was served. It was a little after noon when I arrived here. I was approximately at 11:30 pace, so I’d made up about 30 min on the climb.

Dinner Plain was the second food valet stop. I grabbed my bag and was mindful of having a quick stop. First, sit down and eat my sandwich. I also checked my phone and was stoked to have a few messages of encouragement 🙂

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Dinner Plain was also the only return valet stop. We could put things in a bag, which would be returned to the finish line at Falls Creek. So, the logistics of what to keep with me … I got rid of my rain jacket but kept my vest. Got rid of my clear glasses. Also a bunch of extra food and drink powder.

However, this is where I made one mistake. I thought I had a bottle with drink mix in it, so I got rid of most of my drink mix. But because I’d filled up only with water at the stop on the way up Mt Hotham, I ended up with two drink bottles with only water. Not ideal. I still had a pocket with lots of lollies, so I had enough carbs. But on the way from Dinner Plain to the next stop I struggled. I got hungry. Not a good sign. I ate a gel. I ate a bar. I figured I should’ve eaten more for lunch. But I had struggled to choke down my sandwich as it was. I had been scoffing (in my head) at the people picnicking at Dinner Plain, but in retrospect I think I should’ve stopped for longer so that I could eat and digest more food. Or rolled out slowly and continued to eat a lot on the bike.

It was 45km from Dinner Plain to the next rest stop. No mountains. But this is the hard thing about this ride. The bits that don’t involve riding up and down mountains are still harder than a hills ride in Perth! The climbs are longer and/or steeper and even the flat sections are mostly false flat (ie uphill by 1-2%). There were some SUPER FUN descents in here though, and I must’ve gained some confidence throughout the day as a little group caught up with me but I passed all of them on the descents. Pleased to see that I can still aero-descend better than the average rider, in spite of being relatively light.

Then the road went uphill again and I didn’t want to push my legs too hard just to stay with the group. So I continued on my own, counting the kilometers to the next rest stop where I could refuel and recover.

Finally I arrived at the Omeo rest stop, which was a lovely grassy location with some trees. Park bike, fill up water bottles, go to toilet them collapse on grass under tree. A bunch of other sorry-looking riders were there, some in a worse state than me with cramps and a diabetic who looked in much better shape than me.

I ate my turkish delight bar and put drink mix in my water. I also tried to stretch my back out as it was getting sore. After some time, I felt more human again and figured I should carry on or I may not move again! This rest stop was about half an hour. I had lost all the time I’d gained on the Mt Hotham climb, and I was back around 12:30 pace, only 45 min in front of the Lantern Rouge (I started 15 min ahead of the Lantern Rouge, so technically I could finish and do a time of 13:15).

The next section was only marginally better. Less actual climbing but it was all winding roads around the edge of a mountain @ +/- 2% gradient. I couldn’t push very hard. I also knew that after the next rest stop was the last climb – which starts at WTF corner (named because this is what you say when you see the gradient of the road) and continues with around 10km at an average gradient close to 10%. My argument was that I was saving myself for the last climb. I was also still trying to catchup on my carb intake, I was still a bit hungry. But I knew I had caffeine gels in my food valet bags at the next rest stop, and I’d been abstaining from caffeine for a week just for this moment!

The next rest stop was Anglers Rest, where I collected my final food valet bag. I took one bite of my sandwich and could hardly choke it down. A lovely girl gave me one of her spare jam tarts, which was great. And I bought a can of coke from the pub. Caffeine and sugar. Plus two caffeine gels. Woohoo! I was obviously feeling better after this as I started to joke with the local blokes who were hanging out drinking beer at the pub, dumbfounded at what we were doing. Anglers Rest was my longest stop. I lay on the grass and stretched my back some more. By the time I left I was only 30 min ahead of the Lantern Rouge, so I was on schedule for a ride of 12:45.

There were two “bike eating bridges” on the ride that we had to walk our bikes across, with good reason (see photo, which shows the bridge just after Anglers Rest). I loved the sign!  My other favourite sign was “rest stop 500m ahead”!

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It was 11km from Anglers Rest to WTF corner. This was much the same as the last section, winding roads gently up and down around the side of a mountain. Rock wall on one side, trees and views on the other side. I was heartened as my power output was around 20 watts higher than it had been on the last section.

At 199km, I encountered WTF corner. I knew exactly what kilometre mark it would come, so I was expecting it. It was still nasty. The road had been heading slightly downhill, around -4%. We turned sharp left towards Falls Creek and suddenly the gradient was 13% and rising. The first section of the climb got up to 17%. It was basically as steep as Mount St in Perth, probably twice as long. And then we had another 12km of mountain to climb.

The steep section was ok as I was still relatively fresh. The next 8km or so were  unrelenting. Big sections at 12-13%. Then it would ease down to 7-8%. Gradients as steep as 7% felt flat, and 5% felt like I was going downhill! I couldn’t keep my cadence high because the gradient was too steep and I couldn’t maintain the power. So I ground up the climb with a cadence of 40-50 rpm, thinking “this is just an S & E (strength and endurance) training session”. My dogged determination and sheer stubborn pigheadedness kept me going. There were more people walking bikes up the climb than there were riding.

I’m sure there was some kind of scenery going up the climb. I had a vague impression of trees. Mostly I was looking out for other riders who were weaving on the road, either actively trying to flatten the gradient or just too tired to hold a straight line. I kept going. Everything happened in slow motion. I would see a rider 5m up the road (I wasn’t game to look much further) and over the course a few minutes I would gradually gain on them, then pass them. Sometimes one of us would offer a word of encouragement but mostly I was too tired to think of anything to say. My mouth was occupied by breathing. And short sips of sports drink.

After 9km the road went downhill and I thought the worst was over, but it was only a short reprieve before another kilometre of steep stuff. The total climb was 12km. The “rest stop ahead” sign was unexpected and a relief. A quick stop. Empty drink bottles of sports All I wanted was plain water. One more caffeine gel to get me through the last 23km. I almost gagged on that too. Put on wind vest, as the sun was setting and there had been a few spots of rain. Turn on lights. And away we go.

Although the last mountain was behind me, there were still some undulations to deal with. But I had driven this road and ridden the last 15km on my easy ride a few days ago, so I knew the landmarks for where the last of the hills would be. Now I had the reverse problem from what I’d had on the Falls Creek climb. My legs were so tired that even a 2% gradient seemed onerous.

The scenery was beautiful, low lying Alpine vegetation, sun seeing behind the clouds, and a rainbow to offer hope that I was nearly at the finish! I had to stop and take a photo. I also had to stop as my power metre stopped working. A quick check to see if it was an easy magnet problem I could fix. Nope, the magnet looked fine so I figured the battery had died. Note to self: next time replace the battery before an epic ride.

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The final 10km were great fun. Rolling undulations, I rode alongside a fellow cyclist. Bugs in my eyes as I’d had to take off my sunnies. Then up a short hill and down into Falls Creek to the finish chute.

There was a huge crowd. All clapping and cheering, really loudly. An announcer called my name. Said that they were as excited about me finishing as they were about every other rider before me. Several flashes as my photo was taken as I rolled through the finish. Extremely well done, Bicycle Network.

I stopped my Garmin. Note: 40% of battery remaining! Two new records: longest distance 235km and most ascent 4500 and something metres. Not sure how accurate the ascent measurement is, but I will totally take it!

It was an epic and spectacular day. Excellent organization by the Bicycle Network and it was great to share the journey with so many other riders.

The weather was perfect. Mild morning, sunshine before lunch. After lunch some serious-looking clouds gathered but no rain was forthcoming. It was a little humid but cooler because the clouds blocked the sun. The sun came out again later in the afternoon, then a rainbow and sunset that touched the clouds in pink. There was a slight breeze all day but not enough to increase the adversity of the ride!

I’m really happy to have finished in a time under 13 hours. I’m really happy I rode the whole course and I put in my best effort I could at the time. My total riding time was under 11 hours, so all those stops added a lot to my time, but they were necessary for me to refuel, rest my body and allow me to keep going.

Will I do it again? Not sure. Maybe when everything in my body doesn’t hurt I’ll give it some more thought …. Who knew that you could get sore hands and fingers from riding a bike?

I certainly plan to return to this part of the world for some more riding. Spectacular scenery, great weather (at least it was this week!) and altitude training without having to fly to Europe. Now if only we had the population density to support the cafés and restaurants that Europe has …..

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