December 2, 2011

Guest post: Donna Buang took my mountain virginity

He’s only been cycling for six months, but the man they call the Donvale Demon is not shirking away from challenges. He’s already completed the 210km version of Around the Bay in a Day and now he’s training for the 3 Peaks Challenge in March. In this guest post, the Demon describes the challenge of climbing a mountain for the first time.

There must be a false-flat around the next bend, right?

How did it feel climbing Donna Buang, my first mountain, at 1080 vertical metres? Painful. A bit like the mountain was riding me. It hurt in three separate ways:

1. Physically:

After what felt like no time at all my legs were straining and shaking, my back, shoulders and arms hurting. And then I stopped. Less than a kilometre into the climb.

It could have been something to do with my pacing (I was riding with the Climbing Cyclist and trying to match his speed), my gearing, my fitness level, or a combination of all three.

I stopped. And not just once. Many times. The pattern went like this: I’d get my breath back and start climbing, pedaling as consistently as I could.

I’d feel good for a while and then, bang, I’d have to stop again. Immediately – like a bubble bursting. I reckon this happened 10 times at least, for a couple of minutes each pause: my head on the handlebars, my heart doing phat disco beats, sweat dripping off my body.

The compensation? Getting to the top felt good. So good I planted my face in the grass and lay there snorting mud, grinding the buttercups, coughing snot.

2. Psychologically:

I’ve read in several places, and been told by cyclists I know, that a high percentage of climbing success comes from mental preparedness. As a some-time meditator with a black belt in serenity I thought I was prepared for Donna Buang. But I wasn’t – not really.

I was mentally strong only as long as there was a bend ahead and I could convince myself there might be a flat, even a false flat, just round the corner. When I turned to see another stretch of tarmac heading upwards, onwards, I crumbled – not every time, but often enough for it to be unsettling.

The consolation? Again, getting to the top felt good. I was starting to think I’d need to stop short of the summit. The temptation to do a u-ey and fly headlong into an early descent was, at times, nearly overwhelming. Not caving in was good for me in the end.

3. Pride:

More than once when I had to stop suddenly I told the Climbing Cyclist, with what felt like my dying breath, to carry on without me. One of the only things more damaging to pride than the initial bruising is knowing someone else is there, pausing the Strava app on their phone, checking Facebook and munching a banana while you writhe about in deep physical and psychic distress [ed: my bad].

In response to my first post, a few people have suggested I pull the pin on 3 Peaks, that pretending to myself I can complete it is folly. No-one (I imagine) likes to be told this kind of thing. It brought back memories of being overlooked at football (soccer) trials at school and other little slights. It stung.

The ideal response from my point of view would have been to power up Donna Buang no-handies, in top gear, before descending and repeating the climb several times. That didn’t happen, by a long shot, and that hurt my pride.

The consolation? Yup – getting to the top felt good. Luckily, I don’t want to be the fastest on 3 Peaks. My goal is to finish it – to get myself and my pride over the summits.

I want to do this for me, of course, but also, on some level, for my boys, my family. That means a lot of work.

And I’m up for it.


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  1. BBB / Dec 8 2011

    I’ll admit to being one of those doom and gloom merchants.

    Good job on making it to the top; that last kilometer is a real pain.

    While your 235kms through the hills is still three months away, stopping in the first km of Donna Buang is not a good sign and stopping 10 times over the course of the climb should be a reality check.

    I wish you all the best, but beware of your pride. The kids will no doubt want their Dad in one piece!

  2. Donvale Demon / Dec 2 2011

    Hi Chris, that’s a great blog post. Loved it … and sympathised!

  3. Chris OConnor / Dec 2 2011

    That’s nearly the same as *MY* 1st go at Donna Buang – only a month ago (Cup Day). Had to stop and regain breath a few times – but an awesome feeling in the end…! Here’s my blog post about it…

  4. Donvale Demon / Dec 2 2011

    Thanks Chris, glad (if that’s the right word – probably not!) to hear how difficult you found it. Best. P

  5. Donvale Demon / Dec 2 2011

    Thanks Kosh, I take heart from your comment. And I like your post on training. I’m going to examine that in more detail when I get a chance later today. The breathing tip, I’m sure, is very helpful – and I relate to the dangers of short, sharp breathing.

  6. kosh / Dec 2 2011

    Great effort! Huge props for completing Mt Donna Buang.

    I first rode Donna in… let’s see, December 2009. It was as tough and humbling as you describe. But I kept training… and four months later I completed the first Three Peaks Challenge. So, go for it! You can do it!

    Serious climbing is a whole separate discipline of cycling, and your technique will only improve. Top tips include: focus on managing your breathing (especially breathing out, to get rid of expired air); work on your core strength; get some LONG EASY rides in too (to teach your body endurance) e.g. Melbourne-Sorrento-Melbourne.

    I wrote a longer post on 3PC training over at the BV forums:

    All the very best! Keep focused, and you’ll make it.


  7. chris / Dec 2 2011

    Good on ya for making it i say….it is not an easy climb the old Donna…first time I did it I had two stops and on the way back to Launching Place I had to push (yep that’s right, get off and push) the bike up the tiny TINY hill into Yarra Junction…

    in my opinion nothing prepares you for the long climbs…the ‘Nongs are great, but a 6.5km climb is not a 17-20km climb…

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