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.
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:
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.
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.
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.