Double Donna done, but why do we do hill repeats?
On Sunday morning my brother Brendan and I climbed Mt. Donna Buang twice. It was a freezing morning with temperatures below 10°C at the base of the climb, and much lower at the top.
At the end of our first ascent we got snowed on as we layered up in preparation for the bitingly cold descent. Sitting in the Warburton Bakery after the first descent, thoroughly soaked and freezing cold, it was more than tempting to head back to the car and call it a day. But Brendan and I pushed on, warming up quickly as we climbed the initial kilometres of Donna Buang for the second time.
That second ascent, like the first, was done at a nice leisurely pace and it was great being able to take in the scenery and chat together as we rode. The second descent was far less miserable than the first and Brendan screamed down the hill, leaving me several minutes behind.
As we climbed and descended Donna on Sunday I found myself thinking about hill ‘repeats’ and what it is that makes them sort-of appealing. It’s kind of counter-intuitive to me — why would riding the same road over and over be anything less than a repetitive bore? Why not ride other roads, mix it up, do some different climbs?
And yet, the idea of heading out to Mt. Donna Buang and climbing it twice (or more) was enough to get me out of bed before 6am (before 5am if you consider daylight savings) on Sunday morning.
Maybe it’s the fact you can do some fairly concentrated climbing without really having to go anywhere. Maybe it’s the fact most people would be content with just one ascent and that doing two or more seems somewhat hardcore. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. I’m just not sure.
But climbing Donna Buang twice got me thinking about a handful of impressive repeat efforts I’ve heard of in recent years and I thought it might be worth sharing them. Many of you have probably heard of some, if not all of these and apologies if that’s the case.
Dougie Hunt: 1 in 20 repeats
In the week leading up to Amy’s Gran Fondo last month, my Team eQuipo tranQuilo teammate Dougie ‘Grinderman’ Hunt felt he hadn’t done enough climbing to prepare himself for the event’s 9km climb up Skenes Creek Road.
So, on a Tuesday morning, Dougie ventured out to The Basin and started climbing and descending the 1 in 20. Nearly 7 hours later Dougie called it quits, having amassed 142km and 3,000m of climbing all along a 6.8km stretch of road. More importantly, he’d managed to climb the 1 in 20 ten times in a row.
Dougie’s ‘cram before the exam’ technique is unlikely to make it to any coaching manuals anytime soon, but it worked for the D-train: he exceeded all expectations on the Skenes Creek Road climb the following week and reported feeling far better in the climbs after his repeats. A wonderfully inspiring effort.
Click here to see Dougie’s ride on Strava.
Stephen Lane: Kinglake repeats
When I sent out a tweet last month about Dougie’s effort on the 1 in 20, I got a reply from Stephen Lane (@DrSLane on Twitter) about a ride he’d done in January this year. Setting out from Templestowe Stephen rode to the base of the Kinglake climb and spent most of the next 8 hours riding up and down the mountain. In that time he completed the climb a crazy 10 times, notching up more than 4,000 vertical metres.
Also impressive was the fact he was so consistent with his climb times. Only one of the ten efforts took him longer than 25 minutes (and even then, only just) and the other 9 were all within a few minutes of one another.
Click here to see Stephen’s ride on Strava.
Rob Crowe: Terrys Avenue repeats
I don’t know too much about this effort by former Olympic cyclist and now Ridewiser mastermind Rob Crowe, but it sounds bloody tough. This quote is from Crowie’s comment on the Terrys Avenue climb page here on this very site:
We were required to ride ‘repeats’ of this hill in 1993 for the VIS [Victorian Institute of Sport] training to national … squad selection under coach Dave Sanders. There really was no rider who could just ‘ride’ up this hill easily (although Lloydy [Matt Lloyd I guess?] does now). It requires plenty of strength training and fitness on lesser gradients before a successful attempt at Terry’s, unless you’re happy to ‘stand-still’ on the pedals and flex your triceps for every stroke.
Riding Terrys Avenue once is painful enough. Repeats would just be hellish. I’m hoping Crowie can swing by and leave more information about how many repeats they were required to do in training!
Shane Miller: Yarra Street repeats (part one)
On Boxing Day 2010 A-grade rider and all-conquering time triallist Shane Miller set out to see how many times he could complete the Yarra Street climb before getting sick of it. For those of you not familiar with the climb, it’s a short (300m) but sharp (above 10%) rise that comes off Yarra Boulevard in Kew. Given it’s a one-way street, Shane opted for a short loop that included the climb and deposited him back at the start.
In a little less than three hours Shane managed to ride the Yarra Street climb 50 times. To quote from his great blog:
[By] lap 48 I was out of food and water, and almost hitting three hours of seeing the same things over and over again. So two more fast laps before I would have to check into the Kew Lunatic Asylum and I was done. 50.
But even after riding the hill 50 times, Shane still had something left in the tank and the question of how many times he could manage the climb was left unanswered:
The last two [laps] were the fastest at under 3 minutes. So 50 isn’t the answer.
You can read more about Shane’s 50 climbs of Yarra Street here.
Shane Miller: Yarra Street repeats (part two)
In early January 2011 Shane headed back to Yarra Street with a new goal: to complete 100 climbs in one day. In his own words it was:
A test to see what, if anything, would break first. Legs, lungs, knees, bike, mind.
Despite it being a warm day, and despite needing to make several stops for food, drink and even finger tape (‘ergo levers are not so comfortable after a while’) Shane got through the 100 climbs in a touch over 6 hours. He’d done 131km of riding on a circuit about 1km long, climbed more than 4,100 metres and all:
for no reason other than to see if I could.
You can read more about Shane’s 100 climbs of Yarra Street in the second half of this blog post.
George Mallory: Mt. Donna Buang repeats (part one)
Early last Wednesday morning George Mallory headed east to Warburton and began climbing Mt. Donna Buang. Now, for those of you that know George, you know he doesn’t do things by halves. Wednesday was no exception.
He spent nearly 10 hours on the mountain, conquering the 16.8km climb a staggering six times in a row. How George managed to motivate himself to climb the hill that many times I’m just not sure. I would have gotten tired, cold, bored or, more likely, a combination of the above well before six efforts.
In fact, I’d be willing to wager that six times Mt. Donna Buang is beyond the reach of all but a few cyclists. Not just because of the physical demand — 203km with a ludicrous 6,400m of climbing — but also because of the aforementioned mental demand. What is it that keeps you going when there’s no-one there to push you on?
Click here to see the truly impressive Strava details of George’s Donna x 6 ride.
George Mallory: Mt. Donna Buang repeats (part two)
Many of you would be well aware of the story I’m about to refer to but for those of you that aren’t, be prepared to have your mind blown. Rather than spoiling what is a tremendously inspiring tale, head over to Cycling Tips and read it in full. You won’t regret it — I promise.
Here’s a summary for those that are pressed for time:
Back in the early-to-mid ’90s, George Mallory was in training to hike the North Ridge of Mt. Everest (as you do) and was looking for a suitably epic ‘project’ to build his endurance. He came up with the idea of climbing the height of Mt. Everest — roughly 8,800m — in a single day, by bike. The course? Mt. Donna Buang, over and over and over again.
Over a period of a year George trained harder than most recreational cyclists would ever dream of training and eventually, amazingly, conquered his goal: 8 laps of Mt. Donna Buang, 272km of riding and, crucially, 8,800 vertical metres of climbing.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, George returned to Donna some time later to see if he could take it to the next level: 10 times up Mt. Donna Buang. Even writing that scares the bejeezus out of me.
Somehow George made it through the 10 laps. It took him nearly 23 hours in which time he’d ridden roughly 350km and climbed 11,000 vertical metres. It’s hard to imagine how hard that must have been. It goes beyond anything I would have thought possible on the bike and is at the upper limit of the physical (and mental!) achievements I’ve come across. Truly inspiring, and more than a little bit crazy.
So where does that leave us? Well, I think it’s fair to say that 10 times up Mt. Donna Buang is beyond the overwhelming majority of cyclists. That said, former professional cyclist and winner of the 2012 Amy’s Gran Fondo, Tom Leaper, suggested on Strava (see the comments section) that he’d like to have a crack at repeating George’s effort of 10 Donna’s in a day. He’s aiming to do it around the time of his 40th birthday in three years time, to prove to himself he’s not beyond it and to raise money for charity.
It’s a long way off, that’s for sure, but committing to something like that does have some kind of appeal. It’s far enough away that the enormity of the task feels manageable, not least because there’s so much time to train up. Hopefully the ride comes to fruition!
In the meantime I’d quite like to see if I can manage three, four or maybe even five times up Mt. Donna Buang in a single day. On Sunday I felt like I could have comfortably gone beyond two (but chose not to) which gives me confidence about my chances of completing three. If I can get through three, then four shouldn’t be too much of a step up, right? And if I can do four, how hard could one more be?
Of course it’s easy to sit here and write that. It’s another thing entirely to be out there at the base of the climb for the fourth of fifth time, trying to convince yourself that there’s actually a reason to climb the mountain again.
Which brings me back to a question I asked earlier: what even is the appeal of hill repeats? I’m not sure I’ve got the answer but Stephen Lane (of 10 x Kinglake fame above) might have gone close when he sent me a tweet a little while back:
And now it’s over to you, dear reader. What do hill repeats mean to you? Are you a fan of riding the same climb over and over again? Why? Why not? Are there other impressive (or simply outrageous) repeat-efforts you’ve heard about or perhaps even done yourself? No need to be modest — the more ridiculous the better!
I look forward to hearing from you!