March 22, 2012

Guest post: 3 Peaks Challenge (I am the mountain)

It’s easy to forget that the Donvale Demon only took up cycling in the second half of last year. Since then he’s completed the Around the Bay in a Day (210km version) and thrown everything at his preparations for the 3 Peaks Challenge. In this guest post the Demon describes his first 3 Peaks attempt.

The Donvale Demon crossing the finish line.

Plenty of riders zipped by me on the way down Falls Creek, which added to my general mood of glumness. It was an emotional day for me, for reasons unconnected to the ride, and reasons I won’t trouble you with here.

In addition to those, quite morose concerns, I was keen not to come skidding off the bike and faceplant the road – as is my wont at times – on the way down that seemingly endless first descent.

My relative sluggishness, and everyone else’s relative speed, didn’t bother me at first. But then I looked over my shoulder, back up the hill, and had the awful feeling I was the last person in the event. I half-expected to see the Lantern Rouge slinking past, no-handies, eating a toastie and unscrewing the lid of his coffee flask. And then I saw some more riders, who would pass me before too long.

On the flats, in Mt. Beauty, I started passing some riders, clawing my way back into the event. And then, on the first climb, Tawonga Gap, a new experience for me: I started actually passing people on a climb – and not just a few but loads, many of whom had passed me with ease during the descent.

In the early morning air I found the going remarkably easy – the only other time I’d done the climb, in January, I was riding through melting tarmac in 41-degrees heat.

I didn’t stop at the summit, but started rolling down the other side, picking up speed and, for the first time in the day, really going for it. By the lower half of the descent I was engaged in what felt like speed dating with several other riders. I’d latch on to someone’s back wheel, like a dog sniffing ass, then get frustrated and pass them; or they’d latch on to mine and  – for reasons I can’t fully explain – I’d burst away and leave them for dead.

But true love prevailed. I tig-tagged for a bit with a stranger on a Giant before committing. We settled into a rhythm and hauled ass toward Harrietville.

To my great surprise, given I’d last seen them on the second bend after the start line, I came up alongside the Climbing Cyclist and Brendan “the descender” de Neef, in a ragtag shoal of riders somewhere outside Smoko.

From there we rode together until the rest stop in Harrietville, where we dismounted. It was nice chatting to them next to children’s playpark amid dozens of lavishly pissing men at 8.30am on a Sunday morning. But I couldn’t help sparing a thought for the little kids coming down to play in the park later. Why the tang of ammonia in their favourite bush? Why those frothy puddles in the tan bark?

I tackled Hotham alone, which proved to be as difficult as I’d anticipated. I thought I was hunger-flatting at various points, and that my kneecaps were about to pop off at others. Someone asked me at the start of the last 10 kays, when the gradient banks up aggresively after a 10km false flat, whether we were on CRB Hill – a much harder section a few horrid kays away – and I kind of laughed, kind of grunted.

At Dinner Plains I rammed down a veggie wrap and cookie while catching up with the Climbing Cyclist and Brendan. The ride from this point to Omeo was largely pleasant and occasionally surreal. Riding alongside the Climbing Cyclist (Brendan, the descender, had lived up to his name and was long gone) there were long stretches in which we barely saw anyone else. A few cows here, a couple of sheep there. It felt like any other training ride, on any other week, as opposed to the 3 Peaks.

And then, when we came to climbs of any length, we’d see people again, bunched up, panting, saying prayers and ranting.

At the Omeo rest stop I felt pretty good, apart from a nagging anxiety about the soon-to-be-in-front-of-me Back of Falls climb which, when I last tried it, nearly ended me.

As it was, the last climb was kind of hilarious. I waved goodbye to Brendan, the Climbing Cyclist, Andy and Evan (of Hells 500 fame) at WTF Corner, not even engaging in the folly that we’d be climbing together, and settled into a 7km/h climbing pace.

That was the average, you’ll understand – sometimes it was more like 3km/h. It took me about five minutes to overtake someone who was walking just ahead of me with their bike – I reckon we were neck and neck for about two of those minutes.

Dismounted riders were sitting on the safety barriers at the side of the road, their heads down with fatigue and/or embarrassment. Two guys on their bikes in front of me kept cutting from side to side in a zigzag.

In that fug of near-exhaustion it was hard to work out whether this would actually cut out the angle, or whether they were just making life more difficult for themselves. And more difficult for me. Every time they cut in front of my front wheel I felt like swiping at them, shooing them off. Of course, I was way too knackered to do so.

At the last rest stop, Trapyard Gap, I munched into some dry-as-dust fruitcake – just what the dehydration called for (thanks Bicycle Network Victoria!) and got to pedaling again.

Even if I walked from Trapyard Gap, I knew I would finish the event within the cut-off time. That led me, momentarily, to reflect on the negative comments received on my previous posts about training for this event; comments that roughly boiled down to: give up on 3 Peaks now, you loser; you’re tripping, bro; and the gothically depressing: ‘Beware of your pride …   the kids will no doubt want their dad in one piece.’

I wiled away a grim few minutes imagining Bicycle Network Victoria reps soberly delivering my head, shoulder blades and a Shimano-clad foot in a box to one son; a leg, elbow and hands to the other.

Such thoughts vanished as I crested the top of the climb and saw the Rocky Valley Dam beneath me; suddenly there was a freshness in my legs, a kick from somewhere new. I got down in the drops and powered ahead, knowing I could take on any rider in the world, apart from the 20 or 30 who obviously felt the same and sped by me with ease in those glorious last few kays.

Crossing the line felt good, of course, as did seeing my family there. I hugged my parents, my in-laws, my wife, my sons, and even thought about hugging some strangers. Shortly afterwards I was hugging my finisher’s jersey and a beer, then hugging some fries and pizza.

Turns out I crossed the line with a ride time of 10 hours 24 minutes 43 seconds, which was better than I’d been expecting.

In the many hard days of training I’d often motivated myself by thinking I’d never have to cycle up mountains again after 3 Peaks. Now, a week or so after the event, I can’t wait to start climbing again …

You can follow the Donvale Demon on Twitter @DonvaleDemon.

Update: I’m taking part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer event in Melbourne later this year. A good cause, of course, if you’d like to donate.



12 Comments

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  1. Kirbs / Apr 30 2012

    Well done. I too are going to attempt the ride next year 2013. But my biggest challenge will be getting weight of. I don’t fancy carrying 95kgs up those hills. I have got 10 months to get to below 90kgs.

  2. Matt Fletcher / Apr 8 2012

    Wow I’ve never read so many backpeddling comments in my life :)

    Demon – well played. You didn’t just show them. You showed yourself. And along the way, I know you inspired your friends, your family and even some people you’ll never meet.

    I’ve really enjoyed training for this event with you. And I look forward to many more crazy adventures on the road to come.

    All the very best for your ride to conquer cancer.

  3. Heidi / Mar 30 2012

    Reading your articles is always so enjoyable, quite offen come with a few tears (laughing tear that is), don’t get me wrong, I believe I do understand the feeling of the pain while you working on those climbs, and the fall – sometimes, and of course the gain after that. Looking forward to read your other adventure, save adventure!

  4. Donvale Demon / Mar 26 2012

    Thanks everyone for these comments, much appreciated. I think the point of it being a hard ride (and therefore one to think twice about) is definitely a good one, and I think – fundamentally – the original comments suggesting “reality checks” and such had a grain of truth in them.

    But I totally think – as a couple of people have suggested – that training (from whatever starting point you’re at) and mindset are the critical things.

    I only started training in November (in fact, that’s the first time I’d ever tried cycling up a mountain, which in the end was really challenging/almost impossible for me), but having that as a marker made me determined to train as hard as I could – ie hill-specific spin classes once a week at Spin Room, Melbourne; long, occasionally painful rides every weekend; repeats up hills and mountains; strength and cardio work on my trainer a few days a week …

    A month into training I shaved 45 minutes off my first time up Donna Buang, then another 10 or so the next time … That was a clear enough indication I was getting stronger/better and this, in turn, motivated me to keep going.

    Probably my main drive in the last few weeks before the event was: “There’s no f**king way I’m doing all this work, making all these sacrifices, only to not succeed on the day.” In my case, I think that got me over the line.

    Congrats to all other finishers!

  5. mogwai / Mar 23 2012

    well done mate. i’ve told plenty of people your story in the hope of convincing them to attempt it next year. It is possible for almost anyone to do this sort of ride with enough training and dedication which you have proven.. Were you doing spin class also ? If so how many classes did you attend in the 6 months of lead up ?

    Given 90% of the field completed this year i think the message that its not easy ride has really sunken in. People are either training more or just not entering.
    Lets see how many of the 1000 people finish next year if its cold wet and miserable. The gods of cycling were sure looking down on everyone this year with weather like that.

  6. David / Mar 22 2012

    I reckon you had fairly good reason to be skeptical DahonDude. As you had pointed out, the completion rate of this event isn’t great because it is difficult to ride not just the distance but the climbs. We must remember what the Demons first go up Mt Donna Buang was like too – it certainly didn’t make for inspiring reading…

    However, when reading the blog over the past few months, I noticed that the Demon was doing the training, covering the miles over the hilly terrain and was not shying away from the challenge and the goal of completing that he had set for himself. It certainly was no fluke that he completed the event and did it well. The preparation was key, the Demon thus knew what the climbs would be like, what the distance would be like and how best to pace himself throughout the day.

    Congratulations on completing with style and it was so good to see that your efforts were well rewarded.

    As for the next challenge, the Melbourne Marathon is on in October :)

    Then after that, Alpine Classic Extreme 2013 and an Ironman triathlon could be on the cards ;)

  7. dahondude / Mar 22 2012

    Congrats to the Demon, an excellent and hilariously funny blog. As an early naysayer I am happy to be proven 110% wrong and fully retract any comments that were interpreted as suggesting you were a loser. You are clearly not (and nor was it my intention to suggest this), and I will now retreat so a small dark corner to lick my wounds…

  8. Andy / Mar 22 2012

    There’s the joy in crossing the line, there’s the feeling of elation knowing you’ve done it – but surely nothing sits better than sinking the boot into your detractors.

    Inspiration comes from different places – it’s not always the first up the hill, the quickest across the line, or the guy on the podium. Thanks for providing the inspiration, the humour, and the bloody-minded stubbornness that keeps our own motivation levels up in those dark times.

    ..and here’s to the next adventure.

  9. BBB / Mar 22 2012

    Gothically depressing? Wow.

    Top effort in completing the ride, particularly given the ups (the training) and downs (the crash) in the lead up to the event. Well done and something to always be proud of.

    What’s next on the agenda?

    As for my initial doom and gloom post, my beef was not with you so much, but the organisers who promote the event in the way they do and make open to the public with no qualifiying criteria. I’d hate for someone to be seriously injured at the event with a whole lot of resultant finger pointing after the fact.

  10. Luke / Mar 22 2012

    Congratultions on completeing 3 peaks it’s a hell of a ride, I had only recently read the negative comments last week. To all the nay sayers who put their 2 bobs worth in telling the Demon not to attempt this what are you’re thoughts now you wankers.
    Cheers,
    Luke.

  11. Matt Wearne / Mar 22 2012

    Great effort Donvale Demon and what a result on such an epic ride!
    You put in the hard yards (in your training) and it paid off.
    Whats next? :)

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