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.

Brendan taps it out on climb #1.
Brendan taps it out on climb #1.

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.

I think I'd be looking far less happy after three or four climbs.
I think I’d be looking far less happy after three or four climbs.

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.

Seeing this final corner for the 10th time must have been a real relief for Dougie.
Seeing this final corner for the 10th time must have been a real relief.

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.

It has to get boring riding the same road 10 times, right?
It has to get boring riding the same road 10 times, right?

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!

Terrys Avenue more than once? No thanks.
Terrys Avenue more than once? No thanks.

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.

Shane Miller's Yarra Street climb loop.
Shane Miller’s Yarra Street climb loop.

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.

This is what the profile for 6 x Mt. Donna Buang looks like.
This is what the profile for 6 x Mt. Donna Buang looks like.

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.

Climbing mountains on your own must get pretty lonely.
It can get lonely out on the mountain all by yourself.

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?

It's all about getting to the top ... many times.
It’s all about getting to the top … many times.

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:

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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!

31 Replies to “Double Donna done, but why do we do hill repeats?”

  1. Well here in Ballarat there are a selection of hills and the one that comes to mind is Mt Buninyong (bunny). In March of this year 2015 I cramped halfway up CRB hill. My opinion was my training wasn’t hard or long enough. This year I am miles/k’s ahead of last year with reps up bunny, now at 4, and I will aim for 8. There is also Dana Street in Ballarat itself which I am up to 9 reps and that will be built up to 12. Then,very soon, I will work on the “pimple” 15.5% both sides, 100m east and 150m west. The east has no run up what so ever so perfect training for the MEG and the west side is a bit of a run up. However, I really like hill reps as did alot of reps in my running days. Then I came across a little gem in my research which mentioned doing hill reps by spinning and then up the gears and grind. Repeat that as many times as you can, probably only a few at the start as it would be taxing. But there are lots of hills in and around Ballarat, they aren’t as long as Hotham or Falls but you have to work with what you have got.
    I think I have all bases covered in my quest to complete the peaks next year.

  2. This post got me motivated to test myself, I managed Yarra Street for 50 laps, there were no land-speed records set. I’ve only been cycling since August, so this was an awesome test. I had to head to the 7/11 on Smith Street after lap 28, but I got there in the end. Thanks for the motivation!

  3. In 2007, whilst training for that years l’etape du tour, me and a my mate climbed the front of mt Macedon 5 times….. A tough day yet satisfying in a crazy way!

  4. I used to think 6 repeats of Yarra St (the last was slow slow I nearly fell off), and 8 repeats of Anderson St were good efforts. Until I read this post.

    I’m not sure if I’m inspired to go out and smash some repeats, or if it’d be better to hide on Beach Rd with all the other pretend hill climbers.

    Great post, AMAZING efforts!

  5. Perrins Creek Road (2.5km’s @ 7.3% Gradient & 182 metre climb) and The Crescent (3.4 km’s @ 5% Gradient & 167 metre climb) both start at the same point (Sassafras in the Dandenong’s). As both climbs use different types of muscles to get up them it would be interesting to try rotating repeats. 5 laps of both would net 59 km’s of riding & 1,745 metres of climbing and 10 laps of both would net 118 km’s of riding and 3,490 metres of climbing. Hopefully you guys have inspired me to try something crazy.

  6. I like climbing intervals because all of the vertical meters you achieve are earnt, unlike on rolling hills where you get a few cheap ones with momentum.

    Josh, that was an interesting breakdown of the types of climbing intervals – thanks for sharing that.

    George – you are crazy for sure!

    Thanks for the article , very inspirational. I am by no means a great climber but I think I might try and beat my PB and do the 1 in 20 6 times this week – weather permitting…

  7. As a regular reader of this blog over the past few months, its inspiring to see the successes and the joy of accomplishing yet another all challenging ride. Keep climbing, striving and achieving! A great motivator for LIFE!

  8. Mmmmm… Seems some folk think I was crazy in 1994. The thing is, when you are preparing to climb Everest, and you have little real deal experience for that task, then riding laps on Donna Buang is, I would suggest, the reasonalbe act of a sane & prudent man. GM 🙂

  9. Re; Ridley repeats x 1
    Regular training ride performed at the start of the road season, tonight was different as I had company.
    The night started with some random drunk hitting my mates bike ad we were setting up, luckily no damage to either rider or bike.
    After the third ascent I clipped a kerb on the decent and performed a forward barrell roll and landed on my feet, walked over and picked the bike up and kept going. Was fairly spent by the end of the last one as we decided to attack each other in between #5 & 8, rendering the legs to jelly.
    The ride was made harder by, 1. 3.5kg training wheels at 90psi & 2. A backpack with 2 5kg weight plates in it.

      1. actually assisted the forward barrel roll as the the additional weight acted like a pendulum helping my rotation through the air…

  10. I’d done 10x Macedon three times now, this was the last effort –

    It’s not just the physical training but also mental – lets face it, it’s easy to say, “I’ve been up and down this mountain 8 times, that’ll do”. You will get the same training benefit from it physically, but the mental strength you build to just keep on turning over the peddles on the same strip of bitumen is gold!

    1. Great stuff EML. Tracing out that route with all the up-and-backs is pretty mesmerising actually. Those south side climbs must have been awful after a while. Hell, it’s awful the first time! 😛

      And you’re spot on about the mental toughness. Probably harder than the physical effort I’d say!

  11. Get off couch, get beer, open beer, drink. Repeat.

    I guess the real advantage of repeats is that you don’t have to transition between climbs. It’s just work followed by recovery – with no dead periods. Give me a change of roads any day and preferably a loop route over an out-and-back.

  12. In training terms, they all have different benefits e.g.

    * 1:20 repeats done just below threshold should do wonderful things for your FTP c.f. Andrew Coggan,
    * Donna repeats are good for your all-day aerobic endurance, this is basically low-cadence base training,
    * Yarra Street repeats (especially done hard) will improve your short-term lactate tolerance, which pays off when racing undulating terrain (e.g. Broadford) that requires high power over short lumps,
    * Anything done to extremes will toughen up the mind and the butt, two essential areas of cycling performance!

    Sure, not the only reasons, but those are some of the athletic outcomes I’d expect.

    1. Great points Josh, thanks! I’m trying to work out if I’d rather do ten 1 in 20s, or 100 Yarra Streets. About the same distance, very different climbing!

  13. Super super crazy and inspiring! As part of the only 3 Peaks Challenge training I attended earlier this year the plan was to climb Mt. Donna Buang 3 times. 2 times and down again and we lost all but one other guy. He rode up with me 1/4 of the way but then left too (he had family commitments). But I kept on going. Had 2 stop half-way because had so hit the wall and happen to see family friends from West Gippsland at Mt. Donna Buang. After a brief chat and some fresh mountain water kept on going and made it! Unfortunately wasn’t on Strava back then 🙁 I reckon 4 or 5 is doable with proper planning incl. carb loading – but 10 is insane!

  14. I like the fact that Shane didn’t turn right at the roundabout, instead picking up the additional couple of metres by going straight. While not as steep, that extra little pinch is usually the part that hurts the most on the Yarra Street burg..

    1. After the roundabout is always a slog. I haven’t ridden Yarra St much since then….. no guesses why!

      Cheers for the inclusion of my antics Matt. I think 10 Donna Buang in a day will always take the crown. That is madness on top of crazy! 😉

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