As a recreational cyclist that’s spent the past few years getting stronger and faster on the bike, there’s a question that keeps resurfacing in my mind: ‘What’s the limit of my cycling ability?’
I suspect it’s a question that most (if not all) cyclists find themselves asking at one point or another and for me, trying to answer that question is one of the biggest appeals of cycling and sport in general — how far can I push myself before it becomes too much?
It’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing long, tough rides like the 3 Peaks Challenge or, to answer a question I posed last week but never really answered, why I enjoy doing hill repeats.
And so, after managing two climbs of Mt. Donna Buang the Sunday before last, the inevitable question in my mind was: ‘Could I have done three?’
On the Sunday just gone, I tried to find the answer.
I put the call out on Facebook and Twitter and at 8am on Sunday morning roughly 10-15 of us gathered in Warburton, poised to take on Mt. Donna Buang at least twice and, hopefully, three times. The group was dominated by riders wearing Croydon Cycleworks kit including none other than former European pro and recent winner of the men’s race at Amy’s Gran Fondo Tom Leaper.
Tom and the rest of the Croydon Cycleworks bunch set off up the hill ahead of us at a cracking pace while Matt ‘Fletch’ Fletcher and I tried to find a comfortable rhythm in the early kilometres. As it turned out we climbed a little faster than I was expecting and while we weren’t really at our limits at all, we managed to set a respectable first climb time of 1 hour 12 minutes.
At the top of the climb it was time to rug up and descend back to Warburton. I’d taken a musette with me containing a scarf, beanie and thicker gloves, scarred from a handful of freezing Donna descents over the past few months. But in the end the descent was warmer than I had expected and I didn’t have to bother with the scarf or beanie.
As we reached Cement Creek on our descent — roughly halfway down the mountain — Tom Leaper roared past us on the way back up the hill for his second climb of the day. The dude is scary quick and it was an honour just to be on the same mountain as him!
When Fletch and I started the climb for the second time we had a few other riders join us — Matt Whiting, Michael Prior and James Singleton. James sadly dropped off the back after 5km with, I’ve since learned, a flat tyre and it was left to Michael and we three Matts to work our way toward the summit for the second time that day.
Those final few kilometres before Cement Creek were pretty painful the second time up, certainly more painful than they had been on the second climb the week before. When we reached the slightly easier second half of the climb Michael dashed away with ease, leaving Matt, Matt and I to grind our way towards the summit.
That steep final kilometre before the summit certainly has a bit of bite to it, especially when your legs are fatigued from the climb you’ve done earlier in the day. Quote of the day goes to Fletch who, upon reaching that steep section for the second time, said: ‘You keep going mate, I need a bit of Fletch time.’ While he did fall slightly off the back at the end there, I really didn’t have much more in the legs than he did — I was hurting too.
Michael waited for us at the top and the four of us had a chat about whether we’d continue on for a third climb. Michael and Fletch were done for the day, the former pining for a latte and a tasty treat from the bakery and the latter suffering from knee pain.
The four of us descended and after a few minutes spent chatting to Fletch and Michael I was ready to try and get through a third ascent of Mt. Donna Buang. I knew that if I got started on the climb I wouldn’t let myself not finish it — I just had to get started before the option of sitting in the bakery proved too tempting.
Within a few hundred metres my legs started to complain and Matt (who was joining me for his third effort of the day as well) wasn’t faring much better. We didn’t speak much over the next 16.8km but it was invaluable having someone else there to share the suffering with. I think it would have been a lot harder to get through that third climb if I was riding alone. Thanks Matt!
Which isn’t to say it wasn’t hard enough already — it was. Those final few kilometres before Cement Creek were a killer once more and, more than ever, the brief flat section at the halfway hairpin was a tremendous relief. The pace was never fast and at times it felt as if we could have been walking faster. But we continued on, the summit getting closer with every laboured pedal stroke. Speaking of laboured strokes, kudos to the bloke on roller skis who was making his way slowly but surely up the mountain. A terrific effort!
In my mind there was never any doubt I’d be able to finish that third climb. I had started the day with a Triple Donna as my clear goal and anything less would have been a disappointment. That certainty didn’t make the last kilometre any easier.
It was a total out-of-the-saddle grindfest on fatigued, powerless legs. But, as hard as it was, I still managed to find that last kilometre enjoyable. It’s amazing how having the end in sight can make pain seem less, well, painful, and the challenging seem less so.
In the end we managed that final climb in around 1 hour 27 minutes — roughly the same time it took Brendan and I the previous weekend on each of our two climbs. I was well chuffed with that and glad just to have gotten to the top in one piece. The expression on Matt’s face said something similar as he sat on a rock at the top of the mountain looking utterly shattered.
We descended toward Warburton for the third and final time that day, enjoying the fact the roads had dried off over the course of the morning and that it was also significantly warmer than it had been on the first two descents.
As Matt and I sat at the Warburton Bakery filling up on all manner of delicious and well-earned treats, I couldn’t help thinking: ‘Could I have managed a fourth ascent?’
As hard as the third climb was — and don’t get me wrong, it was very tough — I still reckon I had a bit left in the tank at the top. The first few times I climbed Mt. Donna Buang, several years ago now, I had to stop a couple of times. After that, a stop at Cement Creek became a tradition.
But I didn’t feel the need to stop on the third time up Donna on Sunday, despite it being tough, which makes me think maybe, just maybe, I would have made it had I attempted a fourth ascent.
I certainly would have needed more food and drink before attempting it, it would have been very slow and painful, and I would have needed someone to accompany me, but I reckon it might have been possible.
So, with that in mind, who’s up for a Quadruple Donna?
Before I wrap this up, I’d just like to share a couple bits of news with you all.
As some of you might have seen, myself and Andy van Bergen from the Hells 500 cycling collective are running a series of rides in the coming months — the 7 Peaks Domestique Series. The concept is simple: we want to help as many cyclists conquer the 7 Peaks Alpine Ascent Challenge as we can.
To that end, we’ll be running a series of rides up each of the seven climbs (Mt. Buller, Mt. Buffalo, Mt. Baw Baw, Lake Mountain, Mt. Hotham, Dinner Plain and Falls Creek) in which we’ll be helping riders of all abilities, men and women, finish the climbs in one piece. We’ll be making sure that if you commit to finishing the climb, you won’t get left behind … no matter how slow you are.
It’s totally free to come along and if you want to do so, all you need do is sign up for a 7 Peaks passport and then ‘Join’, on Facebook, each of the rides you want to attend. For all of the details, including ride dates and links to the relevant Facebook event pages, visit the 7 Peaks Domestique Series hub page. We’ll be updating that page frequently.
And while I’m on the subject of doing lots of climbing, some of you might recall that I set myself a goal some weeks ago of notching up 10,000km and 120,000m of climbing for the 2012 calendar year.
With 11 weeks to go, I’m still on target, requiring roughly 205km and 2,030m climbing per week. Riding each of the 7 Peaks a couple times in the next few months will really help to clock up the kilometres and the vertical metres and hopefully I’ll reach my targets without too many problems.
And finally, I’m riding this Sunday in Bicycle Network Victoria’s Around the Bay in a Day (ATB). All going well, it will be the third time I’ve completed the event and while it’s not a climbing event by any stretch of the imagination (the Westgate Bridge nonwithstanding), I am looking forward to the ride and the great atmosphere that ATB always generates.
Thanks very much for reading and remember, if you haven’t already, come and say hi over at Twitter and/or Facebook. You can also follow me (Matt) on Strava and, if you like, you can sign up to get an email update whenever I publish a new post on the site. Just click on the envelope icon at the top left of this page.
Until next time, be sure to stay safe on the roads.
15 Replies to “Double Donna, Triple Donna, Quadruple Donna?”
Great effort Matt and I love your site. You inspired me to give this a go after completing 2 doubles previously. And yesterday with the help of 2 peanut butter sandwiches, 6 muesli bars, 1 banana, 1 gel and some snakes I did it 🙂
As soon as I got in the car I wondered about a 4th…
Well done Matt, huge effort.
We did a double last summer and there are vague plans for a triple this season. One lesson I learned the hard way was to guess the amount of food you will need, then take double that amount.
From the first descent I just U-turned and headed straight back up. Hurt a bit at the pinch before Cement Creek but the real troubles were in the final few k’s – just ran out of fuel big time. So, next time I’m taking a brief break at the bottom and eating. Lots.
Martin, I’m pretty sure we’ve read of your Donna exploits in another forum – amazing training regime.
I’ve just come back from doing a couple of rides in western Victoria including riding up Mt William ( to the carpark) in the Grampians. The ride is 10 kms at what I estimate to be an average gradient of about 6-7%. Great views on the way up. Have you ever considered including this ride on the website?
Ah, what a great climb. That last part is so steep!!! I’ve definitely considered writing it up, yep! I just need to get back there and take some notes!
Did seven triples and a double through last Winter in preparation for a trip to France. Did them all solo so can see how company would be nice; especially on the 4th+.
Awesome effort Martin. Wow.
Awesome effort by everyone and i reckon 4 is easily do-able with a bit of planning, tapering, carb loading and extra supplies…
Talking bout pushing the limits, my dream since conquering The Alps is conquering Mt. Kosiosko. I have failed once by myself last December due 2 lack of planning. The reason i mention i mention it is because it shouldn’t be done alone so am seeing if anyone is interested in the challenge. In one day ride 40-50kms along the highlands to bottom of major climb. Then ride 40kms to Charlotte’s Pass, dump the bike, change shoes and run 8kms to the highest point in Australia! Then back 2 bike and re-fuel. Finally ride 80-90kms back to the start. A very long day and weather is extreme and changes rapidly! I think its do-able but gonna be really hard!
That sounds epic Murray. A really long day, but really satisfying. The 8km run strikes me as the hardest part for sure!
I’d be tempted to come along, assuming we got the right support crew etc.
Yeh the run will be the hardest. Heaps of 1000 Steps training will help that if the knees are any good! Mine play up after a while if I go too hard…
Looking at getting someone 2 drive up to Charlotte’s Pass to provide food, spares, etc…Plus exit strategy in-case weather turned horribly dangerous…
Sounds good Murray. Keep me posted!
Well done Matt. Very inspiring. I’ll join you for four if you give us all enough warning.
this site, your writing flair, the content and the effort you devote to climbing hills and motivating others is nothing short of brilliant!
It was great to finally meet you last Sunday.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks James. That means a lot! 🙂
Good to meet you too – shame you had a flat!
Matt thanks again for organising – we certainly could not have asked for better weather at this time of year and congrats on getting the triple under your belt. Haha you scare me with talk of 4 though! Is that like, “just one more hit”?! Anyway, after my double it did remind me how awesome it is to ride with others, the encouragement and comraderie to push yourself beyond expectations. It really is something that is tangible and rewarding and something I hope people tap into by joining you on the 7 peaks challenges later this year 🙂
Thanks mate, much appreciated. 🙂 I hope to see you out there for 7 Peaks!