Episode 15: pushing through pain for a Buller PB

Route: Bonnie Doon to Tolmie, via Mt. Buller
Distance: 146km
Duration: 5 hours 32 minutes

The forecast said rain but the weather couldn't have been better.

I’ve spent more on physiotherapy bills in the past three weeks than I did in the five years before that. It’s all in the hope I’ll be able to attack the 3 Peaks Challenge on March 11 sans ITB pain.

I’ve been stretching and strengthening, getting massages and having dry needling done. All of these experiences deliver varying degrees of pain, but it’s the last of these that’s most uncomfortable. Having a needle shoved into a tight muscle, jiggled around and then shoved a little deeper is, well, about as much fun as it sounds. But it seems to be working — it’s getting less painful to ride.

But more on that in a moment.

A nice little descent just out of Mansfield.

Last Saturday my partner Sharon and her family were heading up to the family property near Mansfield for the Tolmie Sports Day — a family tradition. My brother Brendan and I tagged along, taking the opportunity to ride some of the great roads around Mansfield while having a great feast to look forward to at the end of the day.

Sharon dropped us off at Bonnie Doon and Brendan and I made our way over the bridge and up toward Mansfield. It was the first time I’d seen Lake Eildon since the drought broke and, wow, what a sight it is. I can just imagine how excited Darryl Kerrigan would be to see water in the lake again.

We rode the undulating roads to Mansfield where Sharon met us to see how my ITB was holding up. It had been noticeable since kilometre one, and I was worried it could flare up later in the ride. But, putting my better judgement to one side, I took a couple of Nurofen, thanked Sharon for waiting for us, and joined Brendan in rolling out. I’m glad I did.

The road between Mansfield and Mt. Buller is very open and there’s not a whole lot in the way of interesting scenery to keep the mind occupied. But there is the constant view of Mt. Buller and Mt. Sterling on the horizon to keep you focused. We made good time through Merrijig and Sawmill Settlement before pausing at Mirimbah to refill our water bottles and ready ourselves for the climb ahead.

Approaching the base of the climb.

By this point I was well aware of my ITB flaring up and while it wasn’t terribly painful, it was enough that barely a pedal stroke went by that I wasn’t thinking about it; worrying about it. Brendan told me to go ahead on the climb and I replied that I wasn’t sure how I’d go, considering the circumstances. But once I started climbing, a strange thing happened — my ITB stopped hurting.

Well that’s not strictly true. I just didn’t notice it over the symphony of pain coming from the rest of my body while climbing. Plus, getting out of the saddle helped to mix things up and lighten the load on the ITB.

I probably say this a lot when writing about the various climbs around Victoria but man, if you haven’t checked out the Mt. Buller climb just get out there and do it. It’s a stunning part of the world with terrific scenery, an amazing descent and some great views. I thoroughly enjoyed my third visit to the great mountain.

One of many gorgeous sections on the Mt. Buller climb.

I never felt like I was going particularly hard on the climb but when I reached the Mt. Buller village my Garmin was reading just over an hour. I pushed on to the Arlberg Hotel (where the sealed road ends) and hit “Lap” once more. 1 hour 5 minutes — a new PB by 15 minutes. It was a great feeling to take such a huge chunk off my best, despite the ITB hassles.

At this point I’d like to give a quick shout-out to Phil Tan who rode the last kilometre-or-so of the climb with me. Phil is training for 3 Peaks as well and recognised my bike from the photos on this here website. Phil went on to complete a second ascent of Buller and is looking great for 3 Peaks — good luck Phil!

After Brendan arrived at the summit we bought some food from the local Foodworks and headed down the mountain. As mentioned earlier, the Mt. Buller descent is a beauty and with its smooth surface and sweeping bends, it’s definitely up there with my favourites.

View from the top of Mt. Buller.

As we left the Mt. Buller village we rode through a couple of spots of rain, glad to be leaving the bad weather behind us. Rain had been forecast but those few drops were the only precipitation we experienced all day. In fact, it was probably a perfect day for cycling.

Once we got back to Mirimbah at the base of the mountain, we settled back into a rhythm and chewed up the kilometres to Mansfield. My ITB was playing up intermittently, fluctuating between painful, uncomfortable and unnoticeable all in the space of minutes. But even when it was painful, it wasn’t stopping me from riding. This fact alone gave me some hope that even if it still hurts come 3 Peaks, I should still be able to battle through it.

Back at Mansfield we stopped at the local bakery to refuel before the last section up to Tolmie. I knew from driving the route there was a substantial climb before Tolmie but it was more or less an unknown in terms of gradient and length. We set off from Mansfield with nearly 120km in the legs and it took a while to convince the pins to get moving again. But get moving they did and we started eating up the final kilometres.

Brendan was suffering with fatigue and some painfully-worn knicks (145km with virtually no padding = a good effort) and he suggested I keep going at my own pace rather than waiting for him. I did just that, finding a comfortable rhythm in the lead-up to the final climb of the day. When I hit the climb I felt far stronger than I expected and my ITB had settled down quite a bit. I decided to push myself and see how the legs would respond.

Brendan laying it down like a boss.

I climbed quicker than I expected, feeling stronger than I would have thought after 135km — a good sign for 3 Peaks. After reaching the top of the ~8km climb I continued the few kilometres to the Tolmie pub where Sharon was waiting for us. She had messaged earlier to say she’d pick us up but didn’t get my three replies due to lack of phone signal. She had been waiting for an hour for us and while she didn’t seem to mind, I still felt really bad for keeping her waiting.

Brendan arrived a short time later, cursing his decision not to buy new knicks earlier and swearing he would do so at the earliest possible opportunity. We headed up to Sharon’s family’s property for a wonderful dinner (thanks Betty!) before heading back to Melbourne later that evening. All in all a fantastic day on the bike: 146km and 2,200 vertical metres covered, with a healthy Mt. Buller PB to boot.

But the real test would be the next morning — how would the ITB pull up after a long day on the bike? Not surprisingly it was pretty sore, but it was far less sore than the morning after last weekend’s ride.

Josh the physio thought this was a good sign, and it seems the stretches and strengthening exercises are making a difference. I even managed to get through a ride last night without needing Nurofen. I’ll count that as another little victory.

Climbing the Tolmie Gap.

It’s scary to think that 3 Peaks is only three weeks away. That leaves only two more weekends of solid riding before the tapering (and carbo loading!) begins. I’m just hoping the ITB continues to improve and that, come March 11, I can get through the big day in one piece.

As always, feel free to come and have a chat on TwitterFacebook and/or Strava. And of course, you can always leave a comment below.

Until next time, thanks for reading and please stay safe on the roads.

24 days to go …

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8 Replies to “Episode 15: pushing through pain for a Buller PB”

  1. even though it sounds like you need it I would be carefull with Ibuprofenin hot and dry conditions. Dehydration, high hart rate and any sort of pain killing mediation do not mix. They can increase the risk of stroke and kidney problems amongst other things.

    Have you tried other pain killers such as codine and do they work for your ITB pain ? You probably should discuss drug and excerceise interactions with a doctor and find out what is safe to use when you are putting your system under extreme conditions (such as you will be on Three Peaks). Dont take ‘nothing’ as an answer and tell them you may need to take something so they should recommend something that is safer.

    A series of Cortisone may be a better option leading up to the event but hey i’m no doctor.

  2. Just booked myself into a Mansfield cabin for Friday night for a Saturday morning pre-bucks day (not mine) Buller ride…should be a crackin weekend

  3. Hi Matt
    I’ve been noticing your comments re itb problems and just wanted to make note of a couple of things. I’ve been set up by Steve Hogg and have a great deal of respect for his bike fitting philosophy.I was recently discussing my left itb pain with him and his suggestion was that I may be dropping my right hip causing the left leg to overextend which in turn effects my left itb.
    I just recently discovered my left cleat was worn causing a slight wiggle in my left heel. I’ve only just replaced the cleat but after one ride I felt much happier.You may already be aware of these types of issues but I would certainly recommend getting set up on your bike from somebody reputable in bike fitting.Best of luck with the itb and have a good ride in the 3 peaks challenge.


      1. Hi Matt & Tony: Couldn’t agree more with you Tony. Had a BG fit with Stuart (Stewart?) at Beasley Cycles in Footscray on a newish bike ahead of the Alpine Classic 200km recently. He had recently fitted our newly crowned national champion. I have a history of ITB problems although admittedly I wasn’t in this instance and went for different reasons. But a number of adjustments and positional changes (bars/shoes/saddle) made an enormous change to both my comfort on the bike and pedalling efficiency. Was an expensive process but worth every cent. The attention to detail in the fitting process might make a huge difference to you. And no, they aren’t paying me to say this. Best of luck for 3 peaks – would love to have a crack but after putting the wife & kids through the Alpine enough was enough! Regards, Wayne

  4. I have read with great interest you’re blogs from last year as well as this year and have also signed up for 3 peaks. I feel I have done nowhere near the amount of work you have so it will be about survival on the day. Looking at the kms you have done I have no doubt you will smash it. Keep up the good work.
    Cheers, Luke.

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