Guest post: Heading for the hills (3 Peaks here we come)

He’s only been cycling for five months, but the man they call the Donvale Demon is not one to shirk challenges. He’s already completed the 210km version of Around the Bay in a Day and he’s just signed up for his biggest challenge yet — the 3 Peaks Challenge.

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I rode a bike in June for the first time since adolescence, barring one or two days on borrowed machines. I’d bought a Merida T-bar road bike that – to me – felt as light as a feather, bearing in mind my last bike, in the 90s, was a mountain bike made of tank steel circa 1945.

I started commuting to work – 25km each way from Donvale, Suburb of the Gods, to the north end of Melbourne’s CBD – in early August. When the Merida got going it was fast but I couldn’t help noticing people zipping past me, without breaking sweat, every other minute. Disheartening? To say the least.

In October I upgraded (impulsively but with no regrets) to a delicious carbon BH road bike. When it gets going it makes a noise, a light, constant hum that makes me happy. Two weeks after buying it, I did the 210km Around The Bay in A Day.

That’s when I named my bike El Duende.

I’m focusing now on the 3 Peaks Challenge in March – which may, or may not, be the end of me. I’ve never been to the Victorian Alps – I’ve only lived in Australia for a year.  I’ve never been to the European Alps, and I’d lived there all my life.

I’ve noticed a few things about gravity since my (still moderate) hill training began in earnest a week ago: it sucks. Mainly backwards. It just loves to pull you down hills when you’re trying to reach the top. To stop that happening, I realised I was holding on for dear life, trying to pull myself up hills by the handlebars.

I now know that doesn’t work. All you’re doing is pulling yourself away from where you want to go, which is forwards, upwards. So what do you do? Relax the death-grip and work your legs, brother. Keep your breathing as smooth as you can, your pedaling constant and true. Think of a song you like – Higher Ground seems apt – and try to focus on that, not the fact your jersey’s being stretched by your heart slamming in and out of your chest.

Try not to get caught up in bitter thoughts such as “gravity hates big people” – even though it’s true.

I’m 1.89 metres and 93.3 kilos. I’ve only just discovered my weight, as it happens, but gravity knew it all along.

El Duende has been modified. It’s had a compact cassette fitted – to complement the compact crankset.
But weight’s another issue. My rough calculating method (looking at the spec of stuff on the Chain Reaction website and doing rudimentary maths) suggests every gram saved on a bike costs at least $1, but often heaps more. Or, in other words, a paltry kilo is going to set you back $1,000 plus.

Beyond minor bike weight savings I’m planning from new bottle cages and SPD pedals I’ve decided the main weight loss needs to come from me.

I’d like to lose 3.3kg – or save $3,300 – in the next three months, to take me down to a 3 Peaks total of 90kg. That might be easy. Or nigh on impossible.

I feel more ravenous these days than I ever have, and now I want to shed three kilos.


31 Replies to “Guest post: Heading for the hills (3 Peaks here we come)”

  1. I have committed myself to the challenge of the 3 peaks 2013. I have been on a bike for 8 years now and have completed every Bay in the Day plus 4 Murray to Moyne’s plus 3 Port to Port. Being in Ballarat while there are lots of hills none are long but I guess I can get around it by doing lots of hill repeats. My Sunday rides with the boys I try to do 100km by doing a few k before and after and then during the week another 100km. Added to this I also do single legged hill climbs as well. At the moment getting my weight down from 96kgs is going to be my biggest challenge. It is going to be hard getting 100k in for the week as the winter months come along but I guess it does from a base from which to increase the k’s once spring arrives. I would welcome any comments to the above as I really don’t really know what i am getting into with regard to the 3 peaks.
    Cheers Kirbs

  2. Thanks for these latest comments, really interesting, funny and inspiring. And congrats to those who completed the challenge. It was a beauty. DD 🙂

  3. DD
    Congrats on completing the 3 Peaks. Commitment and a willingness to show elitest twats just what cam be done is fantastic. Just a word for BBB who should pull out his physiology books before he gives another rider a bagging. I started training in earnest for the three peaks in late Sept 2011. Weighing in at 97kg and 185 cms with an eight yr old Giant TCR. Built an aerobic base (see “Want speed, Slow down” via google) until Jan 2012, the began interval work. Completed the 3 Peaks with a ride time of 9hrs 40 mins(Tawonga 32 mins, Hotham 1hr57mins(with a stop at Buckland gate to wait for others to catch up), and Back of Falls to Trapyard gate 58 mins). With only five months of the correct reigime, ANYTHING is possible. Well done again Demon!

    1. The event is to a large extent mind over matter however it’s about confidence in knowing you will complete it and in times of pain and anguish willing yourself to keep going.

      I suffered cramp at the top of Hotham and thought “uh oh!” Same again up Raspberry – was out of the saddle when ….twang….there goes the hammy again….rather than take the “get off the bike and stretch” route, took on the pain, sat back down and spun it out. There was no way I was going to stop!

      Finished with an improvement of over 35 minutes on last year, completed my third 3 Peaks and raised over $1400 for Rotary. Gotta be happy with that! (I was dissapointed to learn the low participation rate in the fund raising – I hope BV puts in more of an effort to marketing this to all and sundry for next year).



  4. Congratulations mate! Well done. I’ve slipped on the riding lately due to other commitments, but definitely want to get myself to the stage of completing this ride some day
    I live in Lilydale but work in Upwey so I have ridden around the Dandenongs a bit. I’m 182cm and 95kg so not the typical looking cyclist also, so I can relate to your struggles, haha. I think more than anything you have shown that, even though you obviously need a level of fitness, so much more depends on the mind and your will to at least have a go.
    You are an inspiration, and it’s been very informative (and entertaining) to follow your blog.

  5. Mr Donvale Demon. Absolute champion. Sorry I didn’t end up catching you after you crossed the line, but what an inspirational ride!! Andy and I were so stoked when Matt told us you’d not only made it to the finish, but were barely behind us!


  6. Well reading back on this aren’t you glad you didn’t listen to the naysayers.

    I guess they were just making a point however depending on your age and your spare time its not inconceivable to be able to finish three peaks with only 6 months of training.

    Well done mate.

  7. Thanks for those figures, Dahondude, very helpful. Your continued interest in my preparation is much appreciated, as is the fact you highlight my ongoing plight in other online forums.
    I appreciate – as I’ve mentioned previously – that I may be one of those unfortunates that doesn’t complete 3 Peaks. As far as I know, this doesn’t carry any penalties or threat of punishment from BV or anyone else. All it would mean is this: I don’t finish 3 Peaks.
    I’d still like to train for the event and attempt it, though. Not sure why. It must be something in my DNA.

  8. Hi Donvale Demon
    I got hold of the timings from BV and here’s some info to motivate you (or not). BV times riders for the whole ride, plus all three climbs (Tawonga Gap, Hotham and Falls Creek). All up there were around 1010 starters and 770 finishers, so about 250 DNF (= 1/4 of the field, which was good compared to the first year). I’ve broken the stats into finishers and DNFers.
    Tawonga Gap
    40min = 50 riders finished, 122 riders DNFed
    Almost all the DNFed riders rode Tawonga in > 35 min, over half the finishers rode a sub-35 min climb.

    3 hrs = 0 riders finished, 62 riders DNFed
    Almost all the DNFed riders rode Hotham in > 2.5 hrs, while almost all the finishers rode it in under 2.5 hrs.

    Also noteworthy is that almost all the DNF riders pulled out somewhere between the Hotham summit time point and the Falls Ck climb time point.

    Falls Ck
    3hrs 27 riders finished, 7 riders DNFed
    You cant say much about this climb due to the fact that most people who DNFed had already pulled out by this time.

    Make of this what you want, but to have a good chance of finishing you need to be climbing Tawonga in less than 35-40 min, Hotham in less than 2.5-3 hrs, and Falls in less than 2.5- 3hrs and limiting the time spent off the bike to a bare minimum. You will also be climbing, preferably non-stop, for up to 7 hrs (40 min Tawonga, 3 hrs Hotham, 3 hrs Falls, 20 min on the smaller climbs between Hotham and Falls). Also note that BV have set a 13 hr cut-off time limit which, if they had applied it in 2011, would have cut the number of finishers to around 650 (ie another 120 riders would have been pulled off the road, bringing the DNF count to around 370).

    Nothing wrong with setting challenges, just make sure you know what the challenge is!

  9. Enjoyed this little article and think you’re definitely doing the right thing…
    Ignore those suggesting you give up and go for it!

  10. Sounds like you’ve made up your mind and are determined to see it through. If you’re mentally strong than I reckon go for it. 3peaks is probably 90% completed in the mind. If your mind is in the job your body will do what you ask of it, so many people aren’t aware of what the human body is capable of. FYI, i’m 180cm, 85kg and only started riding a few months before Xmas and completed the 3peaks in reasonable shape last year. The key is to do atleast 2-3 longish rides in the “hills”, riding beach rd achieves nothing when preparing for 3peaks. We did buller, donna and lake mountain leading up to the event and i reckon the first 6 km of lake mountain is a pretty good indication of the back o falls but do it after youve ridden 100kms first. From memory the marysville ride is two weeks out from 3peaks and is a great last hit out.

  11. To all the nay-sayers, here’s a little story:

    In 2009 I did the Rainforest Ride on my old hybrid and decided I really liked cycling.

    In October 2009 I bought my first road bike.

    In November 2009 I rode up my first proper hill – Mt Donna Buang. Humbling.

    In February 2010 I took part in David Heatley’s “Bright Boot Camp” which is a terrific way to meet the Vic Alps for the first time with a full supporting crew.

    Then I rode the Three Peaks Challenge.

    Here’s the kicker: I weigh 100kg. I am a big bloke. Not really fat – nature just intended me to play rugby.

    Moral: Anything is possible, if you want it enough and work at it.

  12. Dahondude, thanks for this comment. Left me feeling a bit flat for a moment or two but I don’t really see the point of just giving up at this stage and admitting the “folly of my plans” – but I do plan to train up at Fall’s Creek before too long, as you suggest. 94kg isn’t actually overweight for my height and, beyond removing a limb, I think I’ll always struggle to get it much below, say, 90kg. I appreciate your point about this being a really hard ride, and acknowledge that, ultimately, it may be well beyond my capabilities, but where would we be if we just gave up on things? Saying at this stage I’m going to pull out and plan for March 2013 would make the whole thing seem really abstract and pointless. If I start and get half way up the first hill before bursting into tears I can just see that as part of my ongoing training.

  13. You are riding the 3 Peaks with only 5 months training and having only ridden a bike since June and you weigh 94kg and you’ve only just started riding up hills. Be afraid, be very, very afraid.

    I agree with BBB. Take a long weekend to Bright and ride up Buffalo, up Hotham and up to Falls and back over Tawonga Gap. Unless you are a climber trapped in a very large man’s body you will soon see the folly of your plans and you’ll start planning for 3Peaks 2013. 3Peaks is quite possibly the hardest non-competitive one day ride in Australia. I did it this year – I’m a climber and have 20 years of long distance, endurance riding under my belt. I was almost in tears on the back of Falls climb. The weather has played a big part both years and you need a well thought out eating/drinking plan (Bicycle Victoria are rubbish at providing sufficient amounts of carbs at the rest stops).

  14. Pace yourself and enjoy it, you will have your highs and lows -literally 😉
    But even if you don’t get to the finish line, you will learn valuable keys to complete it in 2013!
    If people could pick up a bike, ride for six months (which i did) and complete this epic challenge (which i didn’t), it probably wouldn’t be that epic. And it will make coming back the following year and completing it that much more rewarding.

  15. Good to have a challenge, particularly when you only started riding in June, but I think this one is perhaps being a little too optimistic.

    I suggest you perhaps pull the pin on the event and spend between now and March 2013 training and getting yourself into cycling shape (and Ollie’s plan sounds a pretty good) and then tackle the Three Peaks.

    The Victorian Alps are a tough place to ride, much less for the uninitiated. A 235km loop encompassing, amongst others, Hotham and the Back of Falls, is not for a relative new comer to the sport.

    Can I suggest a reality check? Drive up to Bright pre-Christmas. Ride one of the following:

    Bright to Mt Hotham and back (one climb, 110kms total riding)

    or Bright-Falls Creek-Bright (three climbs, 130 kms total riding).

    On return to Bright, ask yourself seriously, can you ride a further 120 or 100kms (depending on which ride you do) on top of the ride you’ve just done?

    If the answer is no, then pull the pin now and train yourself up to it.

    If the answer is yes, then heed the sensible advice already given in response to your article and best of luck.

    Sorry to sound negative, but I really think Bicycle Victoria should introduce some formal qualification for this event. You have to be able to prove your chops to ride the Alpine Classic Extreme (250kms on pretty much the same route) – is it a smart thing for a representative body, armed of course with fancy waivers of responsibility, to promote a fairly extreme event to the public at large?

  16. Thanks Ollie, some great tips and suggestions. I’m going to try at least a couple of the routes you’ve mentioned. Also, really good advice re putting a training plan on paper. At the moment I’m working on a “do as much as possible” approach but it would be good – and might relieve some anxiety – to see a plan written down for the next 12 weeks. My understanding was that HRMs were pretty expensive so I’ll need to do some investigating on that front.
    Cheers – and see you there!

  17. Thanks Glenn, that’s some good, solid advice there, I appreciate it. “Did” Donna Buang at the weekend, which I found really difficult, so plenty of work to do. Cheers.

  18. The 3 Peaks is cycling challenge nirvana. It’s got everything – weather, terrain, altitude….it’s a tough gig. I completed the last couple and looking for the hat trick in 2012 . Fingers crossed for good weather!

    Just adding to Matts training suggestions :

    * Build up a good base phase over winter and spring of 300 plus k’s per week.

    * Start doing some longer rides and build intensity as you get fitter. Keep an eye on your gearing. Emerald loop – 1/20, Emerald, Monbulk and then up the Wall to Olinda. Build up to then add Crescent, Inverness, Observatory. Throw in Mt Evelyn climb and then Inverness etc.

    * Mix it up with high itensity (like doing a weight training session) in the Dandenongs and aim to do what I call the Dandy Demolition – all the hills starting from the Devils Elbow up One Tree, through Kalista, up the wall etc etc. Here’s the catch – focus on using you’re BIG CHAIN RING! Low revs, high intensity.

    * Do a Noojee to Baw Baw 90k return at least once.

    * Peak up the k’s such that you complete 1 major ride > 230k’s. Consider riding from home (Donvale), 1/20, via Kalista to Emerald, Gembrook, over to Launching Place and up Mt DB and back. Start early!

    * Train and do the event with a HRM.

    * Get the nutrition right. Start using good supplements and aids that you intend to use on the day. Consider excellent fuels such as Hammer Perpetuem.

    * Make sure you have the “right” gearing. If you are running standard 53/39 with 12-25 you may want to consider a couple of “grannies” or reverting to compact.

    At this stage you have about 12 weeks to go. Put a program together on paper and commit to keeping the k’s up, increasing intensity and peaking at week 10 (when you do that >230k effort). Be careful not to focus too heavily on weight loss, that will come by default as your aerobic intensity and duration increases.

    Tips for the day of the event – keep yourself fuelled, stick to your HRM limit and beware the last 35K!

    Good luck and see you there.

  19. Good luck Matt-you’re in a great area for holls training.
    I’m next to Donvale (ride a white Giant) and completed the 2011 3Peaks.
    It’s an epic ride that I plan to do every second year.

    I suggest you head up Kinglake regularly and work your way up to adding the Humevale or Flowerdale climbs, or adding Tolangi/Healesville/Yarra Glen and Kangaroo Ground via Skyline road.

    The Nongs offers excellent training if you ride more than just the 1in20. The Creasent, the wall and perrins creek road are all great training. (I regularly get 2000m of climbing in in the Nongs)

    There are some great back roads in Eltham and Warrandyte for doing lots of vertical metres on short rides.

    If you can’t get to the alps before 3P try riding Mt Donna Buang near Warburton as it’s a 55-85min ascent for most people.

  20. It was very tough and I was disappointed that I didn’t get to finish but within 24hrs id made my mind up to try it again next year. People said I was pretty ballsy to attempt it last year and I commend you for doing the same!
    As for the weight loss, i didn’t go on any particular diet, just cut down on my portion sizes, cut back on coke and made up my mind not to eat anything after dinner. Also tried to be a bit smarter on the foods i was eating before and after my rides.

  21. Matt, that sounds rough – so close and yet so far. And that weight-loss sounds incredible (any good, healthy tips?). Thanks for your good wishes. I’ll be giving it my best shot.

  22. Hey!
    Best of luck with your training!
    I started riding latest October after 10 years off the bike and then rode the 3Peaks in march earlier this year.
    I was getting in 300+ kms a week leading up to the event but sadly not enough kms on hills.
    Unfortunately i didn’t make it the whole 235kms on the day, I did 211 but ran out of time and had to be picked up by the sag wagon.
    It’s sounds like you know what needs to be done; plenty of intense hill training and loosing some weight will make a big difference (im 178cm and now 67.2kgs -down from 80kgs purely to conquer 3peaks!)
    Again all the best with your training!

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