Posted on March 22, 2013
One of my 20 goals for the next 2 years was to better my 2011 result and finish in the top 50 riders in the 3 Peaks Challenge, a 235km (146 mile) long bicycle race down in beautiful Victorian ski country.
On Sunday, March 10 I achieved that goal by placing a respectable 28th out of 1500+ riders with a total time of 8 hours, 25mins and 5 seconds.
The first feeling after crossing the finish line was definitely one of elation, although I didn’t get emotional like I did back in 2011, probably because I knew that I’d put in the hours on the bike beforehand and this time it wouldn’t be a matter of if I’d finish, but when.
The first thing I did after finishing was go back to Nelse Lodge, where owners Graham and Ros Parker made everyone feel like family, get in the shower, sit down on the ground, put my head on my arms and just stay like that for the next 15-20 minutes, completely exhausted. This was followed by a 1hr nanna nap and a quick bite to eat before heading back down to the finish line to cheer on friends and strangers, who had up to 13 hours to complete the ride. Scenes like this were commonplace after riders crossed the line:
One rider literally collapsed sideways on the bike about 100m from the finish, where he was immediately attended to by paramedics. A kind individual at least took his bicycle over the finish line so he would record a finish time.
I didn’t see many crashes – mainly just a few people going too fast into corners on the first descent of the day and running wide, but I heard a couple of stories of riders taken away by ambulance – with one sliding across a gravel road and losing skin down to the bone! Accidents happen, but you really just need to stay within your limits, especially over such a long distance.
Due to the bushfires in the region, the 2013 course differed from past editions, with Mt Hotham replaced by Mt Buffalo, and a climb up the ‘front’ of Falls Creek instead of the notoriously steep ‘back’ side. The change of course had many riders (myself included) thinking that it would be an ‘easier’ day in the saddle, but extreme heat on the day (with temperatures hitting 40 degrees celsius / 104 fahrenheit) ultimately meant that the physical toll on the body was greater as a result.
If you are thinking of putting the 3 Peaks Challenge on to your bucket list, or just curious about the regime that I followed in the lead up to the race and also on the day, I’ll go in to more detail below:
Riding 235km on a flat course on any given day is a challenge, but when you throw in close to 4,000 vertical metres of climbing and 40 degree temperatures, it becomes very physically demanding, so you need to put in a lot of training in the months leading up to the event if you want to do well.
Bicycle Network Victoria provided a very useful 12-week training plan in 2 different versions – one to finish in under 13 hours, and a second one to finish under 10 hours – I tried to follow the latter one as much as possible – weather, work, and other commitments permitting. My weekly training program was something like this: 30km ride each weekday and an 80-100km ride Saturday and Sunday. In the last month sometimes I would combine my Saturday/Sunday ride and just do 1x 150km or 200km ride for the endurance, but in my experience what matters most is that you are on the bike for at least 30km 6 days per week in the month leading up to the race. It is these base km in your legs that will make the biggest difference.
It really helps being a member of a cycling club (I’m a member of Randwick-Botany) because they run group training rides 6 days a week, with longer rides on the weekend. So if you do all the club training rides, that is pretty much your preparation taken care of.
Increasing your training to the level listed above means that you will be burning about an extra 9,000 calories a week, or the equivalent of 3 days’ worth of calories for a man doing moderate exercise. I didn’t personally find that I started consuming a much greater amount of food, but I did try to eat much more whilst riding and just have an extra snack or two while off the bike, with all other meals staying the same. Over the last 6 months however I have dropped about 6kg (going from 73 to 67kg).
While riding, particularly any ride longer than 2 hours, you will need to eat constantly. On my longer rides I like to take 2 bananas, a muesli bar and a handful of gummy lollies. If I’m riding for more than 5 hours I’ll normally stop somewhere on the ride and have a bacon & egg roll and a chocolate milkshake. If you don’t continue to eat and drink you will ‘hit the wall’ energy wise and basically feel like your bike weighs 100kg.
For the 3 Peaks Challenge, riders can pack their own food bags and these are placed periodically throughout the course (roughly 60km, 120km and 180km in). Take advantage of this service and put in more food than you ever think you’ll need in order to give yourself a good selection when you stop. This is what was in each of my 3 food bags:
I also carried electrolyte tablets and I would use 1 tablet each and every time I filled up a water bottle.
Get into a routine food and drink wise and you may find that instead of whole food you prefer gel bars etc… – but just find what works for you and make sure you have enough of it (roughly 1 gram of carbs per kg of body weight per hour of cycling).
Tactics on the day
The first year I rode the 3 Peaks Challenge I was just happy to finish. This year I wanted to do a lot better and so I was much better organised because I knew what to expect.
The weather in the area is unpredictable so pack as much gear as possible and check the forecast the night before. The first year I rode we had temperatures ranging from 4 degrees through to 30 degrees, with rain and fog a big issue. This year the temp was 15-40 degrees with no rain. Be prepared for all weather conditions.
Put new tires on your bike the week before the race to reduce the risk of a puncture and do not over-inflate on the day. I rode 100-110psi with tubulars and didn’t have a problem.
Spend as little amount of time as possible at each rest stop, particularly the lunch break. Ideally you will have a toilet break, grab food from your food bag, stuff it in your back pockets, get back on the bike and head off again, eating as you go. You should ideally spend no more than 5 minutes at each rest stop if you want to record a good finish time.
Generally you and your friends ride at different speeds, so I would say don’t ride with your friends, find a group that is going a speed you are comfortable with and stay with them for as long as possible and rotate in the group to share the workload and conserve energy.
Don’t go too hard too early. The hardest climb of the day comes after you have already ridden 200km, so you need to have something left in the tank if you want to make it up without walking. If you don’t have anything left, you could lose anywhere from 30mins-1hour alone over other riders on the final climb.
The 3 Peaks Challenge offers some of the best scenery in Australia – so take the time whilst out there slogging away to actually take in the views, chat with your fellow riders and appreciate the environment. It is this feeling, along with the elation that comes from crossing the finish line, and the buzz that surrounds the Falls Creek village, that will have you making the 3 Peaks Challenge an annual pilgrimage.
A big Thank You
A big thanks to Bicycle Victoria and all the volunteers that go into making this event a reality. Everyone I came across on the day – even those out in the 40 degree heat – always had a smile on their face, were super friendly and helped to make a great atmosphere.
My total stats for the ride can be found here.
Posted on March 8, 2013
I’m down in Falls Creek in Victoria – a beautiful part of the world!
Posted on March 17, 2011
Been a while between posts I know… I took a few weeks off work so that I could study for two exams – legal ethics & family law. If I have successfully passed those two then it will leave three subjects remaining – practice and procedure, jurisprudence and an elective. A nervous five week wait until the results arrive in the post! The day after my second exam I picked up a car, packed, collected my mate Sam and we both headed down to Victoria for the 3 Peaks Challenge.
We had done a fair amount of training but there is always that doubt that you’ve done enough to ride 235km in a day, especially when that includes riding up two of Australia’s tallest peaks – Mt Hotham & Falls Creek. We stopped off at a friend’s B&B in Beechworth for some afternoon tea – ‘Albertines’. If you are looking for a place to stay in and around that area I can’t recommend it enough – Owen & Judy have spent the better part of the last 10 years doing it up and it is one of the most beautiful homes I’ve seen and they are very welcoming hosts.
Got to Falls Creek around 5:30pm – took about 8 hours from Sydney. We stayed at Astra Lodge – we were part of the ‘Tour de Cure’ group. This was their last big ride before they ride from Sydney to Melbourne over 10 days raising money & awareness in the fight against cancer.
Friday night was spent chowing down as many carbohydrates as humanly possible in one sitting in the form of three pizzas, potato wedges and the like. Saturday most of the other riders arrived and we registered for the event, got our food bags (which allowed us to drop food off at two designated spots along the route), had our bikes checked for fitness (brakes, lights etc…) and did a small 20km team ride to stretch the legs before the big one. It is amazing how much the altitude affects your fitness – even barely turning the legs over seemed much more laborious than usual. Below is a shot taken just before our training ride:
Saturday lunch I bought some pasta and a can of dolmio pasta sauce and whipped up a basic meal in the microwave – most of the restaurants in the area wanted $30-$40 for a similar dish so why not make it yourself?
Saturday night was again carb loading time – a lemon & parmesan grain dish that Astra produced was absolutely delicious but after two platefuls I was near to bursting point. Off to bed.
Didn’t get much sleep as I was too excited about the ride – got up at 4:30am, showered and went over the bike with a fine tooth comb one final time. Could only fit in 3 pieces of toast for breakfast and then out for the team photo at 6:45am whilst it was still pitch-black.
The official start of the ride was very slow – we had a roughly 30km descent down to Mt. Beauty and with 1100 odd riders on a wet road we weren’t hitting top speeds – everyone seemed very cautious and I didn’t see a single crash which was good. The descent alone took about 1hr.
After we hit the flat sections we naturally bunched up in to smaller groups and you find other riders who go at around the same pace/speed as you – for instance the guy in red behind me in the shot above was with me for about 200km out of the 235km of the ride. You have ample time to chat and get to know people and that is one of the joys of cycling the longer distances – as well as sharing the pain and knowing what others are going through!
The first ‘peak’ of the day was Tawonga gap and that was relatively straightforward – over in just under 30 mins before a fast descent and long flat ride out to Harrietville where we had our first food drop & water station. For those who don’t cycle a great deal, on most rides you have two 750ml water bottles on the frame of your bike, with another bottle of powerade etc… in one of three back pockets that you have and in the remaining two pockets you tend to stuff full of food. The food varies from person to person and it depends what you can stomach. I like having solid food – bananas, muesli bars, breadrolls etc… whilst others like having energy/gel bars. Overall the idea is firstly to stay hydrated and secondly on longer rides to keep your carb intake up – approx 1g of carbohydrates for every kg of body weight per hour – so I needed to maintain about 70g of carbs per hour. Half of these will come from 1x750ml bottle of powerade and the remainder from your food.
After the feed stop was a long (35km), slow (2hr) climb up Mt. Hotham. Visibility was down to around 5-10m so was dangerous at times – particularly with the traffic.
Up the climbs it was every man for themselves – no energy-saving here (on the flat sections you ride in groups and the rider at the front rotates – above about 30km/h you get a roughly 20% energy saving by being out of the wind). Once at the top it was a short ride to Dinner Plain for lunch (bacon & eggs, chocolate milkshake) before jumping back on the bike and descending down to Omeo. This was the fastest I have ever descended hitting a top speed of 90.2km/h. Another water stop in Omeo before one of the most beautiful sections of road anywhere in Australia – the Omeo Highway between Bingo Munjie & Anglers Rest – a 35km ride wrapping around the side of a mountain following the Mitta Mitta River – absolutely magnificent and a perfect way to rest a little before the final assault – another 35km climb up the back of Falls Creek!
The Falls Creek climb was arguably harder than Mt Hotham – not only because you’re hitting it after already riding 201km, but because of the gradient of the hill and it’s unrelenting shape – there are no switchbacks to get your breath back! After about 22km of climbing you come out to a clearing and you know that the hardest part is over – now all that remains between you and the finish line is 15km of fast, flowing road around the Rocky Valley Storage reservoir and on to the finish.
I must admit I was a little emotional when I crossed the finish line, having set this as one of my big challenges for the year but I managed to hold it together just in time to jump in a hot spa and put those jets of water on to my now aching muscles. Total time was 10hrs 41mins, ride time 9hrs 13mins. About 85th out of 1100 or so riders. Full details here.
This has to be one of the best 1-day cycling events in the country. Bicycle Victoria do an amazing job of organising and running the event, the locations are amazing (Falls Creek seems to open up out of ski season for this event), the volunteers always seem to have a smile on their faces and the ride itself offers a bit of everything. I will definitely be back again next year!