Last year, I decided to look for a fitness goal and, because I love cycling, the 3 Peaks Challenge seemed like the perfect fit. Each of the 3 Peaks Challenges is an endurance bike ride, boasting a distance of 235 km and a total climbing elevation of 4000+ meters. As if that wasn’t enough, they each have a cut-off time limit of 12 or 13 hours. Talk about a physical and mental challenge of extreme proportions (or maybe pure stupidity!). .
Having completed the Gold Coast event last August and Tasmania in November, I entered the Falls Creek challenge aiming to finish one hour faster than my previous times.
But given that cycling is my recreational sport, this time I was left wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew…
Training For the 3 Peaks Challenge
To complete one of these endurance events, it is essential to do some aerobic and strength training on the bike – a minimum of 10 hours per week over 12 weeks. A cycling coach also helps. My training consisted of 1-2 hours before work during the week and longer efforts over the weekends. At weekends I would ride Macquarie Pass or Mt Jamberoo or do tempo sessions at Centennial Park and the indoor trainer.
A nutritional plan is vital, both for the 12 weeks’ training and during the actual event. I loaded on up to 900 grams of carbohydrates for each of the two days leading into the event. This was to ensure enough glycogen was stored in my muscles to pedal the bike and get me through the gruelling day. During the event, carbohydrate intake is approximately 50 grams per hour. This is equivalent to either four pikelets; three slices of white bread; rice balls; liquid gel; or carbohydrate bars. Together with food, my fluid intake was 500-600ml per hour, including electrolyte formula. During the event, there was food and water stations along the way every 40km for added assistance. Lunch at the 120km mark provided a vegetarian or chicken wrap with banana, water and electrolyte formula.
The ride started with a 30km descent into Mt Beauty. It’s a road of sweeping bends through the alpine forest with a heavy scent of eucalyptus. We raced down towards the valley reaching speeds of 60-70km/hr. Then we climbed the first and smaller of three peaks of 7.5km to Tawonga Gap with an elevation of 500m.
Approaching the Great Alpine Rd we started our climb onto Mt Hotham – a 30km beast with an elevation of 1400m. Half the way up, the plateau of the mountain looks like an eerie moonscape. In endurance events they talk about “the wall”. It was here, in the last 5km of the climb averaging 12% when it hit me in the face, BOOM!! I wondered why I do this to myself. I just had to keep going, as lunch was only 15km down the road.
I made it to lunch, after the shock of Mt Hotham a quick rest stop to refuel and onwards to Omeo.
On the descent and rolling hills to Omeo and Anglers Rest, I managed to work with a group of four riders to get me through the dry, barren plain and headwinds of Omeo. By this stage I realised how much damage Mt Hotham did and I was screaming to get off the bike.
Major cramps to hamstrings and calves challenged my pedalling but were manageable. The real shock came when the evil pain of my gout symptoms in my right foot came on strong after a 4-year hiatus. At this point, I thought I was done for. Those symptoms only come on for me if I’m severely dehydrated. As much as I didn’t want to, I needed to rest and regroup. At Anglers rest (188km) I stopped for another 15 minutes downed 1.5 cans of coke and 2 bananas. This doesn’t sound particularly healthy but each can of coke is a 40 gram hit of carbohydrate and works like magic during endurance events.
I left Anglers Rest and got on way my to ‘WTF corner’ and the back of Falls Creek. You can probably guess why it’s known as ‘WTF corner’. Basically, you’re riding with 200km in your legs all you want is an easy finish. Then you are faced with a steep 10% wall. I had to tell myself, “If I can climb Mt Jamberoo three times, then the back of Falls Creek can be conquered”.
Falls Creek sign ahead 35km…almost there. I climbed to the flattened section for 1km. I thought ‘ok that was cool’. Then WTF corner lives up to its name when the steep climb continues for the next 10km. You reach an elevation of another 1400m. It was tough, but a slow steady cadence and regularly listening to my breathing got me through. Ultimately, for me I felt the damage had been done on Mt Hotham – that beat me for the rest of the ride.
Got to the summit downed another coke then onwards to the finish line. Ride time of 11hr 9min. Not the time I wanted but hey, I was much relieved and proud at achieving the 3rd and final of the 3 Peaks Challenges in calendar a year.
If you’re looking for a way to get fit, I recommend cycling – you don’t have to climb mountains to see the benefits. Read more about the physical and mental benefits of cycling.