Keep rolling rolling rolling

You know that expression “it’ll be fine” that I seem to be using a lot? The one that usually is preceded by something along the lines of ‘I haven’t really trained for this but..’ or ‘I don’t think I’m quite read for this but…’ and other such catchy tunes. Well, it turns out that sometimes it is actually fine, but perhaps not AS fine as I’d like it to be.

Case in point: The Alpine Classic Ultimate

I had signed up to ride the Alpine Classic Ultimate* this year (320km with 5500m (actually over 6000m) of climbing). Which seemed like a clever strategy as I had already completed the 200km event two years ago and the 250km event last year. It would only seem fitting that this year I ride the 320km, right?

The ultimate alpine challenge – 4 of the 7 Peaks summits in a single day. Ride Mount Buffalo, then Mount Hotham, through Dinner Plain, down to Omeo and then the fearsome Back of Falls climb up to Falls Creek before descending to Mount Beauty and then over the ‘small’ climb that is Tawonga Gap.

The longest, toughest, single day Alpine road ride in Australia. This is an extremely hard ride, going over 4 of the “7 Peaks” in one day, so it is only for the extremely fit and well prepared!


http://www.alpineclassic.com.au/320km-ultimate/

Except that all my PBP qualifying rides, which had obviously taken training precedence, had been flat. Well, relatively flat in comparison.

RideDistanceVert
Lancefield Laps200km1734m
Strathboogie (v6)300km1370m
Ballarat 400405km2601m
Jump the Gun606km3507m

While I had trained well for distances, my climbing had taken a back seat. Like waaaaaaay in the back. Cough. So three weeks out from the Alpine I thought I should get back to climbing. Should be fine right?

Wrong.

I’d signed up for the Warburton-Lake Mountain Classic (200km with 4000m) and ended up a DNF for the second year in a row. This time around I had a better strategy for attacking the ride, but the heat combined with running out of water and too much effort to climb was my undoing, and I ended up back at ‘base camp’ with ice blocks on my neck, down my top, and my feet (which you can only imagine how brutal the hot foot was that day) in bowls of ice water. Not the ideal training ride leading up to a monster 320km day!

However, the actual Alpine Ultimate day went fine. The temperatures were much cooler (so much so that I heard a few cyclists had to be rescued from the top of Falls Creek due to hypothermia!) and while my legs didn’t feel spectacular I just ticked it all out and finished the event within the cutoff time.

Therefore, while it is possible that “it’ll be fine” I recognised that there is something to be said for training specifically for an event. And as PBP is a ‘rolling 1200’ it was time to start looking at riding a lot more rollers.

Tour de Dunny Blocks

Okay, it’s not the most glamorous title I know. But there is a back story (of course). When Rigs and I were training for Syd-Mel we planned one last long ride adventure day of around 250km. As we cycled through the course, one of us joked that all we were doing was riding between dunny blocks (toilet blocks) and the title just stuck. When I decided to map out an Audax permanent (a ‘fixed route’ brevet; that is, each route has a specified course and specified start, finish and intermediate checkpoints and are designed for experienced Audax randonneurs) the “Tour de Dunny Blocks” was the first one that came to mind. But at 250km it was either too long, or too short, so I needed to refine the route. After a few back-and-forth’s with the guys I had a 200km route that looked feasible. Now off to test it.

Attempt 1: 7/8 completed

One of the tips that experienced Audaxer and four times PBP finisher Leigh “Lethal” Patterson had given me was that when preparing for PBP (whether it was a qualifier, a perm, or a long training ride) to always ride with the bike fully loaded, as you will for PBP. That way you get used to the weight of the gear and the sway of the saddle bags.

So fully kitted up, I set out at just before 6am to ride. My plan of attack for the day was to not have any plan of attack at all. Just ride. Ride with only the map screen showing on my Garmin so that I wouldn’t ride ‘to the numbers’ and could go on just feel. After all, I’ve been doing this for a few years now, I should be able to go on feel right?

The ride started off with a climb up Mount Macedon, which in the dark with all the wildlife is usually a little nerve wracking, but this time it wasn’t so bad as I was running my new kLite system, giving me way more visibility than I was used to.

After a bit of climbing it was the descent towards Newham, and then the fast flats towards Lancefield for dunny block #1. I wasn’t feeling overly spectacular (I had a tooth infection the week before requiring an emergency dental visit and antibiotics which had knocked me flat out for the week) but figured I just hadn’t warmed up yet and would be fine later on. It was a rather misty morning and I was a little soggy, but knew once the sun came up I would dry off.

Leaving Lancefield I rode up towards Pyalong, such a great road that I just don’t ride often enough, and then enjoyed the long sweeping descent down towards Pyalong for checkpoint number 1.

The route I’d mapped out then hit the Northern Highway, which the guys had suggested I remove and re-route after I rode it. Which now that I’ve done so I agree with. It’s not a terrible stretch of road, there’s a nice shoulder to ride on and the route is actually very scenic and pleasant. But with over 40 cars passing me along one 25km stretch, it probably wasn’t the best showcase of the roads we have out here. Which is a shame because the road from Heathcote back to Mia Mia is lovely.

Up to Redesdale for the next checkpoint is a bit of climb, which meant I was puffing pretty hard as I rolled into the oasis that is the Rural Cafe for my first coffee of the day. At now 100km in and half-way through the ride this is the first place to buy food along this tour.

Next up was the winding road towards Harcourt, first passing around Mount Alexander. The last time Rigs and I had climbed up and over the mount, but as PBP doesn’t have any climbs I figured it was better to roll around the back. Jem had mentioned that there was a bit of gravel to navigate, so I just took that part pretty easy. And felt smug because I had avoided the big climb.

Haha oh how we laughed at how very wrong I was there! Spotting a sign like this gave me a small indication of what was coming next. Let’s just say that 12% hurts with a fully loaded bike.

But then downhill and into Harcourt for my next break and third checkpoint. It’s only 33km from Redesdale to Harcourt but it felt like a lot longer and I was in need of another break. I sat down and had a chat with another cyclist, and then headed off towards home for the final 75km stretch.

But I really wasn’t feeling great at this point. The temperatures had been rising pretty steadily all morning and it was now in the 30s. Combined with a headwind and a steady climb, I felt cooked. Downing quite a bit of water in an attempt to stay hydrated (as I’d made that error on the Warby-Lake Mountain Classic ride) I stopped in Taradale to fill up my water bottles with electrolytes and have a salt tab. And get a picture of a ‘bonus’ dunny block.

On the ride into Malmsbury and then onwards to Kyneton, my ‘heat exhaustion’ markers started showing up: headache, nausea, thirsty, anxiety, heavy sweat, and goose pimples up and down my arms. Not good. Not good at all. Pulling into Kyneton I made the decision to deviate from the planned route (there was still another 35km left to go) and headed straight to the BP to call my husband for a pickup.

Which, alas, wasn’t on the cards as he was off walking the dog with the kids and would be at least another 30 minutes before they could come out. Could I hold on until then? I let him know I could sit in the servo in the aircon to try and cool down, then gave him the route I would take back home. Could they come and get me somewhere along the way perhaps?

After 15 minutes I stopped feeling quite so horrible, so texted Max to let me know I was heading out. Shoving another icy pole down my top in an attempt to try and stay cool, I headed towards home.

About 7 km from home my husband and son caught me on the side of the road… and confirmed that I did indeed look pretty terrible. But I was only a few kms from home… could I make it? They offered to ride behind me in the car just to make sure I would be okay, and I agreed (though my son did confirm it was pretty nice in the air conditioned car. Thanks mate). Onwards I limped home, and finished the ride (I say limped. Max said he couldn’t believe the speed I was still riding at given how terrible I was feeling. But the legs were fine, just the body was wrecked and sick).

Once I was home it was more iceblocks on the neck and eventually I came good again. I managed this time to catch the signs early enough so that I didn’t completely destroy myself. And managed well enough to get out for a ride the next day, albeit shorter and slower.

Attempt 2: completed!

Back to the drawing board with the route to get rid of the B75 (Northern Highway) section, as well as the gravel and pinch around Harcourt. I also wanted to have the route a bit longer before the turn-around back to Kyneton, as the idea of riding past the starting point to then double back on myself didn’t have a lot of appeal.

After getting the first part of a root canal on that tooth that had been giving me grief I set out to do the Tour. Again. This time I’d start an hour earlier. And play by the numbers for the first part of the ride so that I wouldn’t be cooked by Harcourt. Other than that, it was the same setup. The earlier start meant that I didn’t see much of anything until just before Pyalong, at which point I was treated to a moon-set on one side of the road, and a sun-rise on the other.

Almost makes getting up at 4:15am worth it. Almost.

The updated route had me heading west out of Pyalong back along the Burke and Wills track (a gorgeous stretch of road) and then north towards Redesdale where I was greeted with a familiar smile from the Rural Cafe. They think I’m a bit mad, call me ‘one tough woman,’ and then bring me coffee. And a huge jug of water so I can top up my bidons. Love it.

Next up was the re-routed version towards Harcourt, which took me another few kms north past the turnoff I did last time. While I avoided the dirt and climb from last time, I still had to climb up aways before getting a clear run into descent into Harcourt… and then got my first taste of the headwind that would be my companion for the ride home. Sigh. Good training or something like that, right?

But it was fine. I just dropped my speed a little bit and held it steady for the ride back into Kyneton. Another quick stop at the BP for a drink, and then headwinds all the way home. I tried not to look at my speed (or lack of), as it’s never a moral boost when you’re punching into a headwind, and just focused on holding my heart rate steady.

And it worked. I rolled into Woodend in just under 9 hours elapsed, Tour de Dunny Blocks completed!

Learnings

So what did I learn from my two outings? Other than having a tooth infection and a root canal isn’t the best pre-ride strategy?

For me it’s still a numbers game. I’ve said it before that I have a tendency to go out too hard and then blow up, and even after a couple years of doing ultra-endurance this is still a weakness for me. Just slowing down one km/h makes a world of difference. Yes it means the ride takes a little longer, but it also means that I have a better chance of completing that ride.

I’m still not fabulous in the heat, so really need to watch my indicators so that heat exhaustion doesn’t hit me too hard. Perhaps if I’d waited out another 15 minutes in the servo the first ride I would have been okay… or perhaps not. Either way, I was better this time around than the Lake Mountain disaster, so I’m hoping that next time will be even better.

And hot foot? It’s still there. It hit me around 170km in on the second ride, which meant that stop at the servo was a shoes off walk around to recover break. And then the shoes were most definitely off at the end of the ride. But I have a specialist appointment booked in the next couple weeks, so fingers crossed he has some ideas on what we can do next to fit it.

Stats

Here’s the stats on the two rides. For the Audax riders, TdDB 200 is now set up as a permanent for Audax (complete with checkpoints and route notes), and for those who are interested the route can be found here: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/29357461.

First AttemptSecond Attempt
Start time5:50am5:00am
Moving Time7 hours7 hours 53 minutes
Elapsed Time8 hours 33 min9 hours 42 minutes*
Average Speed27.1 km/h25.7km/h
Average Heart Rate156bpm149bpm
Time spent in “moderate” HR zone (Z2)1 hour 42 min3 hours 15 min
Time spent in “tempo” HR zone (Z3)4 hours 12 min4 hours 15 min
Time spent in “threshold” HR zone (Z4)1 hour 3 min15 minutes
Calories Burnt43004281
Max Temperature36 degrees27 degrees
Average Temperature19 degrees16 degrees

*included a cafe date with my husband and son after the ride

So what’s up next? More rollers is one the menu for the next few months as I adapt to the “PBP-like” terrain. Hopefully sorting out the hot foot issue.

And a big ride at the end of March.

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