This year I set myself a goal of completing an Audax Super Randonneur (the same set of ride distances I did to qualify for PBP two years ago). That’s 200, 300, 400, and 600km rides that are scheduled in the Audax calendar.
To accomplish this meant planning forward and starting early. For example, in Victoria, there aren’t usually many long rides on offer, meaning for the 400km ride I had about one opportunity a month. The 600s are even more rare, and there were none on offer during the winter months (June – August). Ideally I didn’t want to leave the rides until later in the season (August – October) if I didn’t have to, as it does really come down to luck with the weather with the pre-scheduled calendar rides. So yes, there was a spreadsheet that included all the possible combinations of 400s and 600s I could make, along with some backup options in case a weekend didn’t work out.
Once I’d gotten my body used to riding 200s again relatively comfortably (I rode one 200 a month for three months in a row, interspaced with other shorter rides every weekend) it was time to start planning.
First up: the 600
It wouldn’t be my first time jumping from the 200km distance up to the 600, and it probably won’t be my last. An Audax rule of thumb is if you can ride distance X, then you can ride distance 2X. Therefore, in preparation I did a 215km Audax, then backed it up with a hilly 75km ride the next day. Close enough.
The 600 I had in mind was the Hume and Hovel, which I had ridden twice before so I knew, relatively, how this one went. Both times I’d completed this ride I had done it straight through the night (no sleep stop: see No sleep til) and knew that it would be a do-able challenge. A few chats back and forth with Thomas (my constant companion for this course) and we decided to make this one ‘easier’ on ourselves: we’d book an overnight stop in Benalla (at the 350km mark) and complete the rest of the 250km the next day. You know, like normal people ride 600s. We’d had a look at the weather for the weekend and it looked near perfect: mid 20s during the day with a tailwind on the way up from Melbourne to Wangaratta, mild overnight, then a warm north wind to push us south back down to Melbourne. How lucky were we to score such amazing weather!!
However, best laid plans and all that.
One day before we were meant to start riding all of Victoria was told to enter a five-day lockdown due to the speed at which the more infections B117 (UK) variant was spreading. That meant saying at home and only leaving the house for four permitted reasons: shopping for essential items, essential work, caregiving for compassionate reasons, or exercise.
For two hours a day. Within a 5km radius.
See ya later 600 with the perfect weather.
We cancelled our overnight booking, set aside all the bike and food prep, and resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren’t riding that weekend.
Three days later
Five days later
Dan Andrews announces the end of lockdown, and Richard (the Ride Organiser for the 600) emailed us to say he was able to push the ride to the 20th (in 3 days) as there weren’t any other rides on the calendar.
Thomas suggested as we’d already had to cancel our overnight booking, why don’t we just ride it all the way through like we normally did.
Gulp. Sure… Come on mental toughness, time to shine. You’ve now got two days to mentally get it together for not just a 600km ride, but 600km without sleeping. And as “luck” would have it, the weather wasn’t going to be as ideal as it had been the weekend before. We were looking at riding in the high 30s with a head wind as we made our way north, then a storm would blow in and the winds would shift to an easterly as we turned east, and then, lucky us, a south wind would kick up on the return leg as we headed south. Head winds the entire way around. Hooray.
We would, however, have company on our ride as a few people reached out days beforehand and said they’d like to try riding a 600 straight through. So our merry band of 5 set off from Melbourne at 6am on February 20th for an all night bike party up to Wangaratta and back. Shannon decided he’d hang out with us until the sleepies hit him, so pulled off around the 360km mark. To get through the night we had power naps (highly recommended), 3am karaoke, 4am party at Macca’s in Euroa, and then a lovely breakfast in Seymour before heading back into Melbourne. Combined with a strong south wind, road works, and more traffic than we’d expected, it was a pretty grim last 70kms. But we got there. Eventually. It just took a bit longer that I originally anticipated, but that was okay. It wasn’t a race, and a good 600 is a completed 600.
- Date: February 20-21
- Distance: 626km with 3530m vertical
- Elapsed time: 35 hours 32 minutes (including transfer rides to/from the start)
- Moving time: 27 hours 31 minutes
- Average speed: 22.7 km/h
- Average heart rate: 127
- Calories burnt: 9687
- Average temperature: 21 degrees
- Max temperature: 34 degrees
- Min temperature: 13 degrees
- Strava link here
The Monday after the 600 weekend I was doing an excellent impression of a half-awake person. Make that quarter awake mostly asleep person. The fatigue was intense, but I was prepared for that so didn’t push anything too hard that week. Lots of naps. Ate when I needed to and didn’t fuss over what my body was craving (eggs for four days in a row? Okay then) and just listened to my body as much as I could. Got a massage, had some dry needling done, and saw my osteopath. Overall I had pulled up pretty well from the 600. Tired, but no major body damage, other than a sore neck and very sore feet.
That week I did not get on the bike at all. Was I tempted to? You better believe it. It was a struggle to just rest all week, knowing that “other people were riding why was I not riding too.” Yes, that comparison thing is a b!tch still, and even with years of cycling under my belt it still hits me. I had to keep reminding myself that I was playing the long game this time. The way the Audax calendar was laid out I should have had two weeks to recover from my 600 before the 400, which would possibly be tight if I hadn’t pulled up well, but I reckoned it would be do-able. However, due to that snap lockdown, I had 5 days to recover before the next ride started.
After four of those five days I still didn’t feel like there was any way I’d be able to pull a 400 out of my hat the next weekend. However, by day 5 (Friday) I felt a ton better, so went for a short ride around the block to make sure I remembered how to ride my bike, and we were good to go.
Next up: the 400
Originally I had been looking to April for my next 400. The “Tour of the Goldfields” 400 was the first 400 I ever attempted… and the first 400 I failed. An unfinished business ride was calling, and I thought it might be nice to re-visit this ride, knowing I had a put a lot more experience under my belt since my first ‘fail’ on this one. That being said, having a look at the ride calendar The Otway 400 looked tempting, so I sent out an email (back in early January) to Tony Demo, the Ride Organiser, saying I was pondering this one. The idea of riding through the Otways forest (which I hadn’t done a lot of, other than the Lavers Hill stretch back down to Apollo Bay) followed by the Great Ocean Road under the light of the full moon sounded pretty marvellous. Lots of climbing though, which was okay as it also meant a lot of downhills. Later in January I got a message from Joanne Lee saying she was looking at the calendar and the Otway 400 as well. She’d gotten a hold of Tony who told her that I was also interested in it… so was I signing up? I figured I would wait until after the 600 to see how I pulled up before making the final call on this one, but then threw caution to the wind and signed up for it at the end of January. It was only $6 to enter, no harm done if I changed my mind a month later.
Soon after that we had four women signed up for the Otway 400, with a total of 12 riders overall. With a 6am start and a possible 3am finish, I figured it would be smarter (and safer) not to try and drive there and back around the ride. So we booked a couple nights in Geelong, and I said to Max that if I wasn’t up for the ride I would just pull out and we’d have a weekend away together.
Saturday morning at 5:20am felt very very early as I rode from our accommodation to the start line. I’m not spectacularly good in the mornings (understatement) but tried my best to at least be vaguely social and made sure I took some pictures. The group rode together for the first few kms, so I got a couple pics off early. but shortly after that the front bunch picked up the pace and set off into the distance. Alan Walker looked over at me as I wasn’t chasing down the bunch, and I let him know my legs were still sleeping and I had no desire to try and wake them up yet. I could feel the fatigue from the weekend before was still lingering, so there was no way I wanted to burn off any matches that I didn’t have to, especially so early into the ride.
At the first checkpoint in Dean’s Marsh, Alan suggested just topping up waters and rolling through, eating on the way. I suggested that if I didn’t get a coffee in me it wasn’t going to be a pleasant ride for either of us, so we stopped at a cafe to allow me to get caffeinated. For everyone’s safety. Leigh was also at this checkpoint, and the three of us decided to head off together from this point.
Once my legs finally warmed up (I’d say around the 130km mark) I felt pretty good. It was an absolutely stunning course, and I felt so happy to be riding in such spectacular scenery. The climb up through the Otways was challenging, but once we hit Turton’s track I don’t think I stopped grinning for quite a while. If you haven’t ridden that section before, I highly recommend it. Just insanely good. The only downside is that there weren’t many places to stop for food along the way, and that morning coffee had been a long time ago.
By the time we hit the peak of the climb before the start of the descent (ish) down to Laver’s Hill I was super super hungry. I’d gone through the bar in my pocket, and eaten my ’emergency energy chews’ and could feel my tummy protesting. Alan asked if I wanted a Mars bar (FYI: Alan could have done this entire ride off the Mars bars he was carrying in his front bar bag. And the two Snickers he’d brought along just in case I wanted one) but I figured it was only 12kms and largely downhill. I’d be okay. Which I was… but I ate a lot of food very quickly once we hit that rest stop at the cafe on Laver’s Hill! Thank goodness it was a downhill stretch after this…
Our next major stop was for dinner in Apollo Bay. I had very cautiously predicted we would be here by around 9-10pm, and optimistically thought maybe 8:30pm at a push, so when we arrived at 7:30 for dinner and a sunset, I felt pretty content with that. The legs had held up fine during the day, even if my feet were protesting quite loudly, and everything was manageable.
Thanks to some great Ride Organiser notes from Tony, we knew that there wasn’t going to be anywhere open on our stretch from Apollo Bay to Torquay, so I made sure I had food available in my pocket for this 90km long section. And what a magnificent section it was. There are very few words to describe the magic of riding the Great Ocean Road at night under the light of the full moon. I tried to take a few pictures, but nothing really captured it quite as well as my eyes did. The planned burn-off along the side of the road just added to the atmosphere, even if riding through the smoke later wasn’t that great, and I smelled like a campfire for a few hours.
The only part of the ride that I really struggled with was my body temperature. I guess it decided that putting effort into moving forward was enough and it didn’t also need to generate any heat, so I was running pretty cold for most of the ride. It’s happened before, but it did make the last 5-6 hours of the ride a bit less comfortable than I wanted. I had put on every piece of clothing I was carrying on, but it wasn’t quite enough to keep me warm on the last stretch of the road. Let’s just say the hot chocolate I had outside the servo in Torquay was one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had in my life.
- Date: February 27-28
- Distance: 409km with 5160m vertical
- Elapsed time: 20 hours 24 minutes (including transfer rides to/from the start)
- Moving time: 17 hours 28 minutes
- Average speed: 23.4 km/h
- Average heart rate: 136
- Calories burnt: 6748
- Average temperature: 12 degrees
- Max temperature: 22 degrees
- Min temperature: 5 degrees
- Strava link here
Physically I didn’t pull up as well from this ride as I had from the 600, even though mentally it had been a much stronger ride for me. Even though I’d done almost everything the same in terms of kit and setups, I developed some saddle sores after this one, and they felt pretty horrible. No chafing, which was nice, but due to the pressure I’d been putting on my sit bones I had some lovely matching 50 cent sized bumps. In good news, I’d taken the next week off of work, so I could sit around in a pair of loose fitting shorts for most of the week and let everything calm down.
Yet again, we were off the bike and just resting. More naps. More food… more naps. I hadn’t booked any body work in this week, which in hindsight was an error on my part. My neck and right shoulder weren’t feeling very good, and I really should have had them loosened up before the 300 the next weekend. Overall, it took me another 4 days off the bike, and after that I only did a short 10km ride to make sure everything was good to go. The sores weren’t healed, but they’d diminished down to much smaller bumps and weren’t as angry looking. My feet… were still angry. The next one would be a tough ride.
What I was also starting to realise is that my recovery time in between these rides was mental as well as physical: I needed to give my brain a break as well as my body. That week off of work was nice, but mentally I couldn’t turn my brain off of all the work I knew was piling up for me upon my return on Monday. It was the start of the first semester at uni, and I knew I had a 9am class Monday morning that I’d need to prep for. So I stayed in a weird perpetual state of tiredness, combined with increasing anxiety about work. Not ideal. Reflecting back on this week I should have taken only a couple of days off, then gone back to working from home to prep for my class. Maybe my brain wouldn’t have been so tired.
Next up: the 300
The next ride up in the Audax calendar was the Strathboogie, which is a cracking ride through the Dookie Hills to Violet Town, up to Strathbogie then to Ruffy, Nagambie, Murchison, Tatura and return to Shepparton. Three years ago it was my first ever Audax 300, and my first ride with Thomas Price, who has since then turned into one of the people I ride many of my Audax’s with. He had also signed up for this one, and had also completed a 600 and 400 in the two weekends prior, so we were both coming into this one without fresh legs. I signed up for this one a week before, knowing that again, if I didn’t recover enough during the week I could just pull out. By this point I had a feeling that I was going for the Super Randonneur in a month, and that this would be ride number three.
Due to a number of different circumstances, I was going to drive up to Shepparton the morning of the ride (a 4:30am start YAWN), complete the 300, and then drive back the same day. So let’s just say when my alarm went off at stupid o’clock in the morning I was not the happiest of campers. Then again, I never am. Mornings. Bleurgh.
Pulling into Shepparton the car park was already starting to fill up with other riders. The Strathboogie has four different distances and loops, so I knew that not everyone there would be on the same ride with me. Still, the 200s and the 300s ride together until about the 120km mark, so I knew we’d have others for company the first third of the ride.
I felt pretty good setting off, and Thomas and I chatted as we rode towards the first checkpoint at Violet Town. Another rider settled in with us, and then looked surprised to see me tapping out an easy tempo. After a conversation about what time I expected to get in that night, he suggested maybe I had gotten slower as a rider from when he saw me a couple years back. Dozens of excuses came to mind (including 1000km in my legs over the last two weekends) but I just smiled and said I was riding for enjoyment, and after all, it was a lovely day to spend on the bike, why rush it?
Repeat after me: It’s not a race. I am proving nothing to no one.
After settling in with some food and coffee, I walked down the street towards the dunny block, spotting an alpaca on my way. Checking once, then twice, confirmed that there was indeed something there, and from the giggling noises I knew someone had seen me do a double take. To be fair, I was pretty tired, and you hear a lot of stories of Audax riders hallucinating on longer rides… though these usually happened in the middle of the night, not at 9:45am.
The dragging climbs as we headed to the second checkpoint in Strathbogie weren’t anything too bad, and I just enjoyed the scenery. We sure do get to ride in some amazing places! However, that neck and shoulder pain that I didn’t deal with over the week was already starting to hurt me, which I had expected but not this early into the ride. It was manageable, but not ideal, and I knew it would be a tougher 180km on the back half of the ride. Don’t mention the feet, which were instruments of torture. Sigh. They weren’t the sharp burning stabby pain that I have had in the past (thank goodness!) but they were definitely feeling the pressure.
After this we left Strathbogie and really hit the steeper hills, and that’s when it hit me that I was indeed carrying a bit of fatigue with me: this was going to need to be a slow and steady ride. That first climb hurt. Really hurt. Low cadence, lots of effort, and slow. Tap tap tap went the legs as I ground my way up to the top. In good news, my heart rate was skyrocketing, so even though I felt tired my body wasn’t tired enough to keep that heart rate high (note: on longer, multi-day rides my heart gets tired and eventually I can’t get my heart rate over 140. Having it top out over 170 was encouraging, even if I sounded like the ‘Little Engine that could’ during the climb).
Thomas and I knew that the Ruffy General Store was closing, so instead of taking our chances we stopped at a servo in Merton. The heat and the climbs were not doing me any favours, so I was nursing the pain in my feet quite a lot. It was taking a combination of ibuprofen and paracetamol to try and manage both the inflammation and the pain. Not a lot of rides are like that, but this one was so I just dealt with it the best I could.
An hour and a bit later we entered Ruffy, fully expecting to find a tap somewhere to top up our waters. Instead we reached an oasis:
The store was indeed still open, as Rodney (the Ride Organiser) had let them know we would be coming through later, and they left the back area open just for us. Drinks, sugar, carbs, water, shade. Heaven. Most of the 300 riders ended up meeting during our break here, and it was nice just to hang out under the shade of that gorgeous tree. Thomas commented (and not for the first time!) that we should talk to the RO about getting hammocks installed at various points on this ride and I wholeheartedly agreed. That was the mood of this ride: hammocks at checkpoints. Just chill.
Heading out from the oasis we were greeted by “Road Closed Ahead” signs. Hmmm. We all wondered how ‘closed’ these closed roads would be on a late Saturday afternoon. The detour they proposed was a gravel road, which would be a long stretch until it met up with the main road again. I love me a gravel ride, don’t get me wrong, but it’s far more comfortable when the bike is set up to take that kind of pounding. Needless to say the ‘closed road’ turned out to be gravel as well. But hero gravel. And it was magnificent.
After this point it was fairly smooth sailing back to Nagambie, and flatter than flat for the run back into Shepparton. I felt largely terrible, but the legs kept on giving so I kept moving forward. An unlucky flat tyre for me with 16km left to go didn’t dampen the mood too much, though it did give me about 1000 mosquito bites from hell.
Did we get into Shepparton much later than I had expected. Yup. Did I care? Nope. I got through this one and enjoyed it as much as I could. And it was nice to celebrate my three year ride-aversary with Thomas on the Strathboogie.
- Date: March 6
- Distance: 300km with 2220m vertical
- Elapsed time: 15 hours 39 minutes
- Moving time: 12 hours 45 minutes
- Average speed: 23.5 km/h
- Average heart rate: 138
- Calories burnt: 5156
- Average temperature: 19 degrees
- Max temperature: 30 degrees
- Min temperature: 9 degrees
- Strava link here
Welcome to compound saddle sores, a neck that would hardly move, and feet that hated me. Third ride in and my body knew it was taking on a lot, even if I was resting a lot in between. But no rest for the wicked this week, it was the first week of uni, and I had first year students to teach. An exhausting/rewarding Monday spent largely on my feet, my brain active and pushing for most of the day. Not a mental or a physical recovery at all. That being said, I did try and balance out a full time workload with as much ‘rest’ as I could, even if that rest meant closing my eyes and having a nap in between zoom classes in order to cope.
Mentally I was shattered. Physically I was battered. But by this point a few people had worked out that I was attempting the super series in a month, so I had a lot of support start to roll in. Along with a lot of questions (did you know you were doing this? What the heck are you doing? Aren’t you tired?) which I often wasn’t able to answer clearly. Did I know? Kinda. I knew I wanted to do the full series, and I had quietly thought I might be able to pull it off in 2 months. Not four weeks. I also knew that going back to work and teaching meant I wasn’t going to be able to do long rides for a bit (it’s very difficult to teach classes on a Monday with rando brain) so I wanted to get these rides done early if I could.
But the next ride up was ‘only’ a 200… but it wasn’t just any 200. It was a Gareth Evans 200: Gippsland Gold. And quite honestly I thought about pulling the pin this one many many times during this recovery week. I just didn’t know if I could do it. I was teaching over 16 hours a week, much of that on zoom, and I felt absolutely drained… but physically by Thursday I knew I could do it. I’d have to dig a little deeper, but I knew I had it in me. I just had to tap it out, not be a hero, and ride smart.
Last up: the 200
Gippsland Gold is one of the premier gravel rides in the calendar. Gareth sends out a quiet email months before the ride to let people know he’s opening up registration, and makes it password protected so those riders who have done his rides before have first crack at getting in. This ride sells out months in advance, so if you want in, you have to be in the know.
Needless to say I had registered early for this ride: December 9th, 2020. Yes. That early. So to say I felt a little bit of pressure to keep this ride on was accurate, even though I knew if I did have to pull out there would be a wait list of people ready to take my place.
Leaving my house at 4:00am for the 2 and a bit hour commute to Yarragon felt almost as amazing as every other stupid o’clock start I’d done over the past month. Just because I’d been doing early mornings did not mean, by any stretch, that I liked them any better. I’m not a morning person. Ever.
Luckily there’s coffee. And a ride buddy (Marty) who had seen me many many mornings before. We got there in plenty of time, registered, said hello to many many familiar faces (and looked around to see even more people we didn’t recognise), got caffeinated and fed, and prepared for the ride. I was looking forward to riding with my Macedon Ranges Crew for this one, though I knew I’d only see Amanda and Blair for the first 90 kms or so. I’d assumed I’d be riding the 200 with Jem and Rigs, and even if I was a little slower, I knew it would be a great day on the bike with them.
You know what they say about assumptions though.
After a rough couple of weeks, both of them had pulled back to the 160km ride instead of the 200. Even during the briefing, Gareth ‘warned’ riders about biting off more than they could chew. The 200 was going to be possibly miserable weather wise, he warned. Best pull back to the 160 if you weren’t sure.
I did ponder pulling back. I pondered as we climbed and climbed and climbed (and I took many many pictures from the back as I was… strategically well behind everyone else). I pondered as my feet screamed at me over the rougher sections. And I pondered all the way up to the 92km mark when I needed to make that final call. But my crew knew me better, and at that intersection they didn’t even ask if I’d be joining them, they just stopped, wished me luck, and waved me goodbye. It was never really an option. I was prepared for the storms that the 200 would bring, and was packing all sorts of layers on me in anticipation.
I was fine. Tired, yes. Fatigued, absolutely. Sore… beyond a doubt. But I knew, with absolute certainty, that I’d finish this ride. Pulling into Foster at the 115km mark I was very tired. It was a ‘saved by Coke’ moment yet again, and after letting my neck rest against the wall for a bit (and taking my shoes off for the hundredth time. even though by this ride I had changed insoles, shoes, and cleats. No change) I was on my way. 85km to go. 75km really, it was all downhill after that point. But one thing was clear: that storm was rolling in. And it wasn’t going to be pretty.
I managed a few pics as the rain started just outside Mirboo (at the 150km mark) but after that there was no hope really. It was pretty damn rolling into the final checkpoint at Mirboo North, and about 2km after that the heavens opened up and it got wild. I was soaked to the bone even before I got my rain jacket out, but I pulled it on anyways if only for the warmth. And really, with a near 17km climb at that point I knew I’d stay warm. I just needed to keep tapping it out. I passed a number of riders up that climb, chatting as I went along, knowing that all I needed to do was keep the legs moving. The few breaks on the climb made a huge difference mentally, and with each one I knew I was closer to the finish line. Finally reaching the top of the climb I went to pull my phone out to take a picture, only to realise that it had auto locked itself and I could try again in 8 minutes to enter my password.
Wasn’t going to happen.
Down the descent I went, the corners hardly visible through my rain splattered glasses, and I reckon it was easily the slowest I’d ever gone down that amazing 7km sweeping descent, but this was not the time for shenanigans or for setting PRs. Fifteen minutes later I pulled into the hall in Yarragon, looking like a drowned rat. But I had done it. 600, 400, 300, 200. Done!!
- Date: March 13
- Distance: 200km with 3620 vertical
- Elapsed time: 10 hours 47 minutes
- Moving time: 9 hours 46 minutes
- Average speed: 20.5 km/h
- Average heart rate: 151 (yeah, that hurt)
- Calories burnt: 4625
- Average temperature: 17 degrees
- Max temperature: 35 degrees
- Min temperature: 9 degrees
- Strava link here
The Sunday after I felt pretty sleepy, but mentally it had been a big win to complete the series of rides so I felt pretty proud. Monday back at work was fine, and my classes went great. Tuesday, same same. By Wednesday though I was starting to deflate, and the fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks, and I struggled through the rest of the week. Felt myself pulling away from all things cycling or activity related, and sat in that weird space of not knowing if I wanted to sleep or not sleep. Eat or not eat. Maybe I’ll just sit and stare at the wall for a bit.
Even now, a week later, I’m still carrying the fatigue with me, and my body just feels exhausted. So I’m allowing myself to rest. No, I’m encouraging myself to rest.
After all, I only have 5 more sleeps until the next stupid idea…