I remember kettlebells and conditioning being fun.
My legs don’t.
2:00 of each:
KB C&J long cycle @ 16kg e.s.
KB Swing @ 24kg (20 two-hand, alternating every 5 thereafter)
5 x OHS @ 16kg KB e.s.
10 Steps Walking Lunge
= Juuuuust under 3
Interesting to note: VMOs feeling really worked after this. I’m gonna be sore the next couple of days.
It was a lot of fun to head out for a hard ride and have it done and dusted in an hour.
I made sure I went to the front early to get some warmth in the legs, and then spent most of the race in the bunch, waiting for a good attack to join (and not breathing heavily at all I should add). Quite a few launched half-hearted efforts from well behind sixth wheel, but out of the last turn and into the final lap, a Bike Gallery Rider (Tom?) kicked hard off the front. At three seconds he had a gap and I thought this was the chance — get away and hold off the bunch for less than a lap, or die trying. I put my head down and sprinted like it was for the chequered flag. We held the bunch off until just before the final turn. I sprinted for the line from the rear of the pack, just to finish the job.
Two things are worth noting since Chain Reaction: The first is that below threshold feels like no effort. Not ‘easy’, literally no effort. The second is that sprinting has no effect. It’s like flooring a diesel truck. The engine revs sloooooowly picks up the revs and the speed kinda sorta goes up, but you’re not blowing the doors off anyone.
Well, it’s been done and dusted for a few weeks now, but you may recall that I was preparing for a wee lap of Tasmania. About 1,000km or so with somewhere in the order of 12,000m vertical over six or seven days. In the final tally, those numbers shook out to be 992km and more like 14,500 of reaching for the sky. 47 other blokes had signed up and paid a pretty hefty entry fee, and along with it pledged to raise at least $5,000 to help support two really awesome kids’ charities.
Very Special Kids, provides support and end of life care for children with life-threatening diseases, their siblings and families. It’s difficult to fathom what it means for a parent to be able to lie in a real bed, in a real bedroom with their child as they die instead of an ICU bed, knowing that outside the door are people who know what to do next, whenever they’re ready. After the passing of a child, they continue to provide counselling, retreat and support for parents and especially siblings for as long as they’re required. One volunteer I met there still went to visit a girl who had lost her sister seven years earlier. The hospice in east Melbourne is a real harbour from the world, and it’s hard not to be touched by visiting.
The Starlight Foundation, run programs across Australia to make hospitals funner places to be by building play rooms and placing ‘Starlight Captains’ — people (usually actors) who dress up and goof around with the hospital PA, run play rooms and make sure that parties, dress ups, games and foolin’ aren’t missed out on just because a kid happens to be confined to a hospital facing some heavy shit. They also provide a bunch of other services when required — when a kid runs screaming from a procedure and goes to hole up somewhere in the rabbit warren of the hospital, it’s the Starlight Captains who go to retrieve them so that security don’t add even more to the distress of the situation.
So, to the ride…
At the outset I was a little nervous about how I’d survive the week. Would my body break down into a rusty wreck? Would I get progressively ridden into the ground and fall off the back each day? Would saddle sores make the entire trip a living hell? No single day looked un-ridable — nothing over about 175km or 2,800m — but I’d never done so many decent days in the saddle back to back to back … to back … you get the point. Overall though, everything held up fine. I started feeling sore on days 3 and 4, but nothing awful. A niggling hip flexor issue never materialised, but my shoulder hurt from long days on the hoods and after a while I would develop a white-hot at the very top of my right calf, possibly due to my tendency to under-use my VMO muscle, something identified by the myotherapist on tour.
The entire operation was a well oiled machine. Total Rush (for whom nutters races) managed the route and logistics. For the most part we were bracketed on the road by one or two lead cars and tailed by a mechanical / medial van and a ute carrying a photographer, food and giant coolers of electrolyte drinks. Together they worked to keep us safe by managing the bunch like one really long vehicle. In the mountains, the lead car would drive ahead and radio safe passing distances back to the tail car, which would in turn ‘tow’ vehicles that banked up behind us through into the gap. Where it became hilly or open, we’d stop for a piss and a drink and the organisers would declare ‘free play’, meaning the strong teams were free to ride to the front and work at putting the hurt on each other, which was no end of fun. In this way, strong riders got to play without hurting the weaker ones, and those who were on a mission just to finish, could share a different kind of camaraderie.
The Apple Isle itself was incredible. It’s a mix of empty rolling hills, craggy mountains and middle-earth rainforest. In the latter half of the week we would wake up, get ready and fed and roll out onto the rolling roads, almost every one among the best I’ve ever ridden.
We’d wake up to an enormous buffet breakfast (I’d eat three or four eggs, a pile of scrambled eggs, one or two hash browns, bacon, one or two cups of coffee, apple juice, muesli, fruit and occasionally some baked beans) while our bags were loaded onto the truck. During the ride, we carried nothing. At every stop soigneurs would spring from cars with sweet treats, bars, gels, fresh water and voltaran. And at the end of each day we’d roll into another tiny town to find our bags waiting, massage tables set up in a hall way or rec room and laundry collection at six.
Each night we bunked with someone different, which gave us the opportunity to get to know each other and, drawing from the executive pool (between 48 guys we raised $1.05M), they were an interesting bunch to get to know. Each evening there were jerseys awarded for fund raising, riding, instagramming or any number of other themes. There were also fines of $100 for riding three abreast, crossing a centre line, having a dirty bike, leaving team-mates behind, whining, carrying a saddle bag, inappropriate sock hight, having hairy legs and so on.
I ate at least twice what I normally would each night, plus dessert, and would wake up ravenous. Though we’d be in bed by 9pm, in the latter half of the week my eyes would droop if we stopped for more than 20 minutes, and in the week after I felt a constant need to take a little nap.
I won’t talk about the scenery other than to say it was incredible. You can’t help but become an environmentalist of sorts riding out of old growth rainforest, with trees so thick that you couldn’t walk between them, and out into the Queenstown copper mining moonscape, everything denuded by acid rain two decades ago. Mt Wellington is the hardest climb I think I’ve ever done (the rear side of Falls Creek notwithstanding).
Anyway, I feel like that’s already too many words. Here are some pictures…
Fix for cracked steatstay.
The Chain Reaction event blog has day-by-day accounts, with route maps and videos for each day.
I was the only one of the Yarraville crew on top of the bridge at 6:00, so I rode down and met the Williamstown group alone. One gentleman took a tumble in front of me attempting to cross (or unintentionally crossing) the ‘safety’ strip that separates the bike lane from the cars beneath the Seddon rail bridge. He went down moderately hard but didn’t get on the bike again. After much groaning and lamenting of possible clavicular breakage (unlikely given the vigorous poking his friend gave it) he waved us on and, duties of care dismissed, we got rolling.
Five repeats of Farnsworth were enough to elicit a re-taste of breakfast (one cup black coffee).
27km 1:02 320m
Jim asked me out for a ride ‘with a few guys’ on a ’130k or so’ ‘out to Donna’. I was busy at work at the time of the invitation, so I took a quick look at the route, accepted and went back to work. Jim suggested an ‘early start’ to ‘beat the heat’, so I set the clock for 4:30a.m., a whole hour and fifteen sleep in over last week, so I could be at his place by six. I got to bed at 11, woke at 12 when Fee came in and again at 4 when Mae woke up. Before kids I would have come very close to bailing, but I’ve found you get used to doing things tired and take your leave passes seriously post-parenthood.
Speaking of last week, I haven’t felt a lot of snap in the ol’ legs since that little jaunt, but I figured I could roll out 130k up the back of the bunch without too much trouble. Anyways, I wasn’t going to say no to finally seeing the climb up Mt Donna Buang.
When we met Craig, Jase, Mario, BJ and Christian in a car park at Warrandyte it was 6:30 and the air was thickly humid and we met Jase’s two tag-alongs, Matt and Ash (who Jase had been warned would be tied to his bike in the event they couldn’t keep pace). Matt looked fine, but Ash looked out of place in a Richmond Tri Club jersey, waist-shorts, MTB shoes, half-platform pedals and a floppy two-bottle seatpost biddon holder. Nobody said nothin’.
We single-filed it out of town before switching to rolling turns with BJ, Jim, and Craig in the working group. Since I didn’t know the others and they didn’t seem interested in working in I figured they figured we were the stronger riders, but every time the road tilted upward I felt feebly that I should have stayed in bed and gone for a quite hour’s roll on flat roads. So not recovered.
At the turn into Don Rd, the road that climbs Mt Donnabuang, everyone backed off the pace, soft pedalling up to the start of the KOM segment (funny how the online world changes even bike rides). I figured I’d just try and sit-in on Jim’s wheel but… There he goes. Ok, Mario— no? Matt? Nope. Ok, I’ll just keep this poor triathlete company. For the first couple of km anyway.
The climb was beautiful, and I mean beautiful, the early sun running it’s fingers through the trees, and throwing crepuscular rays through the mist into dappled pools on the road. I didn’t breathe hard and my legs didn’t burn or strain, they just failed to turn over while my heart threw itself feebly against the bottom of my throat a thousand times a minute.
The guys were waiting for me at the top. I rode past them, touched the dirt road and turned around for one of the fastest descents I’ve ever ridden. It’s dangerously quick out there and there are traps on a couple of the turns. In other words, it’s Too Much Fun, but I’m still fucking wrecked.
Craig kept rolling (training for the Masters’ Worlds is serious business) while we stopped for a bite and coffee (thank you God) at Healsville.
Some time ago Neil posted a picture taken on Meyer’s Creek Rd on Flickr, to which I commented simply, ‘Take me here.’ It’s as gorgeous as it looks on screen and I wasn’t unhappy to be there, even as everyone rode out of sight. It’s a perfect, consistent, enduring gradient, ideal for playing bike racer games with bike racer friends, and with Craig in full training mode, Jim and BJ beginnign to find legs and Mario in good form, I’m sure many a half-wheeling gauntlet was accidentally dropped. I just watched Ash’s two biddons flop from side to side above his rear wheel, shrinking further and further away up the hill.
I rolled straight through over the top when I met the bunch. I must have looked a treat for BJ to ask if I’d like to stop for a bit, but I said I’d be happy just to recover on the descent. Closer to the truth was that I was happy for every cm closer to home I could roll. At the turn off to Kinglake I put my head down and resigned myself to digging a very, very deep hole.
At the 10km to KL sign I took out the shovel and tapped down the cassette, stiffening up the cranks and told myself to pedal harder if I wanted it to be easier and to my surprise felt very much better. I held second to fourth wheel all the way up, at one point looking back over my shoulder to see the group strung way back out along the road, splintered badly. Craig took turns falling off the back and then surging past us all, leapfrogging the group as a form of interval training.
With the method of riding on shattered legs uncovered my spirits were higher all the way home. Somewhere along the ride we stopped at Smiths Gully and I drank a bottle of Coke faster than I’ve ever drunk a fizzy thing ever, and it imparted magical powers of legs and happiness for pretty much the rest of the ride. Legs and happiness and cola burps.
145km 2,150m 5:19
In the lead up to the Chain Reaction Challenge it seemed like a no brainer to head up into the hills for a long ride and a lot of climbing. I didn’t take much goading to be persuaded to put my name down for the 250km route, and although I hadn’t completed any of the qualifying events I submitted that I’d finished a couple of Otway Odysseys, had a background in 24-hour mountain bike racing and understood what it meant to have a big day in the hills. And that seemed to do the trick.
In no time at all, it became January 25. Australia Day. On the drive up to the little mountain town of Bright, I thought about my formative mountain biking days up there, getting smashed by kids from the Alpine Club, who were usually only bested by Team Mount Beauty, who would ride across Tawanga Gap, smash everyone, grab a roll or a pie at the bakery and ride home again. Animals all. I also thought back to my previous ‘biggest ever’ ride. With Neil back when Fee was pregnant with Claire (now six). We’d stayed on top of the HC-rated Mt Hotham and ridden down through the valley, up Mt Buffalo to the century-old chalet and then riding back down, back through the valley and back to the top of Hotham. 182km.
The Alpine Classic Extreme is 250km long (plus or minus), and takes in a little over four and a half thousand vertical through the Victorian high country. That’s a big day out. I decided that if I could hang with most of the people from work doing it (and I can) that I’d be fine. I’d make it home anyway, even if the idea of spending 12 or 13 hours in the saddle of a road bike didn’t sound overly appealing.
With a hectic schedule, a bit of a bad post-Christmas funk and a wrong-sized derailleur clamp in the switch to SRAM Red I didn’t get much riding in at all in the two or three weeks prior, but at least I’d be coming in fresh.
Dave managed to fluke a luxury three bedroom house on the main road, so we were able to tuck ourselves into amazing king-sized beds at nine and enjoy a relative sleep in, waking up at 3:15 for the 4a.m. start. Some colleagues who missed out of in-town accommodation would be up at 2:00, just to have time to dress, eat, drive into town, park and unload.
We loaded up on coffee and bananas and rolled into town a little too relaxed, missing the official start and riding against traffic to roll over the timing sensors. It was uncannily mild and we thought ourselves very smug for leaving arm-warmers at home as we made a brisk tempo up through the field. Dave was tapping it out but I was on threshold leaping from group to group. When we got to the second lead group we could see the fast boys up the road with a solid gap on us. Thankfully Dave decided we should let them go and we settled into a steady rhythm, the road gradually tilting upwards at the foot of Mt Hotham. I started the old familiar meditation of closing the doors to the rooms of my mind that hold thoughts of the rest of the day, expectations and the machinery that weighs capability against niggles and doubts. The doors to the room full of here-and-now and the screen door out to the over-grown mental back yard of deeper thoughts and big life questions are allowed to stay open. The first is where technique and pace are kept, the second helps melt time away. Melted time and a hot cinnamon sensation in the legs for hours on end have been great providers of clarity to me over the years.
We rounded The Meg, a steep-kicking hairpin, in the dark, to the sound of a cowbell and a the cracking voice of what could have been an old farmer shouting encouragement to the groupetto. It’s a beautiful day boys! No wind, no rain! Only the pain! In retreating darkness now, we could see the skeleton-fingers of the dead and sun-bleached trees reaching out of nothingness, erie and beautiful.
The temperature dropped steadily as we gained elevation and the dawn bloomed. As we crossed over CRB I could see we were above the south side cloud, with clear sky to the north. It was cold here and I told myself to enjoy the numb fingers and chattering teeth for the next hour or so because there’d be plenty of heat later in the day. In the last drop before the final kick to the summit I had to confirm visually that my fingers were on the brake levers because I couldn’t feel them.
Keeping your mind in the present does funny things to time, and it felt like only an hour into the ride (probably more like two and half) that I walked into the first control point at Dinner Plain, reeled off my rider number, grabbed a mouthful of food, topped up my bottles, took a wee and scadaddled out of there. A lot of the old Audax guys had pulled up a chair and made cups of hot tea to warm themselves up, but I had no wish to stop and stiffen up, nor to make the day any longer than it had to be, and I rolled out of there briskly but alone.
I’d come in with maybe twenty or thirty other riders. Alone? I kept bombing down the road. Surely someone else must’ve… Maybe I took a wrong…? But there’s no other road up here.
Still… Still, it’s not going to be a fun day if you’re soloing off into the morning on some off-course alpine road, I told myself. I turned around and began the climb back up to the control point, maybe three km behind. I didn’t have to go too far until another rider appeared out of the mist. Huh.
Omeo, the second control, appeared quicker than expected. Flagged into the CFA shed in by a sturdy, bearded man in his 50s or 60s in a Rapha cap yelling ‘Welcome welcome!’ The firefighters had put up long trestle tables of quartered oranges, halved bananas, chocolate chip cookies, muffins, rice cream, tea, and french pressed coffee. I took two half bananas and some sweet, black coffee and a cookie, refilled the bottles, slathered myself in sunscreen and hit the road to Falls, thinking about the legendary ‘back of Falls’ climb and what it would really be like. I resolved to burn a bunch of matches there and have it done with as quickly as I could.
The road from Omeo to Falls is about 60km long, but rolling, meandering and pretty. I rode it alone for the most part, with others alone, and for a little while in a group of three that couldn’t get it’s shit together. The first rider sat out the front of the other three, myself in second wheel, until he faded in the wind. ‘Roll off and I’ll take a turn’ I said. He did, but looked confused. I pulled for a good five minutes before sliding right and soft pedalling. The group behind slid right behind me and backed off. I stopped pedalling. They stopped pedalling. Ok, this isn’t how it works guys.
We crossed the creek and you could sense the coming ascent, the hillside rising up on the side of the road to the left. I stopped for a leak and a Gu, and not 20m up the road found the left hand turn onto the back of Falls.
It’s like the left hand turn onto Bank St, a short but steep kicker on our usual homebound route, except that Bank St is about 50m long and the road up the back of Falls is 17,000m long. The guy in front of me, who had seemed strong on the open rolling road started zig zagging immediately. Up the road I could see several more, strung out and hurting badly. I dropped my shoulders, set my hips, kicked down the gear and set my mind to holding a hard temp for however long it would take.
A long time, as it turned out. In retrospect, I probably could have pushed a couple of gears higher, but it was my first real ride on the compact crank and spinning itself wasn’t exactly easy. But as in a 24 hour lap, I set my eyes on the next guy up the road, and focussed on reeling him in. And then the next one, and the next one, until we finally crested the last long roller up onto the plateau.
That’s where things really began to suck. You expect to be able to drive along rolleuring rollers, but even the downhills felt like false flats on dead roads with my nose in the breeze. Underscoring that, I was having trouble with pain in my feet and was starting to get desperate to take my shoes off. I love Sidi for their super snug, narrow fit, but after nine or so hours in the saddle things had gone from numb, to sore to searingly painful. I was beginning to be not having fun when someone passed me strongly on the right: a large guy in race kit, an actual roadie. You, sir, are my ticket out of here. I got out of the saddle and kicked hard to jump onto his wheel. I’m not ashamed to say I sat there in the draft, head down and in the drops all the way until the ski resort, where I thanked him for the shelter and headed indoors to down more coffee and rice cream.
At this point, the two big dragons had been slain — Hotham and Falls — with just 75km or so to go until the finish. Two-and-a-bit hours? Surely not, but the last leg began with an endless descent off of the Falls Creek ski station through (with a few exceptions) even radius turn after turn. The SRAM brakes are a big leap up on DA7800, on carbon rims at least, and I stayed off them as much as I could. We were through the Mt Beauty valley in a shot and the road turned upward once more for the final climb over Tawonga Gap, with Bright, the creek, the brewery, the finish line and bed on the other side.
I’ve never seen so many people walking road bikes up a hill and in many ways I still can’t understand how it comes to that. I would grind out a 30rpm pace with cramping muscles before I’d get off and walk in road shoes. It’s always, always, always going to be worse on foot and for longer. At the 3km to go mark a lady on the side of the road was spraying people with water from a knapsack. Bless her cotton socks. And although it might’ve felt like the one of the longest 3km I’ve ever ridden with the sun climbing and pulling the temperature up with it (nearly 3p.m. now), the final stretch over the top of the gap wasn’t insufferable. Just get it done.
Someone had told me earlier in the day that there’s no better feeling that the descent into Bright knowing everything’s behind you, but I didn’t feel elated. I was very sore in the shoulders from the tucked descents. Once I was in town though, I couldn’t help but smile riding down the main street, people along the sides, many of them applauding the riders in and across the line.
I stopped the clock at 11:08 or so elapsed, 10:22 or so moving and am happy with that.
Doesn’t look like a killer does he?
Some practical notes:
- Nutrition was fine the whole way through. My plan was the same as my last Otway Odyssey (100km / 3,000m MTB race): one bar, one bottle for every hour of riding. It didn’t quite pan out like that but bananas (especially half-bananas) are back on the menu and of all the various foods supplied by the support staff, rice cream was the awesomest.
- Using electrolyte tablets for hydration and taking on fuel by solids feels much better than drinking sugary drinks for long events, and carrying a tube of fizzy tablets is a lot easier than a bag of P/C/E powder.
- SRAM Red is awesome, but I spent a few seconds at each control point adjusting cable tension as the new stuff was still bedding in.
- Rapha’s GT gloves are beyond awesome
- My shoes (Sidi) aren’t great for rides over four-and-a-half to five hours. I like the snugness of the narrow fit, but I have numb toes after hours of it and after the ninth hour of the ACE I had some pretty severe foot pain. Next pair of shoes will be wider (Giro, Bont, Fizik and Rapha all contenders).
- Riding a compact crank was a fantastic idea, and ensured I could keep a steady cadence even up the back of Falls. I did, however, fall into the trap of riding a high cadence with low force too often. A more effective combination seems to be working to turn a slightly higher gear over at the same 90-100rpm as an easier spin would be (obviously this gives you more speed, but I think it’s actually a better power/effort setup). This is effectively what I’d been doing on the 39/27 in the hills around Melbourne. A lower gear allowed me to do the same thing in the big mountains, but I wound up riding a lower gear still and paid for it in time (I’m speculating).
- Working to stay up front, or entering with a group of similarly matched riders, would be a great help. The loop is effectively three big climbs with rolling transitions between them. A working bunch on those transitional roads would make the ride faster, easier and more fun in general. I spent much of the ride with those mental doors shut just to avoid a loss of pace that comes from too much scenery gazing (I did drink it in where it was lovely) or the mental fatigue that comes from over-thinking the ride or watching the clock.
- I’ll admit that my first thought over the line wasn’t ‘Wouldn’t it be ace to come back and do that again’, but knowing what I can do with training and pacing now and how to step that up again, I am tempted to know how much faster I could go.
- It’s surprisingly nice, and easier than you’d think, to go to bed at 9p.m.
- Getting up at 4a.m. to go and shoot first light on the mountain would be a cool thing to do, photographically speaking. It’d also be cool to shoot riders up there at that time.
- I can’t forget to post my colleagues’ times:
- Dave: smashed it home in 8 hours and 37 minutes (moving) / 8:50 (elapsed)
- Henry: 10:39 / 10:49
- Tom: 9:44 / 10:34
- Rob: 10:40 / 12:34
- Andrew: 10:58 / 13:08
248km 4,650m 10:22/11:08
It’s been a bit hot. So the invitation from my old buddy Jim to get out into the pre-dawn and shrug off dreary night’s half-sleep — to just attack this motherfucker heatwave, the hell with it! — and roll into the morning with a belly full of iced espresso and a head full of endorphin powered bliss was an easy choice.
As a bonus, the roads through Doncaster, Donvale and Templestowe were pretty much all new to me. Jase, an old colleague of
Foote St is an almost endless continuum of perfectly spaced rollers. It’s mother nature’s intervals, especially when you have a Jim to half-wheel.
A few quick turns and the roads shrunk down to way-out-of-town size. Not more than 10k later and they dwindled down to gravel, not for long, but it felt a lot like a weekend to be riding roads like this at seven thirty in the morning. It definitely didn’t feel like school day. Bonus points.
Totals for the day:
75km (90 with the commute home) 1,035m 2:50h