The lessons …

Peaks Challenge is behind me. After about a week I cut off the wrist band and last night I went to bed without the finishers jersey on. Time now to think about the day and detail a few lessons. Some women give birth to more than one child. Maybe it’s time to conceive another challenge, perhaps consider repeating this challenge next year.

The event was brilliantly well organised but there is still room for improvement. There were almost 1,900 starters so getting us all away was a fairly time consuming exercise. A starting corral was filled and then opened every minute or so meaning that there were waves of riders heading off and not too much fighting and scratching. Those expecting to be the slowest were expected to let the hares go first. There was no penalty in this. Your time didn’t start until the chip on your bike crossed the start line.

The same chip recorded your progress at various points which was updated in real time on the web for your supporters to follow. Photographers were stationed around the place and you could track down your photos among the many based on the times that you passed those points.

The roads were not entirely closed to all other traffic but traffic management was excellent. Cyclists are expected to obey the road rules, infringement notices may be issued. I did exceed the speed limit under the watchful gaze of the police at one point but have yet to receive a ticket.

Mechanical assistance was available at rest stops and from motor cycle patrols. Medical assistance was also easily summoned. I was spared the sight of anyone’s blood but did see a couple of ambulances making their way through the field.

There were rest stops at reasonable intervals where you could fill up water bottles, grab a gel or bar and queue for a toilet. At three stops you could also retrieve a valet bag with your own nutrition. At the half way mark you could get a lunch and you could send a valet bag back to Falls Creek with any clothing you no longer required. Managing the valet bags, nutrition and hydration and time at rest stops are critical to a good performance.

Bicycle Network run the event and they provide sticky labels with the guide times that will enable you to pace the ride depending on what time you hope to achieve. I chose the 12 hour sticker. The Grim Reaper (officially the Lanterne Rouge) rides the 13 hour schedule. Fall behind him and you are asked to board the SAG Wagon. Think of him as the wave goodbye leader. There are also wave leaders that are riding to each of the practical hour targets.

I reached the top of the first climb, Tawonga Gap, ahead of schedule and was surprised to hear that the 12 hour wave leaders were 5 minutes ahead of me. I passed them at Harrietville still well ahead of schedule. They passed me on the Back of Falls whilst I was wrestling with a delinquent chain. I caught them again at Cope Saddle 15 km left to go and at least 20 minutes ahead of schedule. It was never my intention to ride on their tail but there must have been riders that had hoped to do that. Plenty of riders with 12 hour intentions started after me. Some might feel a little let down.

Another minor issue was waiting for us at the finish line. The run home was a single lane with barricades on each side. Absolutely familiar to Tour de France fans but there was no signage to say Bikes this Way! Some people rode on down the road before they realised their mistake. But wait there’s more. About 70 meters from the line there was a right-angle left hand bend. A number of participants fell on that corner. One poor bastard aiming for under 10 hours crashed there with about 30 seconds in hand. By the time he picked himself up he had just sufficient time to run the bike over the line. He just made it to a rousing reception from the crowd.

I had checked out the finish the day before and had already made note of the opportunities to get it wrong. The crowd at the finishing line were extremely generous. Thank you everyone of you. The lovely Gayle gave me a big hug and a nice young man gave me my finisher’s jersey and all was well with the world.

Kudos aplenty to Bicycle Network they got it mostly right but did I?

The bike had been serviced just a few weeks before the event and the bottom bracket given a once over days before the event. I was on tyres that had been replaced about a month prior to the big day. The chain came off during the event and jammed between the chain ring and the frame. It was only the second time in twelve months that I’d shed a chain. It cost me more time than it should. If it ever happens again I will wrench the bloody thing out much faster.

I was spared any punctures. The first one I saw was in the starting corral and there were a few more in the first couple of kilometers. More experienced and knowledgeable cyclists tell me these were likely because the tyres had been changed the night before the event in an effort to avoid any glass fragments that might be hiding in the rubber causing a puncture. Instead the inner tube was pinched when the new tyre was put on and failed soon after a load was applied. I’ve done that and the bang was memorable but it wasn’t during an event.

Eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty is advice you hear over the public address system immediately before the count down at the start. For a training ride of say 100km I typically take a banana and a bottle of water. After it I drink another litre or more if it’s been hot. After the first hundred in the Peaks Challenge you have another 135km to go. You can’t afford to be behind with hydration. I managed to raise my game in this regard. So far as nutrition went I budgeted for an outlay of 460Cals/hour so for 11:40 I expected to expend 5,363 Cals. Strava estimated my actual consumption at 5,554. Close enough for jazz. I’m not good at eating as I ride so I decided to carry gels for on the bike but do most of my eating at the three major rest stops. In each valet bag I put a slice of fruit cake, a Mars bar and a chocolate milk plus another couple of gels. There was a salad roll available to me at the lunch stop. There was 100g of sugar in cordial in one water bottle.

My low-carb diet had gone out the window two days prior to the event replaced with rice and pasta. Breakfast was oats, sultanas and yoghurt.

During the ride I managed to down one Mars, two slices of cake, the sugar water, four gels, three chocolate milks and an energy bar and coke that I picked up en route. I passed on lunch. A total of about 500g of carbohydrate, about 2,500 Cals. The biggest obstacle to consuming more is that solid food seems too dry to swallow. Canned fruit would slide down nicely but it’s a bit inconvenient to manage.

The next major consideration is clothing. I took a range of clothing options with me and made the final choice with the aid of the weather forecast. It was bound to be a cold start what would follow that was largely up to the weather gods. Going up hill is hot work, going down can be frigid. Last year people were withdrawing because of hypothermia at the higher altitudes. The weather forecast was good and the situation wasn’t likely to change suddenly. I opted for shorts and short sleeves, a gilet and fingered gloves. For the initial descent I also wore a second pair of gloves, arm warmers, neck warmer and a cap under my helmet. It sufficed. The items stripped off during the climbs went back in the valet bag from the halfway mark.

A spare tube in the halfway bag could have replaced the one I was carrying in my repair kit had it been used for a puncture but was not needed.

I spent as little time as possible in rest stops. Using the toilets would have been a major time waster, the bushes are better, for boys at least.

My riding strategy can be summed up quite easily. When you’re climbing climb by numbers, when descending make the most of it. In between draft whenever you can. I aimed to climb at about 2.5watts per kilo and I was particularly disciplined about that on the first climb. You can save as much as a third of your power output drafting. I was shamelessly parasitic at every opportunity.

All in all things worked out pretty well.

At the end of the day I rehydrated with a few ginger beer shandies and had a light meal. I had a few minor cramps over night but running marathons in younger days was worse.

If you should stumble on this page while preparing for your first Peaks Challenge good luck and I hope this is useful. My apologies to regular readers for the boring details.

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