07 Mar

My (mental) preparation for the Three Peaks Challenge– Melbourne to Mt Buller (260km/5000m elevation, 161mi/16400ft elevation)


When you are planning on doing something longer and harder than you have done before, the extra weight of five kilos on top of your neck will be your key asset. (Your head)
Having decided three weeks out to ride the Three Peaks Challenge, one of the hardest one day challenges in Australia (235km/4000m elevation), I needed a long tough ride beforehand. I wanted to see how my legs feel towards the end of a long ride but more importantly I needed that kind of ride as mental preparation. Getting my head ready for whatever lies beyond the failure of my legs. There is a “going into the red” for going anaerobic, I call it “going mental” for going beyond your perceived body’s ability.
I heard on Thursday that a mate, Damian, is planning on riding the next day from Melbourne out to Mt Buller. 260km (161mi). 5000m (16400ft) of elevation. 40km (25mi)  of gravel in unknown condition.  35 degrees (95F) temps.
That was exactly what I was looking for! It had the length, the pain and the uncertainty to make it very challenging.
For those kinds of rides, key is to be able to motivate myself on the toughest parts. Naturally climbs and in this case the gravel section would be something that would drain my mental energy. So for the short time I had to prepare for this ride (12 hours), I learned all about elevation gain, gradient, length of climb that could give me the ability to measure my progress while climbing. Plus, the more numbers you have to play around with, the more you can make all kind of (un)necessary calculations to keep your head busy.
The gravel section seemed to become my lowest mental point. With a limited pool of mountain bike skills, I had a very tough time to navigate through a very rocky terrain, no matter if uphill or downhill.
We just didn’t make any progress. That put me off.
In those situations, I try to either sing to myself or compare my current misery with an even worse situation from the past.  Keeping perspective is key and not letting emotions take over.
After the gravel section, the toughest part was actually just starting. Mount Terrible*. A 10 odd km (6mi) climb all exposed to sun and heat.  It was north of 35 degrees (95F). We were already dehydrated from the lack of water supply in the last 120km. We were 11 hours into the ride. I dealt with very painful hot feet. So in short: A great time to pull the plug, especially considering that our next stop, Jamieson, has a nice coffee shop to cool down, relax, refill and eat properly. Why would you want to leave?
As this the most dangerous time to waste time stopping, I was in “adventure racing” mode. Quickly refill on water and food and get out of there in the quickest time possible.
But when I strapped my helmet back on after all necessary refillings, I realized that Damian hasn’t even touched his food.
“Are you alright?”
“No, my head is still spinning, my heart racing. I am severely dehydrated. No way, I am getting out of here until I feel better.”
Wow. I was flabbergasted. I knew we were both dehydrated but I didn’t see that coming.
He must have been seriously dehydrated.
After an hour of recovery and rehydration in Jamieson, we decided the ride is over and we would ride to Mansfield. I left Jamieson still with the belief that I could get Damian safely to Mansfield and then push on.
But as soon as we got on the bike, all the adrenalin and excitement vanished. Seeing my ride mate in such a terrible condition plus the length of the stop put me mentally into a different state of mind.
Should I really ride on alone into the night?
Although it was only right to join him to get him safely to Mansfield, disappointment and a huge sense of failure set in. I couldn’t believe it. I was so determined to reach the top of Mt Buller. Now I had to give up short of it.
With those feelings setting in, I lost my motivation for this ride.
However, Damian seemed to wake up from the dead. He rode off strong and visibly got his energy back.
Although I had no desire to keep riding, I asked anyway if he wanted to change his mind to keep going up Mt Buller. I expected a “no” but to my big surprise he said, “let’s do it!”
Thinking that the gravel section was the toughest mental part, this mental adjustment from deep disappointment to “hey let’s rock this” was huge.
It took me a few minutes to readjust my motivation to ride for another 50km (31mi) with 800m (2600ft) of elevation. But man, this overbearing sense of disappointment evaporated and hell, I was ready to finish this sucker!
With us both being aligned in our goals again, we made the next 50km as fun and exciting as possible. We both just came from very different ends of disappointment and here we are facing a legitimate climb in the darkest of dark, 15 hours into our riding. And we are having fun doing it!
The cherry on the ice cream was some surprise visits! Blake knew we were about to climb Mt Buller and stopped on the climb, cheering us on. Andy and Nicole stopped on the way handing us pizza! How awesome is that?!? Things like this make a huge difference in such a ride!
Damian and I truly enjoyed the last kilometres and it became a little bit celebratory finishing strong on top of the climb and completing what we planned to do after 18 hours.
A huge sense of accomplishment was setting in…….. A veeeeeery addicting feeling.
When can I do it again? Ah…right, Three Peaks next weekend!
Our route: Melbourne – 1 in 20 – Warburton – Reefton Spur – Eildon-Warburton Rd – Jamieson – Mt Buller

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* On the way down from Mt Terrible a lyrebird ran actually in between my wheels. That was luck to both me and the bird that we actually got out of it ok.

  1. Hi Monika,
    I just managed to climb up Mt Buller (as part of the 7 Peak series) the day after you and the others did this ride.
    So, Hat’s off to all of you.
    Just wondering, did you guys use gravel bikes or road bikes or something else.
    I am enjoying reading about your adventures.
    Cheers and travel safe

    1. Hi Rod, for this particular ride, we used road bikes but I must say the 40km gravel asked for a gravel bike. We were at the same ride as we did the 7 Peaks ride as well the day after! Happy riding!

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