There is now only three weeks between me and the Three Peaks Challenge, and time for another training update. Again, this week of training has involved some successes – a PB up Highgate Hill chasing Liz’s wheel (thanks, Liz), and some personal best efforts around Graceville on Tuesday. Unfortunately for most of the week, training played second fiddle to trying to recover from a cold that started on Monday evening. My plan was to rest as much as I could, so whatever virus that was in my system could be out of the building by the weekend. I was especially keen to be at 100% capacity as I had signed up to do the Audax Queensland “Esk by Night” 300km ride. I had never ridden three hundred kilometres before, but inspired by the efforts of fellow Koiled Shebeast and friend, Rachel Edwards, decided I was up to giving it a shot. I was accompanied by fellow Koiled Shebeast Lisa and coaching client, Laura – who were testing their mettle on the 200km and 100km distances respectively.
As I drove out towards Esk, where the ride began and finished, I began to worryingly look at the outside temperature. It was approaching 40 degrees Celsius and I was wondering whether the ride start time would be delayed due to the heat. I scrambled towards the meeting point just in the nick of time, where we were all being briefed. We had all decided that we would tackle the ride at our own pace and find our own rhythm. I think this is important for endurance riding because if you are riding efficiently and at your best pacing, you usually find that fatigue takes a lot longer to set in.
We were given the signal to roll out. I switched on my Garmin, and to my horror, found that my preferred screen wasn’t working. I dropped back to fix it, but by then had lost the two front runners, who I later discovered were in prep for the Trans-Am (my bucket list ride). I picked up the pace, hoping that I might catch them heading into the first town of Toogoolawah but I soon realised that trying to catch two fit blokes, one with TT bars, wasn’t going to happen. The heat was blistering, and I tried to comfort myself that for every rise, there was a downhill equal in length. I transversed a bit of gravel and then a dusty old bridge over a creek, wondering if I should stop, jump in and cool off. A nice dragging climb welcomed me into Toogoolawah and I did what most locals were doing – that is, head to the pub. Only I was refilling water bottles, rather than drinking beer, much to their amusement. They asked me if I were barking mad, and I replied that the heat was making me feel a little bit “ruff!”
I kept rolling towards Somerset Dam, bidons full. There was at least another twenty five kilometres to the first control point and it was a lumpy, hot ride on unforgiving country road. I was starting to question my sanity and checking my watch. It was about 3.30pm and I was praying for the heat to dissipate. Two of the 100km riders, Emery and Justin, caught me just before the Somerset control and we rolled into the control point together. Little did I know that it would be the last time I rode with anyone during the event. I hadn’t expected those first 57km to be among some of the toughest I had ever ridden.
One thing I love about Audax riding is the people who support you. When John and Kym handed me that first magic can of Coke, I was very grateful. I decided not to linger at the control, but rather, put my head down and keep at it. Accompanied by a waning sun, the ride back to Esk seemed quick and soon I was on the dog leg out of town heading towards Crows Nest. This twenty kilometre stretch is essentially an uphill climb and it was there that I met my first snake, a King Brown, slithering its way across the road trying to find respite from the heat. It was beginning to get dark and the turnaround point back to Esk loomed. I was rather looking forward to meeting other riders on the road coming the other way, however, timing meant that only Brian Hornby and I crossed paths.
Finally, it was back to the Esk control point (112km) and as I scoffed more Coke and a hot cross bun, I mentally prepared myself for the trip down the Brisbane Valley Highway towards Lowood. It was an uphill climb out of Esk, and then, thankfully it flattened out a little bit, even though the road was rough and unforgiving. I decided that some big ring tempo was the order of the day and I did a solid forty to fifty kilometre effort all the way to Fernvale. It was a little daunting, riding the highway as a lone female in the dark of night – no street lights exist out here, but the reward was the best view of the stars and constellations that you are ever going to get. On my approach to Fernvale, I got an encouraging text from Anne, who had guessed where I’d be.
After Fernvale, it was time to head off the main road out towards a tiny place called Glamorganvale. I knew that Glamorganvale was hilly, but didn’t realise just how steep some of the climbs were. The worst part was only being able to see a short distance in front of you, so you weren’t really sure how much climbing you had to do or how steep it was. I thought I had snapped a gear cable and was riding up in my big chain ring at one stage – but a quick look on the map confirmed the fifteen percent incline in a few places, so I felt a bit better.
Eventually I arrived in Lowood where I was welcomed at the control point by Kym, who kindly offered me noodles and sandwiches. Again I spied some magic hot cross buns and Coke and headed off to do a loop around Coominya, happily chomping as I went. I passed the two front runners as I went out and they returned. It felt good knowing that I was riding so well, given that my effort was solo. The sky was being lit up by storms in the area and in Coominya, I felt like I was out of harm’s way. However, once I returned to Lowood, and checked the BOM, I started to become concerned. The storms were headed my way. I decided to start the run out to Gatton and see what happened. At that stage, I could see sheet lightning and hear thunder, but it didn’t seem that bad.
However, once I passed the Minden turn off, things became ugly. Fork lightning struck the ground and I was taken back to the news reports of the young American tourist killed on Mt Warning by lightning recently. Then, a big splosh of rain hit my helmet. And then another. Before I knew it, I was a drenched, shivering mess in the Lockyer Valley in the middle of a thunderstorm. I thought of my family and how irresponsible I would be to keep going when there wasn’t a true need – so I pulled the plug (almost literally). I called Kym and pedalled back towards Lowood, drenched, but glad that I had made the right decision. We ran into Brian, who had been about 45 minutes behind me and he elected to tough it out. Amazing effort, Brian.
It felt strange to be logging a DNF, but I knew in my bones that I had made the right decision. I am still struggling with this cold and I now know that my Castelli knicks aren’t the most gooch friendly. Lisa knocked out 150km and Laura knocked out 70km – we were all DNF, however, that in no way, shape or form reflects how well we all did in the unforgiving weather conditions. I am just as proud of the girls’ efforts as I am my own and am sure at some stage we will be lining up to have another go – possibly in winter! Thanks to Kym and John for being such an excellent support crew and ambassadors for Audax.
To sum up:
Snakes spotted: 5 dead, 1 live.
Dragonflies swallowed: 1
Cans of Coke consumed: 4
Other food eaten: Too much to mention 🙂
That 208km marks my last long ride before Three Peaks. I am now looking forward to a week of spiky climbs with Coach Liz and the girls. That was one tough ride, but a definite character builder. See you all next week!