Pleasure and pain at the 2011 Audax Alpine Classic – Part 2

Continued from PART 1....

Last climb over “The Gap”

I’d heard everyone say the same thing. You’re tired, hot, keen to get back, but you’ve got the steepest climb in the most sun-exposed section, at the hottest time of the day.

IT. WAS. CARNAGE.

It really was. I’ve never seen so many people riding so slowly in their lowest gear, pushing themselves (suffering) so much and wobbling around on the road so often. And I was one of them.

Again, I can’t remember a lot. I had my plan in my head "keep riding, don’t get off the bike, play with it as best you can, know that it’s the last one and keep observing yourself to stay away from adding psychological pain to the physical discomfort".

I think I got off the first time about 3 kms up the hill. I was debating whether to do it for a while (again more internal chatter and noise) but then a guy who I’d passed little while ago passed me and I decided to stay on his wheel. This seemed to be working well for a while. He seemed to be doing it tough and that interpretation seemed to be helping me stay strong. Note the use of the word “seemed”. It’s funny in these types of situations, if you can notice someone else doing it tough, it sort makes you feel better.

I thought this could be my ticket home! A long as he could grind on, so could I!

Then out of the blue, I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. I wasn’t sure why, or of anything else for that matter, but now I was stopped and was noticing the massive difference between standing there recovering and riding! I felt like one great big giant heartbeat. My whole being transformed into an energy pulse.

I had to get back on at some point. The longer I waited the harder it would be.

A kilometre or so further up the mountain (probably a very long 6 or 7 minutes by this stage) there was an official water stop. Again I debated whether to stop or keep going. The importance of rising to the challenge of getting up the climb without stopping, or stopping as little as possible had faded. Something else was more important than my performance based ego. I’m not sure what that new priority was but it was something about stopping riding!

I filled my bottles again, received a cooling squirt from the hose and felt gratitude for the care shown by the elderly husband and wife host team and their “old person” understated humour. You know when you’re exhausted and someone does or says something funny but you haven’t got enough spare energy to do anything more than internally acknowledge it or maybe give a small smile? That was me all over.

Back on the bike the refreshed feeling evaporated within a few minutes. Back to the grindstone. It wasn’t a complete survival grindstone because I was still aware of trying of keep things light both physically and mentally, and looking for opportunities for easy wins. However I was starting to check my odometer more and more frequently to see how far to the top. My ability and willingness to stay present - the key to any peak performance and enjoyment - was surrendering to a mild form of anxiety. I was wanting to be in a future moment (at the top) before I could; concerning myself with the remaining climb and the discomfort it seemingly entailed. Future, future, future.

With a couple of kilometres to go, things changed a little. Some more people popped up in front of me looking in very ordinary shape, which almost acted like stepping stones for me and my attention. I’d ride up behind one or two of them, use their pace for a little while, feel myself compose slightly and then overtake and find the next rider. This worked well, again, for a little while. Writing this now after the fact, it makes me think about why these little tactics I was using didn’t seem to sustain. Apart from the situation changing all the time (landscape, steepness, energy etc.) I’m also wondering about how fatigue dissolves our ability to stay focused on the task. In other words, a tired body equals a tired mind, and a tired mind doesn't want to keep it’s attention on one focal point like a steady rhythm and cadence.

So when I have my time again, I'll be not only recognising what was happening on the primary level of road, bike, body, steepness, fatigue, mind tactics and mind barriers, but also at the next level, where I had the pattern of jumping from tactic to tactic, almost in desperation. The only way to do this is to go deeper within yourself. And the deeper access comes from a high perspective of observation.

For the last kilometre of so it was pretty much a combination of grind, and an exercise in patience. I finally got to the top and saw people stopped, having a break. There was no way I was stopping. I took a big drink and got ready to enjoy the descent. The interesting challenge for me when descending after hours and hours of riding, is holding the position on the bike. You don't move much and my arms were starting to get tired holding onto the brake hoods. So at this stage it was all hard. Hard up and hard down. Lesser so, but still requiring concentration and effort.

The last 10 kms on the flat back to Bright were uneventful other than to say while my “engine” was happy to keep going for a lot longer, my “chassis” wasn't. I was stiff and sore.

The Finish and Aftermath

I got to Bright, crossed the finish after 6 hours of riding and was greeted by my good mate and constant encourager, Darren Welch. This was a great gesture then at the time and a great gesture thinking about it now. He took my bike, allowing me to collapse on the grass “under the shade of the Coolibah tree” where some other members of Team Brunetti had gathered. I almost cramped a few times while managing my emotions and body.

Darren brought me two cups of radioactive looking cordial which I normally wouldn't touch but at this time the cool liquid was exactly what the doctor ordered.

After an hour or so of talking, reflecting, drinking and snacking, we walked the 100 metres to the Ovens river and took the plunge. The moment of immersion, something I'm always immensely grateful for, was joyous. Instantly my mood shifted and lifted and the relative suffering of the previous 6 hours was long gone.

Our friend Gav offered us a lift back to Terry's oasis in the car but we ended up deciding to ride back on the bike trail to cap off the day with an enjoyable roll and chat. It was great to be able to really relax and enjoy riding on the bike after so many hours of application, challenge and effort. The track was flat, shady at times and the slow pace allowed us to take in more of the beautiful Ovens Valley.

After being exhausted and on edge at the end of the 130km course, then re-hydrating, re-fuelling, cooling off in the river and feeling amazing, the first 45mins riding home were fine. But then, with 15mins to go, I felt myself going into the red zone again. Uncomfortable on the bike, feeling hot, and the beginning of mild distress, I'm not sure if it was general fatigue, low fuel levels or just me slowly overheating. Either way it was interesting to observe myself going in and out of that state multiple times in a day, and it also points to the massive internal effect on the body these events have. Our perceptions and mood may seem to restore relatively quickly, but in the meantime the body's metabolism is working overtime and continues doing so for for days! Amazing.

We got back to the oasis (almost a fully naturally sustainable home environment) with Terry there to meet us. His mild reservations from the night before turned to respect and appreciation for what we'd done. Two normal blokes doing abnormal things.

After doing what was needed – a couple of bottles of electrolyte drink to assist fluid levels and stay away from headaches - we did what was desired. Wholistic recovery and not a static stretch or barking coach in sight. Conversation, reflection, celebration was had, and the beer on the soft, shaded grass tasted great.

Another peak life experience.

What are you waiting for?