10 years of peaks
Tom Pawikowski – continuing through the cramps

So the morning was great, 13 degrees, I dressed with no warmers, no vests, no long fingered gloves.

They put me in wave three aiming for 11 to 12 hours. I wasn't happy with that because I wanted to break 10 hours. I even got a sticker with times for a 10 hour finish. But had to start with wave three.

The moment we started I bombed down like hell and chased wave two. Some of them I passed on the downhill and lots of them I passed on the first climb, Tawonga Gap. I was feeling good and was riding hard passing people.

Had a Garmin in save mode so it lasts longer. It doesn't show anything until you press the button. On occasions I checked the times and I was hovering around 160 and going strong.

I did Tawonga Gap in 31 minutes just pushing myself, not having any wheels to follow, and Mark Welford, who rode the event in 9 hours 22 minutes, did the Gap in 29 minutes.

There was first rest area at the top of Tawonga Gap but I didn't stop. After Tawonga Gap there is 30 kilometre flat part. I found myself in a group of similarly pushing guys and we caught up to wave two in Harietteville, just before the start of Mount Hotham climb. 30 kilometres with well over 1000 metres elevation. In Harietteville there was also a rest stop, but I pressed on.

Before Mount Hotham I was happy and feeling good. I was 18 minutes ahead of time for a 10 hour finish and I had started five minutes later.

I knew what was coming, I had done it on the video simulation. I started steady knowing that I can do it, but after one third of it I came undone. It started with cramps in my left hip adductor and right hamstring. They were grabbing and going at that stage.

I tried to offload them by getting off the saddle more often. It worked for some time, but my output got a bit worse. Soon I couldn't stand up on the pedals because the moment I did I was getting cramps in both quads and I had to sit down to break them.

Any time I wanted to go harder I was cramping. The only thing I could do was try to ride just hard enough so the cramps were grabbing but without full spasm. All the people that I chased and passed were riding past me, some of them chatting along.

I wanted to put an end to this shame and misery. The worse was still to come. Unfortunately, the climbing gradient did not allow me to manage my cramping for very long. 10 kilometres to the Mount Hotham summit I seized up fully and had to fall off the bike against a car. Thank god for the car, otherwise it would have been the ground.

Calves, quads, hammy and adductor – they went on and on. After some time they subdued, but any attempt to move and they were back with the same force. Some more time hanging over the bike and I was able to continue. I had to stop like that twice more before the summit.

I lost all the time that I had gained, plus a further 40 minutes. I stopped thinking about time and started thinking about whether to quit now or later. After the summit I rode 20 kilometres more to my first official rest stop – lunch at Dinner Plain. I drenched myself in cold water, ate a gel, went to the toilet to empty my bladder, it was good to know I wasn't dehydrated.

I drank a bottle of Coke and forced myself not to look in the direction of the Bus of Shame waiting for the quitters. I filled one bottle with Powerade, the other with water, reapplied sunscreen, drenched myself again in cold water and went on. For some time it was okay, I even got my hopes back. Maybe I can recover some time, maybe get below 12 hours.

Unfortunately, it didn't last long. My struggles continued and I had to stop every now and again to relieve the cramps. I planned to only stop at the lunch break, and then only if I ran out of water, but I used any stop available on the way back. I knew now that I could finish the event, but the question was will I be able to do it under 13 hours?

The hell continued. On the last climb, I must admit I had to walk 20 metres up WTF corner because I cramped in the steep part and I wouldn't be able to get on the bike so had to walk to switch back corner.

The cramping continued to the finish, even when I was walking back home. I couldn't sleep much that night either as any movement with my legs against the covers gave a cramp and I had to stretch.

Anybody who finished the course has my utmost respect!

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