Bicycle Network: Your stories (4203)
We want to get inside your heads and know what motivates you to face the Peaks Challenge series. We asked our riders, ambassadors and wave leaders about their experiences conquering the vertical beasts both in their heads and out on the road.
Strength isn't subject to gender, age or athleticism. It isn't confined to just the physical aspect of climbing a mountain. It's about the grueling mental battle going on inside a rider's head to whether they can make it to the finish line and claim the coveted Peaks Challenge finishers jersey.
Team Bicycle Network wave leader, Sarah Hammond reached out to some friends, some who have never ridden Peaks Challenge, others who have triumphed. And we asked the question 'what motivates you?'
ALLY ROSE OGDEN
When I heard Ally Rose's name called as she rolled over the finish line of this years Peaks Challenge Falls Creek I was so elated for her. At only 16 years of age she had conquered a mammoth feat. This is her story.
Ally - Pain, pleasure or persistence? Many have wondered, including myself at times, what it means to be a 'cyclist' - or more specifically, what drives the hundreds of our kind, labelled by the community as no less than ‘crazy’, ‘obsessive’ or plainly ‘insane’, to spend our free time, pedaling on a machine, that 200 years ago, didn’t even exist. It's a sub-culture that cannot be explained to an outsider and it was not until I had completed Peaks Challenge Falls Creek that I really appreciated what it took to truly distinguish oneself as a cyclist.
My first confession - I didn’t actually start out as a cyclist, but rather a runner and later on a tri-athlete. It was through this period, that my passion for cycling was born, so I joined a cycling club and despite my many achievements in athletics or triathlon events, I fell in love with the world of bikes.
Fast forward almost a year to November 2015 where my mate Xavier, hill climber extraordinaire, mentions to me a ride he’s entered in March called Peaks Challenge Falls Creek and that I should come too. I didn’t know much about the ride at the time, only the name - which probably accounts for my inexplicable response of "sure let’s do it!". Albeit, when I actually went home and looked up what we were doing I almost fell off my chair. 235km is a very long way. Yet, the stupid and maybe delusional person that I was, decided to throw myself into it anyway. Then to my shock, only three months out from the event, the event sold out. I soon found myself scrambling for a last minute entry, but also the accommodation to go with it!
As the months and eventually weeks passed, I found myself overwhelmed. This was no longer an abstract concept: a map on a website, a date on a calendar. I was no doubt intimidated - the longest ride I had ever done previously was 130km, more than 100km less and in no way close to the elevation Peaks Challenge falls Creek offered up; however, I still couldn’t contain my excitement.
The day finally arrived, where after a night’s worth of fitful sleep, I woke in the dark to join over 2,000 riders in a surreal start line moment. With our Garmins and lights charged, fuel and bikes prepped and prepared, there was nothing left to do but sit on the start line and have faith for the forthcoming day.
My second confession - The second half of 2015, I had found myself losing sight of what had originally drawn me to the sport of cycling. After a bad fracture in my wrist, and subsequently being off the road for close to 12 weeks in a period leading up to the World Duathlon Championships, I found myself chained to the Wattbike at The Spin Room or my trainer for the duration of my recovery.
Soon I was caught in the trap of training for results rather than enjoyment. I questioned if the stress was all worth it. Peaks Challenge Falls Creek came at a time where I really needed to reconnect with riding for the simple love of riding, rather than for accolades or recognition.
My third confession - Two weeks leading up to the event, I was involved in two nasty crashes; both of which resulted in other people being taken off to hospital with very serious injuries. Although I wasn’t seriously injured, two of my bikes were and I had been left with rattled confidence. There was even some doubt (up to three days before the event) if I would even have a bike to ride on. I did make it and luckily, so did a bike.
However, I was not prepared to take any chances in that first descent. Despite my wariness, the descent of Falls Creek could only be described as a pleasant and almost surreal experience. Although congested, nobody was complaining about the first 30km being downhill. With the ‘peak’ of Tawonga Gap soon following the descent’s conclusion, Xavier and I found ourselves constantly making jokes of Tawonga’s validity of ‘peakness’ compared to the other two that loomed. To be perfectly honest, we tried not to take the ride too seriously. Although we obviously ensured proper hydration and nutrition, and understood the enormity of what we were undertaking; our conversation focused less on the ride itself, a more on the bike porn surrounding us!
It was during Mt Hotham that I was able to really appreciate why people ride. Maybe I had become delusional after 30km of uphill, but for the first time in a long time, I was climbing without stress of numbers and figures. I wasn’t focused on getting to the top, but rather enjoying the journey. That said, the last 10km signs dashed my hopes many times; having me thinking I had reached the top before another 10% ramp greeted me around the corner.
I had decided from the very beginning that it was not an option for me to fail. This did not, however mean that I found the experience remotely easy, nor that I was always in positive spirits. Ironically, it was during the next descent, not the climb of Mt Hotham, that I started to doubt my abilities.
My body started to feel the toll and although we had passed the 100km to go mark, we still had a long way to ride. I can’t describe it any more accurately than an altered state of consciousness. I had quite literally felt like falling asleep, scary when you’re traveling on a high-speed descent. That section into the Omeo rest stop was probably my lowest point in the ride. Although ‘only’ having ridden 160 km, my mental strength was really starting to fail me. I’m not even ashamed to admit that I called Mum with the opening line of ‘give me some motivation’.
We were riding at the same pace as the 11 hour group, so I knew we had some time, and at no point was I seriously considering quitting. I was going to fight till I could ride no further. I was, however, starting to question if I had eagerly bitten off more than I could chew. But I knew that I had no choice to get back on the bike and continue the journey.
It was only later on that I discovered that the readily available electrolytes along the route, really did have a purpose. Unable to eat at the Omeo rest stop, I instead drank two concentrated drinks and had subsequently started to feel noticeably more alive. In hindsight, I had not done enough to replace the salts I had lost in my seven hours of riding. Although I was hydrated and fed, I had only consumed one electrolyte drink in that time. A good lesson learnt.
It’s truly amazing the connection the mind and body have with each other as there was a direct correlation with my body’s recovery and the return of my motivation. Xavier was beginning to question my state of sanity for a while as I had gone from 0 to 100 in energy levels.
From that point, I found myself becoming vocally motivational at almost ‘personal trainer level’. For more than an hour, I was like a high school cheerleader, chattering about how far we had come and how little we had to go. Although this outward motivation was directed at others, I was partially using the opportunity to inspire myself. The excitement for the finish line had returned and I was starting to think that we could really complete this.
Then came the back of Falls Creek. It was the monkey on our back and the climb in which so many cyclists and cycling forums had eloquently described as ‘soul destroying’, even with 200km already in the legs.
Never have I been in so much pain for such a long period of time. Not only was the nature of the climb enough to push any cyclist to the limit, but due to the large amount of fuel I had consumed in the lead up, I was feeling inexplicably sick. Never in my entire life has every cell in my body screamed so loudly for me to quit. But I knew there was only one way up and only one way to get there.
I knew that the pain would be nothing compared to the pain I would be in if I decided to give up. So despite having to get off and walk at times and feeling as if I had to throw up, I never stopped moving forward.
Every 100m felt like an eternity and I subsequently questioned the strategic placement of this climb.
How many cyclists would decide that this hell wasn’t worth it if it wasn’t so close to the finish?
But with heavy legs and arms that could barely support my body I finally reached Trapyard Gap. Then quickly after, came the summit of Falls Creek and the finish line. Xavier came back to ride with me after already crossing the finish line himself. It was a moment I will never forget.
The absolute joy of completing this challenge is one thing, but fpr us to do it as two sixteen year olds made it all the more special.
Cycling is more than just a sport— it’s a lifestyle. A community in which only those who are a part of it can understand.
Peaks Challenge Falls Creek reminded me how to connect with riding in a way that doesn’t relate to accolades or a leader’s jersey; but for the pleasure it brings you along the journey.
Pain, pleasure and persistence—one aspect alone cannot be attributed with the cycling culture because none can can be achieved without the presence of the other. Peaks Challenge Falls Creek undoubtedly leaves a mark on all that strive to conquer it. It has certainly left its mark on me."
FARINAZ ASHNI (FAZ)
Early this year at The RACV Ascent, I was fortunate enough to meet Faz. I immediately noticed her infectious energy. I also learnt that she had signed up for the Peaks Challenge series. To my further astonishment, she then told me that her first 'hilly ride' was Mt Baw Baw.
Faz - A little about me. I’m a bit of an anomaly. Just over three years ago, I weighed close to 90kgs and was no fan of walking; let alone running or cycling. Things were becoming increasingly difficult mentally. It was shortly after this point that I made the conscious decision to change my life. No one wants to develop diabetes or heart disease before they turn 30.
I started with nutrition and soon after six months, I braved the gym. A few spin classes later, I could finish a workout without feeling like I was being put through the wringer. After that, came the confidence I had been missing.
So when a friend asked to sign up to a mini-triathlon I said: “sure why not? I can conquer the world!”. I soon started a love-hate relationship with running, but something was still missing.
Close to a year ago, I returned from time abroad living the highs and lows of life. I was still in the process of mending a bruised heart and found the need to exert my energy into something else. So I registered for a 145km ride along the Great Ocean Road.
With no real training and never exceeding 30km, I finished the ride. I was hooked, despite saddle burn and the inability to walk for the week to follow, cycling had become that drug I needed, the healthy one.
A year on, and you can't pry my bike from my hands, It’s been my gateway to a world filled with the extraordinary; a world where brick walls can be shattered. I’ve had so many people ask me why I ride and for so long it was quite hard to answer it - it’s like asking someone why they breathe. Riding my bike allows me to be me. I feel alive, switched off from routine, yet so alive at the same time.
Why the Peaks Challenge Series and what's your motivation?
My vertical journey on a bike only began four months ago. Prior to that, a speed bump on Beach Road was considered too tough a climb. I was convinced I wasn’t a climber; that my mind and body just wasn’t aligned with the vertical terrain. Why would you put yourself through that pain? I started exploring the hilly terrain and told myself I can do this once in a while maybe. But, a battle between my mind and my heart began.
Riding was always about fun, however now an opportunity was presented to push boundaries - especially the ones in my head. Why was I telling myself that I couldn’t do it? What or who was I comparing myself to? If the past three years had taught me anything, it was that if I could set my mind to a task then I could give it a great crack and succeed. In these cases, success is generally outweighed by the journey.
Mt Baw Baw was my first challenge early this year. Then no more than two months later, I completed all seven key peaks in Victoria. It was during my ride up Mt Hotham that a new found love for climbing.
I had heard about the Peaks Challenge series in the past - in particular the famous Peaks Challenge Falls Creek.
You know those discussions about insane people who climb Mt Everest or the top percentile of athletes who are so strong that they aim for the impossible and finish with a sense of joy! The thought of me doing a Peaks Challenge series ride was not to dissimilar to asking a cow to go swimming in the ocean.
I began to read up on Peaks Challenge Falls Creek and then the whole series. I asked questions, researched the route. I even watched Bicycle Network's videos about the series approximately a million times! Funnily enough, I realised that I had actually completed one of the peaks in the Peaks Challenge Gold Coast route this year already, Mt Tamborine.
So I started to think about where these events could take me both physically and mentally and the riders I would meet along the way. Training for the series excited me beyond belief. The places I could go and boundaries I could break through. Who would I become?
In the past I had always had triathlon and running goals; having completed two Olympic distance triathlons this year and three marathons in the past and set to run my fourth at the end of this year. However, until now I had never had a cycling goal - the one sport that makes me smile like a child who has been given her favourite ice-cream flavour. Soon it didn’t feel like I was going to be a cow in the ocean; I started to feel like a strong rider who wanted to be a part of something amazing. And anyway who said that cows can’t swim?
One factor in my decision was also that I was a woman. During my riding life I have noticed the lack of female presence and at times the underlying attitude that being a female cyclist meant that you were somewhat weaker.
Now I have the ‘I’m a woman, hear me roar’ attitude. I grew up in Iran and as a result I’ve always felt like I had to fight a little harder to get noticed or have my voice heard. Moving to Australia at the age of 12, I realised that I was going to be given the opportunity to not only be an equal in every aspect of life but that I could potentially and positively influence the lives of other women. This applies to every part of my life right now - working as a lawyer for Legal Aid and working predominantly with family violence victims, undertaking my PhD in Women’s Rights Law and pushing myself to ride even if most of the time I am the only girl in the group and trailing behind. I remember looking through some of the videos on the Peaks Challenge series and I would study them to see if I could spot any women. I’m sure there are umpteen arguments out there as to why there are more men than women on bikes but what’s the point in looking at the negatives. I prefer to “shake” things up and if it means I sign up to do something crazy just to show that being a woman is no barrier, then so be it.
Motivation is a training plan
I’m pretty lucky that I have a coach who is a gun and going to support and guide me in preparing for this epic journey. As much as I know that signing up to the series was a decision that I had to make alone, I also had to think carefully about who would be supporting me during my training and also during the event. This isn’t going to be a joy ride down the coast and I would be silly to think that a few hard rides between now and August would have me covered. I’m going to need help, support, guidance and at times a reasonable and rational voice to point me in the right direction. This series is going to challenge my nutrition, my mental game and my physical boundaries. It will affect my lifestyle and it will impact my work and studies. A good training plan with the assistance of those who have more experience than me will allow me to balance it all.
I hope to share this journey as it unravels and I don’t want to be silly and say that it’s going to be perfect sailing. I know that I’m head strong but I’m also human.
It’s going to be an amazing year."