Great Southern Ultra Challenge - Tony Smith

Great Southern Ultra Challenge – it’s a challenge, not a race…. Tony Smith

I signed up of the GSUC in August after humming and ahhhing for a couple of months during the teasers coming out from the organiser @Ultracyclinglife.

I’d completed the Mt Magnet 1400 last year and a new 1600 km event was appealing, but a little daunting at the same time.

I went through the mandatory expression of interest malarkey, bio (left) and had already fulfilled qualification with the MM1400.

I had a new bike, more consistent cycling throughout the year (although not as many kms) and a bit of a desire to improve on the things that led to a 4th place in 2018.

In the lead up I had the busiest 3 months of work that I have had since moving to Perth. This seriously curtailed my ability to do as many long rides as I would have liked, and I couldn’t string back to back long rides together as I had hoped. I decided to work on quality more than volume, so set about improving power as much as I could in the time crunched period from September through to the start on November 23.

At the start I had cranked up about 7,500 km for the year and power sitting at functional threshold power (FTP) of about 285 watts or 3.95 w/kg for the power nerds. Would’ve been nice to get a little higher, but had to work with what I had.

Two weeks before the start had a work trip to Darwin and picked up a bug which cost me a week on the bike and about 4 days off work. Not ideal, but was fresh by the time the start arrived.



Ride stats appear above. This looks a little more consistent than what it felt like. If you looked on Strava I logged rides of:

1st day – 362km, 2nd day – 266 km, 3rd day – 406 km, 4th day – 266, 5th day – 328 km.

Up days were long and followed by down days, reflecting fatigue and muscle soreness. Decision making on the down days was a bit cloudy.

The Thursday before the Grand Depart most riders convened at the Reveley at Elizabeth Quay to meet, talk shite and have a few bevvies. There were 31 confirmed starters with a couple of internationals, several from over east and the rest more or less locals. This is essentially 3 times the number of starters from the Mt Magnet 1400.

Day 1 – Greeted at Elizabeth Quay for Sarah, Adrian, Phil and Vincent for my departure. I was there pretty late as I had a fiar bit of trouble getting out of the house and saying goodbye to the kids. They’re understandably clingy when I go away for a few days.

8 am arrived and I was literally DFL leaving the Quay. I worked my way through the pack slowly as we left the city and got into the hills towards Mundaring. Eventually working through to about 5th in the field coming out of Northam.

It was hot and by Northam quite a few had already been experiencing cramps and no desire to get solid food in their mouths. I had a load of liquid calories on board and kept topping up so the main issue was keeping cool.

I tried to keep a consistent pace and not push too hard or cook myself. Lots of stops for icecreams, Zooperdoopers and cool drinks.

Dinner at Merredin – about 290 km in, couldn’t poke down hot chips with a stick and got most calories again in liquid form.

Cycled through the Narembeen and stopped at about 1:30am for a sleep on a picnic table next to the travellers stop in.

Day 2 – departed at about 4:30am from Narembeen, caught up with another rider about a half hour in and rode with him for a while until my speed exceeded his. The early morning was pleasant, cool and relatively still. As the sun got higher the wind got stonger. Breakfast resupply at Kulin and then made headway for Lake Grace – Nat Fyfe’s old stomping ground.

The wind was in my face almost the whole way there and the temperature was getting up there again. The turn east from Lake Grace toward Newdegate I thought might bring a cross tailwind, alas, just a nagging cross wind that was of no assistance.

Got hot on the way to Newdegate and knew there would be nothing open there to help cool down. The public toilet was open and there were showers in there. I had a cold shower and felt way better.

Five minutes out of Newdegate something was not right. I got shooting pain in and around and behind my kneecap.  I slowed and spun smaller gears over the never ending rollers towards Lake King. The pain was worse when on the aero bars, so sat up on the hoods and on the drops downhill for the rest of the arvo to Lake King – arriving there around 7pm.

Night 2 – I had planned to stay at Lake King but was in a bad way hobbling off my bike. Another Rider Wayne was also struggling with knee pain and stopping here for the night.

The fatigue got me a bit and I was thinking that I couldn’t go on. I didn’t plug in my batteries or lights or phone because I was conceding that the adventure was at a close.

After a good feed I was conked out at 8pm.

Day 3 – I awoke at about 5 and was still uncertain about my knee. I stretched and worked out that my bike front end was too low, particularly the aero bars, it was overworking my glute, making my ITB tight, and pulling hard on my knee.

I ibuprofened then realised my battery predicament. I plugged everything in, thinking if I could just get to Ravensthorpe, then reassess, I might be able to continue on the ride.

So, my departure was delayed by charging batteries, but to keep going was probably going to be better than a DNF.

Eventually go tout the door around 7am. By this time about 15 riders were in front of me. I made it to Ravensthorpe at about 10:30 without too much of an issue, so decided to make for Albany.

I pushed granny gears up all the bigger hills and rested on downhills, saving my legs for the flatter parts of the road.

Long story short, saw no riders all day and kept riding, right through Albany and back towards the Sterling Ranges up Chester Pass Road. Had a quick powernap at 10:30 pm and then kept going until about 4:30 am, before bivvying in the bush beside the road.

Day 4 – Was hard to move but got up and going by 7am. Not much sleep.

I was getting closer and closer to the Sterling Range – but it was like a mirage that would appear to be close but I never seemed to get there. I was stopping too much and taking too many pics and video is probably the real story. I was uncomfortable on the bike, sore sitbones, tired legs.

Finally got to the range and grannied up to Bluff Knoll café. Ate as much as I could in a quick sitting and got 3 packs of Stroop Waffle for later.

Out of there and on to the interminable rollers to Ongerup and Pingrup. Was hot again and was so uncomfortable, but stopped in at the Malleefowl conservatory thingy for another feed and cool drinks.

Pushed through to Katanning after dark. Paused at one point, almost completely bonked, had to force feed myself some melted, reformed, melted, reformed, melted reformed Turkish delights.

Katanning motel at about 11pm. Cooked.

Fatigue clouded me the whole day again. Didn’t have any ibuprofen or paracetamol for the whole day, which certainly would have made things way more comfortable.

Day 5 – Got up and messed about for ages before finally getting going around 6:45 am. Was heaps fresher and with towns every 50km or less, there was always a welcoming icecream or cool drink just over the horizon.

I remembered to medicate every 3-4 hours so was able to manage the sitbones and leg pain all day. Had a powernap in the grassy park at Narrogin and got to Brookton around 5pm. Just the Brookton highway and the flats to go and as soon as I started ascending the hills I felt about the best I had since day 1. A howling tailwind pushed me back to Perth at a reasonable clip and the ride from Armadale to the city was swift.

Adrian met me at Mt Henry bridge and we cruised back in to Elizabeth Quay to the finish, about 30 seconds to midnight on Wednesday night. Sweet Spanda Sculpture. Brendo there to welcome us in along with my family and the famed ‘Cashie’.

Thanks to UWA triclub for all the messages, well wishes, support, training rides and dotwatching. It is the sort of event where you learn a lot about yourself and others, putting yourself under duress and trying to cope with it all.

It’s also an extremely anxious time for family, waiting for you to call, or message to let them know that you’re ok, or not ok, or that you have a problem, that they cannot physically help you with, but just provide moral and emotional support. Thanks Ange, Archie and Xan.