Just five years ago Daina Clark was told she should never ride or run again after a major stack on her mountain bike resulted in debilitating back injuries. Fast forward to 2015 and the podiatrist is consistently logging 350-500km a week in the saddle in preparation for one of the top 10 toughest one-day cycling events in the world – the Peaks Challenge at Falls Creek in Victoria. Here we chat to her about her monumental physical and mental comeback and what’s she’s doing to prepare herself for this mountainous feat.
“Doing six to seven-hour training rides with Mount Stuart repeats during summer with temps in the mid 30s and humidity at 90%+ is a challenge in itself”
235km, 4000m+ climbing and a 13-hour deadline – what made you sign-up for this epic race? I love cycling and love a good challenge so it seemed to make sense at the time. Although I’m not really built for climbing, there is something about riding up hills that just does it for me. The Alpine region of Victoria has some of the best climbs going and I figured I might as well do them all at once! However doing six to seven-hour training rides with Mount Stuart repeats during summer with temps in the mid 30s and humidity at 90%+ is a challenge in itself. I’m hoping for a hot day down in Victoria and I should blitz it!
What are you most apprehensive about? The last 35km – they say the Back of Falls is a challenging climb even on fresh legs, but after already riding 200km including Mt Hotham and Tawonga Gap I know it is going to hurt. Back of Falls starts at ‘WTF Corner’ (which apparently is as horrible as it sounds) with a 23km climb; the first part being 9km climb at 9%. Ouch.
What are you most looking forward to? The sense of achievement will be huge if I manage to finish. I am also looking forward to getting back into some high intensity training after lots of endurance and tempo riding. Plus I miss running, so keen to lace-up the trail shoes again.
Has it been hard to train for this climbing event with Townsville’s relative lack of hills? I live on Magnetic Island, so it’s even trickier trying to train for a long endurance event. My longest ride around Maggie was 160km and you start to get a bit dizzy with that many laps of the island! Training has involved consistently logging between 350-500km per week with rides that include Townsville’s own Three Peaks [Hervey’s Range, Mount Stuart and Castle Hill], repeats of Mount Stuart or up to 10 repeats of Castle Hill. Apart from climbing, training has also focussed on long aerobic rides keeping constant pressure on the pedals, avoiding free-wheeling: Every pedal stroke is on target.
“For the next 18 months life was incredibly difficult and, looking back, I realise just how traumatic it all was. I was both physically and mentally broken”
Can you tell us about overcoming your injury to end up where you are today? This is going to be a bit of an epic, long-winded and difficult answer because I’m a very private person and it’s far easier to talk about coming back from a physical injury than a mental one, but here goes:
Anyone who rides a bike knows there is an inherent risk of sustaining an injury – I’ve been hit by a car on my bike, I’ve done my collarbone in a mountain bike stack on Under the Radar and had to ride home one-handed. The worst injury though happened during the 2010 Paluma Push: I had a crash about halfway into the race, flying over the top of the handlebars, and I managed to hurt my back. I limped my way home on the bike for the remaining 40km of the ride. I knew I was in trouble, but just kept pushing through. My back caned. Fast-forward to November and my back, and now leg pain, was getting worse. I couldn’t sit, I was having trouble sleeping, and even standing was difficult. An MRI confirmed disc protrusions with nerve compression in my lumbar spine. I was told I should never ride or run again.
Unfortunately the medication I was put on to control my pain has a rare but known side effect of drug-induced mania. Three months after I began taking the drug my world started spiralling out of control. My back was still giving me grief, my right leg felt like it had ants crawling all over it, and now my behaviour was becoming more-and-more erratic. It culminated in April 2011 with being helivaced off the Island after a mental breakdown. For the next 18 months life was incredibly difficult and, looking back, I realise just how traumatic it all was. I was both physically and mentally broken. There are some friends who found it difficult to understand what was happening to me. But, as my brother told me, “The people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind”. It is only with the unwavering belief and support of my partner that I got through it and can be where I am today. Anyone who knows her would agree, Deb is a truly remarkable woman. Also the love and support we both received from our island family was a true gift.
“Slowly though, my body and mind began to heal. And here I am today, riding 500km a week and loving life”
I remember even as I started to get better and the depression was subsiding, I still couldn’t contemplate riding again. Late in 2011 Deb tried to get me off the couch to do a 10km ride. It felt like I was riding through mud. Slowly though, my body and mind began to heal. And here I am today, riding 500km a week and loving life.
“In this year’s event, of the 2000 riders, less than 100 are women. It would be great to see some more Townsville and North Queensland women riders being a part of this and other epic rides”
What goals do you have beyond this challenge? I’d love to be a part of getting more women riding the Peaks Challenge in Victoria. Although maybe I should finish it first before I get too excited! In this year’s event, of the 2000 riders, less than 100 are women. It would be great to see some more Townsville and North Queensland women riders being a part of this and other epic rides. It would be great if in some way I could help them get there. Along with some other local female riders, I’d also like to bring She Rides to Townsville: An initiative of Cycling Australia, it’s an introductory riding program that focuses on fitness and skills development while creating a social riding community for women. Apart from that, I plan to do some road racing with Townsville Cycle Club with an eye on the Masters Road National Championships, mountain bike racing [Hotrock8 and Paluma Push], and to compete at the Adventurethons this year. I’d also love to do an epic ride between capital cities, maybe even all the way from Perth to Melbourne.
More about Daina…
What’s your day job? Consultant podiatrist at Townsville Podiatry Centre where, including sports podiatry, I help set people up on their bikes for optimal performance and prevention of injury. I run Maggie Island Bootcamp with my partner six mornings a week and also take a bootcamp for cyclists out of Cycle de Vie using their CompuTrainer room in the evenings.
Have you always enjoyed being active? I love cycling and running. I love the long solo rides. Mountain biking makes me feel like a kid again and running the trails around Maggie is something very special. I’ve been riding almost as long as I’ve been walking.
Are you a morning or afternoon mover? Definitely a morning girl.
What’s your favourite thing to do on a weekend in Townsville? Running or riding the trails on Maggie – it is magic.
Your most motivating tune? It’s a tie between Uptown Funk and Back in Black.
Motivational quote? A goal without a plan is just a wish.
Most annoying fitness fad? Anything that involves rapid weight loss.
Most memorable active moment? Seeing and being a part of the achievements of others is fantastic. It is such a cool thing to be able to help people get healthier, fitter and stronger. We’ve had bootcampers run their first ever road race last year at the Townsville Running Festival and to be there and witness their achievement gives me goosebumps. Hopefully there’ll be a contingent of MI bootcampers competing for the first time at the Maggie Adventurethon at the end of March. How cool is that? I also get super excited when a rider I work with gets a PB or hits a new level in power output.
What’s something we don’t know about you? I’m a bit superstitious – I put on my left sock first then my left shoe before my right sock and shoe.
Most embarrassing moment on the go? I’m a hard one to embarrass – I have no shame ;)
The training advice I wish I’d listened to was… I was incredibly hard on myself when I was in my 20s – never fast enough, never strong enough. I’d appreciate more what I achieved back then and go easier on myself.
Most treasured piece of fitness gear? Assos bibs and Wahoo KICKR.
My best local fitness tip is… the trails on Maggie. Get out there and explore them – they are a treasure!
Tell us a joke (why not)? How do you know if you’re a true cycling tragic?
You have more money invested in Lycra than in the rest of your combined wardrobe.
You use wax on your chain, but not on your car.
Your bike has more kilometres on it than your car’s odometer.
You take your bike along when you shop for a car, just to make sure the bike fits inside.
Last words? Love life.
Daina survived and well and truly conquered the Peaks Challenge, coming in at 12 hours and 2 minutes total. “Done and dusted – it was an epic ride for sure but thankfully we had really beautiful riding weather,” she said after the race. “I’m feeling pretty good all things considered… I’m already planning to do better next year!”
Here are some interesting snaps and captions from her journey:
This was at the start line. There were understandably riders everywhere and it was very cold. In fact, one rider didn’t get to even start the event due to suffering from hypothermia before he even begun, hence I am still in my down jacket right up until kick-off.
This is me cresting the top of Mount Hotham after a bit over two hours of solid climbing.
Above is the warning sign about the ride down Falls Creek. Even with this, there were still people who crashed their bikes going too fast.