Australian Alpine Ascent (AAA) is not about the time, it’s about the journey. It is not about flat roads where you are pushing yourself to the extreme, it’s about the extreme coming to you with the hills. You can register to AAA Extreme (3KM swim, 117km bike, 22km run), Standard or Ultra Trail run (25 or 50K run but 40K this year because of a helicopter crash that changed the distance last minute). Of course I selected the 70.3++ distance.
First time for me in Snowy Mountains, in fabulous landscape designed with beautiful mountains, dozen of lakes and fantastic forests and very large meadows. I already experienced Cairns and its fabulous coast, but I would say these landscapes were absolutely gorgeous!
When you register to AAA, you are registering for a unique race: a race which is not individual but team effort! Since there is no aid station provided by Energy Event, this is a real team coordination, and you will need 1 or 2 friends to support you in your journey, driving the car when you’re cycling and setting up minimum 2 aid stations for you (but they can stop anytime for you on the road and give you what you need). And riding a Mountain Bike when you’re running to Mount Kosciuszko!
Let’s talk about the race itself (on Saturday morning 7AM, not Sunday)!
Checkin: at Rydges hotel, you’re feeling a very personal welcome since there were only 66 participants to AAA Extreme . You get an amazing jacket, and hoodies + car signs for your team support. I was super excited, and was really happy to meet our 3 other Warringah Competitors (Mark Page, Laura Cameron and Chris Wallace) during the race briefing at 7PM!
Compulsory bag: you need to start your race with minimum 2 liters water on your bike, and a camelbag for your run made of hat + gloves + extra layer (jacket and pants) + 1L of water + 2 nutrition as a minimum (gels/bars)
SWIM (3KM) – Even if recent floodings have affected the Jindabyne Lake and we could see previous pathway and public lamps under water, the water was delicious (20 degrees) since the outside temperature when you start (12 degrees) is a bit colder than our usual Manly area. 3 laps to do in brown water, almost like double Manly>Shelly these days after the flooding, but without the salt joy!
BIKE (117KM) – Total ascent 2,546m (895m> 1,783m) – 5H39 – Max speed 68Km/h - Starting from Jindabyne lake, we ride towards Thredbo first. You need to know well the way before starting, because race signs are very limited! I took the first left (instead of the second one), and just realised I was on the wrong route when I saw other cyclists continuing on the main road haha! (end the volunteer I saw didn’t tell me it was the wrong way). Road bike or TT bike? I selected road bike to keep a good control of the bike, even if you do have opportunities to accelerate a bit more with a TT bike. The way to Thredbo was nice, I was able to catch with other cyclists (I’m always stronger on the bike than on the swim!!), and I discovered couple of hills that reminded me where I was… in the mountains area! The first 50km where all up and down, like roller coaster, with 2 strong hills. During that time, it was great seeing all team cars supporting you and cheering, with easy to recognise stickers (yellow sign ‘’cyclist support’’ in front and orange sign ‘’Cyclist ahead’’ in the back of the cars). First catchup with Ange in Bulllocks Flat, even if we were already in touch by phone before (always helpful to share your google location when racing this kind of event!). I see her and Sarah smiling at me, and I got the feeling that I was arriving at a triathlon bar: ‘’do you want banana, cereal bar, bonbons etc? This 2 minute break was great to share emotions, replace your water bottles, and start again with a new energy and stronger mindset. Going back to Jindabyne lake the same way, a bit of downhill where you experience super fast-changing conditions: when you could be super hot climbing the hills, you’re getting really cold with the wind in the descent! That’s what the Warringah winter jersey long sleeve that I worn at the top of my WTC trisuit was comfortable: I could zip and unzip both of them during the all race depending on the feeling. I saw Ange in the car couple of times again, when she was checking me on the side of the road (with extra food and drinks), taking pictures and cheering on me, really great to see your support many many times during that race! Between Jindabyne lake is starting the really hard job… a non-stop hill of 20km (around 80 to 100km) which was a legs killer (+8.7% at some stage)! Making a second stop at Mount Kosciuszko discovery center, in the middle of that crazy hill was good to relax a bit the leg and evacuate all the water I drunk so far. The last 20km of the bike were the one where I suffered the most, and at the end I got the feeling I’ve done 160km of a ride with all that energy spent! Final downhill on the left to Charlotte Pass, where you see the finish line and where you park your bike. Ange and Sarah cover my body of sunscreen since I was burning before despite all the sunscreen I already applied in the morning. Once again, this support crew was fabulous to get ready!
RUN (22KM) – Total ascent 500m (1,738m> 2,211m) – 3H01 – First 200m of the run are hard, since it’s uphill as soon as you start! Not even easy for Ange on her Mountain Bike! Fun fact, she had 41H recovery on her Garmin watch after the race vs 39 for me haha! After leaving the main road, we arrive on the trail run area where we meet Laura Cameron and her support Mel – she looks strong! And I will discover later she will finish 1st of the woman category, when Chris (that I didn’t see at all) finished 3rd… legends! Pretty large roads, another set of very scenic landscapes, you feel in the heart of the mountain! Climbing on the way in to Mount Kosciuszko, I needed to do walk/run/walk/run to be able to arrive to the summit. I meet Mark Page and his son Jack?– they are already going down the hills on the way back. Your mountain bike support needs to stop 2km before the summit and finish you with a run before taking back the bike again. Arriving at Mount Kosciuszko for the first time of my life, I got the feeling I was at the Everest, ready to cry with such a beauty area, and fantastic achievement I’ve done, thinking about my friends, family and the one I love in this unique moment… Event Energy crew gives me wristband, and I take time to enjoy this moment with pictures on the rocks, when some others prefer just to turn back immediately. Magical. Yes, magical. My heart is full, I’ve got chills, it’s time to go down. This time I feel much better, going down like a jaguar between rocks (instead of trees).
I join back Ange, and she’s also taking the best of that journey, full of smiles and passion in these mountains. Sharing this together was part of the beauty of this race. We meet other AAA Extreme participants on the way back, and this is where I realise I was in the middle of the pack, and lots of others have still couple of hours in front of them! Final descent on the main road, I can hear the speaker cheering finisher already. Then this is my turn, couple of minutes later… I’m crossing the lines with some little tears in the eyes, proud of the extreme efforts I accomplished, with extreme beautiful mountains in my background, and with Ange waiting for me with her extreme smiles. A fantastic journey I will never forget. Harder than a full Iron Man? Probably! Have a try and tell me! But don’t compare time, just compare smiles and amazing souvenirs!