The Monaro Cloudride is a gruelling mountain bike endurance ride capable of felling even the most seasoned athletes, but Kathryn McInerney has defied the odds to take out the top spot in the 1000km race alongside brother Dave McInerney.
Now in its third year, the Monaro Cloudride is the only long-distance endurance ride in Australia, and pushes competitors to their limits as they tackle the intense terrain which traverses the ridgetops of the Great Dividing Range through the Monaro region of south-east Australia.
Ms McInerney is the only woman to have ever completed the notoriously difficult race, and one of only seven competitors to achieve the feat.
Steve Watson created the Monaro Cloudride in 2014 and agrees it’s not for the faint-hearted.
“This year we had a dozen starters, last year 19 and in its first year  there were 11 riders,” said Mr Watson, who commended both Kathryn and Dave for their amazing achievement.
“While there are other longer rides across the world, like the Tour Divide [4418 km from Canada to Mexico] and some in New Zealand, I have been told that this event is harder in many ways.”
Having completed the Tour Divide himself, Mr Watson says the Monaro Cloudride differs in its terrain.
“It’s sharp, steep and punchy; you’ve really got to keep hammering at it all day,” said Mr Watson.
“While the Tour Divide is much longer, it’s easier to punch out 200 or 250km a day, and not have to deal with that really intense rough riding as much.”
While her brother is a seasoned endurance racer, having completed the Tour Divide and other such events across the world, this was Ms McInerney’s first event.
“I actually only signed up a week and a half before the event,” said Ms McInerney.
“However I do a lot of cross-country mountain biking, so I am familiar with riding.”
Putting in between 15 and 20 hours of riding a week to prepare for her cross-country biking meant Ms McInerney was in good shape for the event, but quickly learnt that endurance riding is a different beast altogether.
“With cross-country, it’s usually between 30km and 50km events, so there’s much more sprinting,” said Ms McInerney.
“The endurance ride is a slower pace and more consistency is required to conserve energy.”
Ms McInerney says she was extremely grateful to have her brother’s expertise, both in preparing for the ride and during the challenge.
“It was really good to have him educate me about what to pack and what to expect,” said Ms McInerney, stating riders are required to take all the gear they need with them on the bike, including sleeping equipment, food, water and maintenance tools.
“I had a bag on the front of the bike and basically ate every half hour to maintain my energy, I really was just eating the whole time.”
The McInerneys finished the race in Canberra around 10pm on Wednesday March 30, with a time of 4 days, 14 hours and 28 minutes. Nijat Imin followed swiftly an hour and a half later, adding a third Monaro Cloudrace completion to his impressive repertoire.
Ms McInerney said much planning and strategy was required to ensure her and Dave were up to the challenge.
“When we were discussing our strategy before the race, and said we wanted to ride 19 hours a day, which we did, except for the last day [Tumut to Canberra], which was a shorter day,” said Ms McInerney.
“It was actually quite special for us to ride through Tumut, as our dad came from Tumut and our Grandma still lives here. We rode almost right past the property where Grandma and Grandpa used to live in Lacmalac.”
Ms McInerney says she was blown away by the challenging terrain at times.
“In parts, it was crazy steep; I think we climbed something like 18,000 feet of vertical gain,” said Ms McInerney.
“One hill was just unbelievable, Mt Tingiringi, I honestly thought the bike would flip backwards.”
Ms McInerney said she found solace in her brother during challenging times.
“I was very lucky to have Dave there, without him it would have been much tougher mentally,” said Ms McInerney.
“My lowest point probably was on that last day, between Tumut and Wee Jasper. I’d just had enough; I sensed the finish line was close but not close enough.”
During the tough times, it was the strong mentality of the McInerneys that got them through.
“I went into it knowing that few people had ever finished it, and I was thinking I had to finish,” said Ms McInerney.
“It was never an option to not finish.”
Ms McInerney says they were lucky that they didn’t sustain any serious injuries or encounter major bike issues.
“We were really lucky we didn’t get injured, and didn’t really have problems with the bikes. Dave had three flat tyres, but that was it,” said McInerney.
Other competitors were not so lucky, with many forced to pull out of the competition suffering exhaustion, food poisoning, bike problems and other misfortunes.
Ms McInerney says her Rocky Mountain Element bike was purchased the day before the race, and was in top shape for the challenges that lay ahead. Mr McInerney lives in Canada and rides a Canadian mountain bike by brand Caruso.
As for whether she is keen to participate in further endurance rides, Ms McInerney remains indecisive.
“Yesterday I was saying no way would I ever do that again!” laughs Ms McInerney.
“But I did really enjoy it, and I think I would do more, I just need time for my body to recover.”
Race organiser Mr Watson is delighted with another successful event and says next year’s Cloudride will basically follow the same route.
“It will have one little change around Bombala, and will run anti-clockwise next year, so Tumut will be at the start of the event next year,” said Mr Watson.
“I have made major changes to the course from the first year, to make it slightly more manageable. I don’t want hundreds of competitors, but am hoping to attract more for future years.”
He is continuously impressed with the grit and determination of competitors, and would encourage everyday citizens to consider endurance riding.
“It’s extraordinary what the human body is capable of,” said Mr Watson.
“People often say they could never ride 50km, let alone 1000km, but it’s all about building up to it.”
“I say to them, ‘you’ll be surprised what you’re capable of, you can do it’.”