Epic Camp


January, 2003 (www.slowtwitch.com)

One of the best things about being a pro triathlete was having all day to train.  Training with friends out in some magnificent scenery was always the best part of the sport for me.  But amongst all those years of training my training “camps” have a special place in my memory banks.  The difference was the freshness of new terrain.  There was a new challenge every day.

Mike Pigg might ask, “do you think we could do a ride with 10,000 ft. of climbing from Font Remeu?  Do we want to try and run to the top of James Peak and back from Winter Park?"

Tinley might challenge me to do yet another 100+ miler in 110 degree heat in Palm Springs. 

Mark Allen would set a mean tempo up Independence Pass on day-two and I’d see if I could hang. 

Erin Baker would inevitably drop me during some speed work on the track.

Paul Huddle would be so shattered and go so slow sometimes we weren’t sure he would ever recover.  If you got dropped off the paceline then it was going to be a pretty long day for you!

Julie Moss got us these baseball caps with fish going through the head and called one of our camps the “Tour de Trout”  because we spent most of every day riding along the rivers of Colorado.

These are some of the most vivid and enjoyable memories of my career.

I always hoped I would be able to find some similar adventures when I was old and grey an as it turns out I have!  Fellow coach and friend Gordo Byrn and I decided we’d try to mix business with pleasure and do some epic training camps together.  The emphasis would be long miles. We decided that we would make the camp with fast friends who could motorpace us along so we could really cover some ground. We set 10-and-a-half hours as the kind of IM shape you had to be in to be considered as a participant in this camp.  That’s the criterion for joining the group. Most of us are in under-10-hours for Ironman shape with a few sub 9-hour guys.  Sounds pretty elitist doesn’t it?  And in fact that’s the whole idea. 

There are a million camps for beginners or middle-of-the-pack folks.  How many camps are there where someone like Cameron Brown can go along and be challenged to really extend and improve himself? How about a masters guy (like me!) who’d like to have a shot at winning his age group in an Ironman?  Where does a guy like that go for a training camp?  Does he want to sit around and listen to a bunch of experts giving talks?  Someone like that already knows a fair amount about how to prepare for an Ironman.  What he really needs is the  environment to put that knowledge to work. He needs people who are fast to push him along.  Gordo and I wanted a camp for people preparing to do a fast Ironman. 

This one is aimed to specifically prepare for Ironman New Zealand which both Gordo and I are doing, and the next one in July/August will be aimed at folks preparing for Ironman Canada or Wisconsin.

We’ve been training well so far in preparation for this upcoming Ironman, but the aim of this two week period is to really take it to another level. 

Tomorrow is a 3-4km swim in the morning and then a 240km ride to Tekapo and a small run off the bike.  Approx. 9 1/2 hours with some stretching and massage afterwards.

I’ll be keeping a little diary of our trip along with some thoughts along the way. I’ll also include some tidbits I’ve picked up from various training partners I’ve had over the years,  things I’ve learned from some of my heroes about their own training camps, and a few anecdotes about some of my previous training camps. Should have some nice pics of our little island in the middle of the pacific as well.  Hopefully there will be something that’s at least a little entertaining for ya.

Sag wagon with trailer is all packed up.  Masseur is along to keep us in working order. 

You can take a look at the official camp website at epiccamp.com to see what we’ve got planned.

DAY ONE (BELOW)
DAY TWO
DAY THREE
DAY FOUR
DAY FIVE
DAY SIX
DAY SEVEN
DAY EIGHT
DAY NINE
DAY TEN
DAY ELEVEN
DAY TWELVE


EPIC CAMP DAY ONE

I'm the weakest link in the chain! I cracked first and was the ONLY one to crack today. Absolutely pathetic performance on my part on day one of 12 days of extended training.

We swam 3.4km this morning from 6-7 am, had some breakfast and then took off for Tekapo 250km away at 8:30 am. It was flat and the wind was friendly for 160km but I started to cramp at 130km and had to limp in to lunch. After we all had a massive refuel we headed into the wind and hills and I lasted another 47k before pulling the pin and hopping into the sag wagon. Everyone else suffered through another 43km to finish the day at 7:30pm. Quite a long day.

We had a couple of surprises. Forty-three-year-old John Mergler from Sydney spent a lot of time at the front, and young (24-years-old) Chris McDonald did an amazing speed wobble at 60kph on his tricked out Cervelo but managed to pull it together. It was like watching a slow motion car crash where you know some one is going to die but you can't do anything about it.

A few city (well, towns anyway) limit sprints and KOM points were awarded and all in all we were pretty shattered upon arrival in Tekapo. But dinner was ready and the massseur Mauricio did a good job of getting us ready for day two.

The infamous KP (Kevin Purcell) from San Diego did a fabulous job of watching the tail end of the peleton to make sure no one got dropped unnoticed. He's obviously had a bit of experience at the job.

So we've made a start, got to know a bit about each other, and are ready for another big day with an easy run in the AM followed by a 207km ride down to Wanaka. The forecast is for a bit of wind in our face so I have a fair idea that it will be another seven hours in the saddle.

At the end of this week we are competing in the Queenstown 1/2 IM which is on a testing course around the Millbrook resort where the ITU will hold their World Champs in December. Hopefully I'll be feeling quite a bit better by then!

Too shelled to write more. Third beer is gone and its time for bed. Be back tomorrow.

DAY TWO

Ahhhhhhh. Amazing what a close shave and good cup of java will do for ya, eh?

Except for the damage to my ball sack I'm feeling pretty good. Didn't actually visually inspect the damage from yesterday but have a good indication that it might have been an epic chafe. Things were pretty grim for 70 miles yesterday. So the bag balm came out last night and we all swapped stories of horrendous bag damage at various times in our lives. Sort of how runners talk about their worst bowel problems I guess.

Here's a story I shared...... It concerns a young Chris Miller who was a protege of mine in the early days. Chris and I did one of the first Nice triathlons in '82 back when most running shorts had the same nylon material for the outer layer and the inner layer. No poly-cotton back then. Anyway he's running along and at about the 6-mile mark his little member starts to get treated rather badly by the nylon. But he determinedly soldiers on until about the 15-mile mark when the pain starts to become unbearable. He stops to inspect the damage and quickly decides that all of his post race plans will have to be changed, at the very least. After a couple of more miles he tries to wrap it in a paper towel he grabs from an aid station but it quicly becomes soggy and gets rubbed off. So he dicides that rather than risk further damage he'll just cover it with his hand in his shorts to the finish. Needless to say he received roaring applause from the thousands lining the last k!ilometer.

Today we ran an easy hour before breafast along the shores of Lake Tekapo; ate, stretched, and hit the road for another epic ride to Wanaka. 220km with plenty of wind. There's always wind in the South Island. That's gauranteed. But in general the Weather God was kind to us again and we made very good time to lunch at the 90km point. I noticed a few more coffees were had than at yesterday's lunch and then we headed for the high point of the camp at 965 meters (roughly 3000 feet) at Lindis Pass. Since I was starting to feel a bit of my ol' self come back and the pain in my saddle area was making me forget about all of the other fatigue and discomfort, I made a push for the KOM points and gave Gordo a good challenge. Although he got me on that one he's got a little food for thought with about eight more coming up over the next ten days.

Everyone made the entire route today which was a bit surprising. The wind made things pretty hard the last 30km, so it would have been tempting to stop. But the sag wagon had already gone ahead to our accomodation so there wasn't anyone to scoop up folks who might have wanted to call it quits early. We provide just about everything you could ever want on this camp but one thing we don't provide is mercy.

With two days done there's been 3.2k of swimming, 470km cycling and one hour of running.

We have a pool swim, run, short bike, nap and/or massage, weights, lake swim on the agenda for tomorrow but I should have a bit of time to put down my thoughts on training camps in general, other camps I've done, and a little about the camps of others whom I've learned from or admired.

Hopefully there will be something in there that will be of some interest.

DAY THREE

Training camps. At some point nearly every super motivated triathlete has probably wanted to drop everything and just train their tail off to get in superman shape.

I’ve been luckier than most to be able to do extended swim, bike, run and tri camps with a wide variety of people and environments. By sharing some of these stories I hope to show a side of other endurance sports you may not be familiar with, but they have played a part in shaping my own triathlon training theory, and that of other pros of my era.

My first training camps were as a swimmer at age 15 and 16 in California in the 70’s. At that time the East Germans were the dominant swimming force in the world so the thinking of swim coaches was largely shaped by the German training programs. At that point in time no one knew that the athletes were able to handle such huge training volumes because of hormonal assistance. So our camps were usually approximately 100,000 yard per week for 2-3 weeks. Building up to that we often swam 70,000 yards per week in 12 sessions + weights times per week and some running. A lot of that training was very very hard. Sets like 10 x 400 on the fastest interval you could make were standard. I’m sure some of those weeks were the hardest, longest weeks I’ve ever done in my life. Swimmer kids used to train a ton! There are still a number of coaches who try to get kids to swim that type of volume but in general the coaching philosophy of today is to do less volume and intensity and do more drills. Hence we don’t see many Bobby Hacketts, Brian Goodells (15-minute 1500m swimmers) or Mary T Maeghers any more. Tom Dolan is one of the few really old school swimmers around in the USA these days, but I have a feeling the pendulum will swing back to more volume in the future.

Once I gave up swimming to concentrate on running I poured over every issue of Track and Field News and Runner’s World ever published, and the training programs of the successful runners of the 60’s and 70’s shaped my views on training. Alberto Slazar, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, etc., were my heroes and they did a lot of running. Not just 100 miles per week, but more like 140-160. Their big weeks were legendary. Frank Shorter went up to the 8,000-foot air of Vail to run 2-3 times a day to get ready for the Olympics. Bill Rodgers logged 160 miles per week on the icy streets of Boston in February to get ready for that city's marathon.

Am I the only coach who remembers the training of guys like Gelindo Bordin (Olympic marathon champ) or Rob DeCastella? These guys did 120 mile weeks as an average. Gelindo used to do 30km TT’s in the forest of Sweden in 1:30 to see if he was coming along in fitness! DeCastella's early days of training camps up in the Dandedongs were an annual gathering of the best distance runners in the country and they hammered the hills twice a day for weeks in the middle of summer. Some of the most motivating stories I’ve ever read were about the Kenyans training camps which were to pick the team for the World X-country champs. Now THOSE must’ve been some epic group runs!

Many of my early days as a budding triathlete were spent cycling 100-milers in the hills of northern California with a character named Bob Roll. He was hoping to be a pro cyclist and knew the history of just about every cycling legend who ever lived. The guy was a nut and a fanatic, and he went on to ride the Tour De France 5 times, was Andy Hampsten's domestique when he won the Giro, and lasted through the misery of many of the other classics in Europe. He was a hard man, willing to sleep under a bridge in Belgium to race there and learn the ropes. His tales of Roger De Vlaemink, Eddy Merckx and other legends of cycling entertained me educated me about what was possible in cycling. Later on I had to opportunity to ride with guys like Hampsten and Davis Phinney in their training camps as they prepared for the European season. They motivated me through some very hard 500-mile weeks to get ready for my own season.

As a triathlete I’ve done training camps in Colorado, France and Palm Springs, among other places. These were always two-week periods where the goal was to push ourselves to the limit in hopes of racing better. To recover day-to-day wasn’t an option. The idea was to put ourselves through enough stress that it took a week or more of easier (not easy!) training to recover.

Doing massive point-to-point rides in Colorado sitting on Mark Allen’s wheel when he was preparing for Kona along with Ray Browning, Tinley and others was about the most fun you could have while enduring so much pain. It wasn’t hard to tell the guy was going to be difficult to beat in Kona after seeing him put himself through incredible 35-hour weeks.

Two weeks in Palm Springs with Erin Baker and Scott Tinley was an extraordinary camp, not only because of the heat and distance, but because we were experimenting with various salts in pretty sickly combinations!! Sodium supplementation wasn’t a common practice back then. We just spooned it into our bottles. Wasn’t exactly tasty after an hour in the 110-degree sun. And when all of that sodium was sweated out and gathered in your chamois six hours later the damage it could do was considerable. I recall that training camp as not being a particularly romantic one. After one 160-mile ride around the Salton Sea my darling girlfriend at the time (Erin) found me a little less enamouring than she did just the week before. There’s probably a very close correlation between relationships and training—whatever doesn’t kill you makes you grow stronger.

Now I still love to do training camps for the same reasons, which are enjoyment, challenge, and race preparation. Put up with all your aches and pains, try to leave your worries behind and just go and go 'til you drop. Kick out some huge numbers day after day. My pal Gordo and I have decided to do some together and if you’ve been following this little adventure thus far you know we’re at the end of day-three of this one.

Day 3 – Wednesday. Eat, swam 4.2 km, grocery shop!, eat second breakfast, run 2 hours along the shores of Lake Wanaka. (Hot, very windy) in the am, Gordo’s yoga session, massage, eat, nap, weights, eat, beer. Sort of wimped out on a short ride as it was too windy! Still a good 4 and-a-half-hour day. Looking forward to another solid AM swim and then tomorrow's ride over to Queenstown and Arrowtown where the half-IM will be held on Saturday.

DAY FOUR

It was good to have a day off the bike. When I hopped on today a certain part of me felt like I had just gotten back on after a rough 7 hours. If I hadn't had a day off the bike things would have been pretty grim. And I wasn't alone.

We started the day with an easy 10km run before breakfast, a 4km swim, second breakfast and a bit of a stretch. Then we headed over the toughest climb of this camp today and it was a 39x23 for the last 3km. Damn hard work to earn some KOM points today but Gordo showed us his pre-camp preparation was paying dividends. Along with the KOM points he took the last sprint into Arrowtown so is leading our camp points competition along with our "Walk the Walk, Not just Talk the Talk" competition among the coaches. So I've got a bit of work to do in the second week but I'm starting to feel a bit like myself again so it should at least be interesting.

It was a cold rainy day today, not really miserable but a bit of a nuisance. The ride was only 80 km so most did an extra 20km afterwards to check out the bike course for Saturday's half-IM. A solid 5-and-a-half-hour day.

We headed over to the bike shop in Queenstown to get a few problems fixed and prep the bikes for the race on Saturday, had a bit of a scenic stroll, dinner, and every one seemed pretty happy to get the lights out by 10pm.

The plan for tomorrow is an easy swim, bike and run—all short sessions with a nap and a massage thrown in there.

The group is starting to recover from the first two huge days and seem ready to attack the race on Saturday. John from Sydney has a stress fracture in his foot so he is just doing the swim and the bike in the half. He rode 150km yesterday when we went for a run and will do a decent ride tomorrow and some more after the race on Saturday to try and get 1,000km for the week on the bike. It's starting to look very likely that he'll get it.

With most of us here building towards Ironman New Zealand the group confidence is building. It never ceases to amaze me how your perspective can change in regard to training time and distances after just a few very hard long days.

DAY FIVE

With 4 solid days behind us and a hard half-IM here in Queenstown tomorrow the group was pretty content to have an easy day.  We ran an easy hour in the AM followed by an easy 1k or 2k swim in Lake Hayes and an easy 20km loop of the bike course.  Two-and-a-quarter hours all-up.  Mauricio the masseur had a full day though.

So that’s it for easy days on this camp.  On day-7 we’re right back at it with another long day.

It's nice to be a tourist once in a while and we all had a good stroll around Queenstown.  It's amazing how busy the little town is.  It is also pretty damn rainy and cold so we’re all happy to choose the comfort of the cafes rather than be out on the bikes today.

For the folks planning on making it down here for the ITU World Champs in December here’s a little tip for you—bring warm clothes both for the race and to cruise around in.  It can snow here any time.  There’s fresh snow on the mountains as I write this.  Should make for a picturesque event tomorrow.

A few of us got a bit of reading done as well when not watching the tennis (Australian Open).  Is that Serena Williams a whole lotta woman or what?!

I’ve got a few favorites when it comes to light reading when I need some motivation.  My two favorite books to take traveling are "Once a Runner," by John Parker and "Running with the Legends," by Mike Sandrock.

In "Running with the Legends" the author details the programs of many of the top marathoners of the 80’s and 90’s—people like Ingrid Kristiansen, Joan Benoit and Uta Pippig, DeCastella, Yuma Ikanngaa, Steve Jones, etc. This stuff gets me fired up every time. Particularly moving is the story of Pippig piling on month after month of 160 mile weeks in the forests of East Germany, hoping(!) for the chance to one day get out to race. That’s commitment.  And I’ve personally seen the little motel sitting on the main highway in Alamosa, Colorado, where Yuma Ikangaa would base himself for a couple of months to train for a major marathon.  Modest accommodation is an overstatement.  The guy would hammer out 2-3 solo runs a day at 8,000 feet—up to 180 miles a week up there—and then come down and smash out another 2:08 or 2:09.  The book is full of stories like that—the stories of years of hard graft to get to the top.

The book "Once a runner" is fiction but based on fact.  The author used to be regular training partner of Frank Shorter and Kenny Moore in the beginning of the marathon boom in the USA.  In the book Parker does about the best job I’ve come across of describing the inexplicable passion some athletes have to be as good as they can be.

The main character is a miler who leaves all of his troubles behind to go live as hermit in a cabin out in the boonies.  The guy takes his training to another level and just barely comes out of it on the right side of sanity to become a great runner.  It reminds me of what Kenny Souza used to say about his big jump in improvement as a high school runner when he went up to Lake Tahoe to train over the summer. He lived in a little one room cabin with no toilet, running water or electricity.  “I was sent away to TRAIN!” he always used to tell us when we asked him how he got to be such a good runner.

I’m not doing any of these books or stories justice by just grazing over them like this, but wanted to mention the stories that sustain me when I’m into a big build-up and beginning to question my own commitment. I needed a bit of a lift today.  Tomorrow’s gonna be a hard day.

DAY SIX

Queenstown half-IM today. The whole crew went at it with John sitting out the run with a stress fracture. It’s a hard race and young Swede Clas Bjorling (The Baron) showed us his class today. His very average swim and bike were just a warm-up for his 1:16 run which was 6 minutes faster than the next best run split. Its great to have him along on the camp to keep us all humble.

Gordo smashed me to take out the coaches duel in getting second over-all with young camper Chris MacDonald having a great ride to take third. So the team was in pretty good form despite the fatigue. Us old dudes made it through but are obviously not able to recover like those 10-20 years our junior!

There’s some pretty sore legs around. Some PB’s were set which was a little bit of a surprise. Just goes to show what a lot of hard work can do! I was happy to finish my first tri of the NZ summer. Nowadays finishing is never a sure thing with all of my bits and pieces falling to bits and pieces.

This race is a great small event and reminds me of all the reasons I got into the sport in the first place. One of my old foes, Sid Cummings from Invergargill, joined me to battle for the over-40 titles and gave me a good thrashing. Look for this guy to outride all of the over 40’s in December at the World Champs. He might even outride all of the age-groupers. His legs are something out of a science fiction book. Remember the cave troll who attacked the fellowship in the Mines of Moria in the movie "Lord of the Rings?" This guy wouldn’t need much help from the make-up crew to play that part. He’s got the monster mash legs and he wields just as big a club.

With warm-up we get at least 5 hours today for the fast guys, a bit more for the rest of us.

Dinner at the awards will taste very, very good tonight.

DAY SEVEN

There were indeed some sore legs today. But since mercy isn't included in the deal with this camp there was no asking. Some went for a 45-minute run before breakfast, some ate and did an hour spin before we all met up for an open water swim race in Lake Hayes.

There was a 1k race and a 3k race and we chose the 3k (of course!) I had the priveledge of leading the thing and came in right at 40 minutes. No telling how accurate it was but it was still a damn hard effort after yesterday. My lats were screaming for about 30 minutes of it. That's a hard 5k of racing in the water over the week-end.

We had a light snack and headed out on the bikes to Alexandra 80k away with a stop in Cromwell for a picnic lunch. Cromwell is known throughout New Zealand as having the best fruit in the country and it didn't disappoint. The cherries and apricots are at their best at this time of year.

Most people think of New Zealand as being very green and lush but this tour is taking us through the driest part of the country. You'd have to call it desert really. Jagged peaks above big lakes and the rest is arid with a bit of tussock until you come to a town. Ride time was 2:20 today as it was mostly downhill with a tailwind so we only did 4 hours today. Not bad after the half yesterday, and we could have easily done more but tomorrow is one of the longest, hardest days of this camp so it was best just to chill out. Some of us are going to lift some weights in a minute.

Some of my biggest and best weeks have included a race. Last time I did an epic solo camp in New Zealand was in 1985 after I won the Double Brown IM. It was an "official" IM back then under license from IRONMAN which was owned by Valerie Silk back then. But it was a 2-mile swim, 100-mile ride and 20-mile run. The day after the race I rode across the North Island and back: 140k in 5 hours. My first wife Stephanie and I went to the awards and then had an enormous binge! Next day we drug ourselves to the airport, flew down to Christchurch so I could cycle and she could drive around the South Island. Including the race I ended up getting in 680 miles on the bike, 60 miles of running and 10 miles of swimming that week. March was huge that year—my biggest totals ever—and I went on to have my best year as a triathlete. Riding into Alexandra today brought it all back so clearly.

Fun day today. Kinda neat to feel so good after such a long hard race.

If anyone ever comes up with a real long, hard triathlon stage race (3 to 8 hours per day) of 2+ weeks that is modeled on the Tour De France, I think there will be some folks who really get excited about it.

DAY EIGHT

“That was real wind.”  That was the opinion of KP who battled it for 6:15 riding time before calling it a day at 155k.  Unanimous concensus all around.

We were bound to get some epic wind here on this windy little island and today we got a fair dose.  The route today was through the remaining bit of the desert of New Zealand tour from Alexandra to Dunedin via Ranfurly and Middlemarch.  It’s a lonely, windswept landscape.  Vast and wild.  The desperate  Middlemarch farmers got together last year to put together a national ad campaign to attract women to the area.  Seems the local social calendar is a bit lacking so all of the young women flee to more civilized locales as soon as they get the chance.

To start our day some of us did a solid 4km in the pool.  My main set was 6x300m on 4:00 which I thought would be fairly comfortable but I ended coming in on 3:55 for most of them trying to keep my legs from dragging on the bottom.

Some got a head start on the 240km route so they didn’t have to spend 7 hours in the weeds trying to get some protection from the wind in the echelon.  That left me with the fast guys so I was the one at the tail-end of the line looking for a bit of draft.  We had a favorable wind to start and hit the first 40k in an hour but then the wind turned, the hills came up and we started to realize  it was going to be a very long day.  A few of us pulled the pin at the 165k mark as the rain began in earnest but the three campers on a mission lasted the entire distance in just under 8 hours of riding time to keep the camp from falling into disrepute. For a while there I thought young Clas was going to pull the chapstick out on me.

Do you know the story of “The Chapstick” coming out on a ride?  It has a certain understated significance.  It was a favorite stunt Kenny Souza started many years ago.  It would happen on long hard windy rides when you were so shattered that you know if you lose the bunch 50-60 miles from home you most likely won’t be able to make it back.  You’d be at the mercy of the stronger guys to give you a bit of room on the road so you could get some protection from the wind.  They could easily let you ride in the weeds for a while till they broke you and then spit you off by not letting you have any draft.  That’s when the chapstick would come out.  Kenny would casually offer it to you.  What he was saying (via his wry sense of humor) was he wanted you to keep your lips soft and supple because pretty soon you were going to be suffering so much that you were probably gonna offer to blow him to get him to back off and let you sit on.

The suffering was hitting a couple of us in more ways than one.  I had to pull out the duct tape today before riding to put patches over my raw spots.  That’s right.  Duct tape.  If you use enough hopefully it won’t crease and it will hold up all day.  I’ve never had to use duct tape in my entire life for cycling before.  I’ve used it for running, but not riding.  It worked really well today.  If I hadn’t used it I wouldn’t have been able to ride. We’ve still got a few more 200+k days so we need to look after the bottom line pretty carefully.

Two of us ran for 55 minutes in the eve along the wind-blown shores of Dunedin, and others straight for the food.  Nine hours training time for the tough dudes, 7:40 for a couple of us and 6:15 as a minimum for the group.  A big day all around.

DAY NINE

We’re in Dunedin today.  Rainy, windy and cold so glad to have a day off the bike today.

We headed to the pool for a 3-4km swim and then over to the swim flume to get video taped and get some personal stroke commentary.  The guy who runs the flume here is named Dave Pease who is regarded as one of the foremost experts in the world on stroke analysis.  He used to work at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

The flume is something every triathlete should be lucky enough to experience.  There are six cameras filming from every angle and while you’re swimming.  Dave has his voice recorded onto the video.  Then he asks you to try various corrections and drills and gives commentary for that too.  You can get in your wet suit as well or try different swim speeds. Then you have your video and his commentary to take home to share with your coach.

Its certainly one of the more worthwhile things we’ll do on this camp.

A Big Lunch and nap were followed by a bike shop run and then a few of us did a solid tempo run of 55 minutes.  I had to press a bit to get the young Swede to break a sweat and ended up having a great run. The rain came down in buckets just as we finished our run so the Weather God seemed to be showing us it could have been worse.

Then off to the gym for a bit of maintenance.  Only got there once last week, and it looks like it’ll be once this week which really is just barely enough to get back to gym work next week without too much trouble.  Gonna be a bit sore tomorrow.

We had some laundry swiped out of the motel laundry today and that’s a bummer.  Some of our favorite riding shorts were in there.  Your favorites are the ones you choose for rides over 5 hours. I’ve only got a couple of 2-3 hour shorts left now.  Looks like I’ll have to buy some new ones at the bike shop tomorrow.  The crew here brought lots of training gear to be prepared for cold wet weather and that was wise.  We haven’t had any real hot weather since day-1.

Most days we throw all of our riding gear in the washer as soon as we arrive at our destination.  Looking after your personal hygiene is something that’s much appreciated when you’re spending so much time together each day.  Since most of us area bit older we’re a bit past the “soldier man” stage.       

The term “soldier man” was one of Ken Glah's (he made 18 trips to Kona, usually finished in the top 10) nicknames in his early days, given to him by a training buddy named Steve Fitch.  Ken had a tendency to live out of his helmet in the summer in his early days.  When he went into the grocery store he would use his bike helmet as a shopping basket.  He would usually ride to the pool with his swim stuff in his jersey pockets and then go for a ride.  When he got home he would unload all of his jersey pockets (sunscreen, swim gear, spares, jacket, etc.) and stick the contents in his helmet and set it on his bike.  Shoes stayed on the pedals.  Then he’d go for a run, wash and rinse his clothes in the shower and hang them up to dry and he was set for the next day.  If it didn’t fit into his helmet then most likely it was superfluous to his needs.

Three more big days to go, so quite happy to only train 3 hours today.

DAY TEN

Today was a bit more like stage training.  That’s the name I’ve given this type of training where you go point-to-point and do some hammering at race intensity every day.  This whole camp is really more like a stage race than a training camp.

Gordo threw down the gauntlet last night by assigning a KOM at the top of the first climb 12k into the 215k ride. He attacked at the very bottom of the climb and it was all on.  I could hardly just let him go with my new US Postal shorts on so the young Swede and I battled it out for a few measly points!

Gordo was to have the last laugh, though, by my being unable to take a pull for the last 100k of the ride into Timaru. At lunch in Omaru I copped a bit of flack for downing a beer but it helped to relax my old bones a fraction and make the last few hours go by just a bit easier.

Lots of hills again today and then the lads put the train into high gear with a tailwind for the last 85k.  The sun came out too so there was some serious salt marks on my new shorts today.  Riding time of 6:24 today which doesn’t sound like it was too fast unless you’ve spent some time riding here in New Zealand.  It's safe to say the speeds are generally about 10% slower here because of the road surface and the wind. 215k here is similar to 235k in (for example) Colorado.

They went for an easy 30-minute run while I popped a cold one and nearly passed out on the couch.

Since we swam an easy 3k this morning  I total a training day of 7:10 with the others getting 7:40.  Damn hard day.  We have a similar one planned to tomorrow heading to Akaroa but will get on the bikes early to try and get pummeled by the wind just a little less. Tomorrow's  route is flat for approx 180k and then we hit some very steep hills in the last 30k.  Better eat some more chocolate now to load up!

The crew has been eating pretty healthy in general.  But since I don’t want the camp to fall in to disrepute by being toooo healthy  I’ve thrown down the odd bit of junk food and beer here and there.  We had Chinese for dinner tonight and the chef probably thought a big tour bus had pulled into his place.  Man, can these guys eat a lot.

DAY ELEVEN

We all needed a bit of good weather after yesterday’s 218k on the bike.  So it was nice to wake to a warm sunny day with a just a bit of tailwind as we headed from Timaru to Akaroa.  Since the wind was predicted to pick up today we hopped on the bike first to get some kms in while it was nice.  The group was rolling along quite quick (35-40kph) for the first two hours and although I was feeling pretty crummy I was reluctant to leave the jet stream.  Lose it at the beginning of the ride and I might not even catch up by the first coffee stop 2 hours down the road.

There were still quite a few sensitive spots and at the first stop we got a bit of a laugh from the young Swede trying to explain how uncomfortable he was in his broken English.  “My legs are good, my head is good, but the PRESSURE!   Ohhhhh!  All night it goes boom, boom, boom!” (as he makes a pounding motion to his groin).

It got a bit balmy today and by the time we stopped for lunch at 168k we were feeling pretty pooped.  Andrew had taken off earlier than us to be able to cruise to the lunch spot but then proceeded to get lost and arrive at lunch after 202k!  It was a very long morning for him. One of the reasons I live here is because there are so many little country many roads here in the Canterbury plains.  But it is easy to get lost.

The last 50k to Akaroa included a hard 6km climb (I used my 22-tooth the whole way) and four other steep 1k climbs. There was about 3,000' of climbing in the last 35k.  Ouch.  Gordo gave us a couple of sprints and a KOM to go for and things got damn hard for the last hour.  Riding time of around 7 hours today followed by runs of 30-40 minutes. Another big day.  Hot 25 degrees C for the last 3 hours of the day, so feeling a bit zapped.  The sun is pretty strong down here under the big hole in the ozone layer so a few got good sunburns today even though every one lathered on the sun block.

Today I had plenty of time to recall many of the epic rides I’ve done in my life.  One of the first ones was with my track and x-country running teammate in college named Bob Roll.  He was a very good middle distance runner (1:52 for 800m, 3:55 for 1500m) but once he started cycling he was possessed by the idea of becoming a pro cyclist in Europe.  I didn’t know anything about cycling but wanted to do the IM in Hawaii and had just begun to ride that year.  When he told me that you had to do lots of all-day rides to become a good cyclist I didn’t doubt him.  I didn’t even have a bike at the time, but he had just bought a new all Campy Record Bianci (everything had to be Italian back then!) so he loaned me his old Italvega which was way too big for me.  There was about a half-inch of seat post showing when I rode it. He had gotten a “good deal” on it at a bike shop in Berkeley, and I eventually bought it off of him. He told me to meet him at 7AM so we could ride out to Berkeley to meet for the Berkeley Bicycle Club (the BBC) which started at 8.  So I left my house at 6:30 and we went along on the group ride which was 100 miles, then we rode home. 160 miles for me wearing cut-off track suit pants, an old wool cycling jersey and running shoes.  On top of all that, he told me that good cyclists learned how to “spin” so I did the entire ride at about 120rpms.  I couldn’t get out of bed the next day.

One of the more memorable ones was when Kenny Souza and my brother Sean left me in Steamboat Springs to ride back to my house above Boulder which was 188 miles away.  We did the Steamboat Springs 10k running race on Saturday and the plan was for us to ride back home the next day.  But the boys got cold feet after seeing the weather forecast and backed out. I wouldn’t give in so they left me there with my bike and cycling gear. It ended up being one of those days when I had my resolve firmly tested and came out the other side ready to take on the world.

Have you ever had one of those breakthrough sessions where you really affirm that you want to do this sport and do it well? Seems like I only have those days in good weather now! Today was another one of those days.  Seven hours of great riding in the hot sun with like-minded souls.  A good day.

We finished the ride in Akaroa.  It's a beautiful little French settlement and harbor 90 minutes drive from Christchurch.  It’s all hills here.  Big ones.  I’ve spent quite a few weekends here with my family over the years, and love all of the various hill rides and runs available. Whichever way we ride out of here tomorrow for the last ride of the camp it's going to be hard work.  Of course Gordo wants to take the toughest climb out of town but I don’t even have the right cog for that route.  I’d need a 25 in the back not to put my low back out.  So some of us will probably choose the easier route.

Tomorrow is the last day of the camp and I think it's fair to say we’ll all have a few easy days after this.  What’s amazing, though, is how single-minded we become when we’re doing very few "real life" activities. Every one seems to be getting stronger and stronger in circumstances like these.  How long could we keep it up if we had the opportunity and the motivation?  I’m not sure, but there are plenty of examples of other people finding they can adapt to much harder, longer training than they ever thought imaginable.

I remember talking with one of my mentors, Dr. John Hellemans, about his month-long multisport race that covered the length of New Zealand.  Although he prepared very well for it, just as most of the other competitors had, they generally found they got stronger right through until the end.  Even John was surprised by this.  He went on to write a fantastic little book about his experiences in the race entitled “The Misery of Staying Upright.” It’s a very entertaining read.

It seems that if you are training at or below aerobic threshold intensity for a tremendous volume of hours then you can continue to recover and improve for a very long time before needing a substantial break.  How many hours is the limit before you stop improving and then begin to go backwards?  One of the goals of this camp is to start to define that point for each individual.

Check in with you tomorrow with a camp wrap-up, some thoughts on the “No Liability Training Program,” plans for our next camp in Colorado in July-August and a few more stories.

DAY TWELVE

“You don’t want to go into a day like this under-caffeinated.”

That was a typical mantra today, much like other days when we were stumbling along our motel stuffing in enough food to get us to lunch 3-5 hours of hard riding away.  We ran short on coffee this morning—our final day and there were some pretty long faces.  The prospect of heading straight up a 1800-foot climb in 10k this morning had a sobering effect.

The route today from Akaroa to a little bay near Lyttleton where we would meet for a final swim included approx 6,000 ft. of climbing for the guys doing the entire route.  Us creaky and partially wrecked campers did a shorter route which only included 4,000' of vertical.  Sunny, hot 90 degrees by the time we got to the water and lunch and we were all pretty pooped.  We did a short swim of 20 minutes and then Gordo and Clas finished the camp with an epic 10-mile run over the hills (another 1,000 ft of vertical) while the rest of us rode.

So the young guns did a very solid 7 hours today and the rest of us got in 4-and-a-half.

At dinner tonight at a pizza place 80 meters from my house we had a recap and handed out EPIC certificates of achievement.  It's safe to say this camp was as hard as it looked on paper a few months ago when we were planning it out.  Big thanks went to our support crew Wy from L.A. who is training for the New Zealand IM herself but had to squeeze in her training around looking after us.  She was probably the most tired of all of us.

I also had a scrounge around through my memorabilia in the shed to come up with a few goodies for the campers. Good fun going down memory lane looking through all of my old race t-shirts.

Topics covered at dinner tonight included: favorite part of the South Island, darkest moment, best moment, and how to fine tune future epic camps.

Concensus was that two aspects of this camp that Gordo and I felt most important to control were the size of the group and the fitness standard of the participants.  The small group was a tremendous asset as we got to know each other.  The sub 10-hour IM guideline served us well as there is a tremendous difference in ability between someone like Clas who wants to win Zofingen one day and a guy like me who just wants to do 9-9:30 for an IM.  By allowing some folks to start the rides early we were able to at least meet for lunch but the idea of this camp is to use a group environment to really push each other.  Riding solo day after day isn’t something we’d like to see on these camps. In the future we’ll try to have two groups on the rides and runs each day so everyone can be pushed appropriately.  And this leads me to the motivation behind the creation of this camp.

Nowadays it seems all training programs for nearly all sports are tempered by an environment of our litigious society.  Everything is watered down because no one wants to be sued for suggesting something that ends up hurting someone.

Over the last 25 years I’ve noticed a considerable change in the training advice extolled in the lay publications and certainly in the coaching manuals and training schemes.  Many “experts” will say that more reliable, scientifically-proven training principles have been developed over the last 25 years and that’s the main reason training has changed and that’s certainly true.  I have no problem accepting that fact and I certainly use the newest info available in designing programs for myself and others I help.  What’s not being acknowledged, though, is the influence this “liability conscious” environment has exhibited on the average training program.  The safety aspect has crept into all training programs to such a degree that the average guy doesn’t have an idea of what it takes to make a big leap in improvement any more.  This is something I come across all the time in reading the articles in the tri, running and swimming magazines, the recent books on training, the tri forums and my own coaching biz.  One of the few sources of training that still regularly includes an aspect of risk are the hard core body building magazines, but since there is such a drug culture in the gym/body building environment many people dismiss all information coming from those sources.  And that’s a shame.

Training principles like forced reps and negative lifts that come from the gym culture are a product of looking for methods that get the body to become stronger quickly.  Once you get to a certain strength level and the same old routine won’t get you any stronger these training techniques can shock the body to a new level.  Certainly there is an element of risk using training techniques like this the same way as there is a risk of overtraining doing stuff like this Epic Camp.

Epic Camp certainly isn’t for every one. These folks have a long history of endurance training, time to do this and the motivation to take some risks in their training. John Mergler from Sydney is an example of the type of individual this camp was designed for.  He’d like to win his age group (40-44) in IM’s and see what he’s capable of in the process.  Because he had a stress fracture in his foot he couldn’t run before or during the camp.  So he rode two weeks of approx 1,000k/week before coming to the camp and then 1850k during the twelve days with us during the camp.  That’s an entire month of 600 mile weeks on the bike, much of it at a very solid tempo.  He was often riding me off of his wheel on this camp. He never cut any ride short or got in the van because of bad weather.  In fact we nicknamed him “No Van” Mergler.

With this sport becoming more and more mature and popular there are ever-increasing numbers of people like John trying to win their age groups.  This is the kind of guy you are going to have to beat if you want to win you age group, and I can tell you that if you want to have a chance at doing it you are going to have to take some risks in your training.  This doesn’t mean you have to be a nut case or do anything extremely ridiculous, but you do have to have an understanding of what’s possible, and then accept that some of your competition will be reaching for that.

If I ever do get motivated to write a book it would probably be to write the “No Liability Triathlon Training Program.”  Perhaps it will be required reading and included in the price of our Epic Camps!

Our next camp is set for Colorado in July-August, aimed at folks who’d like to do some epic training in the high places in the Rockies.  We’ll take in some of my favorite epic routes my training buddies and I did when I lived in Boulder. I’ve also looked over the state maps and have chosen some routes I’ve never done.  A big part of the enjoyment I get from training comes from covering new ground.  There are probably a few folks out there who would like to reach for an outstanding effort at one of the fall IM’s this year and this camp would be perfect for them. Other camps are planned for the North Island of New Zealand next January to get ready for IM New Zealand again and then perhaps Epic Europe taking in some of the Alps, the Dolomites or the Pyrenees.

This is what I love to do!  I thought I would be cured of this addiction to training many years ago, but this type of training environment with friends is my idea of a great way to see the world.  By sharing this epic diary it's my intention to help motivate you to do a little bit of epic stuff yourself.   Get out and do it!  You won’t regret it.

Thanks for reading.