Five days after Epic Camp I find myself with quite a different perspective on the whole thing. During the camp, it was difficult to think of anything except the suffering, the fatigue and the reality that most of the campers were way out of my league. Yet, as I said from the beginning, I went there not to compare myself to the pros and to the top age groupers, but to push myself beyond where I had ever gone in training. By my reckoning (and that of my Polar watch), I did 34h 17m of training in the first 7 days of the camp — easily double my biggest-ever training week.

Immediately after the camp, I couldn’t feel any difference other than fatigue. I got home and reassembled my bike, though, and got on the trainer last night after a heavy meal that included a couple of glasses of wine.

At first, I just wanted to see how things went. My CompuTrainer allows me to set the wattage I want to ride, so I moved up through my usual curve of very easy (100 watts) to easy (130-140) during the warmup. But a funny thing happened — my heart rate was still really low, and I didn’t feel as though I were working at all.

I decided to do the equivalent of the blood lactate test they do at Endurance PTC.  This involves 3-minute sets of step-ups of 3o watts every 3 minutes; I did this test a year ago to determine my Ironman and lactate threshold values.  The year-ago values were 190 watts @ 128 bpm for the steady-state lactate value and 230 watts @ 146 bpm for “threshold.”

I didn’t have anyone measuring the actual blood lactate, so I just used the heart-rate values as a guide, approximate though they are.  At 190 watts, I would have expected to hit 128 bpm by the end of the 3 minutes; instead I was only around 110 and still felt really easy.  I moved up to 220 and only hit 120 bpm by the end of the 3 minutes, and then I moved up to 250.  It took until the third minute when I finally hit 128 bpm, and I still had plenty in the tank.  Anyway, I estimate the equivalent value to be 240-250 watts — at least it was last night.  That is a significant improvement.

Moreover, I didn’t reach 146 bpm even by the end of the third minute @ 280 watts; after that, I decided to warm down just because I got the advice not to push it too much after the camp.  But I am really encouraged by the numbers and wonder whether they’re real.  If so, it really supports the volume theory over everything else.

The other thing I can say is that despite being the camp slacker, I really did do what I could every day, knowing of course that I could only go so deep and still be able to do anything the next day and the day after that.  So I did “pace” myself.  But I also endured many moments when I didn’t want to be on the bike and still got on, whether it was general fatigue or my butt really hurting or whatever.  The point is, I stretched myself way beyond my previous limits, and I see signs that it will pay off.

Day 8: Events day

Today was the final day of Epic — what’s referred to as “events day.” The morning started off with all of us going to the Nayland pool for three events: the 400 IM, the 200 kick and the 50 free. There wasn’t a “swimming challenged” category, so I opted out and instead did timing and recording, though now I kind of wish I’d jumped in.

It’s fun to watch the big guns, though — Heath Thurston is a swimming machine, opening with a 1:10 in the fly during the IM (in a 50m pool), but maybe most impressive of all was his performance in the 200 kick. He went through the 100 in 1:30; I’m not sure I could do that swimming all out. I need to get my butt to the pool more often, obviously.

The midday event was an Olympic distance triathlon that had a 13-mile warmup ride to the beach at Rabbit Island. Once there, we had to swim a very long “1500m” course that involved three times around a set of buoys that were allegedly 250m apart. All I know is that swim times were very long, and the big swells continued the feeling of “Kiwi rollers” that we’ve been having the whole time on the bike. I was swimming with Dave, the lead guy of the support crew, but he peeled off (unbeknownst to me) after 2 laps, so I was on my own in DFL (dead f***ing last) place. My time to the beach was 38:xx, so there was no way this was only 1500m — my normal swim would be 25-26 minutes.

I took my time in transition; the day was hot, the sun was high, and I needed to protect my lilywhite skin from the harsh Kiwi sun, so rather than wear a tri top, I donned a normal bike jersey. Once out, it was 6k out to the main road, then 10k in one direction, which led us into a series of the famous Kiwi rollers. After maybe 3 miles, I started seeing the frontrunners (John Newsom follwed by Chris McDonald) coming the other way, which meant I was about 6 miles out of the lead.

After the turnaround, to my chagrin I found we were heading into a “sea breeze” (i.e., headwind) going back towards Nelson. This was going to be harder than I wanted, and by 10 miles to go, both my bottles were empty and my left Achilles was complaining a little. I backed off the pace then and just cruised in in about 1:20. A couple of guys ahead of me were catchable given my relatively superior running, but given my tight Achilles, I opted to bag the run. No use getting another calf strain that would cost me another month of running.

All in all, a fun way to end the camp. Actually, the more fun way was right after the race, when we headed over to “The Honest Lawyer” pub, which has a beautiful waterside setting. The beer was flowing, the sun was out, and life was great.

Day 7: What was this about resting on the 7th day?

This morning when I got out of bed, I realized something: I, like a lot of competitive age groupers, dream of what we could do if we could train full time like the pros do. Having had a taste of what the pros do, I think I’ll keep my day job.

It was hard to get on my bike today — I just lacked any sort of motivation. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly an easy day: about 100 miles of cycling, split up in the middle by a 2k cold lake swim and a 10k-ish trail run. It was 51 miles out to the lake, and included a long series of climbs that were — true to the stereotype &mdash uphill and into the wind.

I had gotten spit off the back after about 19 miles (still have my front brake issue so I couldn’t ride in the pack), and going up the road towards St. Arnaud, I had absolutely no power in my legs. So I got in the van at around 25 miles with the idea of getting back on the bike after the swim, run and lunch, and seeing how it went.

The lake was pretty cold but very clear, and we did a 4-lap triangle that worked out to around a mile. After the initial shock of the cold (even in a wetsuit), I ended up having my best swim of the entire camp (judging by who I finished near). The trail run was nice and leisurely, just getting the time on our feet (like we really need it). After a good picnic lunch lakeside, I climbed back on my bike with the goal of getting to at least 50 miles for the day.

As much uphill as there had been on the way out, the way back wasn’t entirely downhill. Each series of hills on the way out had had several miles of downhill before going up again, so we had to go up that downhill this time. Not only that, the wind had shifted, and we now had a headwind going back! Doh!

Still, I felt comfortable in my aero bars, and I took full advantage of the downhills, despite the lack of braking power. There were some curves, but none required braking, fortunately. I figured I’d get my 90k (56 miles) in and climb in the van — the only problem was, the van never came. We were so spread out by that point that Sarah, the driver, had problems covering the entire field, so the further I got, the more likely it became that I would just ride on in, which would put me at 120k (75 miles) or so. Not bad considering how terrible I felt at the beginning of the day. I ended up with 76 miles.

So my 7-day total is about 12k of swimming, 425 miles of cycling, and 66k of running. I’ll have to add up the total hours, but it’s a lot — easily the most I’ve ever done, maybe by more than double.

Tomorrow is “events day” — which I involves a little triathlon in and around Nelson. Not sure I’m ready to race at this point, but if anyone’s catchable on the run, you can be sure I’ll try…

Day 6: Up and over

Today we left Collingwood and went back over the Takaka Hill climb to the beach at Little Kaiteriteri, where we did an “aquathon” consisting of a 2k swim and 8k run. I had some mechanical issues with my bike that started yesterday; John the bike doctor fixed one of them, but my front brake requires a part that wasn’t available in Collingwood, so I was riding with almost no front brake. That meant I couldn’t do the descent off of Takaka Hill, but I could do the ride out of Collingwood and the climb up Takaka Hill, then put my bike on the van for the ride down. So I did just that.

The ride up was hard; I got spit off the back of the group about 5 miles before the climb started, so I was doing it on my own. I did catch up to the guy who sat on my wheel the other day up the other side of the climb, and sure enough he glommed on again. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the strength to drop him &mdash I tried a couple of times. 😉 As we approach the summit, I turned around and said, “I guess you’re going to sprint past me at the end just like the other day, so go ahead.” He made some mumbling statement about needing the points and getting his ass kicked every day. Whatever. Fortunately, I run a lot faster than he does, so I figured we’d see what happened in the aquathon.

Kaiteriteri was really a day at the beach &mdash it was hot and sunny. The water, though, was great, and we got some instructions for the course that I kind of half paid attention to. Bad idea, because since I’m the weakest swimmer in the camp, I got spit off the back pretty quickly and had trouble following the course. I found the first set of rocks we had to turn at, but then I couldn’t see any of the buoys (small and black, so not the easiest to spot when you don’t exactly have eagle eyes), so I swam in the approximate direction and hoped for the best. I finally found them, but once past them, I headed back to what I thought was the right set of rocks (the same ones we had gone around at the beginning), but it turns out they were a different set of rocks altogether &mdash much further out.

Once I reach them, I realized my mistake and headed back in, but I was last out by probably 10 minutes. Probably too much to make up in a 5-mile run, but I headed out and went on the hunt. I saw the entire field going the other way, but my wheelsucking friend was in the back and looked catchable. By the beginning of the second loop, I had indeed caught and passed him (I was doing maybe 6:30 pace). I realized, though, that there was a short out and back section that I had inadvertently skipped on the first loop, so I knew I had to do it on the second and therefore needed enough time on the guy to avoid a next-to-last placing (one of the campers was injured so was walking). Mission accomplished, with minutes to spare. 🙂

Then we had 16 or so miles of pedaling again to the Neudorf winery, where we enjoyed several glasses of wine each and some snacks. I thought I’d still be full from lunch, but I was ravenous.

As nice as the end of the day was, the camp is far from over. Tomorrow is a very hard 180k ride; hopefully I will have working front brakes by then.

Day 5: Finally in my element

Today wasn’t much of a riding day in Collingwood unless you wanted to tack on extra distance. I have a mechanical issue with my bike, which hopefully will get sorted tonight, but it meant I didn’t ride at all. Oh well, my butt could use the break.

The day started with an early “3k” ocean swim race. The distance turned out to be closer to a full 3.8k iron distance swim, but the water was pretty shallow so there was some walking through the water vs swimming. I did 1:02 or so and wasn’t last (close, though). It felt good to swim in the wetsuit instead of the 50m pool swims we’ve been doing.

After brekkies, it was time for my element: the 2-hour trail run. We headed out to one of the well-known “tracks,” which involved a long drive on a gravel road that had several stream crossings just to get to. Once there, the trail led inexorably upward; John Newsom was going to stop at around 1h 5m, and we had to run to him before turning around.

The trail was very rocky and uneven, as opposed to the relatively smooth Northern California trails I normally run on, so that made my Newton shoes a questionable selection. I started the climb within myself, trying to keep my heart rate at 140 or below. I was surprised to actually catch John on the ascent, but he was taking it easy in order to make the run doable for everyone.

John repassed me with just over an hour gone, and I kept waiting for him to stop. Finally he did, as Heath, a pro from Utah was coming down, having been a minute or so ahead. I turned around and was now really in my element &mdash downhill on trails &mdash so I took off in pursuit of Heath. I latched on to the back of him (so to speak) as we cruised down at a healthy clip. Actually, less a cruise than a controlled freefall, a little like mogul skiing. Both of us turned ankles and/or almost went down several times.

I took over the lead when we passed some hikers, and I really let it fly. I made it back to the vans in 1h 56m, which meant a 49-minute descent for what was probably 8 miles. And I had some fun!

The level of the participants continues to amaze me. One guy, Steve, tacked on another 2h 30m run in addition to a 60k bike. I, on the other hand, napped, tried to fix my bike, and then had a beer and some chips. I’m definitely the slacker of the camp.

Tomorrow, it’s back to Nelson over that Takaka Hill climb, with detours to do a 2k swim 8k run aquathlon as well as a stop at a winery outside Nelson at the end of the day. I may not get back on the bike after the winery…

Oh, and Bevan Eyles interviewed me for a podcast that should be up at http://www.imtalk.me.

Day 4: Biggest climb in NZ

Supposedly, Takaka (pronounced something like TOK-ee-ya) Hill is the biggest climb in the country. We went over it today in the 130k ride from Nelson to Collingwood, an eerily deserted seaside town. Maybe it’s just that it’s midweek and the kids are back in school. I was good today, completing the stage and finishing with the group (we did regroup at lunch after the climb). I wasn’t technically last up the climb (someone had a flat), and I did drag one guy the whole climb only to have him sprint past me at the top to officially “beat” me. I thought it was kind of a dick move, but whatever. I was good on the ensuing descent and passed a few folks, much to my surprise. Collingwood, where we are staying the next couple of nights, is in a beautiful setting. We visited the one pub in town, and Molina had a ton of stories from the old days. Chris McDonald is also a riot. Tomorrow is a 3k ocean swim (wetsuit — yesssss!), a 2-hour run (yessssss!) and just a minimum 60k ride.

Day 3: Dang, this is hard!

Day 3 was what Tour de France commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen would call the “queen stage” — a really long ride with lots of climbing and, it turns out, lots of headwind. Headwind or no headwind, the route from Kaikoura to Nelson is breathtaking; two other guys and I started out 20 minutes early in our own gruppetto and witnessed the sun rising over the spectacular coastal road. We took turns leading, but I wasn’t having a great start to the day, mainly thanks to my tender saddle area. Yesterday’s long ride took its toll on my sitbones, but I was able to shift around a little to improve things temporarily.

The first refueling point was at 37 miles, and that’s when one member of our gruppetto, Heath, decided to call it quits due to a lingering psoas problem. That left Lou and me, and we still hadn’t been caught be the bunch, which was kind of surprising because they have some real horsepower. My power wasn’t too good today, so I was struggling on every uphill, so Lou pretty quickly dropped me. That left me alone on a long stretch that it’s no exaggeration to say was pretty much all uphill and into the wind for the next 25 miles. I was probably averaging only 15 mph in this stretch, but my heart rate wasn’t too high, so I was definitely suffering from leg fatigue.

The group finally went by me near the 60-mile mark, and that’s pretty much when I decided to call it a day on this ride, with 90+ slow miles still to go that I would have to do solo. It turned out to be a good decision — I saw some great wine country from the van, and the climbs that came later on were just massive. I’m not sure I could have finished the ride before dark.

What I did do, though, once we got to Nelson, was get a 3k swim and a 50-minute run in, so I got in my three sports.

What’s really impressive to me are the guys (and gals) who complete the entire rides with the group day after day — they are really tough and fit.

Tomorrow is a somewhat lighter stage — “only” 130k from Nelson to Collingwood, but it includes a big climb (16k) up Takaka Hill. The big guns will be going after King of the Mountain points; I will be looking to complete the stage. 🙂

Day 2: What a difference a day and some salt tablets make!

Yesterday was not confidence inspiring — when you feel like total dogpoo the whole day, including when you’re not training, and then are facing an even longer day the next day, doubts begin to creep in.

Since my goal for the camp is to accumulate bike volume, I’ve decided to treat the swims and runs as “optional” — not good for competing in the camp points race, but then that’s a contest in which I’m not going to place well in any case, so I tell myself to remember why I’m here. With that in mind, I wanted to make sure my nutrition was good today and that I was able to complete the bike leg. So I skipped the morning’s swim session and slept in. Best decision of the day.

The route was from Christchurch to Kaikoura, and it ended with a 70k time trial. Of course, for the few of us who couldn’t stay with the lead pack after the first 60k, it was a longer time trial than that! 😉

The ride out of Christchurch with the bunch was quick, thanks to decent pack dynamics and a favorable wind. Once past the first refueling point in Rangiota, though, the pace picked up considerably, and try as I might to stay on the thinning group’s wheel, I and few others were off the back pretty quickly. So it was solo riding for about 30 miles, and in the rain to boot. The good part was the weather was much cooler, so my sweat rate (and therefore electrolyte loss) was a little more under control.

I wasn’t too keen on going to the well in the time trial, but I didn’t totally sandbag it either. After 75 miles, though, the thought of a time trial effort for 40+ miles is a little daunting, so I started cautiously and then picked up the effort level when we got the middle section of fairly steep climbs, which reminded me of home so I felt more in my element. I even repassed one guy who had passed me. One.  A number of the campers are impressively strong &mdash pro Chris McDonald went by me like a shot pretty soon into the ride (starting a few minutes behind me) as did Tara Norton. Ok, pretty much everyone went by me…

After the steep rollers (which had some awesome descents, though some of the passing trucks made for sporty riding), we were treated to a spectacular coastline for the final 10 miles or so up to Kaikoura. It was quite overcast, but at this point, I didn’t need full-on sun anyway. I started getting really hungry with about 8 miles to go and found one gel in my rear pocket, which was just enough to get me through.

Final tally was a little over 115 miles in 6:38 (including stop lights, etc) and about 3500 ft of climbing, most of it in the last 40 miles. I think I did the TT in just under 2:30; the record prior to today was 2 hours flat, but I’m betting McDonald broke it. I skipped the post-ride run, because I am daunted by tomorrow’s ride — 252k up to Nelson. I have never ridden that far in my life.

But for today, I am stoked! I’m allowing myself a celebratory glass of wine with Molina at dinner.

Day 1: And then it got ugly…

Don’t get me wrong — I didn’t think this was going to be a leisurely tour of the South Island. Day 1 didn’t disappoint in that respect, but my body’s reaction to the day did.

Things started well enough with a 10k run to the pool, where I took it pretty easy and finished with the lead group in 44 minutes and change. That could have been a mistake in hindsight (too fast even though it felt easy), but today’s body issues went deeper than that. The pool was set up for long course (i.e., 50m), which seems like an eternity when all you swim in normally is a 25-yard pool. Fewer turns, fewer opportunities to rest.

I don’t know if I’d be the weakest swimmer here on paper, but I definitely was in reality. I couldn’t get going, and by about 1000m into the session, I was seeing stars and cramping. I called it a day at 2000m and promptly cramped in my left hamstring as I climbed out of the pool. This was not a good sign for later — once you start cramping, it means you are going to be running an electrolyte deficit for the rest of the day.

After the swim came a nice breakfast and then a 10:15 rollout for the 150k bike. This was not a point-to-point affair as most days will be; this was the “Gorges” loop west of Christchurch. Not a tremendously hilly loop, but there was a fair bit of wind, and the wind actually shifted during the ride so that the riders never got the expected tailwind at the end.

I’d say “we” instead of “the riders,” but I spent a fair amount of time in the SAG wagon, a victim of cramps that would not stop. If it had been a one-day event or something, I would have soldiered on, but there are 7 more days of the camp, so I opted to save it for another day. Still, I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t manage my nutrition better in the days leading up to the camp; the same thing happened to me in last year’s Hawaii 70.3 race. And here I thought I was a learning organism.

Tomorrow is another day. A big one, too, with a 180k ride from Christchurch to Kaikoura. Here’s hoping it goes better than today did.


Today marked the arrival of all of the Epic Campers, as well as an evening welcome dinner and detailing of what we will be facing over the next 8 days.  There’s a points race within the camp, but I might have to leave it to the pros to duke it out.  I am nervous enough about reaching the daily minima in each sport — the Office Space restaurant manager’s comments regarding “flair” notwithstanding, I won’t think less of myself or anyone else for doing the absolute daily minimum.  I hope I’m not alone.

The coolest part besides just being here was meeting triathlon legends Scott Molina and Erin Baker.  I raced against was in a few of the same races as both of them back in the 80s during my first triathlon career.

Tomorrow is a 50ish-minute run at 6 a.m. followed by a swim that includes a 2K time trial (nothing like a long time trial for your first swim in weeks), then brekkies, and then we cap it off with a 150K bike ride.

Then the days get harder…