Sunday, 17 January 2010

The End of the Line

Sat here in Auckland airport, amongst the random population of international travellers, denied the sun on my face and a fair wind at my back, its hard to look at the last 15 days with true insight. I had mentioned previously that Epic camp is a means to an end. After all, a 'training camp' is meant to do what it says on the tin.

Thats not quite true.

Arriving in Bluff and soaking in the emotions of the group has brought home the 'other' nature of this Epic camp. This is the 'journey' aspect, the sense of adventure and wanderlust that all cyclists have in some measure. The willingness to trade physical (and mental!) suffering for a chance to travel from one place to another under your own power. Sometimes lots of suffering for only meagre amounts of power! But if the journey and suffering were worthy enough, then the end most definitely justifies the means. Or in other words, if you are going to climb a mountain, make it a big one.

Day 15 started like days 1-14: an early breakfast in lycra, bags packed and ready to roll and furtive glances at the route profile to see what millions of years of geology had in store for us that day. Day 15 was due to be a toughie on paper, 185km, over 2000m of ascending and some long climbs. The flip side was the route wound its way through a national park and we would not be rolling on State highway 1 until the final 20km from Invercargill to Bluff. The scenery was said to be stunning (as visitors to NZ amongst you will know - you quickly run out of superlatives to describe the natural beauty of this country)

And joy of joys, the wind was at our backs - a lovely, steady Nor'easterly, gently helping us over the rolling terrain, pushing us to the end of the island. The terrain is so exposed, a headwind would have been unthinkable. Unbearable.

The pace was also very steady - emotionally as soon as we had read the wind direction, the 'push' had gone out of nearly all of us. It would not be a brutal slog to the finish. To continue the Ironman 'final 10km' analogy - we were well on target, feeling fine and our main competitor (the wind) had just slipped on a sponge at an aid station and cracked a rib.

Of course 185km on a bike doesnt just 'happen' - you need to pedal at some point and during the first 20km I feared my legs were shot and I was heading for what the French call a "jour sans". A beautifully crafted phrase to describe the feeling a rider has when he has a very bad day. The Kiwis also have a phrase for this, although its a rougher sounding "legs like shit".

As it happens, my legs came round to the battle tested 'tired but able to push' feeling which was now the de facto mode of operation for the camp. The ever decreasing km numbers added further iron to my will and soon we were over the magic 100km for the day. A quick lunch stop where everyone assembled marked the final countdown and we rolled into the small town of Bluff as a single group. We had a quick stop whilst a few crazies had a crack at the local climb of Bluff Hill (3km, 18% avg - some sections at 35%), where one unfortunate camper, armed with a bottom gear of only 39-23 pushed too hard on a steep section and wheelied over backwards in a spectacular flail of carbon and lycra. Its not often you see the back of a helmet smashed up!

And then the final, 2km processional roll into Lands end (a car park at the end of the road - literally). Champagne was popped. Handshakes, hugs and backslaps were doled out with enthusiasm and a truly ridiculous amount of photos were taken. All that was left was a little 7km jog around the track at the base of Bluff Hill to complete the camp. No problem, right?


It seems John the organiser had seen on Google earth the track running from the car park at Lands end to a lookout point a few km around the headland, before looping back to the car park via the town. So far, so ordinary. What he had failed to realise was the fact that the trail went up Bluff Hill to the top before dropping into town on the other side. So we ran/walked/scrambled up Bluff Hill. To say the trail was steep would be an understatement. I spent the entire time trying not to be sick and staring at the buttocks of the athlete in front. Not for any other reason than the buttocks were at my head height due to the gradient! To top it off, we then had to run down the steep 35% gradients of the tarmac'd sections on the other side. Total. Quad. Destruction.

Still, its not called Easy camp is it? ;-)

And with that we were in the vans back to Invercargill, the hotel and a massive all you can eat dinner at the local steakhouse. I had many, many beers and my head felt very dizzy. I then slept the sleep of a happy camper.

My thoughts on the trip you ask?

Well, its been an amazing experience. Obviously. I hope my ramblings over the past 15 days have conveyed that. Only time will give me the distance and space to appreciate what we did and how lucky I am to have done it.

For now I will reflect on a job well done, a cracking 15 days and a springboard to get very fit for Ironman Lanzarote in May.

POTD is a self shot of Lands end at Bluff. The end of the road and the end of this Blog. Thank you ALL for reading and sharing the journey and the training camp with me.

New Zealand - Done

They say a picture speaks a thousand words.

I'll blog my post camp thoughts tomorrow - right now its beer o'clock.

Friday, 15 January 2010

The Good, the Bad, the Rooted.

One day left. I can't quite believe we are here, just outside Balclutha (look it up) resting up, drinking beers, getting massages and talking the usual gibberish 31 tired people tend to spout. Its great. In Kiwi speak - we are all 'rooted'.

Of course the mood is upbeat however - how could it not be? 14 days in the bag, ~2100km of riding, 26,000m of swimming and 106km of running has got me to within 190km of Bluff and the end of sitting on a saddle for 6hrs a day! we go out with a bang though, the route profile looks very tough with about 2800m of climbing. I can see a few campers looking at my compact gearing with green eyes of envy! The route winds down the coast from Balclutha to Invercargill (no highway 1 riding! hurrah!) so the views should be spectacular. The forecast(s) are for sunshine, 20deg and easterlies (which is perfect as we are essentially tracking east for the majority of the ride)

Everyone is running on fumes and adrenalin. That we are so close disguises how tired people are - you can tell with the lulls in talking, the aimless staring at the walls, the effortless sprint to the ice cream station contrasting with the heavy leg dragging stumble at all other times. My mantra is No_Sudden_Movements. Mainly for fear of tearing something completely off if i jolt anything. We all look like an OAP group at dinner and breakfast (except for the ice cream sprint of course).

Still no complete blowups though - the difficulty and lack of 'competitive' elements to this camp are the main reasons for people staying on an even keel with each other. This is simply too long and too hard not to feel part of a team. Everyone has suffered together and their is a large element of mutual respect flowing both ways. We all admire guys like Clas and Molina for their talents and Steve Lord for his toughness, but I get the sense that the pros and rock stars also are impressed that many of the slower athletes have stood up to be counted, worked hard for the camp minumums and ridden as hard as they dared to.

Some peoples thoughts are now focused on their upcoming races, or smashing their training partners in the local chaingangs, or eating their bodyweight in pizza (i'll leave you to decide which of these is mine!) - as much as this is a trip of a lifetime, a massive challenge and an amazing adventure, its still 'just' a training camp. A means to an end. My race at Lanzarote in May is now weighing on my mind - how do I get the best from these 14 days and move forwards from here? Its something I will corner some people about in the next 24hrs.

Today you ask?

Today was good. And bad.

Good was a lovely first 30km along the stunning Otago coastline. Bad was snapping a spoke in my rear wheel at 30.1kms.

Good was riding on a wonky wheel, smashing it at 400W with a breakaway up the KOM designated climb, feeling fantastic about dropping the group and coming in second over the top. Bad was realising we had attacked on the wrong hill, the KOM was the next hill along :-(

Good was getting to a bike shop in Dunedin, getting a new spoke fixed at Cycle Surgery (for free - thanks guys) and wandering around marvelling at all the street names transplanted from Edinburgh. Bad was getting lost leaving the city, losing the group and riding the final 80km with no lunch.

Good was the 87kph i recorded on the descent of a monster hill at about 150kms (Reid/Wilson - I am a bike rider reborn - i can go downhill AND uphill fast now ;-). Bad was the gust of wind that hit me mid-corner, almost threatening to make me a new, permanent addition to the landscape.

Good was the massage when I arrived at the motel.
Bad was the massage when I arrived at the motel (ouch!).

No swimming or running due to complete lack of interest (and I dont need to - did I mention that already :-)

If this camp was an Ironman race, I have just stepped over the breach into the final 10km. As most of you know (or may find out some time) its an excrutiating mix of giddiness at having so little left to do and despair at having so long left to run and being in such pain already. You know in your heart you will finish, but you know there is much work left to do, and the race course WILL have its pound of flesh from you.

POTD is from the archives - taken just after sunrise in Kaikoura during my morning run. This type of scenery has weight to it - it simple takes your breath away. I hope the photo can do it some justice

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Final Push

And now we enter the final chapter in this journey. The final push to Bluff. Two days, 397km and two very sore, very tired legs. My body has got into a groove and there has been no change in how my legs feel when cycling. No matter how tired or 'dead' i think they might be, they always seem to be able to push. Its always the head that gives up first. Its always the head that lets the wheel go, its always the head that lets the group slip away up the climbs. The legs are simply following orders.

Todays ride was a good case in point. 150km from Geraldine to Waianakarua, mostly along state highway 1. I have to admit that so far the South island has not shown its 'pretty' side. This is mostyl to do with the fact that we are cycling along Highway 1 for 70% of the route (purely a logistical matter - the alternative 'scenic'route to Bluff down the west coast would add another 2-3 days to the trip as its more mountainous). Its not much fun as the traffic is pretty heavy, trucks and vans zipping along at high speed as you cycle in a 4ft wide shoulder made of heavy chipseal.

So today the choice for the head was sit in with a fast group for some surging pack riding at high speed or chunter along at medium pace for a long time. Well as you can imagine I decided to hang with a fast group, and fast it was. David Craig has us zipping along bug eyed at 40kph for long stretches - the bunch riding was typically surging and required 80watts at some points and 380watts at others. It wasn't relaxing at all, very tiring and the nature of the scenery didnt exactly inspire me. It was fast however and we made good time to the first aid station. I dropped back after lunch after having a nasty hayfever attack and nearly sneezing myself into the fast lane. After lunch I jumped on the CraigExpress again for the short 30km into Oamaru, where i promised myself an end to the pain and suffering with a solo coffee and a gentle spin home for the final 20km.

However, we finally turned off the highway and onto a back road hugging the epic South island coastline. Suddenly it was beautiful, picturesque, postcard quality New Zealand again. Epic vistas, crashing surf and scenery very reminiscent of East Lothian. All transgressions forgiven NZ - you have stolen my heart all over again.

As you can imagine we were all content to roll along slowly, drinking in the view. All thoughts of hammering it were gone and we sauntered the final 30km into our accomodation happy to have finally seen some of what the South island is famous for. Throughly worth the 120km of hammerfest misery on the highway i reckon.

In other good news I have now completed all my swim and run minimums for camp completion. I now dont have to swim or run any more this camp. We have a 7km on the final day that i will run (it is pretty ceremonial as it loops around the Bluff headpoint). I put my 26km to bed this morning with a 4.3km swim set which included the classic Epic camp favourite event: the 400IM.

As you can imagine the sight of 25 tired, freestyle only triathletes knocking out 300m of 'the other strokes' was a hilarious way to start the day. Quote of the morning goes to Scott Molina, remarking on one athletes impressively vigorous start to the 'fly leg - "I know this guy, he goes from swimmer to turtle in 15seconds flat" Sure enough, after 1 length his 'fly turned from "Phelps at Beijing" into "drowning moth". I didnt do too badly coming in at 7.21 - not bad considering I drank half the pool during the backstroke leg. Steven Lord won with a 5.51 (!).

So onto the final chapter, once more unto the breach dear friends and all that. We are so near the Bluff, yet so far away. Again tonight I pray for tailwinds and light weather. My legs will do the job, I just hope my head issues the right orders.

POTD is the beautiful Otago coastline - the final hour of todays ride.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Kiwi Toothpaste

So. Tired.

The rest day feels like weeks ago and my mind and body are close to cracking. The only relief from the grind is the knowledge that we are only 3 days away from Bluff. I want to stop, rest, recover and recuperate but I will not stop until its done. I almost fell asleep in a cafe during the ride today. There was a fire and it was warm and I could have so easily curled up and slept till February. 3 days. Count 'em.

In better news, last night I managed to finally meet Bevan Eyles (from IMtalk) - a very nice guy and we had a good chat about Epic, Tri, life etc etc. For those who want to know, he is exactly like he sounds on IMtalk - bubbly, chatty and very personable. Bryan Rhodes also stopped by for a chat with the crew. We talked about his recent injury and racing career. Again, as is so common in this part of the world, a very friendly, down to earth guy.

This morning started with an 18km hilly trail run around the Sumner area of Christchurch. Stunning views and amazing scenery took some of the sting out of a very hard run. Lots of steep (walking/scrambling steep) uphills and technical downhills led to a real quad workout. As a guide the quickest Clas Bjorling has ever run this in training is 1hr 30min (Clas owns the IMNZ run record - 2.42ish, so is a pretty good runner!)

Needless to say it took us a lot longer than that. 1hr 55min for 18km is a long, arduous way to start the day. Breakfast and then on the road for a 151km ride to Geraldine. The day started with clear skies and a slight breeze. However the forecast(s) warned of a strong southern front. The Southerlies would be making a re-appearance. And apparently they would be bringing their relatives "Driving rains" as well.

Sure enough 30mins into the ride, the skys turned black, the temp dropped by 10degrees and for the next 5hrs we were all transported to Belgium for a flat farmland ride in head/side winds and driving rain. The farmland roads kicked up a slurry of dirt, soil, cr*p and dust that caked our legs and bikes. In Flanders they call this mixture "Belgian toothpaste". It gets everywhere.

The entire ride was a grind and at no point did nothing ache - the group mainly stuck together which led to a lot of surging and yo-yoing of pace and power - a very damaging way to ride as the spikes in power take it out of the legs. The weather and featureless scenery added to the general feeling of woe in the group.

All in all a tough day on the bike, and one that everyone is glad to be done with. For those who ran this morning as well, the general feeling is "shattered". There is something about running long that beats me up. Mind you, before coming to Epic camp, if someone had told me to run for 2hours and then ride 95miles I would have told them where to go. That we can do exactly that after 11 days of 7hrs training per day speaks volumes about Epic camp itself and the mindset it forces you into.

All i want to do now is sleep.

Tomorrow starts with a big swim (for me at least - i have to do the final 5km to get camp completion as tomorrow is likely to be the last swimming pool we visit) including the traditional swimming events held at every Epic camp: 400IM, 200m kick and 50m freestyle.
We then saddle up for another 150km to Oamaru.

No more running until Sunday for me - this is a very. good. thing.

POTD today is from the beautiful Godley bay - part of the trail run

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Good VIbrations

This will be quick as i have little battery left.

At any point during the day conversation in the camp will always turn to the state of our respective undercarriages. Cycling 100 miles a day for two weeks can cause some serious damage without daily lashings of chamois cream and good hygiene principles (dont sit around in your bike shorts for hours after the ride).

Add in the state of the Kiwi roads and you have some athletes in severe discomfort. Ah yes, the famed Kiwi roads. I promised you my thoughts on the topic, so here they are. They suck. I would like to ask the guy in charge of roads here what exactly where they thinking in leaving so many roads half finished? I mean, lets be honest, its not like they dont know how to build a normal smooth tarmac road. Many of the main urban areas and bridge areas in the country are surrounded by smooth tarmac that shows no signs of overuse or wear and tear. So why not the other thousands of km's of roads?

You learn to spot the nature of the next strip of road by judging how the light reflects off it. A shiny surface denotes smooth riding and a chance to relax. A dull or uneven reflection and you start tensing automatically to protect yourself against the onslaught. Its fatiguing mentally and physically, not to mention slowing you down by at least 3-4kph compared to smooth tarmac.

One plus point however is the lack of potholes, dents, random strips of dug up road and general road debris that you find on any average british street. It makes group riding much easier.

Today started with a 10km run, warmed up with a 180km ride to Christchurch and ended with another 10km run. I can 'feel' the camp ending. I can literally taste it. 4 days left.

POTD is self explanatory - the Kiwi chipseal

Monday, 11 January 2010

Wind and Whales

They call them "The Southerlies". In any other country the word would denote a simple wind direction: Nor'wester etc or a dodgy Country N' Western band. In the South island of New Zealand they are more than a mere wind direction. The issue is geographical. Winds from Antarctica blow across the southern ocean, picking up speed and intensity. The first land mass they hit is New Zealand, specifically the South island - more specifically the coastal areas of the South island.

You can tell what is coming.

I did say yesterday that even though todays 129km ride looked inocuous enough - the conditions could cause carnage. They did.

Lets back it up first - an early start this morning 0550 for coffee before a 5min walk to the local pool in Blenheim. I had already decided to do a few bonus points sets with David Craig (the premise is that Scott Molina pens a number of swim sets that you can acrue bonus points for. David and I were targting the 12 x 150fs/100IM - which in English means swim 150m freestyle immeadiately followed by 100m individual medley (fly/back/breast/free) done 12 times in a row without stopping. This would net us a 3km swim and a bonus point. After doing this and struggling with 25 athletes in 3 lanes, David and I nabbed a lane each after the others had finished and did 200m fly - another bonus point. It wasnt pretty, it wasn't efficient but we both got through it.

Breakfast at the motel (my standard breakfast - 4 slices toast with Nutella) was followed by the entire camp rolling out together ready for an early chance at glory - the KOM (KOM is King Of the Mountains - points are awarded for your position at the top of a climb - denoted by the committee). The KOM for today was 5km from the motel. That fact coupled with 25 'rested' athletes looking for glory made for the hardest first 20km of the camp so far - i was stuck over 300W for the first 10 minutes as cyclists shot up the road. Eventually a breakaway group formed and it was left to John Newsom and Scott Molina to pull a group of 10 (including me). Rob Reid - you would be proud - I attacked our group on a small rise before the start of the climb and even though Newsom, Molina and a few others came past I held on for 9th - my best placing by far. It cost me though, my highest HR and avg wattage seen so far this camp. But hey ho - its only 109km left right? How hard can that be?

This is where the aforementioned southerlies came into play - we ground our way down to Kaikoura into a stiff, cold, nasty headwind. To put it into perspective I recorded my highest avg wattage for a ride this camp and my lowest avg speed. Not good. As the road wound its way into a bay, we would get a few moments of relief before the next headland. I dont think anyone had any other thoughts except head down and push. Thank god it wasnt 180km. Oh wait, thats tomorrow :-(

No one had a really good day and everyone seemed to suffer (although some naturally more than others) - unless you were heading North, it wasnt a good day to be cycling the South island.

On a more positive note the scenery was jaw droppingly beautiful - when i managed to put my head up into the wind I caught glimpses of cresting waves crashing against rocks, seal colonies stretched out lazily over the coast, snow capped mountains in the distance and miles and miles of deserted beach. Kaikoura itself is a popular destination for whale watching - I looked (briefly) but saw no whales. Maybe tomorrow.

Alas the day was not over - as i mentioned yesterday, I need to run. So I laced up and ran 5.5km along the coast to a well known seal colony - snapped some pictures (seals are SO cute!) and then ran/shuffled the 5.5km back to the hotel for a massage (more pain) and coffee/cheesecake.

As you can imagine "The Southerlies" are on everyones mind. Will they abate? Will they swing round to a bog standard, helpful and not-nearly-so-importantly-named northerly? The forecasts, like most countries fixated with the weather (UK included) all seem to contradict each other. Some seem to say "relax, its a tailwind - lie in and you'll still be there by lunch" others are more "you'd better leave now if you want to be in Christchurch by tomorrow evening fat boy".

So a simple method from Scotland - "wake up and stick your heed oot the windae - and take a jacket"

180km to Christchurch tomorrow over rolling hills - the South island version of SBH.

first though a 7km run - 3km swim in Kaikouras outdoor pool (wetsuit needed) - and 2km run before breakfast.

Big day - pray for a tailwind!

POTD is another action shot - me leading a small group of Russell and Lee. The expression on our faces says a lot.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Just Chill

What exactly do the ‘R’s in R&R stand for? Rest and Recovery? Relaxation and Recuperation? Whatever they are, today was the designated R&R day. No training allowed except the 28km gentle spin from the ferry port of Picton to Blenheim. Well, you could train if you wanted to (nothing stopping me from knocking out a swift 25km run for example) but the mileage wouldn’t count towards camp completion targets or get you any bonus points – so as you can imagine there are now 25 athletes all sitting with their feet up drinking beer (yes beer – one of the camp sponsors is Steinlager – so we have as much beer as we can drink all camp. Excellent)

And maybe one of the ‘R’s should be Reflection, on what we have done over the last week, on how it has affected our bodies and minds and on what we have left to do. Cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats is a great achievement. Getting there and turning round to cycle all the way back to Lands End again is bordering on mad. But as they say (daily) here – its not called Easy Camp.

A special mention goes to another newbie Brit here – Lee. Lee is in the green jersey today and tomorrow for his suicidal attack on the main group up yesterdays climb. Apparently he jumped with about 7km to go, gained 20m and dangled out there like a maniac for about 20min before being hauled back in and spat out the back. For such insane behavior the committee decided to award him the ‘play of the day’ green jersey – great stuff Lee!

My goals for the second half of the camp haven’t changed. I was pleased with my riding for the first week – I didn’t really have a bad physical day on the bike (mental dips yes) and the two days riding with Russell were fantastic as I felt I had really good form there. So its very much take it day by day and see how the legs feel. In my mind there is a distinct first and second parts to the South island. Part 1 is the next 4 days where we have rides of 130km, 190km, 150km and 148km. Only one ‘big’ day in there, and chances to see how my legs have gained/lost from week 1. Part 2 is the final two days where we have rides of 180km and 190km over very hilly, exposed terrain. They could be very messy indeed. I am hoping that by then, the mental desire to finish will be so strong that I would bike up Everest to get the camp completed! Of course the conditions can change a simple 130km ride into a 7 hour headwind battling, rain soaked misery-fest. Lets all pray for good weather!

My totals for the North Island (with totals left to do for camp completion in brackets) were:

Bike = 1285km (1115km to do)

Run = 52km (53km to do)

Swim = 18.5km (9km to do)

POTD today is Kiwi AG’er David Craig – doing his R&R bit with his NormaTec boots on.

North Island - Done

After 59hours and 12min of training and covering 1285km on the bike we have finally arrived at the foot of the North Island: Wellington.

My spirits are buoyed by the fact that I have cycled so far - roughly the same distance as Calais to Barcelona or Lands End to John O'Groats (!) however I am shocked to realise that we are only half way through the camp. My body is starting to break apart from the strain of the daily routine.

My knees are getting sore, my leg muscles are constantly aching and I have niggles all over my upper body. The pace has something to do with it too. This is no audax style camping tour, taking time out to visit local museums or cathedrals. Much of todays 'short' 135km for example was spent at 35kph watching for a twitch in the wheel in front or dreading the road rising ever upwards, or watching the sweat bounce off the garmin and being too tired or going too fast to wipe it off. The rest of the ride was a brutal 8km climb over a mountain range with gusty 45kph winds threatening to blow us over the edge at any point. At times on the climb i came to a complete standstill and it was all I could do to turn the pedals over. The descent was 'interesting' and good practice for Ironman Lanzarote I suppose!

Its a strange world where 5hours and 134km on the bike feels like a short day, but it really did. Getting to the destination at about 2pm was a luxury, so in true Epic camp style (and probably something you can all predict by now) we ran to the local pool, swam 3km and ran back. Again in EC style some people did 6km swim sets and added and extra 10km to their run - after all, its a rest day tomorrow right? :-)

It hit home when an EC veteran told me that today would usually be the last day of a 'normal' Epic Camp. Urggghhhhhh

People seem to have settled into personal routines as well - there have been some flare ups but its obvious people are simply avoiding conflict rather than let their emotions take control. There is a sense of giddyness that we have made such a big achievement. I expect midway through the South Island for emotions to take control again.

Tomorrow is a lie in - breakfast at 8am in time to catch the ferry to Picton. The only training to do is a 28km bike ride to Blenheim. I will hope to run at least 10km to claw back some mileage before the camp hits the final 3-4 days.

So the North island is finished - One more island to go!

POTD is one of my favourtites - catching the Epic train across New Zealand

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Cresting my mountain

Today I did what I promised to do and took it very easy - I knew that I was teetering on the edge of breaking up, and I knew another hard day would tip me over that edge, so whatever happened I was going to take it easy,

It all started very sedately - a 4km run to the local pool in Wanganui, a 3km swim set and then the 4km back to the motel for breakfast. Ready to roll at 10am for a 202km ride, I knew I wouldnt get into Masterton until 6pm anyway so there was no point in drilling it to arrive 30mins earlier.

I rolled out with the 'B' train (the 'C'train had left at 8am, missing the run/swim/run and the 'A' train was due to leave about 20mins after us) and to start with the pace was perfect, Russell again provided a steady wheel, riding to power to avoid surging and splitting the bunch. However a few of the faster riders decided to up the pace and soon we were distinctly in the uncomfortable zone - i was holding 240W in third wheel (for those who dont know power - this is a lot to be holding when drafting two people in front of you, it means the rider at the front was doing about 260-270W - not too shabby for the start of day 7!)

So i decided to honour my promise and cut the cord while I could still feel my hands. I let Russell know and dropped off the back with a few others. Best decision I have made so far at this camp. Two riders and I formed a group that effectively rode the entire 202km alone at a very gentle pace. Mentally I was fried, so following a 2 man group was perfect - no pacelines, no jostling for position, no worrying about splits and drafts etc. Just look at the road, look at the wheels and ride. Physically I was fine, my HR avg was 121bpm for the ride and my legs felt pretty strong the entire way through. Sure, i'm not fresh as a daisy, and I would probably struggle to do a max sprint test but as always, when I wanted to push harder, the legs respond immeadiately - no fuss - no drama.

The scenery was a mixed back - a rather monotonous urban selection of towns, 'burbs and cities for the forst 150km suddenly broke into glorious countryside remeniscent of Scotland for the final 50km push into Masterton. Breathtaking views and my first view of large quantities of sheep - I knew the North island had them somewhere!

So a happy day - mentally the past 3 days have been my own private mountain. I am pleased to have gotten through them so strongly and I am pleased that I made a good decision today and backed myself. The next 4-5 days include shorter riding and more rest (this should give me a chance to repack my bag if anything else as its starting to resemble a burst sofa!)

Tomorrow we cycle to Wellington - well I should say 'maybe take a bus' as there are 45kph winds forecasted and we are going over a major climb with a dangerous descent. The organisers may pull the plug if its deemed too dangerous.

POTD is an older photo from Day 1 - the one, the only, Gordo.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Que vida mas dura

I can feel the fatigue slowly creeping up on me - small things are becoming harder to do - like getting up of the sofa, or getting some food, or talking.

Its not like i'm tired on the bike - todays ride, 170km from Lake Taupo to Wanganui was a toughie no doubt, 50km of driving rain and then some heavy headwinds to finish made for a long day out (6.5hrs). But the legs felt good again - the first climb of the day I rode tempo on the front of the group and split the pack apart. The legs just feel 'numb' to the burn - they just push harder when i ask them to. Its harder to get the HR up (a sure sign of general fatigue) but my power number are higher than ever.

Its a total physical tiredness - that shelled feeling. Its coming, i can feel it. Tomorrow is the camps biggest ride: 200km to Masterton over rolling terrain. Thats after an 8km run and 3km swim. I have promised myself to take it easy and accept it will be a very long day out, up to 8hrs on the bike. My iPod is charged and I am actually looking forward to some 'me' time. A nasty headwind will change my mind however and I will look for some shelter.

We pass through a large town - Palmerston North, on the way to Masterton. If I am far enough ahead, I will stop and get some coffee and cake (I dont want to hold up the tail end charlie vehicle) or some lunch at a cafe. I have pushed hard the past few days and my body has responded well. After tomorrow we have 3 days of lighter riding (130km, 28km, 130km) - a good chance to get some rest in the legs.

The day started out with a chilly 3km swim in Lake Taupo again - can't say my mind was 100% on swimming a pb, but I got it done nonetheless. After the first climb and my moment of glory, the fast bunch took off up the road - destination: A special 15km (optional) climb to the ski station of Whakapapa, the highest paved road in NZ. I opted out as a) I could and b) i didnt want to ride up to the highest paved road in NZ. I'll come back one day and drive up it, like normal people do. The name Whakapapa had me giggling for about 30km afterwards as well (you pronounce 'wha' as 'fu' in NZ). Its the little things.

I rode mainly with Russell again today - he is very steady and is a good wheel to follow. Not much thinking required. Once we arrived in Wanganui I forced myself to run a steady 5km as I don't want to have to run 10km a day for the last week (we need to run 105km during the camp - our choice when to do it).

One thing that is very evident is my lack of tolerance to the sheer relentless pace of the daily grind. Whether i'm not used to it, or I need to HTFU - I dont know. I can't believe its now 9pm and I have to go to bed, and then I have to get up at 0630 to run to the pool and swim 3km and then run back and then ride for 200km - and then do it all over again. I now know what Tour de France riders mean when they talk about living in a vacuum. Its tough, no doubt.

2 days then its goodbye to the beautiful, rugged, tough, SBH infested North island. 2 days before I can rest my weary butt off (literally)

POTD is a vista of the Tongiriro national park. Beautiful. And todays title comes from John (Nics father), usually uttered after a long lazy lunch - I repeat it to myself when things get low. It works.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Legs like Eddy

Great day today, great, great day. Even though I woke up feeling pretty beat up (come to think of it, my legs have been buggered since Sunday night) within the first 20km of the ride I felt strong. I rode with another Brit AG'er, Russell Cox. Russ has been pretty much full time for the last year or so and his times have tumbled at Ironman with a pb of 9.19 and a 9.49 at Kona this year, he is a great athlete.

To cut a long (180km) story short, Russ and I two up TT'd the entire bike ride in 6hrs 4min over rolling undulating terrain. I avg'd 204 watts, easily my highest since the start of camp and my legs felt great all day - I even attacked the main group at one point as soon as we were caught at 40km. Russ bridged up to me and we were away again - the roads were a bit smoother so the arse took less of a battering than usual.

Again, todays scenery was spectacular taking us from Matamata to the bottom edge of Lake Taupo, home to Ironman New Zealand. The terrain took in a multitude of flora, fauna and feel - I swear I saw 5 or 6 different countries in one ride: Belgium, Canada, Spain, France, UK etc. At any point in the ride I would put my head up and remark "this looks just like blah"
What a beautiful part of the world.

With the ride done by 2pm we had some time to regroup before heading to Lake Taupo for a 3km swim. Obviously there are no buoys to mark the course so the comittee decided (on the spot) to take 3km as your Ironman swim PB minus 5 minutes - so for me a 54min swim to get my mandatory distance in. I can't say it was my best swim ever, my arms were moving but thats about it. The water was very choppy but crystal clear - what I would do for an OW venue like this in England!

Most people (including me) chose to run the 5km back to the hotel - the run was very tough, legs felt like stumps and I struggled along at 6min km pace. One of the top AG'ers did 25km......

People are getting tired and cracks are starting to show in peoples patience. An admin cock up left the camp split into two separate accomodations, 3km apart. Not what you want to hear when you have just ridden 180km!

We were told that tiredness and crankiness would set in at about day 5 - it has happened on cue - I expect a big blow up within the next 48hrs - stay tuned.

Tomorrow - 3km lake swim, 185km bike ride, 10km run - just another 8hr day on Epic Camp. Hopefully my legs feel as good as they did today :-)

POTD is me following Russ through todays beautiful scenery

Phase 1 complete

Short one tonight - we got into Matamata late this evening as the day didnt start until about midday. Still up at dawn though to ride the 15km to the ferry port at North Shore. A 2hr ferry to Coromandel (google maps it) set us up for the first race since day 1 - an aquath(l)on.

John Newsom measured the swim course 'by sight' at about 1-2km (!) and Gordo measured the run at 5km. As the water was clear and warm I decided not to wear a wetsuit - bad idea as it turns out. I came out of the water in the bottom half of the pack and struggled to find any speed on the run (no surprise there!). A few things stuck out for me in this race. Firstly how fast Gordo, John, Molina, Clas et al can run and secondly how as soon as you mention the word 'race' to this bunch - it all goes a bit 'hyper' and all the type A juices start flowing. No one gives an inch and its hammer time all the time.

Oh yeah, thats Clas, as in Clas Bjorling as in the same Clas Bjorling who went 8.15 at Roth in 2006 before taking 2 years off after overtraining at his last Epic Camp!! A bit of an animal is our Clas.

So once dried out we set off for the ride of the day - 145km to Matamata following the shoreline of the Coromandel peninsular. Before long we arrived at two big alpine style climbs, tough enough on fresh legs but after the mornings race i struggled and immediately fell off the back. Steady gradients and fantastic views saved me though and I struggled on alone to the lunch stop at 30km.

After a quick lunch (I will post a typical lunch stop at a later date, suffice to say anyone who has seen any Attenborough programs where hyenas strip a carcass bare in 2mins will have an idea of what goes on) i pressed on alone, keen to get ahead of the pack. The terrain was mercifully flat for the next 110km and the wind was in our favour.

I was soon joined by another rider, Andrew Charles, an Epic and Kona veteran and we 2up TT'd the next 50km before being joined by the pack. We then rode this train all the way into Matamata at an avg of 38kph - good roads and good wind. If only everyday could be like this! As i felt so good i tacked on an extra 5km run to get a 10km total for the day ( i say run - more like shuffle)

Legs are suprisingly ok - after the shock of the climbs they warmed up through the day and i felt fine at the end of another 100miles riding for the day.

For me this is phase 1 complete, ~29 hours of training in the past 4 days - the next 3 days will be the make or break phase - 30km running, 9km swimming and 570km of riding, all the way to Masterton. If I can survive these days, then Wellington is in sight. Once we get to Wellington, its game on.

POTD is me (again) - action shot in the flatlands of Kupu pulling Charlesy along.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Digging in

Another very tough day at Epic camp (how many times will I roll that out?). After yesterday I thought I would be 'used' to the Kiwi rollers/SBH. I thought another day of the same would be ok, fun even. How wrong I was.

Lets back it up - the day started at 5.50am (urrgghhh) with a 2km run to the local pool in Whangerai for a 3km swim set. However the main pool was closed due to a 'chemical imbalance' so we decided to swim in the wave pool instead. At 27deg it was a touch warm for swimming and there were only 3 lanes for 25 athletes so a hot cram fest was in order. Still, its not called Easy camp is it? I was told it was a 30m length so set about 100 lengths as 50, 30, 10 and 10. After getting out we were told it was actually 25m so it looks like I was 20 lengths short. Some people heard this early enough to add the extra 20, some didnt (urrgghhh again). The structure of the camp allows you to make up the difference at another time so at some point i'll need to swim an extra 500m. This bad news was tempered by the arrival of Sam Warriner for her swim set. Ripped is not the word.

After running the 2km back to the accom. we had breakfast and I and the grupetto set off for the bike ride of the - 175km from Whangerai to North shore (just north of Auckland). Usually the grupetto comprises the slower athletes, however today one of the ladies decided to join the group, which might be ok unless that ladies name is Tara Norton, a pro Ironman athlete. As you can imagine the first 40k were very fast and I was doing as much as possible just to hang on the back. The surging started to take its toll and Tara and a few others pinged off the front after about 60km.

With about 75km to go the terrain really started to bite - rollers became proper hills. Grindfest hills where you go for another gear and get the dreaded resistance of a shifter already in bottom gear. Grindfest hills where you dont quite believe the power meter and heart rate monitor and you think the '180' is your cadence and the '80' is your heart rate and then realise through the fog of pain that you have mixed them up.

They just went on, and on, and on. A hot, late afternoon headwind sprang up to add to our misery as we all started to get very tired.

Finally we approached the final 20km and the gradients eased as we approached North Shore, the roads improved (more on that later - NZ roads deserve their very own civil engineering essay) and we could literally taste the recovery milkshakes. After exactly 7hrs on the road (ride time not including lunch and drinks stops) we arrived at the accomodation for the night. It seems everyone found the going tough - the front group still took 6hrs 30min!

We are staying at what seems like the NZ equivalent of Loughborough University - a massive sports complex with pools, gyms, tracks, courts etc etc where they build the stars of the future. Apparently i'm told the short portly gentleman in glasses playing pool about 10m from me now is the Australian national swim coach.

Tomorrow is an early start before catching a ferry to Coromandel where we will have an Aquathlon followed by another 160km to Matamata. Apart from two big KOM climbs in the first 30km, it should be much flatter. I'll believe it when I see it :-)

POTD today is me doing my best BlueSteel- just before the road started to get gnarly at about 50km into the ride. Apparently its one of the north islands best beaches. Had I known what was in store over the nest 5.5hrs, I would have just cycled straight into the ocean!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Rollin, rollin, rollin

Today was the first 'proper' ride of Epic Camp - 175km from Kaitia to Whangerai over rolling, undulating terrain. They call them 'Kiwi rollers' here, what they should call them is 'sodding bastard hills'.

The terrain doesnt 'roll', it pitches up and down like the Southern oceans, never flat for a moment. Establishing a rhythm is key and attacking the terrain results in the smoothest fastest ride as you keep momentum from the downhills into the next climb - however attacking this sort of terrain 100km into a 2300km trip is asking for trouble. As it was my legs felt great today and I 'had the power'. Lets hope it stays that way :-)

To cap it off we spent 5hrs in the driving rain as well - rain that stings your face and causes brakes to cease working. It never felt cold like UK rain, and perhaps after the heat horror of day 1 it was a blessing in disguise - but I would have prefered a simple overcast day. I hope my shoes dry out in time.

I joined a group that left 30mins early to give us some breathing space before the faster cyclists came through - a good decision as it turns out, we managed to get to the 125km point before being passed by the main group. Gordo and Molina came past like trains - something I am slowly getting used to.

The ride (terrain nonwithstanding) was stunning. The scenery was awe inspiring - a very tropical feel with lush greens and colourful flowers. Plenty of horses and cows (but suprisingly a lack of sheep, maybe the south islanders keep them to themselves ;-)

No run or swim for me today as the ride was the only mandatory session - of course most of the camp ran 10km before breakfast and have gone to the pool now for a 3km session to get their bonus points in. The level of discomfort some of these athletes are prepared to accept, nay WANT to accept, is beyond my ken. Part of my journey here is to tap into this way of life and see if its something I could do, or something that fits who I am.

The good news is that I have found some riders at about the same level as me, which should help when my legs are done. A major fear of mine was spending both weeks on my tod, 6 feet in front of the sag wagon. Of course, this could still happen. On the road its 'out of sight, out of mind'. Generally if you are dropped, then you are on your own if you don't bridge back up. People here wont compromise their goals, momentum or session for you without prior arrangement. As those of you who ride with me know, this means I can bu**er off the front without pissing anyone off ;-). Good times.

On a more sombre note, there was a crash today (or chute, as the French call it - much more romantic). One guy, Roger, literally cycled off the road, fell off and brought down the person behind him. Roger binned the ride and has gone to hospital for a suspected shoulder tear. The person behind him, Randy, landed on Roger. Good for Randy, he is fine. Not so good for Roger.

No one will be suprised to hear that a group of very tired triathletes may not be in the running for 'bike handlers of the year' award. My rule (as always with other cyclists) is trust no-one until you have spent some solid time with them, observing their skills. For that reason I will only follow a few select wheels at the moment, eveyone else I am giving a wide berth to for the time being. I fully expect others to treat me with the same principles. I hope Roger is ok, and I hope he can rejoin the camp as soon as possible.

I didnt take many pictures today so I will load up Days, 1, 2 and 3 on Facebook tomorrow. POTD today is the typical Epic Camp lunch stop - its just like a picnic with the family - except in the middle of a 10hour training day.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Epic Cramp

Day 1 done. 22km 2.5hr hot and hilly run including a 10k race. Then lunch followed by a 90km bike including a 35km TT. And to finish a short trip to the pool for a 3km swim session including a 1.5km TT.

Those of you who are Tri-aware will realise that the races today just about formed a broken Olympic distance triathlon. The main event of the day was the combined times for the 'full triathlon'

Gordo ended up winning in about 1.40ish, and I was about 5th last with a 2.04 made up of:

Run - 54min (did i mention it was hilly? ;-)

Bike - ~47min

Swim - 22min 45sec (very pleased with that, prob top10 in this event)

It was a very hard start to the camp - the run really took it out of the legs and the heat combined with a lack if acclimitisation led many to cramp up during the swim. I've never been in so much pain from cramps, every push off was agony and luckily it was a 33m pool.

The locals were treated to the sight of 22 fit men and women popping up like meerkats during lengths as they tried to stretch.

Needless to say my legs are sore, 22km is the longest i have run since Austria and it shows. Perhaps had it been a flat run, things might be better, but with long steep uphills, come long steep downhills which ruin your quads, calves and tibialis.

The atmosphere is brilliant - everyone is very supportive and the banter between Molina, Gordo and John Newsom is very amusing. Speaking of which I am sharing a room with Scott Molina. For those of you who dont know, Scott was one of the 'Big 4' American triathletes who dominated the scene in the 80's and early nineties. He has won more races worldwide than I have had hot dinners and he has won the Ironman world championships in Kona. In short, a bloody legend (and a very nice guy as well)

I mention this as its a very good example of the type of thing that makes Epic camp so different and so appealing. Its not just the stupid amounts of training, or the scenery or the fact that everything is catered for - at any point you could be listening to old war stories from Gordo's Ultraman win, or Molinas Kona tales or John Newsoms ITU world championships experiences or any one of the Kona stories from the seriously quick Age groupers. You can't package this stuff in a book or DVD, or organise a series of sterile lectures. You have to be here at the coal face and watch as these legends of the sport get tired like you, have bad days like you and get up everyday to go again.

Day 2 promises to be easier and harder in the same breath. 180km of relentless hills to Whangerai (pronounced Fungeray). But no swim or run (for me - the majority will do a 10km run and 3km swim to get a Swim/Bike/Run bonus point). So I have all day to do the ride. Judging by the route, it looks like i'll need it

Admin point - i will try and blog every day and I will choose one picture from each day as POTD (its time consuming to load multiple images onto the blog)

For the rest of the pictures - roughly every other day i will load pictures onto Facebook to look at - i will try and take as many as possible but obviously by the end i'll probably take less.

POTD today - a lean, tanned Scott Molina during the run