I ticked off Ironman World Championship finish number 12 on October 13th 2018 at Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii and again challenged my body and mind by taking on what I consider to be the toughest triathlon course I have raced on.
The success I am aiming for in this race has not yet come to me, however I know that the way to guarantee failure is to stop believing that it is possible. It also makes the successes at qualifying races and other competitions all the more rewarding, as well as a good reminder that no matter how my race goes on the Big Island each year, it will not define me as an athlete, a coach or as a person. The hot, humid weather, the no-wetsuit swim, the constant hills on the bike course do not make for the perfect race for me and my strengths, however this is part of the attraction for me.
The enjoyment of turning up to Kona every year since 2007 has not dimmed and a good reason for that is in seeing and feeling the excitement of friends who are there racing for the first or second time, where the experience is still fresh and holds much promise for a successful race. In the last couple of years it has been the athletes I coach who have made it into the field at Kona that have reinvigorated my enthusiasm for this race – this is a course that I have raced on more than any other (including the local races in Melbourne that I first started my triathlon journey on) and know how satisfying it is for anyone to have the honour of racing, as well as finishing, the Hawaii Ironman.
This race has given me so much over the years, regardless of my actual performance in the results. It has given me unshakeable confidence whenever I line up to race another Ironman, hence being able to qualify for Kona 12 times in 12 qualifying attempts over the last 12 years. It has also given me an enormous respect for the island that hosts this event, for the weather that can crush you or occasionally assist you through the lava fields, for the locals who support the race and help make it all happen. The friends I have made over the years who live in Kona, or who have raced with me in Kona (or both!) are a gift that is worth more than the result that I will continue to strive for.
In summary, I have a message to the athletes I coach, to my club members and to anyone who has a goal (or dream) of one day treading water in Kailua Bay in early October, waiting for the cannon to signal the start of the Ironman Hawaii. Don’t give up on this dream, work out (with my help as necessary) what will be required to make it into the field, make an honest assessment as to whether you are prepared to do the work to achieve this goal, then jump in with 100% commitment to make it happen. I can’t wait to welcome you to the Ironman World Championship finishers club!
IM Triathlon Nutrition Strategy For a Sub 10hr Race
12th October 2013 was a great day for me.
Racing in my 7th Ironman Hawaii in Kona, I had what felt like the perfect race which resulted in a 20 minute personal best time on the Hawaii course.
The Hawaii Ironman is a triathlon consisting of a 3.8km ocean swim, followed by a 180km bike through the lava fields of the Big Island of Hawaii, with a hot and humid marathon (42km run) to finish.
There are a lot of Ironman-distance triathlons held all over the world these days but the Hawaii Ironman is something special.
As the World Championships, to compete you need to qualify through one of the other Ironman races and it is estimated that there are 70000+ triathletes trying to qualify for one of the 1800 slots at Kona. In addition to this, the Hawaii Ironman has 35 years of history with the sport’s very best having raced on the course. It all adds up to a great experience being one of the privileged few who get to compete against the best on the most famous race course in triathlon.
Quite a few people have asked me since my race in October something similar to: “what was the difference this year which enabled your result?”
I’m confident that the answer is that it was a number of factors that all aligned on race day and not one particular component that made the difference. In saying that, one factor which stands out due to a significant change from what I had done in previous years was my training and race day nutrition.
I made a shift from using products from one major (and ubiquitous) sports nutrition company to using Body Science nutrition products in April 2013, after many years of racing and training with products from the other company.
I hadn’t had any real issues with nutrition in the past, but had still not been able to address some minor problems that tended to arise from the halfway point of the run leg of nearly all Ironman races I have done, usually to do with bloating of the stomach and associated side-stitch.
The products I selected from Body Science to help with my preparation for the Ironman were as follows:
BScFuel Recovery Powder for pre and post training session fuelling
BScFuel Energy Bars and BodyScience Protein Bars for during sessions (bike)
BScFuel Energy Gels for during sessions (run)
Nitrovol Powder for post training (long sessions and strength sessions)
BScFuel Endurance Sports Drink for post training (run)
This selection ensured I had the energy to complete each session with the intended level of quality and intensity, as well as being able to back up for the 2nd or 3rd session of the day, or the next day also.
Having to knock out regular 20+ hour training weeks on top of a full time job means that the ability to absorb the training and recover for the next beating is critical.
I really felt the benefit of the Body Science formula in each of these products and I seemed to be leaner AND stronger for race day.
My nutrition protocol for race day was similar to what I had done in previous Ironman events, allowing for a slight adjustment due to the different nutrition profile of the BScFuel products compared to what I had previously used.
The products I used during the race were as follows:
BScFuel Energy Bars – bike – 5 bars total, 1 taken every hour
BScFuel Energy Gels – bike – 10 gels, mixed with 8 electrolyte capsules and water in a bidon,
BScFuel Energy Gels – run – 3 gels, ½ gel taken every half hour with water from aid stations
In addition to the Body Science products, I took a lot of bottled water from aid stations on the bike but no electrolyte drink as I find my stomach generally works better without it, so I save it for the run. On the run, I took water, electrolyte drink and (later in the marathon) cola at aid stations.
The protocol above gave me approximately 75 grams of carbohydrate per hour on the bike and slightly less on the run (allowing for the increased difficulty my stomach seems to have in digestion of carbs while running compared to cycling).
End result of all this was my time of 9 hours 48 minutes 8 seconds, a massive PB and my first time under 10 hours in the Hawaii Ironman.
Critically, this was the first Ironman triathlon I have done in the last 13 years where I had no stomach issues during the run at all, subsequently I was able to maintain my goal kilometre pace on the run consistently to the finish line. No, it wasn’t easy, but it WAS doable!
Thanks to BodyScience for a product that for me seems to be the answer to nutrition issues that had impacted my racing until now. I took a risk with using at Hawaii given I had only tried it in training to this point and this was definitely my “A” race of the year.
Knowing the effort BodyScience put into the development of superior nutrition products, I shouldn’t have been worried.
My first Ironman in Kona was back in the day and my bike reflected that – an alloy Cervelo P3 (The Silver Bullet). I still miss that bike.
Since then I have been aboard my trusty steed, Black & White Carbon P3 (I’d call it The Magpie but that has unfortunate football connotations). Very nice bike, very fast and fitted me like a carbon glove.
Until 2013 that is! My Hawaii campaign this year was a chance to unleash my new Cervelo P5-Six on the smooth but hot tarmac that is the Queen K highway. I had been training on the P5 for just a couple of months prior to flying over to the Big Island but knew from these rides that the P5 was a special machine, one that I was looking forward to racing on. The Ironman World Champs was going to be my P5 race debut.
In order to ensure my bike split was given appropriate respect I thought I’d better start the day with a better than usual swim – also given my coach Julie Tedde had finally made the effort to come over and watch the race this year (and she has always been critical of my swim performances in Hawaii…) Out of the water with a new Kona swim PB so first box ticked off!
Onto the bike, my legs felt pretty good right from the start and the P5 was making the fast early pace (with tailwind assistance) seem pedestrian given how smooth and stable it rides. Coming back from Hawi and the long highway stretch from Kawaihae to Kona was into a cross/headwind but my legs still felt good and I dismounted with a new Kona bike PB – Anthony reckoned it was all because of the P5 but given I averaged 10 watts more than previous years I’ll claim part of the improvement! (ed note. i think you were just trying to impress your coach….did you sit down at all on the bike course?)
With the race having gone to plan so far, I started running only thinking about what I had to do to not stuff things up and run a solid marathon to top off a solid day. The gods were definitely with me this year as the sky clouded over as I was transitioning onto the run so I was met with close to perfect (for Kona) run conditions for the duration of the 42kms. I felt really good and my km splits reflected this, right up until the infamous Energy Lab. Having charged downhill into the Energy Lab Road I turned right to head toward the final turnaround and my wheels fell off well and truly. From this point on until the finish (12kms) I struggled to maintain my pace and rhythm and even in the last kilometre didn’t get a lift from the crowd or from knowing it was almost over. It just hurt.
I’m very satisfied with the end result which was a 20 minute PB in Hawaii, and even a PB for the Ironman distance. Thanks to Anthony, Tosh and Miguel for putting up with my demands in the lead up to my departure and ensuring that the P5 was tuned to the max and ready to go on race day. What can I say, nice bike and a worthy replacement!
Well what can I say, NZ was an interesting challenge. As if Ironman wasn’t a tough enough race, try adding an element of uncertainty whether there’d be ANY race in NZ for 2012, then add an extra day to ponder (and carbo load) before tackling a race half the distance of what you’d trained all those months for. I guess Ironman wasn’t meant to be easy and this edition had a large dose of the emotional roller coaster added to the mix.
After being informed the evening before that the IM was off and replaced by a 70.3 race the day after, we awoke Saturday morning (originally race day) with some relief to see that the weather was as predicted and pretty much impossible to hold a race in. It wasn’t wet but it was WINDY and even I with my ample mass would have struggled to keep my bike from getting airborne – the disk wheel probably wouldn’t have helped much . . .
The new race day on Sunday was much better and the race director had made the right call. A choppy swim, moderate wind on the bike and a dry and sometimes sunny day meant good racing conditions. To be honest I wasn’t relishing having to smash myself over the half IM distance to try and achieve my objective – Hawaii qualification – but knew it would be a chance to prove my worth as more than just an Ironman specialist. A 2nd place in the Australian Long Course champs at Falls Creek 3 weeks earlier also gave me a bit of confidence that I had some speed left in my sad old legs.
So the race went ok for me, a strong swim (for once) let me control the bike intensity early and allow some of my main A/G threats to catch up as I dosed out my effort. I rode hard after the Reparoa turnaround, catching and passing many as I rode to a negative split. After a fast transition I took
off on the run in a bid to make up some places and get into the pointy end of the field. Passing 5 or 6 in the A/G in the first 14ks, I was then running scared as it was hard to fully drop anyone over the short distance and I guess not many out there were going to blow up after training for the longer event. The legend that is Kenny Glah was one that I passed, only to see him (and a few other threats) tenaciously clinging on about 50 metres behind as I went around the last turnaround with 5ks left to run. In future I won’t sit in the condo with my crew watching old Hawaii Ironman DVDs to kill time before the race – watching Ken come 5th in 8hrs 30mins in an early nineties race didn’t do my confidence a lot on raceday that I could maintain my lead over him!
Into the finish chute and I was finally able to step off the gas as I checked behind and saw noone. End result: 4th place and a spot in Hawaii in October. But give me a full Ironman qualifier any day over the pressure and intensity of racing for Kona slots in a Half Ironman.
I’ve written a few race reports over the years (ok, a lot) and the hardest to write has always been the Hawaii Ironman report. Many, many words have been put to paper by many, many authors, describing in detail every nuance of the place, the race, the history and all the clichés that seem to be mandatory in any story regarding Kona in October.
So I’ll try to keep this concise, original (as far as humanly possible) and, if not funny, then maybe a bit interesting.
Wednesday, 10 days before race day. The day of departure from cold, wet Melbourne into the warm embrace of Kona, Hawaii. After 8 hours hanging around the airport with the whole damn place being closed (twice) due to storms, our flight to Sydney to connect with the Honolulu flight was finally cancelled. We drove back home. F*&k.
Friday, 8 days before race day. The new day of departure from cold, wet Melbourne given we could not get seats on the fully booked Thursday plane to Honolulu. Despite some nervous moments and a delayed flight to Sydney due to strikes and work stoppages at the airport, we finally got on the plane to Hawaii. Arriving in Honolulu, a plane full of triathletes collected a plane-hold full of bike bags and rushed to get the connecting flight to Kona – except one – me – whose bike bag was not apparently on our flight from Sydney. F*&k.
Sunday, 6 days before race day. My bike arrived last night! It was delivered to the pub (Humpy’s) where I happened to be drowning my sorrows and I finally have my bike, my runners and the other essentials that will finally allow me to do some exercise! A swim at Dig Me Beach and a run through the Energy Lab section of the marathon course with Luke Bell and all is suddenly good in the world. It’s hard to stay mad when you’re hanging out in such a beautiful place. Aloha.
Thursday, 2 days before race day. My buddies Jodie and Lance got married. Awesome service and reception at Royal Kona Resort. Shame about the timing though, that open bar looked VERY tempting. Nice to focus on something meaningful in the midst of the building pressure of the impending race though. Congrats guys, Mahalo.
Saturday, race day. To avoid monotony, I’ll skip to 2 hours after I crossed the finish, I’ve had a massage, I’ve caught up with Caroline and I’m lying on the grass under some palm trees and I can’t move. I’m wondering how the hell I can get the energy to go and pick up my gear and bike and ride back to the condo. I feel . . . f*&ked.
Sunday, the day after. Time to reflect, time to wonder what went wrong and why, and what went right and why. Or maybe leave that for a later time when I’m thinking straight.
Stats: Swim 1:12:51, Bike 5:21:53, Run 3:26:24, Total 10:09:21
So after 3.8kms of swimming, 180kms of biking and 42.2kms of running I was 43 seconds slower than last year. On a day that Crowie beat the 15 year old course record. F*&k. But hey, it beats cold, wet Melbourne . . .
Thought I’d let you know how things went up at Port Mac. It was my 10th finish of arguably Australia’s most prestigious triathlon, making things nice and even with 5 each of the old Forster course and now 5 in Port Macquarie (not mentioning the infamous 2006 race at Port and that speed hump that was determined to take me out of the game early).
Beyond chalking up my 10th IMA finish, my main goal was to qualify for Kona and put myself in a position to finally rid myself of equal standing with that old dog (but top bloke) Dave Kaye’s 4 Ironman Hawaii finishes. A challenging task this year with only 40 Kona slots and a tough age group field (I reckon a number of the fast guys saw my result from last year and thought they’d show up and take the candy from the baby).
It was a bonus to have Antho up at Port giving my machine a once over on race eve (and he also fine-tuned the bike. . .). His encouraging words always instil a bit of confidence, quote: “so by the look of that rear tyre, this is only a ‘B’ race for you Rob”. Nothing a bit of tyre sealant couldn’t fix though.
I won’t bore you with the details of the day, but yes the swim conditions were slow, it was windy on the bike and even a tough headwind on the run! The end result was me shuffling to the finish of a very badly executed marathon in 3rd place in the category, ten minutes slower than the previous 2 years but very satisfied to achieve a long term goal (and luckily no punctures).
Of course I’m not yet at the finish on Ali’i Drive and have a little bit of training to do in the depths of Melbourne’s winter to get ready for the big day. Fuelled by espressos courtesy of Pellegrini’s and with a bit of help from that bike shop just up the road, it should be a lot of fun. Not as much fun as landing in Kona and finally getting warm again!
You’ve probably heard by now all about the awesome new long course triathlon at Falls Creek, Victoria. I lined up with 500-odd others (I think we were all a bit odd to be there) at the start of this brand new race, soaking in the atmosphere that was unique in my years of experience in triathlon. I’m not talking about atmosphere in terms of the location; I’m talking about the atmosphere of 500 athletes lining up for a race that would be way different to anything they had ever faced.
There were so many unknowns such as how racing at that altitude would affect the body, not to mention the concerns about hypothermia and the technical nature of the bike and run courses. I would imagine it would be like the start line of an Ironman where EVERY competitor was an Iron virgin. These brave souls (yeah, o.k. I’m talking it up a bit) were going against the grain as far as the direction of triathlon, especially long course and Ironman triathlon, over the last ten years.
In my view the sport has been ‘painting itself into a corner’ for two reasons:
1. The tendency of many/most triathletes to race each year in the search of a personal best (PB) over the distance, leading to a notable movement of competitors to the faster races and courses. The clear shift of competitor numbers between Australia’s two M-dot races in Port Macquarie and Busselton is a good example.
2. The event owners who understandably are trying to attract the biggest fields their races can accommodate as they are trying to run a profitable business after all. It seems now that if you want to get the numbers, offer a lightning-fast course.
So what’s this about the futile chasing of PBs? Well, think about it. If your main motivation in this sport is to improve your race distance PB year after year, there is the temptation to find faster races to enter, especially if you have not achieved your PB goal in your one key race of the season. I believe this leads to the trend of competitors to enter races such as Ironman WA, Ironman Austria and Shepparton Half Ironman* for example, at the expense of races like Ironman Australia and Ironman St George (it will be interesting to see the final competitor numbers for the 2011 Utah event, it sounds like an animal of a course).
This leads to a problem. Once you have done one of the faster races (and hopefully got that PB), where do you go from there? Back to the same race(s) next year, I guess. As an age grouper that gets satisfaction from a PB, I fully understand the reasoning behind the current trends. I also think that races like Busselton are great for a first attempt at the distance and this has likely attracted a lot more triathletes to race over the Ironman distance than would otherwise be the case.
However, in my case I start to lose a bit of passion for the sport if I front up to the same races season after season. Like most of us I have my favourite races and try and fit them in each year but I’m also always on the lookout for something new, a different experience that will fire me up a bit and keep the passion burning (I better leave it at that, I’m starting to get a woody).
Enough waffling, what I want to say is we are lucky to have organisers like SuperSprint that take the risk on a brand new event at a brand new location in Falls Creek where PBs are just not going to happen (unless it was your first attempt at the distance, in which case you are a hero for choosing this event for your first!) It was great to be part of this race and I was impressed by the toughness of the course AND the fairness of the competitors. I guess you don’t enter a race with this many unknowns in order to draft or otherwise cheat your way to a result.
On another note, I’m already hearing talk from competitors about how SuperSprint can improve the course by taking out the steep hill from each lap of the run. Come on people, I think you’re missing the whole point of a race like the Falls Creek Long Course Triathlon State Championships!
Controversially yours, Rob Hill
*Shepparton can be a very fast course – with good weather conditions. When it’s 43 degrees celsius with bushfire smoke in the air on race day I’d probably move it to the other list!
I’ll remember the 2010 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii for the harsh winter in Melbourne, Australia preparing for the race as much as the race itself. Against all odds, this was my fourth go at Ironman Hawaii in four years and another chance to nail a race on the most iconic of courses in triathlon.
The seven year drought in Melbourne finally broke in 2010 and this coincided with my need to do long hours in the saddle of my Cervelo P3 bike to get ready for the race of my life in Kona on 9 October. Over the three months of winter I got at least ten punctures, destroyed four tires, had to replace my wheel bearings (again) and wore out the chain in half the usual time.
This was the coldest, wettest winter I could remember. There was one upside however. After skipping my yearly ski trip since 2007 due to racing in Hawaii and not having any spare leave (or money), I interrupted my training in August to head up to Perisher in New South Wales for a week of skiing with a good mate. And what a week it was – fresh, light snow and a few too many beers and red wine while sitting around the fireplace in the lodge each night. Maybe not the best preparation for Kona physically but I’m sure it was spiritually.
To finally escape the cold and land in Kona on the Big Island was a relief as well as a pleasure. The weather was bit milder than usual with only one really hot day in the week and a half leading up to race day. My main worry was that race day would be oppressive and I would not have properly acclimatised.
I don’t think you can ever get tired of being in Kona, all it takes is the first swim at the pier to feel like a million dollars and fully appreciate the luck of being there again. Running into a pod of dolphins during that swim helps also! It’s a magic place, especially in the week before race week when things are reasonably quiet.
A few days later I did a training run on the Energy Lab road with Aussie pro triathlete Luke Bell and the Tri Travel guys. Despite sitting on a pace slightly above my intended race pace (4 min per km pace vs. 4 min 50 sec pace) I felt great and didn’t back off – until Lukey announced he was going to pick it up a bit for the last few kilometres and I and the other boys let him get on with it. It’s always nice to be reminded of the difference in class between a top pro (like Lukey) and your typical amateur hack (like me)!
Race day started with a 3:30am alarm and a few seconds of dread when I realise that today I’m not getting out of bed to go and practice for the race like I have for the previous months, today I get up and go do the actual racing. This always entails putting your ego on the line, your reputation as well, and facing fears that anyone who races will have (e.g. I will perform poorly and it will be my fault). Of course, the other side of the coin is the chance that you will perform at a level above what you expect, or above what you thought possible – that’s a pretty strong motivator to get you out there and giving it a go!
If I have a weakness in this sport (and I do), it is my swim. Despite being able to swim 57 minutes in an Ironman swim – with wetsuit – the Hawaii Ironman always presents a challenge for me and I just haven’t put together a solid swim result without being able to put on 5mm of neoprene-based speed. My coach JT had fired me up before I left Australia and gave me just one instruction – attack the swim. Which I did, getting out of the water in 1 hour 14 minutes something for my worst result so far in and Ironman (making it my worst in 16 attempts!) So maybe I thought I attacked it.
Onto the bike and quickly putting the swim result out of my mind, I focussed on settling into a rhythm, my Cervelo pimped and primed thanks to CBD Cycles. By the time I reached Kawaihae and the turn off the Queen K Hwy to start the Hawi climb (not far from the halfway point of the 180km bike course), I noticed how harmless the wind had been and wondered what it would be like heading back after the turnaround at Hawi. Not long after, the infamous cross winds hit which are common in this part of the route. Last year they were non-existent and the previous couple of years they were pretty bad but this year was out of control! As I climbed, the leading pro guys started coming past on the descent and I couldn’t help but notice how scared some of them looked.
Once I reached the turnaround at the top of the climb, I strapped myself in and prepared to meet my maker (or at least be blown around a bit) during the high speed downhill. Descending on the bike is definitely my strength and I was determined to take advantage of this part of the bike leg by staying on the aero bars and pushing my biggest gear to try and keep stable. It felt like I was sailing a boat, keeping my weight over the side to stop capsizing. Halfway down I saw a girl lying on the road and not moving, fortunately a police car pulled up to help her out. One of many victims of the wind gusts this day. Once I made it back onto the highway for the long trip back to transition, the winds were more cross/tail which, surprisingly, led to some very fast overall bike splits on the day. End result for me was 5 hours 19 minutes, a 12 minute improvement on my best split here.
If I have a strength in this sport (and I’m not sure that I do) it is my run. Heading out of transition to start the marathon with my Newtons strapped to my feet, I was feeling good. My PowerBar-fuelled nutrition strategy had gone well on the bike and I was ready to do some damage (hopefully not just to myself) in the next 42.2km. I was still wearing my 2XU compression top and arm coolers that I put on before the bike – no point getting sunburnt and ruining some solid poolside time post-race! But despite over-dressing to impress, I didn’t feel hot and was able to keep ticking off the kilometres at a reasonable pace, helped by a bit of cloud cover that was timed to perfection. Eventually I made it onto the Queen K Hwy for the stretch to the Energy Lab and back, at which point a guy who I think was Spanish ran up to me and tried to tell me that he wanted to run with me to the finish (or maybe he was saying that he just wanted me – my attire was pretty impressive). Eventually we reached some sort of understanding and ran side-by-side until a minute later we reached an aid station where I promptly charged through in my usual manner and dropped him, never to be seen again. I’m not certain the 5 minutes of negotiation and translation was really worth it . . .
The rest of the marathon was a mix of highlights and lowlights.
Highlights like seeing some of the guys from the Epic ‘Length of New Zealand’ training camp including Scotty, loving being out in the lava fields 22 years after winning the thing; and Lordy, hobbling out of the Energy Lab wearing his Vibram ‘Five Fingers’ shoes and telling me that his feet were “a bit sore”.
Lowlights like every Ironman triathlete experiences during the run, where you just want it to end. It was also sad seeing Lukey not having a great day but pushing on to finish anyway.
And eventually it did end, in 3 hours 24 minutes, like my bike split a 12 minute PR on the course and the satisfaction of being able to maintain my planned average of 4 minute 50 second kilometre pace. My race time was 10 hours and 8 minutes on a day of some very fast times, beating my previous best at Kona by 22 minutes – despite me ‘attacking’ the swim.
It’s now two days post-‘Epic Camp Length of NZ’, a 100 hour block of training over 2 weeks while traversing the entire Land of the Long White Cloud. I finally have the energy and motivation to start typing – the plan was to blog on a daily basis during the trip! So only a summary follows but hopefully I can convey a bit of the emotion of what was one of the most memorable exploits of my lengthy time on this planet. Dot point format to stop me waffling too much . . . yeah, sure it will
– The evening before I flew to NZ to start the adventure I went for a cruisy run along one of the goat tracks by the Yarra river near home in Melbourne, passing by the Abbotsford brewery and sniffing the yeast and hops in the air for the last time for a few weeks. All I was thinking was “what the hell did I get myself into this for?” Last minute nerves I guess, settled by a beer after I got home.
– Rendezvous was in Auckland the next day and I was picked up upon landing by a couple of Kiwi classics named Turps and Dwanny. I was keen to head to a pub like the one in the fight scene from the film ‘Once were Warriors’ and down a long-neck or two, but lacking in both sizeable ‘guns’ or facial tattoos decided I may not fit in and didn’t bother suggesting it to the boys.
– Later that day and the next morning got to meet the other victims as they flew/drove in from all points. A three hour flight from Melb was easy compared to some of the guys who came from as far as UK and Sweden. A reminder though of what a special experience this was going to be, given the lengths (literally) people were going to, just to be part of this one-off experience. There was a variety of ages, sexes (well, two) and nationalities, but really we were all the same – crazy endurance junkies who’s idea of a good holiday is swimming 27kms, biking 2300kms and running 107kms down an entire country. I felt at home with the team immediately.
– Once we got underway the days flew by, although as I’m not the most organised person I struggled for a few days with the daily routine: get up, get dressed, pack bags, eat breakfast, brush teeth, prepare digestive system for more food (AKA doing some paperwork, laying some cable, etc. etc.) This meant I was leaving each morning with the late group, or A-grade/scratch bunch as it was called. A bit of a laugh as I knew I was lacking the class of the top athletes on the camp (professional triathletes, Hawaii Ironman and Ultraman champions, national Ironman record holders) but I love a challenge and was not scared about being dropped and riding alone – especially as the support crew provided awesome back up.
– By the end of the first week and heading to Wellington to complete the North Island leg of the trip, we were all getting in a groove with the routine. After being very conservative in my efforts for the first few days due to a horror run of illness leading up the camp, I really felt my strength and fitness build. This is not what I expected – I had only done a couple of BIG training days back-to-back in the twelve years I’ve been training for triathlon. Now I was into day eight of BIG training which was a whole new frontier for me and surprisingly the body was holding up well. This was the main attraction of this trip – an experiment as to how I would cope physically (and emotionally) with such a massive training volume for 15 days straight.
– I have had some modest success as an amateur triathlete by training ‘smart’, focussing on technique and strength in order to minimise training volume. Two reasons for this: 1/ I have had a lot of lower leg injuries so don’t like to run much, and 2/ I, like most Age Groupers, struggle to balance Ironman training with a full-time job which demands a high degree of focus. So what better environment to test myself with ‘epic’ volume than surrounded by some of the most experienced people in the world when it comes to big volume training.
– The ferry crossing from Nth to Sth Islands was a welcome relief for all, one thing Epic wasn’t providing (apart from mercy) was much time to chill. I reckon most of my ‘chilling’ was done in the saddle, although not when I was doing my best to hang onto Lordy’s wheel being brought back to the group more than once (thanks again buddy) or sitting on the rivet to get to the day’s lunch stop with the scratch bunch. Pete O’Brien was talking up the ‘classic ferry pies’ prior to the crossing – apparently a meat pie served in pea soup (also an Adelaide delicacy known in Oz as a ‘pie floater’). Only disappointment of the trip was there was none to be had – Pete was maybe recalling a ferry trip in the ’50’s (-;
– Generally, the riding in both islands of NZ was awesome, nearly every day had a big variety of terrain and some classic climbs and descents. A big thumbs up to Johnno for selecting the route. An interesting dynamic formed during the trip where two divisions formed: the fast climbers and the fast descenders. Scotty was probably the one guy who had a foot in each group but generally there was a distinct separation. This was a good thing for keeping bunches together, for someone like me who is a bit of a slug up hills I usually had an opportunity to catch up down the other side. And for some reason, the camber and consistency of the bends in NZ roads are perfect for fast, safe bombing. In Oz, you never know when a road is going to tighten mid turn and off-camber bends are all too common. In NZ it was lots of fun.
– I am a real advocate for stretching and massage for maximising recovery and I’m sure a big reason for being able to hold the body together for 15 days was nightly stretching of my problem areas (ITBs, calfs, quads, hammys, the list goes on) and the excellent standard of massage therapists we had on the trip. Russel, Suzie and Janet were top class and really were a major component of me getting stronger as the camp progressed. A sincere thanks guys.
– It was great sharing this experience with a cross-section of nationalities. I am probably a bit more aware of the cultural differences being a Brit who has lived in Oz for 42 years (with a dad from Mooroopna and a mum from London) but what was really reinforced during the camp was that no matter where we came from or what we did for a living we were very, very similar – or we wouldn’t be here doing this stuff! And no matter where you came from, the Steinlagers were very popular post-ride. What a sponsorship coup for Epic Camp Inc.!!!
– So we all made it to Bluff, way down south (except for you Randy, hope everything is ok, we all gave a thought to you when it was over). Epic LONZ gave me a small taste of what it must be to ride in a grand tour like the Tour de France. Backing up day after day, eating all meals with your team, trying to shove in as many calories as possible to fuel the next stage, releasing your frustrations to the masseur, it felt like I was in the movie ‘Overcoming’. And definitely the highlight was the final stage with a relaxed atmosphere the whole 185kms to Bluff, just like the run into the Champs-Élysées but without the frenetic build up to the final sprint. We also got champagne – just had to wait till we got off the bikes though. I think Johnno was worried about a mass pile-up if the glasses were handed around as we rode.
But in reality those protour cyclists are all a bit soft – I am yet to see any get up early for a pre-stage 3km swim or jump of the bike after 7 hours and throw on the run shorts and shoes for some bonus points . . .