Epic Camp NZ 2010

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Swimming, biking and running the length of NZ

‘Doing what it takes’ – I was even willing to ride with dudes wearing compression socks. The Scratch Bunch enjoy the first drink stop. 

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 . . .

Peace and respect