Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tour of NZ Epic-logue

We were blessed with great weather and tailwinds for our final stage into Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.

A few of us decided to tack-on a very steep climb up Bluff Hill at the end. How steep? We had three Kona-qualifiers walk sections and a fourth flipped his bike over backwards and landed on his head. Thankfully, no injuries. The scariest part for me was riding back down!

We then rolled to Land’s End for photos and backslapping! I was surprisingly emotional down there. Likely from a mixture of: fatigue; exhaustion; endorphins and the removal of stress.

I have a feeling that this trip will mark a closing of a chapter of my life – I wanted to give Molina a big hug but thought that I might start crying so just sat there working on my breathing! Everything that I achieved as a triathlete is due to Scott taking an interest in me.

Johno recommended that we run the Foveaux Track around the bottom of the country. We didn’t have maps so we ALL took a wrong turn and ended up running over Bluff Hill – so the entire camp made it to the top of that climb. My lower leg issue was manageable and I was happy to play the role of sweeper on the run.

Fifteen day totals:
Swim – 34,400 meters
Bike – 2,340 kilometers
Run – 115 kilometers

Without a doubt, the biggest output that I’ve ever done. I’ve had faster blocks, as well as longer blocks, but… in terms of training load (volume/frequency/intensity) – this takes the cake.

Some general thoughts:

The fitter you are coming into a big block, the more enjoyable it will be. I did a lot of racing in the first week and that was fun. I am very satisfied with my preparations for the camp. It took me a year to get into shape and I was very happy with the results.

I held up better mentally, than physically. From Day 10 onwards, I was in physical decline. I could have played my cards a bit differently to extend my durability but… even in decline, I was having fun and, surprisingly, didn’t lose a whole lot of time (overall) to the athletes that were stronger. I saved time by skipping aid stations and shortening lunch stops.

We are all tougher than we give ourselves credit for. I was REALLY impressed at the resilience of the athletes. Part of that is the selection process but a big part is the benefit of doing a “tour” as well as no one wanting to be the first to quit. Group dynamics work for big training.

There was very little Zombie Training at this camp. By and large, the bulk of the camp was able to maintain steady efforts in their bike training as well as ramp-it-up for the KOMs/Events. The run training slowed dramatically with fatigue (60 minute 10Ks were common) and the ‘slower’ athletes (who are pretty quick in the real world) saw their swim speeds fall a lot. That said, the faster athletes at camp were swimming and cycling strong for two weeks. That surprised me. It’s impressive what folks can achieve when it matters to them.

When embarking on an extreme journey it is important to manage expectations – each camp we have new athletes that struggle when their self-image is challenged by the discovery that they might not be as strong as they thought. This is an important part of Epic Camp, or any camp, for that matter. There is a vast gulf between a low-8 IMer (Clas) and a world-class age-grouper.

There’s a lot of benefit from not quitting. Even when you “quit” there is benefit from not quitting tomorrow!

Another good quote that Clas says… “you can always quit later”. The idea being… “just don’t quit now”!

When I became extremely tired, I reminded myself that who we are is dictated by the decisions that we make when it’s inconvenient.

Walking to the pool this morning, I felt my emotional exhaustion from the additional challenges that I took on during camp. Last night, Petro noted that my “Gordo-Zen” must have been severely tested at times.

I smiled on the inside.


The Game

The “Epic Camp” product is fantastic and The Game delivers a meaningful experience to the athletes and coaches.

I’m handing my share of the business over to John and Scott to take things forward (if they want).

Here are some ideas for the future. If you run a camps business then these ideas might help you as well.

Tours – hands down, the most popular camps are the point-to-point tours where athletes are faced with a decision to: (a) ride to the destination; (b) or quit. Because those are logistically tough to organize, I’d be wary of doing them too often.

Structure – The Game works best when everyone is shooting for a similar target (swim/bike/run goals) and is committed to doing the entire camp. So I’d make that a key part of the acceptance criteria. I wouldn’t let anyone strong come along that wasn’t doing the entire camp – they can mess with the vibe by drilling the “full campers” when everyone is tired.

Difficulty – Keep the camps very challenging. Careful with the running, and eliminate the downhill bike racing.

Swim Main Sets – these work well to eliminate Zombie Swimming.

Standards – Keep the acceptance standards high. People with marginal fitness tax the support crew and suck energy from the overall experience. Also, I doubt they enjoy the experience and are at the greatest risk for physical injury from the extreme training.

Other businesses (like Endurance Corner) offer products that are better suited to folks that aspire to Epic. – we can be a training ground to support the growth of Epic.

Integrity – the current structure of The Game provides an incentive for hoax training. To remove the incentive, and give athletes confidence in the results, I would agree a fixed schedule for all the swim/bike/run options (with main sets) – “camp completion” would then be a subset of this Fully Monty version. You could make the Full Monty huge so Tara, Steve, Petro, DC… could fully challenge themselves. Main sets should be done as a group and there should be no points awarded for unsupervised training.

Mere Mortals – For the “mere mortals” the goal would be to do as much “camp completion” training with the fast athletes as possible. I’d give all athletes an incentive to start their rides with the “fast folks” each day. The camp experience is very different if you start at the same time as the fast folks – take it from me, or Petro, or Molina!

Molina – Scott’s a fundamental part of The Game and the athletes get a big kick out of benchmarking themselves against him. So, I’d recommend that “camp completion” be set at a level, and structure, that works within his biomechanical limitations (and no ultramarathons the month before Epic next time!).

Camp Director – the team member that’s responsible for running the day-to-day of the camp function should have a profit share. We’ve done this with our Endurance Corner camps and it works well to have alignment of interests.

Events – make sure that events, rather than Zombie Training, are what win the camp. Make sure that a 400 IM (for time, in public) is required for camp completion.

Blog Bonus – this worked really well, recommend you keep it. It gives the campers, and their families, a record of what happened. It’s also great promotion for camps that fall in the Northern Winter.

Other Ideas:
*** Beer at end of stages seemed very popular – I expected it to impair recovery but it seemed to have no impact. That surprised me!

*** The food was amazing given the travel required each day

*** The support crew did a phenomenal job

*** The owners of the business should be clear about their personal goals and ensure that the camp structure meets their needs

*** More Power Cookies!

*** Provide unique experiences that athletes cannot achieve on their own

*** Expecting Epic-Campers to self-moderate is not practical. People will expose themselves to unreasonable risks when they are psychologically invested in The Game. The Committee has to moderate for folks. That said, we have seen that certain athletes have the capacity to tolerate “unreasonable” training. Emphasize the Special Occasion nature of Epic to educate people about the health risks from seeking to adapt an “Epic lifestyle”.

*** The greater our fitness, the broader our world.

*** Fitness provides a margin of safety when undertaking challenging physical tasks.

*** We over-estimate our cognitive skills (and reflexes) when stressed and tired. Remove downhill racing.

*** The most appropriate bike for Epic is a road bike, with all-new cables, Shimano Ultegra and bombproof wheels. Folks with “performance” bikes had a disproportionate share of mechanicals. That said, nearly ALL of us had mechanicals! Tough riding conditions in NZ!!!

*** Bring a mechanic, with tools, with bike stand. This person will be busy as night so don’t expect anything from them in the evenings and limit their stress during the day.

*** Spare wheels and floor-pump in aid station and tail-end vehicles.


At the start of my run yesterday, I dipped my hands into the Foveaux Strait and gave thanks for the safe passage of everyone across New Zealand.

I hope the future owners of Epic Camp give consideration to the friends and families of our clients when dreaming new challenges for the athletes that are to come. Take care of your best clients!

Be Excellent To Each Other.

It’s been a great ride, thanks for the memories.

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