Having completed Epic Camp Kona I thought it might be useful to write down some of my reflections on a number of subjects. To put them in perspective we came into the camp with no real aspirations in terms of outcome and certain no outcome goals for the race. What it turned out to be was the most fantastic experience with a great bunch of people and actually it showed us just what can be achieved in terms of training and yet still achieve a solid race. Not least the gains we have made mentally will see us in good stead for the future - it is not many people that would consider the distances of a 70.3 as an easy training day but that was our perspective going into this race when compared to what had gone before.
So to the reflections: I have tried to group them under headings and these are purely personal and will not necessarily reflect the rest of the Epic Campers thoughts although several will ring bells throughout I suspect.
I used my Cervelo P2C Tri bike for the camp and 95% of the campers were on Tri bikes and the other 5% on their race bikes which would be a road bike with clips ons. This gave you a great opportunity to get used to riding your race bike as I suspect the majority of athletes ride their road bikes a lot and perhaps have their Tri bike on the turbo trainer or ride them on sunny days but certain wouldn't ride 400 miles in 5 days on it through wind, rain and sun. In terms of set up my bike is 8 years old but to be fair it is probably only the frame that is 8 years old. I have Q Rings and a QuarQ Cinqo power meter, Zipp 404s and a Ultegra/Dura Ace mix - Ultegra brakes but Dura Ace derailleurs. It is starting to feel it's age and this camp and the conditions didn't do it any favours. The 404s were fine to ride and they were the only wheel set I took with me. The power meter died on the day we did the 200km up and over Volcano and mine wasn't the only one. Interestingly it wasn't just the QuarQ's that were failing Powertaps were suffering too. The extreme rain and I suspect Volcanic dust were not helping. This of course resulted in me racing without a power meter. However I think that my body was acting as a good limiter on performance by this stage anyway but I'd still have liked to have seen the numbers and to had a bit more control on the undulating course. I've e mailed QuarQ so let's see how their customer service is! A lot of the guys were on P5s and some of them really suffered with integrated (read complicated!) headset problems to hydraulic brake problems where it lifts the brakes and you puncture as a result. My creaking P2C just rode by (albeit noisily!) .
In terms of tyres both Beth and I used Schwalbe Durano Plus for the camp which are pretty much bullet proof. Neither of us had one puncture which is really important in a camp like this as it is not group riding as I'll describe later. The shoulders of the road are wide but are pretty crappy and a number of people had multiple punctures which just adds time to your ride. We switched out and put race tyres on for the 70.3 which are Continental Grand Prix TT
So in terms of the bike overall I was happy with how the set up performed on the camp and in the race but I've had it for so long I'm kind of moulded to it - well I am after this week!
I think on a camp like this you need to make friends with yourself before you come because on the long bike days you can find yourself on your own for long periods of time. Not only that, you need to be prepared to dig a little deeper than normal in terms of endurance; not intensity, just that ability to keep going in whatever conditions this Island throws at you. Those conditions whilst we were here were "tropical" in terms of being warm and humid at times, windy most days and wet/really wet on occasion. As an example when we descended the 50km to Hilo from Volcano I had a base layer, cycle jersey, arm and knee warmers and a wind (slight water) proof jacket and it was torrential rain yet earlier in the day it was blue skies and very warm. You are going to get tired on Epic Camp but you really need to stay positive and keep that positive attitude. The aid stations that were manned by the wonderful Mark Kendall, Maryanne Patton and Dave Dwan were like a oasis of hope in the distance - when you saw them and eventually got there the cheerful banter lifted the spirits no end. NOTHING was too small for them to do as they pushed you on to the next stop - not literally however.
You need to come into this camp physically used to training daily but I don't think you need to come into it super prepared like you would do a race. I feel that having a positive mental attitude can really help you get through the camp as many of the events are done at your own pace according to how you feel on the day. One area you need to concentrate on when on the camp is to stay on top of any niggles and endeavour to ensure you come into the camp with as few injuries as possible. We brought a Grid Foam Roller, golf ball and a tennis ball - all of which we actually used! Muscle sticks, massage bars, trigger balls or whatever your preferred torture devices happen to be are all good things to bring. Both Mark and Maryanne provided massage on the camp but you can help yourself with a little stretching when you get a chance just to keep on top of that muscle tightness.
Good hand hygiene is imperative to prevent picking up bugs and all the aid vans had sanitising gel to use prior to plunging your hands into the large vats of pretzels, cashews, almonds etc. Keeping up a good probiotic routine and perhaps supplementation with something like colostrum if necessary will help prevent stomach upsets.
I've mentioned in another post but liberal use of chamois cream is an absolute imperative. If you think you have enough on then put some more down there! Sleep is pretty important too!
I feel that you will get the benefit of any training camp some 7-10 days after providing you take some down time in terms of both intensity and volume to allow yourself to absorb and adapt. However mentally you feel like you should be doing something so you need to fight that and do some easy swims and some easy bikes for maybe a couple of hours each day just to keep the aerobic engine ticking over.
This was one area I was interested in before I got here in terms of I wondered how peoples diet would change. My personal view is that both daily and race nutrition is very specific to that person and that what works for one will not work for another. We came into the camp with our own particular nutritional nuances; Beth is Vegetarian/Vegan and I tend to live a lower carb higher fat diet however I suspected for me that would go out the window pretty much as you need fuel. Beth stuck to her Vegan diet (no eggs/milk/dairy/meat/fish) but I ate more bread and rice in this week than I have in the last year. I was not alone in this; most triathletes I know are a little bit freaky in what they eat and some of the Epic campers fitted the mould with the majority I would say living a lower carb lifestyle. When you are hammered and presented with a burger and coke however then you'll just eat it. The day we left Hilo, seven of us went for breakfast and Phil Paterson (Kona qualifier this year for the third time who would come 37th overall in the 70.3 at the end of the camp) had eggs, bacon, waffles, maple syrup and ice cream....for breakfast - our standing joke was that everything was Paleo so the saying was "waffles" are Paleo right?" At the end of the day when you have cycled for 8 hours you need food. One thing to watch (I say this having literally celebrated Phil's birthday with guacamole, salsa and tortilla chips, bacon burger and fries and some kind of huge chocolate dessert) is that after Epic Camp you need to realise that you no longer have the requirement to eat the same amount to sustain the lower level of training.
The Epic Camp Experience
This has been quite the most amazing experience, it has surpassed any camp I have ever done in terms of enjoyment, rigour, volume, fun, friendship and sense of accomplishment. Huge thanks to Coach John Newsom, Mark Kendall (Bike Mechanic and massage), Maryanne Patton (Massage and cook) and Dave Dwan (Camp "mother") and to all our fellow Epic Campers - it would not have been the same without them. Slots for the Kona 2015 camp are open now just visit www.epiccamp.com..........See you there!