Warning – there will be a bit of rambling in this post. Sorry. I sometimes drivel on and this is no exception. It was a special day and the end to an unforgettable experience. If you’re so inclined then please stick the kettle on, sit back and have a read. This blog post is really just for me to remember in years to come. I just put it online for those curious about the nonsense that I get up on holiday (yes, this is apparently a holiday!) Anyway, here goes…
Day 12. This is it. The final day. I’ve been waiting for this for what seems like an eternity. I want it to come. I don’t want it to come, as it’ll be strange not doing this swim/bike/run nonsense every day. I’m pulled from side to side. I’m really enjoying it, just about always smiling and trying my best to perk people up if I can – whether they want to hear some of my dodgy English humour or not!
The plan for the mere mortals (not Adam B. who was out training at 4:30am to secure the Yellow points jersey – top work you crazy nutter) was to get in the van at 6:45am and head up to Lake Louise (at last, we’ll get to see the lake) for another trail run to Lake Agnes, some 400m above where we start from (over only 3.5k of trail). Oh good, another crazy hill run/hike!
I’d searched ‘Lake Louise’ on Google a couple of days ago and the photos that appear in the results look amazing. Surely today wouldn’t be that good?
Oh yes it was. OK, I’m only taking photos with a GoPro action camera but I hope these images give an idea of what it was like.
When we got out of the van we gathered around a local area map to get our bearings and then jogged to the lake. The sun was just starting to rise over the mountains and there were maybe 20-30 tourists already at the lakefront taking photos. It was stunning.
Once the initial fun was over it was time to get down to the business of the run up from Lake Louise to the Lake Agnes Tea House – which unfortunately would be closed when we get there so no relaxing tea and biscuits at the top. Anyway, the path was easier than yesterday’s one (meaning there were no steep cliff faces to run along!) but it was still tough. All uphill, bumpy, bits of walking, etc. A hard old graft.
When we got to the top, once again we were rewarded with spectacular views. Every day it’s been amazing. It was the final day so what better an excuse for a few more photos…
The trouble is, what goes up must come down – and this morning’s trail was no exception. Running downhill should be easy – but it’s not. Especially when your legs are feeling 11 days of training in them. It’s not good. A muscle near the top of the front of my left leg was hurting a bit going up. I just had to be careful. It just needs to get me to Calgary. I’m not getting a ride in the van today. No way.
So, we ran back down to the car park where we started, and then we had to run a little further back down to the hotel. Just another 2.5 miles to run! We got back to our rooms at about 8:30 and would start the ride to Calgary as soon as were were packed and fed.
Feeding time was literally like feeding time at the zoo. Most of the others seemed to have got first dibs on the food and as this was the last morning, supplies were running low in places (as leftovers will get thrown) and a few different combinations were on offer. I found a huge half full pot of yoghurt, topped it up with some raw porridge oats and got that down me.
Then it was toast time. For Epic Camp, John N. had bought a couple of toasters. I think they were cheap. Very cheap. They were more like bread warmers. We got used to them over the days. You’d put the bread in for about five minutes, get fed up and then pop the ‘toast’. There was plenty of honey and jam etc. so I went for my usual second course of toast with honey. Then I saw the magic….
There were two tubs of ice cream left over from the previous day. Jackpot. At this point in the camp food is food, and I’ll eat most things. Honey on toast with a generous topping of chocolate ice cream. Thank you very much.
It was bloody lovely. A bit like the old scrambled egg and maple syrup combo from the other day (god knows when, as every day is a blur – I think it was the day in Clinton) – sounds strange but is perfectly acceptable. If you’re bloody starving and need some fuel for a long ride that is. Whilst doing a final check for any stray items in the room I was staying in, I found an energy gel. I’ll have that for pudding right now then. Sorted.
There was no grupetto leaving this morning – the plan was for everyone to leave together – aid stations at 50 and 100k, and then regroup at 150k for lunch and then a group ride into Calgary to finish the camp. Our ETA in Calgary would be around 4:30pm.
Actually, when I say there was no grupetto – Charlsey did his usual thing and set off really early on his own for a gentle cruise on his own (he wanted to visit Banff on the way to Calgary). In shorts of course, even though it was bloody cold again.
We all set off for Calgary with the routes in our bike GPSs and a printed out map in our back pockets. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before but at the start of the camp we were all given a pack of information with maps, elevation profiles and turn by turn directions for each day of the camp. Every evening I’d take the current day’s map out and replace it with the following day’s information. On Epic Camp you take each day as it comes. Don’t think too far ahead (it’s too scary that way) and just do what it says for the current day.
Within a couple of k’s from the start, Scott raced from the back of the pack to the front declaring a ‘Prestige KOM’ at this point! There was a huge sign for the entrance to a park (I’ve no idea which park, but it was a big bloody fancy sign) and he ‘won’ this with ease – mainly as nobody knew it was coming and that there were no turns off of the main highway involved that would lead to the climb!
The pack slowly split into it’s two normal parts (the express train and the grupetto) and sat with us (in the grupetto) was Adam B. Adam has been doing mega training since he got here. For me, he’s shown me what Epic is. He got hungry for the points competition. Stubborn when there was a little controversy. If someone tacked on 60k, he’d go tack on 90k. He’s a solid athlete. I have absolutely no idea how he put the training in that he did and is still able to ride. He did look a little tired. I suspect he’ll be asleep on the plane back to London before me (and that’s saying something!).
Anyway, Adam sat with us and as he drifted back (to be fair he’d been up since 4:30am and had done 20k of running and 60k of riding!) and said “if you need me, I’ll be back here.”
So, as a gap split the fast boys from us (Shannon, Leah, Louis and myself) Shannon said to me something like “we’ve lost contact pretty early” – this was a sign. At one point I found myself riding solo for a couple of minutes. This was it. The final session of Epic Camp. What an amazing journey. I was going to do it. I could ride 200k. It’s only 125 miles (!!!). After a tough run this morning. The power of ice cream on toast would get me to Calgary. This has been a special two weeks that I’ll never forget. Ever.
Before I turned into an emotional blubbering wreck (I was close, very close) it was time to give it a little push. It’s funny – if you can get into the fast group, it’s fast. It’s furious. It’s crazy. We had 200k to ride and getting a little helping hand would be welcome. We pushed.
Louis was not in any fit state to put the hammer down. Leah, Shannon and I were. We gave it a solid effort. We were getting close but when I looked back Louis and Leah had dropped off. Damn. We eased back slightly to let them catch up. We’re riding with about a foot of gap between the back wheel of one bike and the front wheel of the next. This drafting effect is huge. The bigger the group the bigger the benefit. There were four of us. Time to have another go.
We pushed on with Shannon and I taking turns up front. We were getting close again. I remember thinking that we were about a minute from making contact. I moved forward, took a big push. Glanced back. Only Shannon was with me. Dammit. She’s rock solid that girl and with an addiction to chocolate milk, she’s awesome. I think she also liked some of my sense of humour. I guess so as with the strength she has on the bike she had plenty of opportunity to get away from me!
The two of us made it to the main group and whoooosh. We were on. The pace was high, the effort was just as high and we were being dragged all the way to Calgary. Sweet. The roads were stunning. Twists, turns, little ups and downs but basically fast with next to no traffic. Perfect.
We got to the 50k aid station in super quick time. A few snacks were eaten and very few drinks bottles were refilled as they’d barely been touched – the pace was so solid there was no time to drink. John N. announced to the group that there was a 30k stretch of highway to ride on shortly and it was time to hammer that bit of road hard. “300 watts” he said (meaning the amount of power he planned to push – many of the bikes have fancy ‘power metre’ devices that tell you how much effort you are pushing through the bike, and 300 is a pretty hefty number to sustain for any length of time).
Shortly afterwards Douglas said to me “300 watts…. I’m not a friggin light bulb!”
Much that a speedy train to Calgary would be appreciated, I’d rather spend my final day riding with Louis and Leah. As they rolled into the aid station I waved off the fast group and said that I’d see them at 150k. The gang was back (well, apart from Shannon who loves the fast pace up front and Gareth who has got stronger day by day on this camp). A few moments later Adam rolled in and the four of us decided to push on together.
When I said I wanted to ride with the ‘team’ Louis said to me “I see you’ve realised the error of your ways” (by riding with the fast group early on).
Mark (in the aid station van) tempted us with chocolates (we got the last of his Snickers stash) and then headed off. The four of us worked well. We kept an eye out for one another and it was Adam, Leah and myself pushing up front. We were happy to give Louis all the help we could.
The highway section was pretty crazy. The shoulder of the road was good but there was lots of traffic. At one point there was a diversion onto a cycle path but Adam chose to stick to the main road. Although the cycle path looked lovely (and was away from the traffic) it had its own problems – children on bikes, large groups, handcycles, roller skaters etc. We were better off on the road. Whilst flying along this road I remember a couple of little lumps of debris or whatever in the shoulder. I’ve never done a bunny-hop on a road bike before and I had to do two in about two seconds – at 50kmh (around 30mph)! In a (small) peloton of cyclists. Fun, fun, fun!
After 30k we peeled off of the highway onto a much quieter road. This took us to 100k where we pulled into a garage. Just before then we saw Mark with the van helping John B. with a puncture at the side of the road. We all regrouped at 100k and four became five. The weather had been touch and go until this point and whilst getting ready to set off it started to rain proper. Rain coats were put on and away we set for the 50k to lunch.
Within minutes the rain cleared, the sun came out and Adam declared that he was like a ‘boil in the bag’ meal!
We worked pretty well. John B. smashed it off of the front a couple of times and then realised that we weren’t riding his pace so he could either ride solo or sit on the back and get a bit of a pull for a while. He chose the latter. The weather cleared up nicely and we dropped from the mountains to the rolling foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Louis came up beside me and said that we’d done it. The Rockies has been conquered. A shake of the hands and off we cycled some more.
This was an amazing stretch of road. We had a tail wind, it was gentle ups and downs and we were flying. It was great. Spirits were high and we shared the effort at the front. The fields around reminded me a lot of the UK. Until I saw a sign for a huge Rodeo Showground place. I’ve not seen one of those near home before!
At about 120k Louis suddenly flew to the front. I think he sniffed out lunch. His effort was short lived. He does this. A lot. I thought it was when he had one of the lovely Em’s Power Cookie bars to eat that we had for the first 10 days of the camp (the 350+ bars we had just didn’t last till the end of the camp) but alas not. It was something else. Perhaps it was just the idea of lunch that gave him this energy boost.
Well, about two miles before lunch he must have sniffed lunch out proper, as he put a monster effort in. He was like a bloody man possessed. I sprinted up to keep up with him and spent about five minutes hanging on for dear life about 12 inches from his back wheel. He wasn’t letting up at all. When the aid station came into sight he eased off, I slumped over the bars and we all slowed down to meet the rest of the Epic Campers. They’d been sunning themselves and eating for about 20 odd minutes at this point. Most of the food had been eaten. This was the last ‘on the road’ meal, so supplies were low.
Much like breakfast I was wanted to hoover any old food in just to top up the reserves. A can of red bull followed by a slice of bread with hummus, grated cheese and one of Marks’ chocolate chip cookies did the job. Yes, a cheese and cookie sandwich! You’ve not had one before? Well my friends you’ve been missing out!
During our brief lunch stop Gary was found slumped in the back of one of the support cars trying to get some sleep. He’s worked hard the past 12 days. Bloody hard. He’s been Adam B’s right hand man and they’ve done some monster training. Chapeau
It was time to get the full group together for the final push to Calgary. I made the call of “two minutes” that I seemed to be famous for during camp. This meant we had about five minutes! We all set off and Calgary got closer.
We took what seemed like quite a detour away from the main highway into Calgary to get to the hotel we were staying at. There were lots of traffic lights. I didn’t really mind all the stop/start stuff. We chatted a bit. Spirits were high and Douglas started singing. I kid you not. He was singing. Now I don’t know what song it was but after a few minutes he declared he knew the second verse of the song. This didn’t help with the identification of said song!
After 125 miles of riding we turned into the entrance of our hotel for the night. Epic Camp was done. Dave Dwan – the main support man with the big bad van was there to high five us at the entrance. It was Epic. We’d all just ridden approximately 950 miles across some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We’d swum and run as well.
I couldn’t believe it. It was done. No more riding. That thing I signed up for two years ago and spent a small fortune on, was done. I’ll be able to take this experience with me to the grave. Not many people get the opportunity to do something as mad as this.
Hands were shaken, smiles were shared. It was surreal. A rest day was planned for Sunday. You know, I’ve never followed a training program. I just do what I want to do. This is the most structured training that I’ve done in my life. It certainly took me out of my comfort zone, that’s for sure. In a good way, a very good way.
We parked our bikes up outside the hotel, went inside and checked in. Whilst in the queue I was presented with a flavoured (any guesses?) milk drink by Leah who emptied the hotel reception shop fridge for Shannon and myself. This was good. Real good.
I headed up to my room, sat down and relaxed. And drunk my drink. I’d heard about Epic Camp years ago on the IM Talk podcast and here I was doing it. No, let me rephrase that. I’d done it. Completed Epic Camp. Just normal old me had gone for a bike ride across the Rocky Mountains of Canada. As you do.
Epic Camp is for crazy folk who pushed themselves further than they could ever do on their own – normally with amazing scenery. The group of like-minded people gets you through this. Your mind gives up long before your body does. Epic Camp proves this. You train day, after day, after day. You’d never do this at home. No matter how much you want to, you just cannot do it. When you’re living day in, day out, with people doing the same thing, you just do it. You JFT (just f**king train). Nothing else matters. You have no time for other things to matter. You wake up, do some training, come back, pack your bags, load the van, eat, train some more, eat some more, train more, come back, eat (or drink), then try and sort your stuff out before dinner whilst other people tack on extra training! This went on for 12 days solid. Doing it with good people made it ‘normal’. To almost everyone else in the world we’re ‘not normal’ but here this seemed perfectly fine!
I’ve met people on Epic Camp that I want to stay in touch with. People who do what I love to do. People willing to test themselves. Willing to meet up at 6am for a swim in a freezing lake. Willing to cycle 100 miles day after day. Willing to sleep in a room whilst you gas each other into an early coma (it’s the carbohydrate excess I’m sure!). I barely know what its like to sit down and appreciate a meal. I’ll sit down on the arm of a chair with a paper plate and eat whatever I can lay my hands on. The food was good, I never turned anything down and there was always something I was happy to eat – however odd it may have sounded, or indeed tasted.
After a shower it was time to head downstairs to the bar for a well earned drink and I got to wear a smart(ish) shirt that I’d had rolled into the corner of my bag for the past two weeks. People slowly appeared, we toasted our efforts, talked, and drank. And realised that there was no training scheduled for Sunday. How odd.
We all headed over the road to a sports bar which we’d booked up for a meal. Another drink at the bar and then we headed to a conference room to enjoy the company of new friends for a few hours. We had a fine meal (it barely touched the sides) and had a laugh. Dave Dwan – the main support guy on the camp then gave a witty little speech. John presented the points jerseys (Adam overall, Zach for the hills and Louis for the over 45’s) and then gave out a few Epic Camp freebies to us all. The conversations continued, the beer flowed (mostly in the direction of Gary and Molina) and we heard some excellent banter.
The rest of this post will be a little bit all over the place and probably incoherent at times. I’m just rambling a little (or a lot) about the camp. Apologies in advance.
The people on camp have been awesome…
John N. is the man in charge. He sorted this whole thing out. He does this every few years. He puts the overall plan of the camp together and makes it happen. He’s also training with us day in day out. He never complains – to be fair he can only complain to himself! If you listen to the IM Talk podcast it’s like having one of the presenters doing a live show every day. He lives the sport of triathlon. Solid.
Dave D. was his ‘do-er’ man. He kept the camp moving forwards. He got things done. He sorted out problems. He was always happy. Nothing ever phased him. If you wanted something doing – he would know what to do. If he didn’t know, he’d find out.
Mark was our main aid station guy and mechanic. Driving a van between aid stations, laying out tables full of goodies for us every 50k beside the road. He was always smiling. An absolutely pleasure to have looking after us. Any bike trouble and he’d get it sorted. Apparently he did a mean massage as well on tired legs.
Michelle kept us fuelled up for the long days of training. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was her thing. We never had the same meal twice. She surprised us with hot soup on cold days, chocolate brownies, the biggest fattest pancakes that I’ve ever eaten and more. She’s good. Damn good.
As for the actual ‘athletes’ there’s loads and I won’t name them all but special mentions have to go to my teammates Adam B. and Gary. They’re rock hard. Even harder. They’re stupid, crazy and funny. I spent 12 days waiting for them to blow up from the training volume they put down but they didn’t. I’ve no idea how! I like them. Good job really as I’ve spent a fair bit of time with them the past couple of weeks.
Gareth was a solid guy. I roomed with him a couple of times on camp and we got on very well. Cheers for riding with us when you fancied an easier day!
Louis – what a guy. I love him. When I said goodbye to him after camp I knew I’d see him again (France 2016?). He’s too nice to not see again. We had a lot of fun.
The girls – Shannon and Leah – I loved going cycling and running with them. We seemed pretty evenly paced (unless on a hill climb when Shannon sped off into the distance). We had a lot of fun. We spent many an hour looking for bears at the side of the road, drinking milk and chatting about bears! They were fantastic company. To be fair I’m surprised they still decided to ride with me as I’m a cheeky little sod. The amount of times I said to Shannon ‘it’s bloody freezing and you’re wearing shorts’ was almost tiring me out! But I kept on. I’m wrapped up in my full winter kit and these girls are rockin’ the summer training gear. Rock hard. They’re great.
Scott Molina – this man is an absolute legend. He’s a true hero of the sport of triathlon. World famous. He knows how to train. He’s in his mid 50’s now and still takes on the big boys on camp. When he talks, everyone listens. He’s done it all. You search on YouTube and you’ll find old videos from the 1980’s of him winning huge races. Like Hawaii. Scott doesn’t need to do this stuff but he loves it. He doesn’t get special treatment. He shares a room with whoever he’s been told he’s sharing with – goddammit, I shared a room with him one night. I can’t believe it. Why he chooses to spend his time with a bunch of average age group athletes is beyond me but he never complains (well – he did complain that his back wheel had been rubbing against his frame for two weeks and that’s why he wasn’t as fast as he wanted to be!) and says the funniest things. He rocks.
You know, before the camp I heard stories where you’d be in bed on day eight or whenever and just not want to get out of bed to go swimming or running. Well, I don’t think this really happened at all to me on camp. I knew that if I got up to go running at stupid o’clock I’d be doing it with friends. And that made it easy. OK, so the body was not wanting to do these sessions – especially in the early days when my legs shouted and shouted at me to stop, but knowing that we’d get to run through the trails as a little group (looking for bears of course) made it easier. Much easier.
I was asked on Sunday by John N. during an interview for the IM Talk podcast about the tough times on camp. I think I replied “Day One!” I struggled as we got to Whistler and I remember thinking during that ride that if things were going to be like this every day then I’d never make it. I’d never planned to get involved in the ‘points’ stuff that goes on at Epic Camp. I wanted to complete the camp. Get to the finish. Ride across the Rockies. After a couple of days my legs were breaking down but then they reappeared (normally after an ‘easy’ day). I surprised myself with how I managed. I didn’t even mention my butterfly swimming in the 400IM race. I think I’d erased that whole swimming experience from my mind!
These camps will make you stronger. I’d do eight hours or more of training and back it up the following day. If I did eight hours training back home I’d probably have a week off afterwards. You can do it. However tough things get in races I need to look back and remember what I can do.
I love the fact that I can look at a map of Canada and say “I’ve cycled my bike from Vancouver to Calgary” – it’s nuts. I cycled the entire way. Not once did we put the bikes in the van to drive them up the road or anything. I stopped riding one day and started the following day from about the same spot. I did it. Every inch of tarmac, on my trusty road bike. I got this bike when I started triathlon in the Spring of 2008. OK, I’ve given it a little bit of love and upgrades over the years but the frame, forks and handlebars are original vintage 2008! It’s done me proud, very proud.
Keeping a blog has been great. I remember the effort that went into my ‘Kona Diaries’ in 2013. I hope I’ve done a reasonable job here at Epic Camp. Many of the other ‘campers’ have written regular blogs as well which have been great to read – just to see how the others are feeling.
Long distance triathlon is very time consuming. You need to enjoy the training. I’ve loved Epic Camp, that’s for sure and I’ve done a lot of training in 12 days. In fact, here’s what I ended up doing….
Week 1 – 36 hours of training, consisting of 470 miles cycling, 35.9 miles running and 16k swimming.
Week 2 – 34 hours of training, consisting of 477 miles cycling, 39.2 miles running and 8.8k swimming (damn those cold lakes).
70 hours training over 12 days with no rest isn’t a bad effort if you ask me! I don’t plan to do that again any time soon. It’s not Easy Camp.
As I write this it’s Monday at 2:45am Calgary time (9:45am UK time) and I’m flying somewhere near Greenland on my way back home. I’m tired – physically and mentally – and can’t wait to see Sharon at the airport. It’s been an unforgettable two weeks. It’s been selfish – I’ve gone and had ‘fun’ (for many it won’t seem like fun) whilst Sharon’s been left at home alone (although I hear she had fun at a friend’s 40th party the other day). Well, it’s back to reality now. The lawn needs mowing and I’ve got work to do.
I’ve also got myself an Ironman in under two weeks time. I’ll be racing Ironman Wales. I’d much rather have about five or six weeks between Epic Camp and a big race but this is how the cards have been dealt. Let’s see which side they come up. I may be pretty fit right now, but two weeks of mental training doesn’t equal consistency. And consistency makes you fast (and I’m not as consistent as last year). If I can keep myself moving the next couple of weeks I hope to give Wales a good bash and do my best.
My swimming must have got better the past couple of weeks – my cycling certainly has and I’ve done a good solid volume of running. I’ve done no long runs as such but I seem to be pretty good at running off little training. Let’s see what happens on Sunday 14th September. I’ll have fun. I’ll draw from the experiences of the past two weeks and if things start to hurt then I’ll give myself a good talking too and remind myself what I can do.
Thanks for reading. x