Monday, August 22, 2011

ECFR11 – Day 8 – The Finale.

Swim 800m (to make up for when we get booted out of the pool in Briancon)
Bike 173km (elevation gain 2715m)

When I did my recognisance over the Col du Grand Colombier I was seriously worried as it seemed very steep indeed and this was only compounded when Hywell looked at my with surprise when I said we were going over it. Thankfully we were coming from the easier side but it was still by far the hardest climb of the camp. 15km of effort with the first 9km being unrelentless at 8-12% I guess. Someone commented on one of my posts that a 39/27 is fine for the alps – well it isn’t. Yes I got up the climb but it would have been a hell of a lot prettier and faster had I had some more gears. I rode a good chunk of the climb with Rob P but what I’m lacking right now (aside from fitness) is the killer instinct. I wasn’t able to get myself into the deep hard place of pain to make a real race of it. That will come with a few short course races I’m sure.
Thankfully the top section of the climb was pretty easy and I was comfortably in 4th.
There is no way in hell we would have got up the other side. The descent was not much fun at all with narrow roads @ 19% grade. A couple of guys blew out tubes with heating their rims so much with breaking – it not a Tour De France myth your rims really do get that hot.
The final climb of the day was a gentle slope mainly in the forest. A ripper descent but as we came down the thermometer was going up and fast. The forecast was 38c and it was all that and more as we approached Lyon. Thankfully we had the Steven Lord train pulling us to town pretty quickly. For those like me that still had fluids they were so hot you didn’t want to drink them. With it being a Sunday no shops were open. I was scanning everywhere as we came through villages then finally there was an unattended petrol station that had some vending machines. The cold drink I had there in the shade was bliss. When we pulled back out the full force of the heat hit us again and it was 10km of survival to Lyon.

Apparently the bike stats for the camp were 1070km riding with over 20,000m of elevation gain!!!

A great epic day to finish the camp

A big thanks to
  • Ian and Julie from Pyrenees Multisport
  • Anna from Massage me in the ‘Paradiski ski area’ of the Alpes
  • Our camp sponsors: High 5, Blue Seventy, Coffee’s of Hawaii, Fuel Belt, Oomph and HED

I will write some thoughts on the camp long trip home tonight.
Anyone who is keen to join me for an Epic Camp Lite in Kona next May get in touch. It should be a great camp combining in with the Kona 70.3 on June 2nd

ECFR11 – Day 7 – Chicked again

Swim 40mins
Bike 172km (Col du Forclaz, Col du Pre, Col du Saisses – 3000m elevation gain)
Run 8km

There was not a lot of chat at lakeside at 7am this morning. The epic fatigue is now deeply rooted in some of the campers and we were staring down the barrel of a BIG day. The swim was a hoax swim but a good way to wake up.

We had some guests along today. Rachel Joyce emailed me saying she was in the area so she came along and we interviewer Tamsin Lewis on IMTalk a week back so she came along with her boyfriend Declan as well.

Our route today had us heading to the far end of Lake Annecy to some classic climbs. Hywell has helped pick these out for us and assured us they would be epic. Getting down the lake on the bike path was horrid but the pace was easy which I think most of us were OK with. Annecy is simply a beautiful place which is why I wanted to bring the camp here but at this time of the year it is seriously heaving with people.
Finally we got to the first warm up climb, the Forclaz. Tamsin’s electronic gears weren’t working so she spanked us all up the climb out of her seat in a large gear.
Up through Beaufort and onto the Col du Pre. We’d been forewarned this was a tough climb. The usual attacks started and as usual I just settled into my rhythm. With a few athletes caving today I found myself in a good position just keeping a steady rhythm. I could see Steven not too far ahead as we came through switchbacks. For a moment I tried to put in a spurt but then hit another section of over 10% and decided survival was the best course of action with at least half the climb to go. My plan was simply to keep it steady which I thought would mean level pegging him and if he faded then I would pounce. This carried on for a while then all of a sudden I came around a switch back and he was not far in front of me at all struggling up a particularly steep section. When I came up to him a slight ease in grade meant I could easily get out of the seat and put in a good surge to get a gap straight away. Then I saw Zach not far up ahead but I ran out of real estate before we came over the crest of the climb. I was feeling the best I have all camp. My effort was not higher but I think a combination of improving fitness and the others getting tired meat I was 4th over the top

Next up was the Saisses. A 15km climb with a good mix of all sorts of gradients. A near carbon copy of the previous climb and I was 3rd to the top behind Clas and Rob P with Zach fading. He put up an awesome challenge to Clas on the this camp in the KOM competition, the Tri and running race so no wonder he’s tired. A good dose of lunch and then downhill to the lake and home. The temperature was getting out of control around 36c I think and I was not looking forward to a run. Rather than an epic camp zombie run I wanted to tap it out at an OK pace (you can choose to run 8km or 50mins on camp for a point – whichever comes first). It ended up being a little faster and uncomfortable than planned. With Rachel and Clas we were well under 4min/km pace which under normal circumstances is pretty easy but with today and the rest of the weeks cumulative training along with the heat I was rather frazzled at the end. I promptly went straight into the lake to cool off.

A solid day indeed.

EXFR Day 6 – The Blue Ribbon Event

Swim ~1km / Run 5km – Aquathon
Bike ~40km up the Col du Semonoz and back down

Everyone who knows anything about epic camp knows that the real test of your metal is the epic camp Aquathon. The KOM, yellow jersey etc are all fun and games but the Aquathon is serious business.
Lake Annecy is great for swimming as there are yellow marker buoys dotted around the lake about 250-300m off shore to keep the boats out. I had Steven swim a lap that I thought would be about 1km last night – it was probably about 1.1km so I extended the run out to 5km from the original 4km to appease the barrage of complaints that I normally get about long swims.
As it turned out when we went down this morning we selected the wrong buoys and the swim was well short (around 800m) - not good when you know you have an ubber Swedish runner chasing you down.
I jumped on Stevens feet early in the swim but in the chop lost concentration and he got away which probably cost me a good 20sec - not the ideal start in this critically important event. I took a good 500-1000m to get some rhythm going then I felt pretty good and I think my speed was OK. I can’t remember when I passed Steven but at the first turn (2 lap course) I saw Clas was nowhere near as far back as I expected. Rather than ease off I kept up a good pace to make him work at least a bit to catch me which he did at just before 4km. I then eased off to the finish to preserve some energy. So not the win I was hoping for but if I had stuck to my guns with the longer swim and 4km run it might have been a good race. However 2nd in the most important event of the camp was OK.

After a leisurely breakfast it was time to head up the Col du Semnoz. I rode this climb just over a week ago with IM Talk listener Hywell “towel” Davies. I had been in car for over 8hrs that day and was severely jet lagged and struggled badly up the 16km incline. Today proved to be a similar effort – this climb just does not like me and I don’t like it. However at the top it was great to chill out with an ice cream & frites.

On the way down the climb I was beginning to sense the signs of some epic fatigue as my cornering started to go to pieces. I was judging speed into corners poorly and overcooked a number of corners.

The afternoon was optional training and I needed the rest so I took it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

ECFR11 - Day 5 – Sting in the tail after a tough opening

Ian and Julie have put up a bunch of pics here

Run 35mins (tour de Briancon with a good dose of climbing)
Bike 185km (2653m elevation gain – Col du Lautaret, Galibier, Frene + some others)
Swim 30min open water

Our run this morning was a tour of the old village of Briancon with me as tour guide not knowing where the hell we were going. It looked ominous as we rounded the first corner and saw a great big hill straight in front of us. Well worth the trip out though with some great views over the town. The number of athletes who are still in line for camp completion is dwindling by the day – we set the daily minimums each day subject to how much time we have but where ever possible we include a swim, bike and run.

An uphill start again today straight out the door for the bike leg. First was the Lautaret which is about 28km long of gentle climbing which joins onto the Galibier for another 9km of significantly more gradient. The Lautaret & Galibier were where Cadel Evens put in his amazing pull to peg back Andy Shleck during this years tour.
Having been up here yesterday we knew what was coming. I was just waiting for someone to attack and sure enough 10km from the top of the Lautaret (19km from the top of the Galibier) Steven went – some would say a sign of strength others a sign of weakness (he finished 3rd at the top so you figure out which). Clas & Zac followed but everyone else just slowed down so I took up the pace making – not hammering, just a nice steady tempo. I kept this going all the way to the top and Molina was the only one the stuck (after Rob P attacked off the front). I didn’t have my A game going on in my head as we approached the bloody difficult last few km and Molina took me on the line. So whilst I did get beat again I do feel like I’m getting fitter as we progress through the camp.

Pic of Molina and I at the top of Galibier

I’ve been somewhat puzzled on this camp about the unzipping of bike jerseys etiquette. Clas and myself seem to be the only one’s that unzip our bike jerseys in the heat. We have two very contrasting physiques – Clas is a ripped, 6 pack Swedish dude and I have a roll of flab hanging over my bike shorts and an Austin Powers rug of hair that I have no shame in getting out. It is so hot that the open chest is a great way of keeping the core body temp down but nobody else seems interested – maybe I’m just suffering more than the others coming out of winter.  

Today was another 12hr day. We started our run at 7am and finished the swim at 7pm. Sure there was some sitting around at breakfast, lunch etc in between times but a very active day (ride time was just under 7hrs). The garmin is saying 51c today – it was absolutely steaming at our lunch stop but obviously not that hot.

One thing that has been great with this camp has been the evening meals. Typical French style with 4-5 courses along with wine and we leave the table stuffed each night. It’s a well know fact that nobody goes home from epic camp lighter than they arrive – you just eat so much food each day to survive, worrying about weight is the least of your concerns.

Tomorrow is our one easy day with the afternoon as optional training. I’m looking forward to some time to grab some presents for the kids and just chilling out a little. The final 2 days will be tough.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

ECFR11 – Day 4 – Alpe D’Huez

For those of you who have been looking for Scott’s blogs I’ve now updated the link so you can read them.

BIG day today
Bike 160km (varying reports of altitude from 3400-4000m elevation gain – it was big). Including the Col Du Lautaret both ways and Alpe D’Huez)
Run 11km at Alpe D’Huez (altitude) including a 5.5km race
Swim 2.2km (was supposed to be 3km but got booted out of the pool)

Brief report today as it’s 10pm and I’m pooped.

We started with the Lautaret which was a fairly gentle climb from Briancon then a very very long decent to the base of Alpe D’Huez. It’s fair to say we were all a bit concerned about getting back over the Lautaret on the return journey but in the meantime we had the infamous Alpe to tackle. All the hairpins are marked out with signs and they come thick and fast early in the climb. The things that stuck out for me on this climb
  1. It was an amazing sight when you started climbing and could look down on all the switch backs
  2. The grade was much easier than I expected
  3. There were literally hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of riders on the climb. It was a wonderful thing to see.

I was really pleased with the way I climbed. I just got into my zone and tapped away on the pedals. I didn’t go into the red zone but just paced my way up the climb for a good placing and cracked the 1hr barrier for the climb.  

At the top we set out on a run course I mapped out. I thought is was 4km but it ended up being 5.5km so we did one lap warm up then raced the 2nd lap. The race was not a burn fest for the legs but certainly for the lungs it was. The uphills were a real gasp for air. I had Rob P and Steven run up to my shoulder for a period but decided I didn’t want any company that was sure to lead to a difficult last 1-2km so put in a hard burst to run solo for 3rd. It was no surprise that Clas won and I wasn’t prepared to get into a battle royal with Zac for 2nd – my attitude might change at the next run event.

The ride back to Briancon was basically 14km downhill – 38km uphill – 28km downhill and it was hot hot hot again.
Up the Lauteret I had Molina on my wheel for about 15km. I was just waiting for him to come around me in the last 500m but I was determined to put up and almighty fight if he wanted to pop me this time. When I put in my final surge he did not respond but I’m sure we’ll have more to come.

We got to the pool and were told we only had 45mins before closing time. Zac and I did 200m warm up then set out on 20x100 on 1:40 for an easy bonus point. I knew it would be tight to fit them in and during #19 there was an announcement to get out of the pool. I went on for #20 anyway and 50m in popped my head up and saw a lifeguard on the end ready to stop me. I did a really deep tumble turn so he could grab my feet and got in the last 50m – whistles started blowing and Zac was stopped but I got the last 50m done!

A couple of tips for riding in the alps
  1. Always have a camera on hand. The scenery is just breathtaking
  2. Bring lights for your bike. We went through some very very scary tunnels today. Even a bambina coming up behind you sounds like a 10T truck!
  3. Have appropriate gearing – I have a 39/27 which simply is not enough for the steep climbs. Compact cranks or a triple is the way to go
  4. Wear a headband to keep sweat out of your eyes
  5. Always carry a gillet (sleeveless jacket) for descents

Bed time now. Tomorrow is, of course, another big day

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

ECFR11 – Day 3 – Fitness exposed

Run 50mins
Bike 160km (3279m in elevation gain!!!!!!! Including the Col du Vars & Col D’Izoard)

Douglas is sitting here as I type and just told me that the max temp recorded by his garmin was 38c (I know these devices read on the high side but it was bloody hot today!) – this is not easy for us kiwi’s coming out of winter . I stopped on a climb today and stuck my head under a fountain as I was about to explode. That said, those back home won’t have any sympathy for us as a massive winter blast is hitting NZ

The epic camp points system is a great way to keep athletes going when they really don’t want to and today I had a dose of this medicine. We set a 50min run from the gite (lodge) and within 5mins my knee was giving me all sorts of grief. In normal circumstances I would have turned around and gone home as I was limping quite badly and had the collapsing feeling every step as per yesterday. But I knew from yesterdays race that I wasn’t making it any worse and I think it’s just bruising that will take a couple of days to heal. So I plugged on knowing that if I pulled the pin I would loose the 20 point camp completion bonus.

Today’s ride was our first real day in the mountains and bugger me it was very very hard. We opened up the ride with a 10km decent down the hill and then traversed the lake edge with a mix of flat and minor climbs. Nobody seemed intent on cracking the whip for the first 40km or so then camp domestic Russ got on the front and started pulling again – it was fair to say I was not enjoying the tempo pace as I had some real doubts on how I was going to handle the mountains and hitting them fatigued was not going to help. I declared I was going to ride easy from the first aid station to the base of the Col du Vars another 30km or so away and this seemed to calm things. We weaved our way up the valley climb at a nice pace and given the main part of the climb was “only” 9km I thought I would be OK and somewhat competitive. At the base I went straight to the front to settle into a pace that I thought I could sustain. Unsurprising the others viewed this as an attack and it was all on. I know for me on these big climbs I really can’t attack and build high lactate, I just need to settle into a pace I can sustain. So most of the group came past me but I was OK with that. The Col du Vars was a persistent climb with the grade being a consistent 8-11% with very little flat to recover. With 3km to the top I settled for my place behind Steven and with Christine a good distance back. Then all of a sudden with ~500m to go a puffing and panting Christine rode up to my wheel. She was on fire but thankfully I had a good amount in reserve and popped her on the line and in the process very nearly caught Steven – c’est la vie.

The next challenge was the Col D’Izoard. With the minimal strength that I had in my legs spent on the first climb I decided just to get to the top and try to enjoy the climb. I know the others think I sandbag but with so little riding under my belt I just don’t have the necessary strength in my legs to keep pounding away. I’m cursing not having more than a 39/27 as just getting to the top was a real struggle. The main part of the climb was ~16km and bloody tough going but it was worth it at the top with some spectacular vista’s – it really it a moonlike scene near the top.

The highlight of the day by far for me was the descent down from the Izoard to Briancon where we will stay for 2 nights. For the first time I had a clear run all the way down with no traffic or fellow cyclists to contend with. It was a brilliant descent with some long safe straights where I got up to a top speed of 73km (it felt a lot faster!).

It was a long day in the saddle today with a ride time of 6hr08mins. That gave me an average speed of 26km/hr – nothing special but anyone who has ever ridden 2 Hor category climbs in one day will know how much of a slog it is.

Tomorrow is Alpe D’Huez (along with over the Col du Lauteret twice). Forecast is hot and steamy again. We’re also going to have a running race up there – I’ll be no match for Clas but I hope my knee is OK to challenge the rest.

Hopefully tomorrow I might have some time to post some pics

Monday, August 15, 2011

ECFR11 – Day 2 – The EmbrunMan Triathlon

EmbrunMan Olympic Distance race (1.5km swim / 42km ride (with 750m elevation) / 10km run
Bike ~15km with another 750m elevation

Scott Molina won the EmbrunMan race once in the 90’s and is considered a true legend in these parts – as he should be (we take him for granted sometime). When we realised we could include the Olympic distance race in the camp we just had to make it happen. The Iron distance race is insanely hard including a ridiculous amount of climbing including the Col D’Izziord amongst many other climbs. The race has a tremendous history and not many people realise that is has the best prizemoney in the world outside of Kona and Abu Dhabi – the winter takes home 20,000 Euro (this is nearly double the prize money of say IM Germany or the Nth American IM Champs).

We all did the Courte Distance (Olympic) which was a real treat for everyone with an amazingly hard course, great spectators and some typical French gimmicks.

The swim start was classic French (I had a couple of seasons in France in the late 90’s). We were all warming up then realised they were clearing the swim course. Thinking we’d just get out of the water and go straight to the start line I waited back. Then suddenly I realised that everyone was actually queuing up behind the start line in a narrow line. With around 400-500 starters I was well and truly in the back 1/3. They then called us to the edge of the stony beach and I managed to move up to about 3 rows from the front and went far right which was clearly the best line to the first buoy. At the risk of further sandbagging I really have been doing very very little swimming (I basically didn’t swim since our NZ camp 18mths ago and then have been doing once a week for the last couple of months) so didn’t have high hopes. Standing on the start line it wasn’t sure it was going to get going. We were on the grass verge and there was about 30m of deep pebbles between us and the waters edge. I thought we would be called to the water then we’re be off but no, the gun went and it was a made stampede into the water with people falling over and a general chaos. I did really well to get through the traffic in the first 100m and then caught a draft for the rest of the swim. I seemed to be in the first big group around the course but in the final leg my lead out man dropped off the back and I didn’t have the desire to bridge the gap preferring to save my energy for later in the day. So a good start to the race which I was planning to do the swim & run around half IM effort (based on current fitness – which isn’t very fast) then take it pretty easy on the run. I had a woeful transition struggling to get my wetsuit off - it’s been a while since I’ve raced!. Then it was off on the bike. I’m pretty good at pacing myself so just settled into my zone. What this meant was I was getting absolutely smoked with a constant steam of athletes coming past me, some of them very fast. It was déjà vu from Roth in 2008 when I had a great swim and got drilled on the bike. Today I just accepted that this was part of the camp and I’d just compete with my fellow epic campers at a reasonably comfy pace – although I must say it did hurt with a few girls came zipping past, yes I am an athlete who does not like getting chicked!!

As we finally came over the top of the last climb a guy I thought was Molina came zipping past me. It was a gentle descent and the guy was humming. It was a classic Molina move as he loves to descend fast and knows how to make the moves on his competitors. I knew I could probably give Scott a little time on the run but not too much so I set about increasing my effort. I couldn’t keep up but I did start to go a lot faster/harder. We then came to the long decent. Whoahh that was fun and very scary at the same time. It was high speed and some awesome corners. The guys I was riding with were pushing on the pedals on the moderate descents which I found surprising -I used my tactical skills to save some energy by getting really low on the drops and just free wheel. This was much faster than pedalling and I was saving energy. It was a huge buzz coming back down to the lake and time to start hitting the coke I had not had a chance to drink earlier. The final 15km or so was a mix of fast flat and rollers. The Frenchies who had smoked me on the climbs were not so good on the flat and I re-hitched to some that had got away.

Off the bike and I was not feeling as fresh as I would have hoped. I thought I was 3rd camper having had Zac come past me fairly early in the ride and I knew the speed he was going that I would not be catching him no matter how slow her ran. I was wondering how far up the road Molina was but the way I was feeling I didn’t think I was going to be doing any express running today and I did not want to smoke myself for the rest of the camp. The other issue was that my knee was giving me a lot of grief. I gave it a good bang in yesterdays crash and every step my knee was collapsing which was rather concerning. So I just settled into an easy pace and accepted that if anyone came past I’d just let them go. Approaching the turn Zac had 4mins on me and had a very impressive day however there was no Molina. It then transpired that it was not actually Scott that passed me on the bike but someone remarkably similar. Rob P was next behind me and not too close so I just keep and easy/steady pace with a number of runners zipping by but my knee was still sore.

Despite not a hard effort on the run I was tired at the end but after a 10min soak in the snow melt fed river I felt much better.
To top off the day we had to ride up to our accommodation which just happened to be at the top of a 10km climb with an average grade of around 7-8% - a nice little loosen spin. We’re staying at a basic Gite (like a ski lodge) and with today being a public holiday there was a lot of locals up here having a big luncheon. As we arrived in one by one the whole place erupted in cheers for us – maybe all the red wine they were dinking had something to do with it but is was highly entertaining.

This hasn’t been a typical start to an epic camp with the drive in the cars yesterday and race today. What it has meant was this afternoon we’ve had a good chance to kick back and enjoy each others company - or write my blog ;-)

It was great to see Craig Watson at the expo today and yesterday. Craig is a kiwi from Christchurch and I’ve known him from day one of my triathlon career. He now lives in France with his wife Helene and run a well known tri clothing company called kiwami. Craig is an unsung hero for NZ triathletes. As well as earning a bronze medal at the ITU World Champs in Canada one year he was a consistent performer on the World Cup circuit and raced at the Sydney Olympics - he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. What isn’t so well known are his exploits in France as he really paved the way for many young kiwi’s such as myself to join French clubs (in particular ASPPT Mulhouse). Craig came to France as a raw young kiwi and was thrown in headfirst with a small club and he spoke no French. He proceeded to immerse himself in the culture and race his guts out year after year climbing his way up the triathlon ladder. Within a few years he was a dominant force on the French circuit and was loved by the French as he spoke the lingo and was just a good bloke. I think it’s critical that we celebrate people like Craig and start to document the history of the sport in more detail.