Games Day is over and, for the record, Mark Pietrofesa won quite handily – remember that name because if you are in the 40-44 then you’ll be getting to know him quite well over the next few years. Steve Larsen nipped him for a slot at Vineman in 2005 but I’m putting my money on Mark for the re-match, certainly over the full distance in Hawaii.
I wrote some of this a few days ago...
I’ve finished my third monster brew of the day. I’m trying to stay awake until 7pm so I can sleep through the night.
The nutritional cracks have become open fissures – I had a couple of bowls of ice cream last night; tortilla chips the night before and pancakes this morning. For me, the nutrition heading off the rails is a sign that it is time to back off on everything, rest up and absorb the training. I have four weeks worth of business, personal and family travel coming up. So I’m going to take things easy and try to run most days.
In early December, Monica asked me whether I would go to Epic if I hadn’t committed to it. At that time, I was very tired and scared about the camp. Scared? Yes, scared. You see, I know what these camps are like. I also have intimate knowledge about overtraining. It scares me.
[Very] Big Week Training is risky but the risk:reward ratio is worthwhile for me – I’ve spent over a decade learning about how I respond to endurance training. As I want to explore my ultimate potential as an athlete then there are certain risks that need to be undertaken. What I’m trying to do this time around is make sure that I’m following the most appropriate path.
I’m glad that I turned up – first to see the guys and second because this was the best two-week training camp that I’ve ever had. Stripping out the easier stuff, I managed 45 hours of steady and mod-hard training in 14 days. That is a massive amount of work to put into my body in January.
For the top performers in any sport, the physiological training is a given. We must do the work to generate the physiological changes that give rise to the potential for breakthrough performance.
Work is a given – that’s why I remind athletes that protocol isn’t the decisive factor. It has an impact but it doesn’t dominate the path from potential to performance. What really matters is the psychological and spiritual changes that happen during Big Week Training.
Fatigue – an acceptance of fatigue as a physical state of the body, rather than a mental problem of the mind.
Humility – an acceptance that we do have certain limits on certain days. However, learning that our limits are far, far further than we thought possible. By removing ourselves from our daily routines, we “trick” our minds into allowing us to exceed our previous athletic definitions of ourselves.
Work – teaching the mind that work is a relaxing form of pleasure. Getting to the point where five to six hours of steady cycling (in the wind and rain) is more of a meditation than a training session.
Confidence – seeing that physiological superiority results from absorbing more work, over more time – rather than an innate, unachievable genetic edge.
These are the lessons that we seek to bring the athletes that join us at Epic Camp. They are also the lessons that I renew each time I arrive at Epic.
When you read about Epic Camp you may think that it is about pain tolerance. For some of the athletes that could be the case. For others, that might be the way a few of the days feel. For me, Epic is about training my mind that sensations that I may have felt as pain are better expressed as joy. I use nature, the Epic Lads and the “game” to reprogram my emotional framework. There was as much psychological as physical “practice” happening at this camp.
Once the fatigue starts to pile up, the psychological cracking shows first. An athlete’s psychological systems will break down well in advance of their physical systems.
Epic is a direct challenge to what an athlete previously thought as reasonable and challenging. Most the lads deal with their psychological challenges internally. Over the years a few break out in public (generally around Day 7 or 8).
Coming into the camp, I had a few goals that I wrote about…
***Keep HR under 148 for the first week – managed that for all but an hour of riding on Day Five. Keeping intensity down in a group situation is extremely tough – I was dropped a couple of times on Day One but bridged back when the pace eased. We need a tremendous amount of self-confidence to allow ourselves to go out the back in a group situation. Most people are unable to execute their plan in a group situation or under psychological pressure. They can not do it.
***Pull the longest ride of Day Three (225K) – got that done with Charlesy as my wingman.
***Hit it hard a few times in Week Two – similar to the amount of Week One endurance training, I managed much more than I thought possible – two hours at 300w+ on Day Eight and a tough main set/group ride on Day Ten. I also drove my HR up into the 170s for the entire run on the Day Eight Aquathon.
***Be cheerful, less controlling and listen more – better than previous camps and I’ll keep working on these points!
If you head over to the Planet-X bikes website then you can check out my data from those hard rides. The most interesting data (for you) might be Day Eight and Day Ten. They will give you an insight into my threshold and VO2 power.
My favourite day was probably Day Seven when I broke a spoke fifteen minutes into the ride (and in the rain). Once the crew had me rolling again, I rode alone, playing catch-up, and was able to build the ride, hour-by-hour for five hours. Confidence that I can ride well when fatigued is something that I was seeking at the camp and I found it at the end of Week One.
Many of the lads report a sensation of improving fitness during the camp. I think, what really happens is that the body & mind simply get used to working for long periods of time. Physiologically we fatigue, mentally we strengthen.
I know some guys where Epic has changed their lives – 50 to 80 hours of training changing the direction of someone’s life. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Scott and I are doing what we were born to do – it’s our path. Some folks get that, some don’t.
I ended up with my lowest total (and points “standing”) for any of the camps. However, in terms of training stimulation, this would have to be the most specific camp for my goal of winning Ironman Canada in August 2007.
Sitting here on my flight out of Queenstown, I’m the least fatigued from any of the previous camps. I’m going to absorb the training because I want to get faster, not because I am deeply overreached.
The game plan for February is to physically re-group, run frequently and organize the non-triathlon aspects of my life.
Monica is a very high priority for the next two months.
In Alexandra, we had a Q&A session with the lads. Here are a couple of highlights that you might want to consider within your own program.
Triathlon is a young sport. I’m fortunate to have been able to learn from a number of the pioneers and experts of our sport. In watching the lads at Epic, I see that what I think is possible (for myself and others) sells our potential short. Many, many times I would have advised athletes to skip sessions (or stop training altogether) if I was “coaching” them at Epic. If we had stopped at a “reasonable” level then (without exception) we would have failed to learn valuable lessons about ourselves and human physiology.
One of these days, we’ll get Dr. J to undertake a study of us at Epic, until then, you’ll have to take my word for it. Much of the triathlon advice that you receive is the equivalent of someone telling you that the Earth is flat.
Please don’t take _anything_ that you hear as the end-all. Take what sounds reasonable, what has worked for people like you and experiment.
Take action, make mistakes, learn and share your experiences.
Is Big Week Training the “optimal protocol”?
Along your endurance journey, don’t expect to find “one way”, “one approach”, “one protocol” or “one method”. Big Week Training is merely one tool that you can place in your athletic (or coaching) toolbox. For experienced athletes, Big Week Training is a safe way to bump up our performance.
Watching Crazy Mike was interesting because he went both long and hard (daily). I don’t recommend that but… he got through it and put in excellent output (swim, bike and run) session, after session, after session.
High Volume, High Intensity is high octane training and, last night, Scott talked about the risk of staleness and overtraining. In a group environment, it is possible to blow an entire season of fitness across a single fortnight – especially if we forget that we must pay a recovery price eventually. Like me, Mike is planning on recovering through February.
Each camp we continue to learn a tremendous amount from watching the guys. One of Scott’s key observations is that if you get a group of top athletes together and raise your expectations then nearly everyone will step up. We sure saw that on this camp. I couldn’t believe how much they got done. I purposely cut back the volume and piled on the steady-state for this camp.
Week One was 40 hours of training and Week Two was 20 hours of training. Because my relative reality was that I was doing less than the Epic Lads, this was the easiest (and highest quality) sixty hours of training that I’ve done since the summer of 2005.
***Run 12K steady (used Bobby McGee run:walk for the entire camp, except the Day 8 Aquathon and short games day runs)
***Swim 3K with 2K TT (14:30/14:08)
***Ride Six Hours (five of which were steady to mod-hard)
***Swim 3K with 2K steady
***Bike 4.5 hours (four of which were steady to mod-hard)
***Run 10K easy
***Ride 7.5 hours (five of which were steady to mod-hard, last 30 minutes mod-hard to hard)
***Swim 3K open water (1K steady rest easy)
***Swim 3K steady to mod-hard
***Run 10K mod-hard then 1K fast
***Bike Three Hours (middle hour crisscross max aerobic pace; last hour steady to mod-hard)
***Swim 3K (1K band only then 2K steady)
***Ride 4.5 hours easy
***Easy 30 min run
***Ride 5 hours build by hour easy to mod-hard
***Ride Four Hour (60 min build to mod-hard; 60 min mod-hard to hard; 30 min steady then easy)
***Aquathon – 10 min steady swim; 15 min hard to very hard run
***Swim 2.4 Miles Open Water 52 minutes (wide range of intensities)
***Easy morning run 10K
***Four hour ride including 6x3 min @ VO2 watts on 90s RI; one hour hard rolling pacing line; one hour steady to mod-hard
***Swim 40 mins include 30 min steady
***Games day include 6 min 400 IM, Five Minutes threshold running and some power events
***Ten minutes easy swimming
***Three hour ride (include one hour steady; some big gear work and twenty minutes fast)
***Easy 90 minute run in the evening
***Swim 2.4 Miles Open Water 51 minutes (easy to mod-hard)
***Run 80 minutes steady
***Catch this plane to Auckland
The top agegroup guys did MORE than the above (Crazy Mike was close to double). Some of you are trying to beat these guys.
Compared to (some of) our competition we achieved one or two months worth of key sessions in a single training camp. It takes many years of patient, smart training to prepare the body for undertaking this sort of training camp.
I’ll share some of my non-linear recovery techniques that I used over the last fortnight. Nobody ever writes about this stuff as it pertains to triathlon. I can't be the only one with this experience!
So this is what really happened. Much of this is operating at different levels of my experience. I’ve always been willing to access anything that works.
Fit Body, Fit Soul – I used what I learned from Mark and Brant at their weekend clinic. They can teach you better than I can and their lessons have helped move me closer to my ultimate potential as an athlete.
The Sun – On the morning of Day Two, I spent an hour on the beach watching the sun rise. Some might call that a meditation but I was simply looking around, relaxing and asking for help.
The Weather – In heat, or in rain, I will run palms-up for a period of time to absorb energy from the sun or the sky. I use a similar technique within my yoga practice.
Yoga – I did frequent, short yoga sessions – up to three times per day.
Massage – I had five massages in the sixteen days that I was in New Zealand.
Monica – I spoke to Monica five times over the sixteen days that I was in New Zealand. This is the least direct contact that I’ve had with her since we’ve been together. However, I probably held her in my heart for five to twelve hours per day. At my end it felt like I was pulling energy from her. She’s pretty tired right now. I don’t know if that was my doing! Over the years, there have been a few people from which I have pulled energy when training at a high level.
Breathing – When I was surrounded by the power of nature; or saw a flower; or saw an animal; I would breathe the experience into my body. With my little injuries, I would direct the breath towards the part of my body that needed to recover (another technique from yoga).
Dreams – I had dreams about each of the key people in my life. They gave me various pieces of advice. Some of which I remembered, some of which merely made me feel nice when I woke up in the morning.
iPod – I like listening to good music on my iPod.
Some of this I can explain, some of this I am simply sharing with you.
More than understanding my experiences, I’d encourage you to explore your own.
Protocol is not the differentiating factor between athletes.
Passion, persistence and patience – combine those with any reasonable protocol and you’ll get results. The people that tend to take issue with alternative protocols are, typically, unable to do the protocol they don’t like; or, are trying to profit from an alternative view of the world. For example, most coaches passionately believe in the way _they_ like to train. From a sales & leadership point of view, that belief is essential.
Scott and I really enjoy the camps. We do them to spend time with the lads and enjoy ourselves. We have a deep enjoyment of training.
On the podcasts, there was a tone that Epic Camp is special, possibly elitist. It is special for the Epic Vets because it represents a shared experience, a very different experience and an outside of the box experience.
While it is a unique experience “for us” you could recreate it for yourself. I’ve done it a number of times over the years and it’s helped me.
Epic Camp is unique and special; but Big Week Training is open to anyone with a backpack and a map!
What is unique here is the nature of the athletes. We are sharing a massive undertaking alongside experienced, confident and (mostly) mellow high achievers. The older guys that come have achieved a very high level of success (in multiple fields). With this success comes humility and (if you listen) a willingness to share knowledge.
We also get athletes that are searching for a level of validation (of themselves and/or from others). It’s ironic that we often need to achieve something to learn that it doesn’t really matter. It never was about the goal – the goal merely provides us something around which we can wrap a lifestyle.
The man who competes with no one
In all the world, has no competitor.
And that’s a wrap for another year.