Women’s Epic Camp Report

Lisa’s Report on her sojourn to the Women’s Epic Camp:

As I climbed round yet another rocky outcropping, passing an elevation sign (6100 ft.) and entering a fragrant pine corridor, I decided that the town of Prescott, AZ did not really exist; that I might—and likely WOULD— end up not completing the day’s bike workout, thus forever forfeiting my 10 bonus points at week’s end.  Teary-eyed, I stopped and picked up a pine cone on the road, contemplating it and my situation.  It was Day 5 of EpicWoman camp, and I had been on my bike almost 7 hours that day, much of it alone, with no end in sight.  The day had begun with the requisite 3k swim in Chandler, some 100+ bike miles back; now the heat of the desert had faded with the altitude and the approach of dusk, and the air around me was verging on chilly.  Cursing my coach and myself, I tucked the pine cone in my jersey pocket and hopped back on my bike, determined to find the damn town, complete the ride and get the bonus points if it killed me.  Finish the day, I promised myself, and only three more to survive…

The concept of Epic camp has intrigued me from the first time I read about it, 6 years ago.  Take a bunch of highly motivated endurance nuts and give them a week or so of completely supported training opportunities, and see what mental and physical barriers could fall away.  Having been playing around in multisports for over 18 years, I had been picking away at my own challenges on a much smaller scale (50K/50mile trail runs, one-day adventure races, RAGBRAI, Tulsa Tough weekends—consecutive days of hilly centuries, the Pikes Peak Double, 20 iron-distance events—including all 5 Silvermans), just for fun and to see where the boundary lines might be found.  Never having defined myself as an athlete, this was all big stuff in my mind.  But Epic camp?  That was a fantasy to be lived in another lifetime.  Until now.

I had followed the most recent Epic New Zealand through the campers’ online blogs, feasting vicariously on their adventures.  Then on Tara Norton’s last post, she mentioned the possibility of holding an Epic woman-only camp this April in Arizona.  After not too much thought, I dashed off a quick email expressing my interest….only to realize I probably should have consulted my newly hired coach first.  (After 18 years of being self-coached, and a fair bit of nagging from my training buddies, I decided to give up my stubborn independence and open myself up to a different approach; hence, the coach.)  Permission turned out not to be an issue, as the coach I had recently hired was Scott Molina, one of the mad creators of Epic camp.  The absurdity of the situation was not lost on me, especially during the weeks leading up to EpicWoman, when I tried feebly to back out.

In Tucson on the eve of EpicWoman, introductions were made, and Tara outlined the Epic Camp points structure and rules for the next eight days.  The cool Zoot shoes and gear she handed out to each of us certainly helped buffer the discussion of what we were about  to undertake (the compression tights were definitely appreciated as the camp progressed!).  But when the schedule–which had sent me crawling under the covers in fetal position when I received it the previous week–was briefly reviewed, my mind went numb.  Up to this point, I had managed to wrap my mind around surviving up to half of the camp; anything beyond Day 4 was incomprehensible.  Tara and Marilyn MacDonald were pro- triathletes and both participants in multiple (predominantly male) Epic camps.  What was I, a fifty-year old age-grouper, doing here?

There were three other—younger— age-groupers participating in addition to myself.  Rounding out the group were the three indispensible members of our support crew:  two gals who were accomplished age group triathletes themselves, and Tara’s mental coach, Etienne, the only guy amongst us.  He would also serve as the EpicWoman mental coach, giving us thought-provoking written assignments that we would have to complete and return to him (for points!); on which he would write comments and advice, and return to us.  Over the course of the camp, the fatigue made it quite difficult—but equally as important– to articulate what our goals were for the camp, for our lives in sport, and where we were in terms of attaining them.  The positive attitude and quiet efficiency of each member of the support crew was as impressive as any camper’s performance, and could never be adequately portrayed here.  There were countless times during the week when the knowledge that they would be waiting up the road in Hank-the-Tank to refuel our fluids–and our spirits–was close to all that kept me going.  (That, and all the GU chomps I could ingest!)  What started out as “one day at a time”, soon became “one workout at a time”, and eventually, “one hour/refuel stop at a time” over the course of the camp.

But I must admit, the opportunity to play all-day, everyday for a week, and witness the focus and dedication to hard training of our fearless leader—Tara Norton—was well worth the suffering and discomfort of trying to complete all workouts on her Machiavellian schedule.  Despite coordinating the logistics each day, she still managed to out-train us all, with a cheerful word and a smile of encouragement; Tara provided quite the inspiration!

….So here I was at the highest point above Prescott suddenly filled with renewed determination to find my way to the hotel somewhere ahead (past Prescott, as it turned out, just to add a further challenge).  When I finally arrived, shivering and exhausted, it dawned on me that I was capable of so much more than I’d ever imagined or hoped.  The power of that day will remain with me for the rest of my life.  Scott was right:  No need to get a tattoo at the Tucson Tattoo Expo (taking place at our hotel);  EpicWoman camp has indelibly tattooed my soul.

Day 1:  8.5 hrs.

Bike from Hotel Arizona to the ski slopes atop Mt. Lemmon (with KOM points) and back—86 miles.

Swim 3K (3300yds), including a 2,000yd time trial (for points).

Run 1 hr.

Comments:  Felt like a good day’s fun.  At home, tomorrow’s plan would call for an easy day….

Day  2:  8.5 hrs.

Bike from hotel to Kitts Peak Observatory (with KOM points) and back—106 miles.

Swim 2000yds (pool closed).

Run 1 hr.

Comments:  Beautiful riding conditions, everyone seems to be in good spirits.

Day 3:  7.5 hrs.

Swim 4600yds.

Bike from Tucson to Chandler—109 miles.

Run 4 miles for time. (closest to predicted time for points)

Comments:  Lots of head/cross-headwinds the whole day, ~20mph w/gusts higher.  At a few points, there was so much dust blowing across the road that visibility was less than 10 ft.  Worked to hold Tara or Marilyn’s wheel most of the way, since the alternative—fighting the headwinds solo—was not a pleasant thought.  My reactive airways syndrome kicked into high gear today; I now have a constant, dry, hacking cough.  Needed to use my asthma inhaler on the run.  My lungs feel like the membranes are sticking to themselves; choking every time I swallow.

Day 4:  6.5 hrs.

Swim 3k

Run 2:20

Bike from hotel around parts of the IM AZ bike course—56 miles.

Comments:   Marilyn went home this afternoon, having re-injured her hamstring.  Very sad to lose her company.

Day 5:  9.5+ hrs.

Swim 3K

Bike from Chandler to Prescott Valley–126 miles.

Comments:  Managed to hold Tara’s wheel until just before lunch stop.  Decided not to try after lunch, since I was burning too much energy doing that.  Had lots of time with my own demons as I pedaled over miles of false flats and grinding climbs into Wilhoit, Yarnell, Prescott, and Prescott Valley.  Quads threatened to cramp every time I coughed.

Day 6:  5.5 hrs.

Bike from Prescott Valley to Wickenburg–62miles.

Tempe Splash ‘n Dash (750m+ swim in Tempe Town Lake, 62F water temp; 4 k run)

Run 6k post event.

Comments:  The ride was fun, as it was the reverse (ie. net downhill) of the previous day.  However, I had a bad asthma attack when I hit the lake and had to pull off to the side and strip off my wetsuit and catch my breath; truly felt like I was suffocating/drowning.  The only reason I didn’t bail completely was because I wanted the camp completion points.  Couldn’t  feel my legs until about 5k on the run, because they were so chilled from the cold lake.

Day 7:  8.5 hrs.

Bike from Chandler to Tucson—109 miles.

Run 1 hr.

Swim 3K.

Comments:  Just when you think you’re home free, shit happens.  I was hanging off the back— too tired to be riding safely in a group—but plowed into Susan at about mile 30 when they stopped.  Thankfully, she was unscathed and I had road rash, lumps and bruises, but nothing broken and bike intact, so we continued on.  I chose to forgo the lunch stop (just a quick refuel, and I kept going), fearing that i’d stiffen up and wouldn’t be able to get started after the break.  Somewhere along the desolate Pinal Pioneer Parkway, I found my mojo, and cranked it into Tucson (the eventual downhill+tailwind/cross-tail certainly helped).  Tara caught me about 5 miles from the hotel and we rode in together.

Day 8:

Bike from Hotel Arizona over Gates Pass, around McCain Loop, Saguaro National Park loop and back– 54 miles.

Swim 1000yds + 400IM and 50freestyle ‘races’.

Comments:  Brief bursts of energy on the bike after a 2hr warmup (!), but pretty much tapped out at this point.  Nearly drowned after an asthma attack during the 400 (wheezing like the mother of all steam locomotives); probably the slowest pseudo-IM in history.

EpicWoman Camp Totals:

~60 hours  = 752.5 bike miles, 22,000swim yards (12.5 miles), 43.5 run miles (approx).

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