Going Old School
by Mimi Winsberg, M.D.
Having just returned from a week of training and racing on the Big Island, I thought I’d share my experience of racing after a week of John Newsom’s Kona Epic Camp.
In fairness, the camp was titled Kona Epic Camp Lite, as it would not involve the insane volume that Epic Camp is known for, and we were not subject to a points system or any other internal competitions within the camp. The idea was to go old school: get some big training done in the famous Hawaii lava fields, and then tackle the Hawaii 70.3 on the last day of the camp. I had no idea whether it would work, but as I boarded the plane to Kona I found myself hoping the camp would be more “Lite” than “Epic.”
The camp staff’s Kiwi charm and warmth made me feel comfortable instantly even if it took me a few days to understand their accents. We settled into to our oceanfront condos, had a lecture from swimmer Karlyn Pipes-Nelson, and got the bikes built for what was going to be a big first day.
Day 1 we tackled the Ironman bike course bright and early, but not before ogling Lance when he ran past us on Alii drive. Madame Pele let us know in no uncertain terms that there would be wind both that day and all week, so we put our heads down and got to work. My new Quintana Roo CD0.1 handled the crosswinds superbly. After holding ironman race watts for the entire course and clicking off a quick transition run, we set off for a choppy ocean swim that foreshadowed the rough swim we would face on race day.
Day 2 started with a jog down to the pier, a 2.4 mile swim on the Kona course, and then a tempo run back to the condo. After breakfast we headed south on our bikes in the heat of the day for some hill work. This was the toughest day of the camp for me. I had gotten more dehydrated than I would have liked on Day 1, and by noon on Day 2 I was feeling a bit nauseated. Then I got dropped. Then I got lost. Several climbs later, I found the group and the sag, and tried to pull myself together. I was starting to question whether I was in fact too old to go old school.
Day 3 was a climb inland toward the volcano. It was so nice to get into the higher country and feel some cooler air. I decided to switch to water only, and forgo the sugary drinks, and found my body was burning fat more efficiently and doing well on the water-only strategy. After the ride we set out to the famous Energy Lab for a run in the heat of the day.
The run from the Energy Lab home is, for me, the most psychologically difficult part of the IM course, as I have always cracked there. I have literally gone through the five stages of grief on that stretch of road (shock, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), so having the chance to run it with a positive mindset and some good tunes was a revelation. I hope I can take the positive energy from that run forward into my race in October.
With a nice endorphin buzz going, the next session was an hour swim lesson in an endless pool with swimmer Karlyn Pipes-Nelson. Karlyn worked with me to make my stroke more efficient along with video feedback and commentary.
Day 4 was a re-group day. An easy run followed by swim-start practices at the pier, and then the group rolled out to the Mauna Lani which would be our home and camp base for the next few days. A true old school schedule would have included a sprint triathlon, which some people did, but the more enlightened (read wimpy) among us enjoyed a little down time, along with a late night of excessive alcohol intake and laughter. While we were headed into the race tired, we were also going to be relaxed.
On Day 5, after a big buffet breakfast at the Mauna Lani, we set out for another ride up to Waimea. The winds were gale force, and some mechanical issues prevented some of us from doing the full ride... or so we said. Just as well, as I had planned to ride easy and there was no way to hold anything but threshold watts in those winds. I had still logged over 15 hours of riding on race week with average watts in the IM range.
So, does racing after a big training week work? With a little bit of luck... maybe.
Race morning had John and staff shuttling us to the swim start in the pre-dawn hours. Everyone was in good spirits despite what was clearly going to be a rough swim and windy day. My race strategy was to expect fatigue and push-back from my legs early in the bike course, but to just work through it and have faith that the legs would come around as the day rolled on. Come around they did, and I felt great throughout the run. It’s rare that a half-ironman feels like a short day, but this time it did.
While many people I spoke to after the race complained about the epic conditions this year, the Epic Campers generally felt that conditions were not that bad. After training in the heat and winds all week, the race felt like just another day in the office. Plus it was nice to see the familiar camp faces along the course.
My camp roommate and I ran the last few miles of the run course together and crossed the finish line holding hands. A perfect end to a perfect week.
Mimi is a psychiatrist and multiple-time Kona qualifier. She has offices in downtown San Francisco and Menlo Park, California, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.