Forgive my absence. It's been quite emotional. I have, as you know, been away in Italy on a Big-Cow Training Camp. And what a terrific experience it was. Big-Cow is the events company run by Mark Booth, our team coach at Team MK and a good mate of mine since I joined. Their duathlon and triathlon events are extremely highly rated and Boothy runs a very professional team. I had no reason to doubt that the training camp would be anything but the same. I wasn't disappointed.
The camp takes place in Riccione, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, just below Rimini. Some 45 athletes took part, most of them there for seven days - with some taking a longer, ten day option. Nearly all were Team MK, with others being from FVS Tri Club or independents. It was a friendly, inclusive group who were able to train and play hard.
Assistant coaches Adam Bowden and Joel Jamieson looked after the swimming and running groups, whilst the bike groups were in five levels of ability, with group 1 being the highest level. Whilst my cycling has come on this year, I had to be honest with myself and placed myself in group 2 with my regular cycling buddy Graham Mackie, which - it transpired - was the right place for me. Trying to hang on for a week in group 1 with the testosterone flying would have been a step too far too early in my cycling career I think and I now have a goal for next year's camp.
We arrived on Ryanair's flying bus on Sunday April 26th and immediately set off on a bike ride to acclimatise ourselves. The weather was poor at first, but became warmer and sunnier as the week progressed, ending in a couple of perfect days. The training was superb and - most importantly - sensible. This is no 'epic camp' with athletes training to exhaustion, rather an opportunity to put in four or five quality hours per day and include massages and stretching too. I went with the goal of completing every session and returning feeling strong, not exhausted. I achieved my goal and worked hard throughout the week, feeling particularly strong on the bike as the week progressed (while many were feeling weaker) and, all importantly, running off the bike - regularly putting in short 4 mile runs of sub seven minutes per mile after grueling hilly bike rides.
The week prior to Italy was a warm up week, with me completing around 12 hours of training. Then, on Sunday... off to camp... (it should be noted that distances don't equate to UK times due to the amount of climbing on the bike)
Sunday - Travel to Italy, 2.5 hours 4o mile bike, 30 minutes run off the bike at sub 7 min mile pace, 10 mins ice bath recovery
Monday - 1 hour 3km hard pool swim. 3 hours 45 mins hilly 60 mile bike, 20 minutes run off the bike, 20 minutes massage and 10 mins ice bath recovery.
Tuesday - 30 minutes core and stretching, 2 hour track session featuring timed mile (5'38"), 800m, 2 x 400m plus 8 x 400 m. Total distance run 6.75 miles. 10 mins ice bath recovery, 45 minute bike ride (spin to cafe), 20 minutes recovery.
Wednesday - 1 hour hard 3km pool swim. 3 hour hilly San Marino 50 mile bike ride. 45 minute 10km run, 45 minutes massage/recover/ice bath
Thursday - 1 hour sea swim in wetsuits (first of the year), 1 hour 15 min 9 mile run, 30 mins recovery, steam, ice. 2 hour 35 mile bike with 15 minute run off the bike. 15 mins recovery, stretching and ice.
Friday - 6 hour bike (Cippo - see details below), 20 minute run off the bike, 10 mins ice and recovery
Saturday - Easy 2 hour bike ride.
Sunday - Home and rest.
The ride referred to above took in the toughest climb in the region, the Cippo mountain. A regular feature on the Giro D'Italia road race, it features an 'easier' incline at 10% (still a nightmare when it goes on for seven km) and the tougher climb of 18%. Which side you go up is up to you. Groups 1 and 2 took a longer, tougher approach to the Cippo and went up the 'easier' side - which, in itself, was by far the hardest climb I've ever undertaken (we were climbing relentlessly for nearly two hours). Then, at the foot of the mountain, having a coffee, we noted that Group 3 had taken the tougher ride up having cycled directly there. There was nothing for it - some of us decided we had to go up again... the hard way. And so it was that Group 2 (with a couple of Group 1 boys as honorary members for the assault and our guide Renzo muttering 'mad English') mounted their second challenge on the Cippo in the space of an hour. It wasn't easy, it wasn't pretty and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth but, with knees popping and muscles straining we managed to do it. The pic at the top of the post is of those Group 2 members who became part of the 'Due Volte Cippo' legend. Well done fellas.
To put it in perspective, Graham mapped the ride out against our local 'hilly' rides here in the UK. The red line is our ride through The Chilterns taking in our most difficult local hills. The blue line is a similar ride towards Aylesbury with Brill Hill registering at around 30 miles.
In green line is our ride in Italy.
Now I know what hill riding is really about. Man and machine against mountain. No stopping allowed. Only one can win. Bloody hell it's fantastic.
Frankly I could ramble on forever but I won't. It's great to be back for a couple of days rest before ramping up and mounting a final few weeks training prior to tapering down for Ironman. Wherever you are... I hope your training's going well, your family are healthy and, like me, your life is still full of possibilities.