When I was a child my parents sent me off to Pinecrest Camp every summer. This not only resulted in a fun time for me with camping, canoeing, swimming and other outdoor activities, but gave them a much needed break from an overly active son. This year I decided to treat myself to a triathlon camp, not only to improve my fitness in anticipation of Ironman Louisville but also as a break from the stresses of the World Bank. Physical exhaustion gives rise to excellent mental relaxation.
The camp was organized by Ken Glah who runs Endurance Sports Travel. The camp was located in West Chester Pennsylvania, some one hour west of Philadelphia. Lis and I drove up on a Thursday afternoon after work, taking the long way via Hershey Pennsylvania. Home of Hershey’s Chocolates Lis had been keen to visit in anticipation that the air would smell of chocolate. Unfortunately it didn’t and although we had an interesting visit, it paled in comparison to Cadbury World in Birmingham England.
We took the long way from Hershey to West Chester, following two-lane country roads. It was a delightful drive with fields, hills and forests all the way. We even passed an Amish horse drawn carriage and two Mennonite women on their bicycles. Since this was the type of country I would be training in I thought it very auspicious.
Day 1 – Bike 80 Miles
Ken had Lis and I over for breakfast where we were joined by Lauren and Susie who were also here for the camp. We had met Ken’s assistant Stacie in the lift at the hotel: she figured I was part of the camp by my triathlon bike.
It was a very friendly group and we chatted while Ken made an excellent breakfast of pancakes which fuelled us for the day ahead. Lis was heading back to Washington and Ken advised on some of the local things to see. This is such a historical area there is a lot to see.
We drove over to a park near Ken’s house and from there started our ride. We followed the Pennsylvania Cycle Route “L” which took us along tree lined roads, with a few short diversions to busy roads. This was going to be a fun camp. Nice people and beautiful cycling. What more can one ask for? Besides Lis hanging around not much …
The scenery in this area is just stunning. Lots of immaculately kept buildings dating back hundreds of years, dense forests lining the road, and not too much traffic. We ended up at the top of mountain where we did some 5 mile hill repeats. I was trying to work on consistency with my power so moved up at a much slower pace than Ken and Stacie who were very strong cyclists. After two repeats I joined Ken picking fresh raspberries from bushes next to the road. What a great place.
Lauran had decided to give the hill repeats a miss and headed back to this very cute town “St. Pauls”. It was the type of place where Lis would have her credit card running white hot. Cute shops and cafes. We stopped for some fuel at the cafe in town—I had a chocolate decadence ice cream—and while finishing the skies opened with torrential rain. We decided to wait out the worst and after about 20 minutes were heading back again.
We got to a nice long road next to a stream and Ken said to do it as a time trial so I set off ahead of the others, although Ken road with me for a while. It was brilliant to be on a tree lined winding road with little traffic, although by then it had started to rain again and things got quite wet. I was glad to have my flashing red light on my helmet. At least it wasn’t cold so although I was wet I still enjoyed the riding, eventually stopping under a bridge to wait for the others.
Susie was a bit concerned about the traffic and the weather so I took up the rear with my flashing light and we had a more sedate ride back to the van. By now it was late afternoon and there was a lot of traffic out, but we made it having had a fun, but wet, ride. We cooked dinner together and then I went back to the hotel and crashed. What a great day—and an auspicious start to my camp.
Day 2 – Run 4 miles, Bike 31 miles, Swim 2 miles
We started the day with an easy 4 mile train run through a park near Ken’s house. He is very fortunate have so many places around her to train. After breakfast we hopped on our bikes and rode over to the YMCA where we were going to do some swim training.
I’ve never seen such a huge YMCA before. There were at least two indoor pools, and three outdoor ones, one of which was 50 metres long. Of course that is where we headed, parking our bikes next to the deck so the masses sunning themselves and watching their kids could see the crazy triathletes.
A 50 metre pool is absolutely huge, and it was soon clear that I was by far the weakest swimmer of the group. Lauren, Ken and Stacie zoomed off while I plodded along at my pedestrian pace. Ken watched our swimming technique (or in my case lack thereof) and made recommendations. My problem started when I actually started doing what he advised. I was holding my hand incorrectly and with the new technique I was pulling a lot more water. Before too long my arms were ready to fall off. Ouch.
We did quite a few intervals which didn’t help things. These see you go fast for 100 or 200 metres. They all smoked me, ending up well ahead of me, except when I cut the corner and saved 20-30 metres of swimming. At least I told them about it when they complemented me on my speed 🙂
Susie showed up part way through and we left shortly thereafter to cycle home. It didn’t come soon enough for me. Give me 80 miles on a bike before 2 miles in a pool any day.
In the evening we were joined for dinner by a nice fellow named Adam who worked for Endless Pools. He has brought down some kit for us to video swimming with in Ken’s Endless Pool. An excellent athlete, he did the Boston marathon in under 3 hours and qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. In my dreams … He was very pleased to hear that Lis and I had bought an Endless Pool, it really is a great product.
Day 3 – Bike 52 miles, Run 4 miles
I’ve written separately about the highlight of the day—racing a tornado. You can see the story here. The tornado is below to the left of the telephone pole.
After we finished riding we ran 4+ miles along a canal. I had a very bad run and overheated so walked the last 1 mile. I have such bad luck here—a few years ago in the Diamonman race I had a mental block and thought the marathon was 12.1 miles and not 13.1 miles long, so kicked way too soon only to find I had one more mile to go and nothing in the tank.
Day 4 – Ride 51 miles, Run 5 miles
Another bike day. We were down to Ken, Stacie and myself which was a worry as both are much stronger cyclists than I am. Ken is a very famous Ironman athlete. He won six Ironman races, and finished in the top 10 at the Ironman World Championships in Kona 10 times between 1986 and 2000. I recalled him from stories of Ironman New Zealand where he was defeated by about one metre. Even now he still races, and recently qualified for Kona after winning his age group at the St. Croix 70.3. Stacie is also an incredibly strong cyclist, but fortunately for me, is recovering from shin splints so not as fast as usual running.
The ride took us again through rural Pennsylvania past picture perfect farms and along a myriad of country lanes. It is beyond me how Ken is able to keep all of these routes in his mind. What is particularly special about this area is the sheer number of roads to cycle on—a reflection of some 300+ years of inhabitation in the area.
The terrain was rolling hills with very little traffic so we got a really good workout. The day was clear and hot so I was very glad to have four water bottles with me—I would need them all—and excellent sun screen.
The farms in the area looked very prosperous. Ken said that many were Amish who do not use many modern conveniences. With corn fields as far as the eye could see it was a great place for riding.
It was very hot and we stopped by a house and asked for water. As always, Americans were hospitable and we were given water from a hose out back. In all my travels over the years I have always found that the first person we asked always helped – at least in the USA. Pity I can’t say the same for Germany.
After the ride we went for a 5 mile run. Ken had strategically placed water bottles at 2.5 mile intervals along the road. It was a good thing because it was very, very hot. At least unlike yesterday it wasn’t humid. In spite of being thrashed for 51 miles on the bike, especially by Stacie, my legs felt really good and I was able to do a 7:43 pace for the run. I was first to the water and it was great to stand in the shade and cool down with the water before heading back.
After the run Stacie suggested that we have the recovery drink of champions—chocolate milk—so we went to a local shop and stocked up. Also got the best submarine sandwich I’ve every had, as well as chocolate ice cream :-) There is a lot to be said for hard workouts since one can be a glutton with a clear conscience. I’ll need the calories for tomorrow they promise a long ride …