Dr. Don’s – Helen Training Camp Blog

Dr-Don-Head-ShotAbout Dr. Don Cain: Don is a husband, Father and Grandfather and has been a multisport athlete for the past 38 years where he competes in sprint to Ironman distance races. Don has a Ph.D in Educational Technology and is employed as a Health and Physical Education Coordinator for Columbus City Schools in Ohio.  Don’s deeper love of endurance events is based from his 21 years as a US Marine and Ohio Army National Guard Command Sergeant Major.

PART I of the HFP Helen Training Camp

The 2016 HFP Helen Training Camp kicked off on April 4, 2016 where campers arrived the day before in the beautiful “Alpine Helen” in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North East Georgia within a 90 minute drive of downtown Atlanta. After everyone got settled into one of the three assigned rustic cabins, everyone that arrived early was able to meet for dinner at a local downtown restaurant, the Troll Tavern on the outside patio.  It was a needed break from the cold air in the Northern States. This is the schedule that awaited everyone,  2016 HFP Camp Schedule
Picture of all the campers at the Troll Tavern

 Day 1 started off with an optional early morning distance swim at the Habersham County Ruby Fulbright Aquatic Center. Campers met at the center and had a fantastic swim workout lasting up to 60 minutes before everyone packed into their vehicles to pick up some food items at the local Ingels supermarket 20 miles from Helen.

Brasstown-SignThe first scheduled ride of the week was the “Warm-up” ride which consisted of an out and back route of 41-46 miles and 3 mountain gaps (Map to Brasstown Bald) to the base of Brasstown Bald. Some riders challenged themselves with climbing to the top of Brasstown Bald which is listed as in the Top 10 best and hardest climbs in the US by Bicycling Magazine. The authors explained the mountain had an average grade of 11% and is extremely painful as you get closer to the top, but the climb is worth it once you see the view. After the day’s epic but “short ride”, campers ate dinner at the Sleeping Bear cabin for a greet and meet where the host cabin prepared a great recovery meal of rice, beans, lean meats, veggies, fruit and good company.

Picture of the campers that made it to the top of Brasstown Bald.

Day 2 started off again with a distance swim and then campers met at the downtown start point for an adventurous 56 mile ride to Lake Burton. Lake Burton is one of the most scenic lakes in Northeast, Georgia where mansions overlook the clear pristine blue lake. This was basically a big giant square route with large rolling hills where riders were met with gusting winds throughout the day to make it more “Enjoyable” followed by a 60 minute run around downtown Helen. Map to Lake Burton-Hiawassee

Day 3 is always the epic day of the week where campers are challenged with climbing through 6 gaps in the mountains, and crossing the Appalachian Trail four separate times. Unicoi Gap came first, followed by Jacks Gap, Wolf Pen Gap, Woody Gap, up Blood Mountain and through Neels Gap, Hogpen Gap, and back to Helen for 82 miles. Campers that chose not to ride all 6 gaps were able to cut it a little short for a 65 mile ride and still come away with a grueling ride with climbing 4 of the scheduled 6 gaps. Map of the 6-Gap Ride 

Picture of three campers on top of Blood Mountain

 Day 4 resulted in a day of rest and recovery from riding the past three days. However, campers still showed up and completed a 30-60 minute endurance swim followed by run up to Ruby Falls from the cabins that ranged from 9-18 miles, Map of Ruby Falls. Some campers chose to start at their cabins, while others parked at the Unicoi State Park parking lot. Campers were able to finally go off the beaten path and get on their trail running shoes to traverse the ridgeline of Unicoi State Park. Dinner was hosted by the All Women’s cabin where it was a pot luck that included pasta, salads, and plenty of sweets for all the calories that the campers burned during their long run. A local Atlanta triathlete, Catherine “Katie” Paulson invited two Atlanta based massage therapists to the cabins where athletes were able to take advantage of getting a great deep tissue massage to last for the remainder two days.

Picture of Ruby Falls









Day 5, was a schedule 3 gap ride of 45 miles where campers started off in their ability groups and climbed the Unicoi Gap, Jacks Gap and Hogpen Gap where everyone stated that this was a tough but epic climb on the backside of the Gap with no switchbacks, Map of 3 Gap Ride. Some of the campers chose to climb Blood Mountain since they had missed this climb earlier in the week, see picture below of the happy campers on top of Blood Mountain! These “last little climbs” of the week would set them up for the long endurance century ride of the week scheduled for the last day of the camp.

Picture of campers on top of Blood Mountain

Day 6 started out at 9:00am and it was sunny, windy and cold with the temps around 40. Half of the campers took off early and others left an hour later hopeful the weather would get warmer for the 97 mile ride. The wind was pretty tough throughout the day, where winds were gusting up to 25-30 mph. It seemed that the winds were blowing in their face the entire day no matter what direction they rode. The route was a rolling course throughout the ride but at mile 30 there was a serious climb on Devils Branch Rd. However, this was nothing compared to previous climbs throughout the week. The scenic part of the day was the ride around Lake Burton. It was prefect riding conditions around miles 40-60 and seemed so perfect to end the week with a flat section of the terrain and they wished this would last forever. At approximately mile 64, riders were able to decide if they wanted to return to Helen for the shorten version for 81 miles or continue for the full distance of 97. Riders that continued faced one last challenge for the week, which was a mile section of gravel road, Alex Mountain. Here riders had to go from paved roads to a rolling section of large gravel. If riders got off their saddle, their back tires would just spin-up, so they had to remain in their saddle throughout the mile and try to dodge the large chucks of gravel. Once they got past the gravel road on Alex Mountain, it was mainly flat the rest of the way back to Helen. Like all endurance athletes, 97 miles wasn’t good enough. Most of the riders wanted to see the 100+ miles on their bike computers to end the week. Some ended with 97 while others got in 106 as they rode around Helen for that little extra motivation on that last day. To end the camp most of the campers were able to participate in the HFP World Championship Putt Putt Tournament in 3-person teams after dinner at Big Daddys.  This was a great way to end another fabulous camp! Map of Devils Branch Expanded II ride

Picture of campers at the bottom of Devils Branch on the last day of camp


The final results of the week included data provided by Andy Provenza and Jaret Johnson:

Bike miles reached between 329-340 miles for the week with 35,000-37,000 feet of climbing for up to 21.5 hours of riding on 5 separate days. This consumed up to 11000 calories, which is equivalent to eating 100 bananas for the week. Swimming totaled over 4 hours for the week with 14,000 yards and the scheduled runs totaled over 25 miles in 4.5 hours as well.

What a way to start my first Blog with HFP on the Helen Training Camp! Thank you all for reading and I’m very thankful for HFP allowing me to initiate this blog! One of the goals of this blog is to interview age group athletes at races and highlight their training and racing in 2016. Read the “Most Memorable Moments” from Helen Campers in Part II. Up next is Triple-T Ohio!

Dr. Don

PART II of Dr. Don’s Blog:









The below comments were solicited from the HFP Helen Training Camp participants through a Facebook post that was posed the week after the camp.

Here are some of the most memorable moments quoted from 15 HFP Campers:

Dave Dahl, from Michigan stated that his most memorable event would be, “the first day of camp this year.  I made it to the top of the very steep climb of Brasstown Bald.  I did not get a chance to attempt it last year because of the rain storm.  I am glad my brakes were working coming down the mountain”.


Andy Provenza, from Ohio stated he had several events over the course of the week. “Watching lip sync battles and old SNL jeopardy skits with Michael Miller and Kurt Molter. Hammering the rollers with Shannon between miles 62 and 76 on the last day of camp.” And “overcoming the doubt which came over me at 1.5 miles into the Brasstown Bald climb (on the steepest part) and pushing through max effort to not stop and hence, persevere”.

Deb Reed Balika, from Ohio stated, “this was a super tough question. My short snappy answer would be the ride that included Blood Mountain and the back of Hogpen Gap. That descent is so much fun!  I was never so excited to see the hikers sign. The longer answer and the more truthful one is all of the camaraderie. I can actually think of my most memorable moments with each and every one of you. Even if it was just someone shouting out to me as I was managing a difficult climb, giving me a pep talk at the winery, riding incredibly slow with me, welcoming me when I came in finishing a ride, the look of excitement when you hit a PR, mastered a skill,  placed in an age group, rode in a way that you never thought was possible,  commiserating over a steep climb,  or a strong headwind with me in a way that I felt encouraged when it would have been just as easy to brush me off. I always felt a part of the group even if I was the last rider in.  And, I thank you for that!”


Kary Benshoff Chan, of Ohio remarked “mine would not be a specific ride or day…rather it would be any of the climbs or hard days where I could hear Tanya Cady singing, Kathleen Spillane saying “go Kary”, or Katie (Catherine Paulson) reminding me of the hot tub back at the house when the ride was complete…all of my roommates and fellow campers are all so inspiring to me and always there for you when you need that extra push! I am glad to know you all!”


Marie Rote from Ohio said that it’s “hard not to say the run-in with the cow on the 6 Gap ride, but getting to the top of Brasstown Bald was great, mainly because all the guys were so excited to see I made it! Miles 76 – 97.5 were some of the toughest miles I have ever pushed through (last ride of camp); I am just glad my Cannondale survived my rage. I would also say that the encouragement on the rides was really amazing.  I felt like the guys nearly wanted me to finish rides more than I did, at least the last day’s century. Just wanted to add that the thing I thought worked really well was the progression in the rides.  I think that Day 1 seemed really hard until I got to Day 2, Day 2 felt like nothing compared to Day 3, Day 4 off the bike was necessary, Day 5 was a good re-intro to the bike and made the century on Saturday possible.”  And lastly, “my most memorable event was the interaction I had with everyone during all the training and our dinners together. The interaction was excellent and thank you all for being so positive throughout the week!”

Lisa Picek, from Indiana stated that “for me it was listening to all of the stories once everyone arrived back at the cabin, hearing about their challenging rides, talking about what’s to come, and just being overall inspiring individuals to be around.  I want to grow up to be just like all of you! :-)” and Lisa’s continued with, “the interaction I had with everyone during all the training and our dinners together. The interaction was excellent and thank you all for being so positive throughout the week! I enjoyed meeting many individuals, and hearing their stories of training, their goals and aspirations.  It was reassuring to speak with people that had completed Triple-T before, to know that I have more of a chance of completing the event than I thought.”


Mark Lemmon, from Ohio a multi-year veteran of Helen stated that “making the Brasstown Bald climb another year is always a thrill and a relief, as is completing the two long rides. I love the trail run. Hanging out with the grizzled vets (and Todd Ricketts) in our cabin is a comfort and joy every year. It was fun having Marie Rote join our group on the rides this year. Look forward to seeing everyone next year!”

Kelly Paulsen Kreel, a triathlete from North Carolina stated “I loved how we discussed the weather and wind to death with grumbles and groans, but when it came time to ride everyone suited up and got it done.  I also loved getting to know so many of you, riding, talking, and sharing a bed! Can’t wait for next year, Brasstown Bald I’m coming for you!”


Tim Daley, from Ohio said, “I enjoyed the long rides watching turkeys cross the road in front of me. The trail run was much more satisfying this year.  On one of my side Adventures on the bike asking “where am I?”. I learned that the Georgia term ” a long minute” means anywhere from 7 to 10 miles. Really enjoyed having my own bedroom this year too! I could snore and not bother anyone.”

Kathleen Spillane, from Michigan, “enjoyed starting a little early Monday and Wednesday to see how far I could get up Unicoi and Hogpen Gap before Marie Rote and the boys passed me.  Appreciated the encouragement from all!  I did make some smart a$$ comments as some passed all in good fun.  I also enjoyed the couple dinners at each cabin as we got to mingle and relax more.  Kelly Paulsen Kreel, how can we forget the basement honeymoon suite? The interaction I had with everyone during all the training and our dinners together. The interaction was excellent, and I thank you all for being so positive throughout the week!”

Erik Huysken, from Michigan stated “I’ll never forget starting the 100 mile ride in 40 degree temps”.


Michael Miller, from Ohio said “trying to hang onto Kurt Molter’s wheel on his 5hr recovery ride Thursday”.

Todd Ricketts, of Ohio stated that “I like Friday…it’s the last day with really hard climbs and there is relief they are done (for the most part).  The swim in the morning has a more relaxed feel.  And this year, I did a brick run after the ride and had a great sense of accomplishment for the amount of work in each sport”.

Jaret Johnson, from Michigan commented, “seeing my two training buddies making it up Brasstown Bald for their first time”.

Curt Haywood, from Ohio stated, “soaking in the Chattahoochee Creek after the long rides, talking with the HFP Man of how blessed we are to be able to experience this week with such awesome like-minded people, seeing Maria Rote pop up the crest of Brasstown Bald, and the most profound moment was riding into Helen on the last day and thinking about my dad and feeling like he was right there with me”.