Until 2008 a “training camp” for Steven and I was nothing more than booking a week’s holiday and heading somewhere inexpensive and warm with our bikes – a precious 6 days dedicated to getting as much swim, biking and running that we could fit into that time, with very little else besides. We’d heard about organised camps – but both self coached at the time and sufficiently motivated it wasn’t until we heard about Epic Camp that the idea had any appeal. E[pic camps were something a bit different form the “norm” – an 8-day camp for athletes of a certain calibre with an emphasis firmly on volume but with a completive element which encouraged some racing and hard rides. Throw enough egos and training junkies into that environment and you get something very special and we were fortunate enough to be invited back after Epic Italy 2008 for two further camps before the Grande Final tour of NZ which marked the end of Epic. Since reinventing myself a a professional athlete, I have been on a few extended camps with a group of friends, also professional triathletes, appreciating that in order to get through some of the hardest work, it’s necessary to create a highly focused environment – easy access to training good facilities, weather and company within a simple routine with few external distractions.
As coaches we wanted to try and recreate some of the essence of all of these types of training camps – an environment where serious athletes challenge one another and themselves, and bank a bigger week of training than would be achievable under their own steam, let alone in their home environment. We do aim to make our camps more accessible the Epic – both in terms of athletic ability and budget, but expect everyone to be challenged during the week. With the second such camp about to start, it feels like an appropriate time to post up a few of our tips and tricks for Training Camp Survival.
As illustrated to some extend already – there are a variety of different types of training camp and an even wider range of reasons for going of camp. For some it’s a very serious period of hard and focused training, meeting personal targets and pushing fitness limits. It can be a final pre-race polish block or the kick-start to a return to fitness at the start of a season. For some it’s a nice opportunity to partake in actives that they enjoy in a nice climate and the company of fellow enthusiasts. Others may be along specifically to engage with the coaches and glean some first hand training advice and race tips.
1- Number One on my list of survival tips is – to be very clear about what YOU want to get out of the camp, ahead of the camp. you may even want to write this down somewhere you can refer to during the camp. This bit of advice actually comes from Gordo in the context of embarking on an Epic camp, and I feel that it holds true for any similar environment. As you go through the camp week, your perspective changes. You’ll meet new characters and make alliances who will both motivate and influence you, you’ll become caught up in ‘games’ and contests, and as you become tired, your mood and/or judgement will be affected. It pays to remind yourself of what your ‘game plan’ was at the start of the week, and what it is that you most hope to get out of the week.
Steven’s input when I asked him was to “Be Gutsy” meaning that often people don’t get all they can out of a camp because they leave it too late to do more or push harder. If you on camp to really challenge yourself and find the limits ,then do give it a go early and you may be surprised at what you can accomplish. But be “Gutsy” enough to back off or create an easier day if you feel you’re digging a hole for yourself and it’s heading away from your initial stated aims of the camp. Sitting alongside this tip is a reminder that it is important to remember that others may be there for different reasons to yourself – respect where they are coming from and behave in a way that supports this as far as you can.
2- Nutrition – after the training (and possibly before) this is the area that will occupy most of your thoughts and is a critical factor in surviving and gaining fitness through a camp. When self-catering it pays to get a big shop done at the beginning of your camp and taking turns to prepare dinner will mean that you only need to think about this every few days, so establish the eating preferences of the group that you’re with and be prepared to be flexible in order to find the common ground. When on such camps we usually discuss our planned menu ahead of time so that we all have something to look forward to through the day, or the opportunity to raise objections! Personally I find that this is the best way to ensure i’m eating well when I need to be in tight control of my nutrition. However, when on a more structured type of camp oriented around high volume, being catered for is a God-send and one of the aspects that makes it worth paying more for an organised camp package or full board accommodation. It’s easy to ensure that you are eating enough to fuel your daily activities and recovery this way. On the other hand, access to unlimited grub at the end of a hard day means you could easily leave the camp a little heavier than when you arrived! If this is a concern for you then you may find it helpful to give your self a few ground rules regards mealtimes.
Key points may include:
- Eat a decent breakfast. On camps we have seen some people struggle because they can’t eat enough at breakfast to fuel the day. If you’re like this, then try to get to breakfast as early as you can to give most time to get the food digested before the ride.
- Ensure that you are fuelling well throughout your training day, so that you are not totally depleted and absolutley famished by the end of it
- Have a recovery snack or drink as soon as possible after your last session (or between workouts if there is likely to be break of any length of time)
- Start your evening meal with the best quality, most nutritious food that you can identify on the menu/buffet. Hit the least processed sources of proteins, good fats, and vegetables available. If you think of your breakfast and daytime eating as your training fuel, then the evening meal should be oriented towards essential nutrients for recovery, and need not be heavy on carbohydrates.
- Eat slowly enough to get a sense of how hungry you are after this first helping. An awareness of the amount of food that you need at mealtimes is helpful: it’s tempting to eat more, especially treat foods, when it is available and you feel deserving.
- Avoid the highly processed or very sugary foods that are common on most buffets – take fresh fruit or yogurt for dessert.
- Alcohol may help you to unwind at the end of the day, but is not nutritionally beneficial and may inhibit recovery. That’s your call.
- Eat lots of eggs – they contain adrenaline (that’s what I’m told!)
- Take your vitamins: keep your immune system topped up by taking your vitamin supplements. I’ll be hitting the Vit C, others use Colustrum or Echniachea.
3- Sleep. Closely following nutrition in the ranks of importance on the camp survival guide is sleep. When you train with professional athletes, this is something you pick up right away: during hard training block, if you’re not training or eating – then you’re most likely to be sleeping! As you know -this is the time when your body repairs and your mind de-fuggs. Unfortunately, the excitement, adrenaline, aching limbs and shared sleeping quarters make it harder than usual to sleep during camp – let alone the chance that you’ll be rooming with a snorer! Ear plus are camp essentials. It’s a good idea to establish a relaxing evening routine to help you unwind at the end of the day. My rules for camps are: computer off by 8:30, spend an hour or so relaxing, chatting, stretching or watching tv and to read for at least 10minutes in bed. I’ll also have a drink of chamomile tea with warm milk ( the tryptophan in dairy are good for sleep) and if you know yourself to be a light sleeper then you may consider taking further steps to enhance your sleeping such as melatonin. Personally I carry a supply of over-the-counter sleeping tablets which will be deployed if i have had trouble sleeping for more then 3 consecutive nights whilst on camp.
4- Keep on top of bike maintenance and equipment. At the end of another hard day’s riding, and with a run to get out of the way, it’s very easy to throw the bike and your kit down and forget about it until the next morning. Only then will you remember that it was making a ‘funny noise’ all day yesterday and could be a mechanical waiting to happen. A little timely tightening or adjustment can save a lot of cost and wasted camp time, and things also tend to run easier if cleaned and oiled after a ride too. If you have unusual or very high-end components on your bike then it’s a good idea to bring spares and any associated tools with you, because local bike shops may not have what you need in stock. You’d be surprised how hard it was to find a Campanolo free body hub at short notice even in Italy!
5 – Keep on top of muscle maintenance! If you’re a Pro athlete on camp and you’re not training, eating, sleeping (or twittering) then you’ll be either on the massage table, stretching, rolling or icing. Granted, it takes a little time and discipline, but even just few minutes on your ‘hot spots’ at the end of each day can help to mitigate soreness through the night, improving your chance of good sleep, and reduce stiffness the following day.
6- Maintain good hygiene. During a hard training week you immune system will be compromised and the chances are very high that someone in your group will get sick during the camp. Actually, it’s very likely that someone will turn up to camp sick .You’ll be doing your best to keep your immune system strong (see points 2 and 3) but special attention to hygiene is also essential when living in such close quarters, especially in a self-catered environment. It may be alright to drink from the carton, or leave used tissues around at home: on camp it is absolutely NOT!! Ensure that washing up is done thoroughly, food preparation surfaces are wiped clean and dish-towels are replaced regularly. It may be a good idea to place hand sanitizer in the kitchen and bathroom to endorse the habit to your room-mates. Keep your bottles clean with sterilising tablets, washing in boiling water or running through a dishwasher.
7 – Finally Make the most of the environment -the greatest resource available to you on camp is the other athletes. Having others around can really help you get out and do more. Arrange to run off the bike with people so you’re less likely to decide not too. If you’re in need of an easier day or an easier spell on the bike don’t be afraid to sit in and skip turns at the front on the bike. Let people know that’s what you need to get through the day, and most will do there best to help you through. Usually the shared experience will bond a group on camp pretty well anyway, but do take the time to get to know, engage with and learn from the people that you meet during the week. If you are on camp with a friends or a group from your club, you might be mindful that this can affect the dynamic of a group significantly – there may be people who have travelled alone and you can make their experience more enjoyable if you include them socially – but also exclude you from meeting interesting new people. Many long term friendships and training partners are the legacy of the camps that I have attended.