Pick Your Perfect Training Camp
Kids camp is fun, no rules, staying up late, flashlight tag, eating crappy food, getting dirty, making new friends and creating memories for life….. Triathlon camp is all about rules, going to bed as early as you can because you are so tired, flashlights are headlamps for 6am runs, eating clean food for fueling the next day, making new friends and creating memories for life…. In all seriousness going to camp is a great way to raise your overall fitness. Most age groupers have so many demands that trump training, such as work, family, daily commitments. While we don’t want to give up our other life, well maybe it would be nice to not work, most are happy with their families, animals etc. But those, call them distractions, prevent us from training like a professional. Going to camp allows the athlete to focus on training, recovery, learning, digging deep all the while having a great time.
Timing of the camp is critical. February and March are timely for many due to the weather. For many this will be the first time riding outside since fall. Attending a warm weather camp can give you some early season bike miles. If you are racing in the Spring, this may be ideal. A camp in May or June is ideal for a late summer or fall race. And for those racing late in the season, say November or December, a fall camp will have you prepared. Many Ironman events have camps on the course, spending four to seven days swimming, biking and running the Ironman course is very beneficial. Working out timing for you may be the driving factor, when can you take time off work, when is it conducive with the family or other life commitments.How many days you spend at camp will be a big factor. If you can make a five to seven day camp, you will not only test your limits, but have time to settle in, gain some fitness have a bit of recovery and finish strong. Being in a place for five to seven days allows you to let go of home and focus on the tasks at hand and find a new routine. It takes planning, but try and get the time off work, plan with the family, and see if you can make it happen. If that length of camp is not feasible, there are many great three to four day camps that pack in a lot of training and you will get the fitness boost as well as the camaraderie of camp and a new experience.
Before signing up, know the type of athlete the camp is aimed at. Most camps clearly publicize who the type of athlete they are geared towards. If the camp is focused on sub 11-hour Ironman athletes and you went 11:55 one time, think hard if that camp is really for you. As well if the camp is all inclusive and about togetherness and you are a sub 10-hour athlete looking to train hard, log high volume, think again. If you want a camp that pushes you and tests your limits, you can generally get the feel from the website, comments like, “ all workouts are mandatory” “massive training” is good indication that this camp is for pushing you.
WHO’S RUNNING THE CAMP
Investigate the people who are running the camp and ask some questions. Are they veterans? Has the camp been around for years? If the camp has been around for years is a good sign, a first year camp can be risky. The logistics of a camp are never ending so camps with a track record are more likely to run on schedule, have the routes figured out, know the best places to ride, know how to SAG, find the swimming pools that work and a what is the best flow of camp. Look for testimonials, ask previous campers for pros and cons. Also check in to see what they provide in terms of seminars, coaching, drills, skills, feedback, or evening talks. Every camp has different levels and your experience and ability may dictate what you are looking for.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the accommodations. This includes everything from rooms, food, laundry, and location. While a big house may sound really fun, it can depend on how crowded the house is, the various personalities, who is neat and who leaves their dirty gear on the floor. Who will do the cooking or more importantly the dishes? Before you share a hotel room think about how much downtime you have, are you an early riser, what if your room mates hits the snooze button 10 x and sleeps in workout clothes so she can jump out of bed and race out the door and you like five cups of coffee and yoga before a workout? Compatibility is key. Consider where you are staying. If the host hotel seems a bit expensive, think hard on what the savings really will be if you are staying somewhere else. To invest in camp and not be right there can be annoying. I may also prevent you from taking a nap or requires you to live our of your car because of logistics of going to and from your hotel. Last but certainly not least is food. In addition to three square meals, will they provide snacks for refueling between workouts? Will there be stops on long rides to refuel or will you be relying on gas stations along the route? Beyond what’s offered, consider if you want to eat all meals with your fellow campers or does a few free nights seem nice? If not how will you prep each day, again consider accommodations.
Proper preparation for a camp can be a huge help. You don’t want to be starting from zero, but don’t show up trashed from training. Do the training necessary to finish all workouts and ease up a few days going into camp, so you can get the most out of it. Also don’t be “that guy” who hammers day one, wins the workout and then is off the back the rest of the week. Understand what you have ahead of you and pace yourself. If by day five you are bounding with energy, let it loose on that day. Remember the training volume is likely much higher than at home and you will accumulate fatigue daily. If you have a coach, ask his or her advice on timing, camp recommendations and work toward the goal together.I’ve been to at least 10 camps in the last 11 years and while some ran with out a hitch, others we got lost on rides, ran out of fuel and ended up buying ice cream at 7-11, froze at one camp and nearly died of heat stroke but I left every camp fitter than when I arrived, with new friends from around the world and eager to book my next camp. I laughed so hard and nearly cried all in one day at one soul crushing camp, but I went back the next year for more.
Coach Julie Dunkle is a USA Triathlon and USA Swimming Certified coach and a five time Kona qualifier. She loves working with highly motivated athletes to help them achieve big goals.