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Expert Blog: The training camp experience

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Article posted: 10/04/2013

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In my last blog post I mentioned that a mid-March training camp in Spain was hopefully going to be the launchpad for my training that’d see me ready in September to defend my age-group title that I’d won at the ITU World Long Course Duathlon Championships at Powerman Zofingen.

Well, it was brilliant and, with 480 km and 7653 m of ascent ridden in the four days, I’m feeling fitter, more motivated to train and even have the vaguest hint of a suntan.

I’d ended up booking onto the camp in mid January when my wife had finally cracked under the pressure of my constant moaning about the British winter and having to ride my bike in it or, even worse, endure the skull crushing tedium of turbo sessions. With the spousal green light to migrate to warmer climes, I set about scouring the internet for suitable locations and camp providers. I decided on Antequera in Southern Spain and, as I’d be traveling out on my own, a bespoke package offered by Southern Tracks.

With the trip booked, I instantly felt a spur to man up and get out on my bike. A late winter or early spring training camp is an ideal stepping stone goal to help with mid-winter motivation dips. A summer sportive or race can seem a long way away and, when the rain’s driving hard outside, it’s all too easy to stay in bed, think “I’ve got months to train” and miss the training session. With the knowledge that in just a month or so’s time, you’ll be putting in back to back long and hilly days, you’re far more likely to overcome the duvet inertia and get out on your bike.

Flying with a bike is always a bit stressful, especially on a budget airline but you can find some great tips here that make it considerably easier. With the flight negotiated and my bike back in my possession, it was on to the hotel and, after a bite to eat, a quick check of plans for the morning and some bike reassembly, off to bed.

Like any long training ride or sportive, a decent breakfast lays the foundations for success. Check out this advice from British Cycling and Team Sky Nutritionist Nigel Mitchell on how to fuel those long training days. On multiple day camps, nutrition is even more paramount and it’s always worth checking with the camp operator what’ll be available. Fortunately, with porridge, omelets and plenty of coffee on offer, I had exactly what I needed and was ready to tackle the 150 km planned for the day.

Rolling off, it was definitely on the chilly side and I was glad of the arm and leg warmers and soft shell gillet I’d packed. Knowing that I had four days of riding ahead of me, I dialed the intensity right back and settled into a solid Zone 2 on the flats and a tempo Zone 3 pace on the climbs. Riding on new roads in such stunning scenery was uplifting and, with top triathlon coach David Tilbury-Davis riding with me and showing me the way, all I had to think about was spinning the pedals and maintaining my effort. I’d flown out with enough bars and gels to fuel the rides we had planned as, although I could have bought supplies in Spain, I’d trained on a particular brand and knew that it agreed with me. The kilometers flew by, the sun came out and cold winter slogs in the Peak District suddenly seemed like a distant memory. After just over 5 hours I spun back into the hotel and a perfect recovery lunch of grilled chicken and rice was ready and waiting. Fortunately, it wasn’t a buffet as, when you get back from a hard ride and are ravenous, it’s all to easy to massively overeat. This applies equally to all hard training and, although you might be putting the miles in, this doesn’t give you free rein to eat everything you fancy.

The real joy of a training camp is that all you have to think about is riding, eating, recovery and sleeping. With riding and eating ticked off for the day, I headed to the gym and spa next door. After some core exercises, I spent a solid half hour stretching, then hit the hydrotherapy pool and sauna before heading back to my room, donning some compression tights and napping for a couple of hours. Obviously, with work, family and other commitments, this sort of approach isn’t possible outside of a training camp but there are plenty of steps you can take to optimise your recovery from hard sessions.

Day 2 was a 140 km ride with plenty more climbing including some classics that’d been included in past runnings of the Vuelta Andalucía. Seeing the faded names of past greats chalked on the road beneath your tyres is always inspirational but 12 foot tall phalluses, which seemed a very popular form of road graffiti, didn’t have quite the same tempo lifting effect.

Waking up on Day 3, I could hear the wind rattling the shutters. We’d planned a fairly flat 100 km as an active recovery but, with strong gusts forecasted all day and not fancying an epic battling against headwinds, we decided to back it off to about 50 km. With a great forecast for the next day and the toughest ride of the week planned, I was happy to have an easy day, spend more time in the spa, grab a massage and catch up on even more sleep.

With the sun shining, two strong local riders for company, including Nicolas who’d just qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, and David on moped support duties, it was time to tackle the Spartan. At 140 km with 3200 m of climbing, it’s a big day in the saddle and, despite my day of R&R yesterday, as we climbed out of town, my legs felt decidedly underpowered. By the time I was grinding up the first real climb of El Torcal though, they’d loosened off and I was able to settle into a good tempo. Having the sun on my back was a real lift and the long, fast and sweeping descent into Malaga put a massive grin on my face. What goes down though and, after a coffee and fritata by the sea, we began the long slog back. Except for a few brief dips, it’s a 26 km climb and, as we spun up it, I was really glad of my sensible pacing earlier in the week. After some descending respite and, with 117 km in our legs, we started the final big climb up the backside of El Torcal. On the lower slopes Nicolas gapped me but, rather than rising to the bait, I stuck to my pacing. A couple of steep ramps were a challenge on tired legs but, by sticking religiously sticking to Zone 3, I rode a consistent climb and was able to up my pace and power near the top. Another exhilarating descent, a final short uphill grind and a perfect moped lead out for the Antequera town sign, that let me restore some honour for being dropped on the climb, and we were home. Again, food was ready and waiting and, as I reckoned I’d earned it, a celebratory beer.

Heading back to the UK I was really pleased with how the camp had gone and was especially pleased that I had been able to ride strongly throughout despite not having a huge number of winter miles in my legs.

A warm weather camp is a great way to give your training a boost and, being able to live like a “pro” for a few days where all you have to worry about is riding, eating and recovering, makes for a physically tiring but mentally relaxing break. As well as taking home a big confidence and motivation boost, the camp has reconfirmed the golden rules of pacing, nutrition and recovery. Get those areas right in all your training and racing and you’ll be riding right at the top end of your potential.

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