Recently Joe Friel, Author of “The Triathlete’s Training Bible”, blogged on the subject of choosing a training camp. I thought this was rather timely, as I have just returned from the Strong Like Bull training camp in Spain.
What Joe Says…
Joe starts of his blog by stating that a training camp is one of the fastest ways to grow as an athlete. He also states that choosing a camp should not be a random decision.
Key considerations Joe lists:
– Look at what type of growth opportunities you need and what the camp offers (skills, teaching, typical training time, classroom learning)
– Look at the intensity of the workouts offered
– Consider if you can end workouts early if the typical schedule is too long or a higher volume than you are ready for
– What type of terrain and distances are covered, and if it matches your goals / races
– Oppportunities for fun, particularly to escape the weather where you live, to make new friends, to get motivated
– Is there an opportunity to train from or learn from pros or top coaches at the camp
– Are there other cultural opportunities offered (e.g. food or wine excursions, tours of the area)
– What type of support is offered – will there be a “sag wagon” or van to jump into if you want to finish your rides early
– What type of facilities will you stay in (for example, laundry facilities determine how much kit you need to pack)
My Own Experience
Strong Like Bull was the first training camp I have attended. Boy did I jump in on the deep end.
I chose SLB for a number of reasons.
1. Access to people to learn a hell of a lot from
SLB is run by a pro, John Hirsch. John has been involved in triathlon for a long time. He coaches athletes. He blogs. He is accessible (he replies to his Twitter account). I knew I could learn a lot from John.
The camp also is run by an experienced road cyclist, Sean Langford. And in attendance are other experienced road cyclists, such as semi-pro Dylan McNichols. I knew that there would be a lot of people around to learn from.
And typical attendees? Also amazing people. From a former USA Track & Field 50k champion to triathlon podcasters to multiple time ironmen finishers, SLB attracts people deep in athletic experience.
So I knew I could soak in a lot of learning. SLB represented a chance to experience triathlon awesome-mosis.
2. Learning how to handle new – and tough – terrain
London is flat. Like pancake flat. And although we ride in Suffolk as well, that is nothing more than only a little lumpy (still described as flat by cyclists). SLB takes place in the Andalucian hills. And when I say hills, I mean mountains.
I had no idea how I would fare, but I knew that I needed some experience riding on hills, as I am doing the Houston to Austin MS150 and Austin is hilly. SLB was a great opportunity to make sure I had a bit of experience under my belt (or should I say under my lycra?) with hills.
I wanted to do a camp to kick off my training for triathlon season, and before the April MS150. SLB was perfectly timed for me, in February. It was a great jump start to my training, highlighting things to work on while I build up to my season, rather than a camp timed to be just before races, or a camp on a course a month before a race (which are also worthwhile just not my objective).
Also the timing was a perfect respite from a cold wet winter. And it got me out of my house, which has been a construction zone for months.
4. Easy to get to
For me SLB was simple to get to – hop a flight to Malaga. There were so many options of flights from London, so I was spoiled for choice. I wanted someplace that would not have a plane transfer, as I was travelling with my bike and did not want that travel stress. Travel ease is super important for me as I travel for work and like to minimise the hassles associated with travel as a result.
5. A tolerant camp
I really worried about this aspect of a training camp. I went into SLB knowing that I have something wrong with my lungs (I caught a nasty virus / infection at the end of January and have dropped to 75% lung capacity since then, still not recovered). I also manage nerve disease, which means I am not as strong as I would like to be. I needed a camp that would have full support – a wagon to hop into, camp directors that would be able to understand if I jumped out of rides early (not doing 6 hour days), people who could adjust routes with me to take into consideration how I was feeling and doing.
I corresponded a lot with John about this aspect of camp, and felt confident that I would be able to fit in and train in a manner best suited to me.
6. Opportunities to do cool stuff in addition to the riding
I knew that John had one rest day planned which would either entail a trip to Grenada or to see the Tour of Andalucia (a bike race which ends its stage in a town not far from the camp location). I attended the session that got to see the Tour of Andalucia finish.
What a cool day. We saw the bull ring where where Madonna’s 1994 Take A Bow video was filmed.
Me at the Antequera bull ring, what gorgeous weather…
And we also saw the end of the Tour of Andalucia. I had never seen a bike race stage live before, and it was amazing. The riders were so amazingly strong! We kind of wandered right into the VIP area for the awards ceremony, and then were just feet from Levi Leipheimer when he was leaving the stage (he came in third, bet he wasn’t too happy with that!)
Levi. I only wish he had taken a bit of time to say more than a grunt of acknowledgement to his fellow Americans in Andalucia… It was still cool to be so close to him and the other riders though!
7. Opportunities to meet some cool new people
I looked at SLB as a chance to connect with some people I have followed on Twitter for years.
John Hirsch and Christine Lynch (aka The Holisticguru)
I met so many great people on SLB – many many more than those pictured (who I had met via Twitter before arriving at camp). I will save my reflections for another blog, but this was a true highlight…
8. To know what I did not know
I feel like Rumsfeld talking about the unknown unknowns, but I wanted to know the unknown. I have lots of friends who do triathlon, who ride their bikes lots, who train all over the place, who do ironmans. To date, I haven’t *known* their experiences.
I wanted to get a glimpse into the world of my aspirations. To train with ironmen. To understand what it would take, should I ever want to take the step and think about doing an Ironman.
I wanted to completely leave my comfort zone. I knew that SLB would take me there – to that place that would be so uncomfortable, so unfamiliar. It did not disappoint.
When you choose a training camp, consider what you want. Know what you hope to achieve. Look at the camp offered, and think to yourself “will it meet my objectives”.
You will have a gut feeling about a camp and if it is right for you – but it is really worth taking the time and doing lists and checking if things meet your objectives. And if you don’t know the answers, talk with the organisers (like I did with John with regard to my health before joining). It is really worth it.
I mean, camps cost money. And holiday (vacation) time. You want to get from a camp what you want, what you need. So choose well.
I know I did…