Camping (not quite the type you think)

tottoise

We found this little guy in the road in the middle of the Karoo somewhere on our last bike camp through the Karoo. Excited already for this years trip. I expect us to go further and see even more remote places…

This article relates far more to front of the pack age groupers and elite athletes (hoping some pro’s out there read this to reiterate what I am saying) but has merit as well for being aspirational and seeing the difference between where you might be and where you want to be.

Camping for me is a big thing. I love training camps. They are a big week of focus with a big boost in performance if you do them correctly. Now when I say big boost in performance, of course I mean roughly 2-4% improvement come race day, but when you reach the top, 2% could mean 1st to 4th in your age group. Being the first knob not to make the podium or missing a Kona slot by 57 seconds (it happens) is the worst possible thing. As a top age grouper, I like to take all the risk equations out and go in as well prepared as I can handle. I love the training and racing but I hate having excuses for limited performance after the race.

So what equates to a proper camp?

For a time limited athlete like myself, I like bike camps the most. I can gain the most time there and run performance increases relatively as well by biking more. True. Story. I would say an increase of 50-100% in mileage (depending on skill and adaptation levels) is best and that the frequency is very important too. Rather do 7 days of work than 5. The idea is to teach the body to function when your mind is saying you are broken, but really you have lots left to give. I like to ride 4 hours every day with a 40min AeT run in the afternoon during the week (work allowing) and then 2 x 6-7 hour rides on the weekend with a 40min AeT run in those afternoons. Total volume for the week would be around 40 hours which makes me a freaking zombie and useless to the world. True story. I struggle like a mofo to get through the week but I understand why I need to press on.

Key things:

1. Put yourself in the dead zone. You want to wake up saying “no way I can do that again” and then have to go do it again.
2. EAT – you cannot eat enough in a week like this. Recovery is more important than doing the miles.
3. Sleep regularly and lots. Naps are non-optional.
4. Take a buddy. If you have someone with similar goals, take them along. Accountability goes a long way when you are wrecked on Day 3 and you know your mate is waiting for you to get up and ride with him.
5. Keep the intensity down. The idea is steady miles, keeping is to Ironman pace at maximum for 7 days in a row. The idea is to smash days 6 & 7, not 1 & 2.
6. Camp should finish 4 weeks prior to a big event to allow sufficient recovery and taper.

The reasons:

Mental – by making long training sessions routine, racing an IM becomes far more manageable. One of the key strengths Campers take home is the knowledge that no matter what happens in their race: they will get through it; they have been there before; and it’s no big deal. To truly perform at your best for IM, you need to get to the point where a 180km steady ride is simply “a session”. You won’t be able to perform on race day unless you have developed superior bike stamina in training.

Economy - while speed skills, drills and technique-focused workouts are useful for building economy, top athletes need to train their bodies to operate efficiently for 8-12 hours. 6x30s drills are useful but long hours of training at close to race effort (Aerobic Threshold: AeT) are far more race specific. We need to train our ability to move efficiently, with good form for many hours.

Aerobic Capacity // Aerobic Endurance - a fast Ironman is a 8-12 hour time trial. First and foremost, athletes must train their ability to simply go the distance – at any pace. Big week training addresses this universal critical success factor.

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Avoid Intensity

When you are extending endurance, be very careful with training above your steady zone in all sports. Sustained mod-hard efforts result in extended recovery. My experience is that each hour of mod-hard (tempo) exercise, likely results in at least three hours of steady training being missed.

When extended yourself through camp, it’s best to remain focused on the goals. Save the majority of your sport-specific strength work for the specific preparation phase of your season. Excess fatigue generated from appropriate camp work will tend to clear in 24-48 hours. Fatigue generated from excessive mod-hard and hard training can take weeks or months to clear. Part of the lessons of camp is that we have limits, one of the nice things is that we find that they are nearly always further than we expected.

If you ever decide to do one of these remember its YOUR camp, train YOUR intensity. Have a great weekend.

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