By Chris and Carrie Collerton of www.whichtrainingcamp.com
Your Aims Different people think about going on a cycling training camp for different reasons. For some, the motivation is covering high mileage when the conditions back home are cold and wet, anticipating the pleasure of cycling with a warm sun on your back. For others, it is the opportunity to do some early season training with more specific training sessions, led by a coach’s structured program. While some people may be looking for a pre-race camp as they approach their A-Race or an opportunity for team building within their club or racing team.
You may be thinking of a training camp as a way of gaining more information about your own training physiology, enhancing your technical ability so you can ride further and faster, or simply looking for ways of gaining an edge by training smarter and following a more structured program.
Other benefits from going on camp may include better nutritional knowledge, new recovery techniques such as yoga, stretching or sports massage, or the chance to learn and put into practice visualisation techniques.
Your training camp gives you the best opportunity to focus on your training by stepping away from your busy work and lifestyle with limited training hours, rushed meals and possibly less sleep than required.
The choice of coach is crucial to the camp’s outcome. A good coach will replicate a professional camp as far as possible, looking after all those little things which can detract from training in your home environment.
Your relationship with the coach is important and a mutual understanding should be established before you depart for your camp. We would suggest making a short list of potential coaches and then talking with each one. If they don’t return your calls, cross them off your list.
Your coach should be looking to make your training experience fit your needs and not just supplying you with a one-size-fits-all program. Their instant feedback and your input about how you thought the session went will not only help them tailor the next session, but also help you to remain focused on the bigger picture. Many will use video and other tools to help this process.
A good coach can guide you on your bike, but also when you’re not on it. Together, you should be able to explore strength and conditioning, nutrition, psychology, race tactics and stretching, among other topics. If you have a particular area you want to address, question the coach about it before deciding which camp to go on.
Destination and Duration
Many people choose either Mallorca or the Canary Islands for their warm weather winter training camps. But camps are being held at other locations like Greece, Cyprus, Spain (particularly in Andalucia, Murcia and Catalonia) and Portugal. Low-cost airlines now fly to all these places, helping to keep down the cost of your camp. Book early for the best possible deals, wear compression socks, and take your own food and drink for the flight.
If you are building towards a big race, you’ll probably want to replicate the terrain of your route, so the best place to train would be on the course. If there are no camps available, then one that runs with conditions that most closely match those of your race. For those of you tackling some of the mighty climbs in the Alps, Pyrenees or Dolomites, this would be your best ground for training.
Think about how long you want to spend in camp. This may have to fit around your work or home life or you may give more weight to what will be best for your performance; in the end, it could be a compromise between the two.
Before booking you could check on one of the websites used to track activity via GPS, like Strava or MapMyRide. Coaches may have their own page or you could search by location. This will tell you the type of rides covered by the cyclists and whether the area is used much at the time of your camp.
Comfort and practicalities
There are many different types of accommodation available on camps. Very often, where you stay will be dictated by your choice of coach, so if you’re not sure about why the camp accommodation has been chosen, make this something you ask when ringing around to make enquiries.
Some coaches will have pre-booked rooms in bike-friendly hotels or self-catering apartments within a hotel. Some will use their own “home” base where they can control your off-the-bike routine more closely, preparing meals specifically for you and your training group. The “home” base offers flexibility in meal times to suit the day’s ride and food prepared to enhance your camp experience. Against this, weigh up the possible remoteness and lack of other entertainment at a “home” location.
You alone can determine your priorities and what sort of accommodation will suit you; whether you are looking for a home from home, or whether you want a swimming pool and choice of restaurant each night.
Road support may vary, even during the camp. You may find some sessions are led by the coach and some by a guide; some may have vehicle support whilst others do not. Once again, it is best to ask careful questions, particularly if you would not be happy without a support vehicle at all times. Airport transfers are usually arranged for you and your bike.
Check what Insurance policies are in place. Some camps are covered by ABTA and some are registered with the Tourist Authorities within the host country and carry full Public Liability Insurance.
Pre Camp Training
During the pre-camp period, you should be able to discuss with your coach your level of fitness and ability and agree what training you should be doing for the weeks leading into the camp. A sudden increase in the kilometres and intensity of your ride when you begin your camp may leave you tired, injured or ill.
Ensure you prepare properly for your cycling training camp. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
What to pack
Agree a check-list with your coach before departure and make sure you pack the things you need.
Will you need to take your own spares or will these be covered? Agree the chain set if you are training in the mountains. Many camps suggest that you take your own shoes and helmet, even if you are hiring a bike.
Another useful thing to pack is some extra chamois cream to help with the increase of time on your bike. Hand sanitizer can help you avoid illness. The best advice we ever received from a professional rider was to put another roll of tape on your handle bars for extra comfort.
Going on camp gives you more time to focus on your training, but being away from home (and possibly work) means more “down-time”. What do you need to take so this rest time doesn’t get boring? You may want to consider whether the accommodation has plenty of “individual” relaxation space as well as “social” areas where you can share your day’s experiences with the other cyclists.
Your destination may have higher temperatures than the UK, but a warmer daytime climate may not mean higher overnight temperatures; many places will still become much cooler when the sun is down and your efforts on the bike may leave you more susceptible to cold than usual. Waterproofs and extra layers are always worth the space in your suitcase.
During the Camp
There is always the temptation to ride at a greater intensity than you would do at home, especially if you normally train alone and have a competitive nature. Being on camp may mean consistently covering more miles and possibly pedalling more gradients than you would do at home. Greater distances, more gradients, all at a higher speed, are not pretty and will probably lead to a meltdown at some point during the camp.
Be honest with the coach and communicate before, during and after each session. It will take the coach a few days to begin to read your body language, which may be too late to prevent meltdown. Be aware that whilst some days will be tough on your legs, there will be other days that will test your mindset and emotions.
An effective training camp will help you achieve your goals, but it is important to ensure that you don’t leave the camp so tired that you need to take a week off training to recover. Training consistently before, during and after the camp is crucial. A good coach will adjust your training volumes so you can get the most out of the camp but still pick up your regime once you get home. Communicate honestly with him/her to help them make these changes.
Poor hygiene can cause illness or injury, which both mean time off the bike. Discuss with your coach what would happen if one of the riders became ill. Living in close proximity can allow illness to spread rapidly through a group, especially one where people are making greater training demands than usual on their bodies. Strategies to avoid illness would include good quality of sleep (normally eight hours), well-balanced nutrition, keeping hydrated and washing your hands thoroughly with soap.
Before your departure from camp, evaluate your performance with the coach and agree a plan moving forward. Take all the good work and the new knowledge home with you to help you continually improve.
Hygiene is important during the first few weeks of getting home. Cold weather back home may mean your body has to acclimatise once more, and fatigue from the extra training on camp could make you more vulnerable to illness. If your camp was a pre-race camp, the last thing you want is to let lax hygiene rule you out of racing.
Follow the training program prescribed by the coach and keep in regular contact.
Decide what you want to achieve from the camp; research which camp and coach will best help you to achieve it; prepare yourself physically and practically; communicate with your coach before, during and after; and remember to enjoy yourself!