Do It Yourself Triathlon Training Camp

Winter hiking with John & Pace, Appalachian Trail, off the Bennington, VT trailhead.

John, my husband, is fond of saying, “Triathlon is a winter sport that is played in the summer.”

Indeed. Most of us spend a good deal of time training through the winter months, working on limiters, building strength, setting the foundation for when the racing season begins in warmer climes.

But, let’s face it: it’s now February, and for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve been pushing through a few months of the colder temperatures, freezing rain, and piles of snow. It gets old.

Am I right?

Some lucky endurance sport enthusiasts will take time out for a training camp in warmer climates: Arizona, Florida, Southern Texas, to name a few of the popular spots. These training camps come complete with experienced coaches, professional triathletes, and a group of like-minded comrades, willing to work their bodies for anywhere from a few days to a week (or more!).

Sounds great, right?

Sure, but then you look at the price tag of the camp (without even paying to get there), or you realize the timing of the camp doesn’t fit with your life, or maybe the intimidation factor of a camp is too much, or maybe you just like to train solo (guilty!). Regardless of the reason, you can’t find a camp that will give you exactly what you want or need.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a training camp – you just need to improvise.

A few weeks back, I kicked my own arse for a week in a do-it-yourself style training camp, as part of my overall preparation for the Florida Double Anvil (a double-iron distance race), which will be held on March 18-19, 2016, at Lake Louisa, in Clermont, Florida.

No, there weren’t fancy coaches. Just me.

No, there wasn’t a big group of athletes pushing each other day in, day out. Although, I was lucky to have a friend or two join me on a few of the sessions!

What there was in my DIY camp: a fantastic week of training, without the need to balance life, work and everything else.

The idea for this solo training camp came about when I realized two things:

  1. Winter time is cold New Jersey, and not conducive to outdoor riding. Okay, I didn’t “realize” this – I already knew it, but let’s say I processed it fully as part of setting up my ATP leading into the 2016 season.
  2. There is a new course for the Florida Double this year, and it’s in Clermont, Florida. Having raced in Clermont back in 2014, I remembered one thing about the area: hills, some of which can be aggressive–shockingly so considering impressions of Florida as mostly flat. While the group discussion on Facebook about the Florida Double Anvil indicated there weren’t any aggressive elevation changes, I craved some certainty so that I could structure my at-home training more specifically to the new course.

What follows are some tips from my experience in the event that you’d like to DIY a personal training camp of your own.

Training Camp
Steph (left) and Patti (right) joined me for the first 50 miles of my long ride. The time flew – and so did our bikes. 😉 Oh, and we like SOAS kits – ha!

1. Know your purpose

Generally speaking, a training camp sets out a week of training overload that will push you in the ways you need to be pushed, so that you will be stronger and faster in the weeks to come.

A training camp isn’t about knocking down random high volume or high intensity training and hoping you get results. A training camp should be a systematic, planned training load, designed to bring about specific training adaptations–that you feel will be key to your improved performance for the coming season. These adaptations might be related to endurance, strength, power, speed, muscular endurance – or a combination of all of these things – depending on your unique needs. (For more information about training purposes & goals, click here.)

For those of you who have coaches, talk with your coach about the purpose and goals for this type of camp, the types of training that would be beneficial, and the role (if any) that a focused week of training could have for your future performance.

In my case, the purposes of my DIY camp included:

  •  Improve my muscular endurance and strength–particularly for the bike. This was the primary purpose for the week.
  • Get some outside riding time–for fun and to practice u-turns, as the 37 laps of the double bike course will have a u-turn at one end (yes, 37 laps of a 6ish mile course). Inefficiency at that end 37 times over could prove to add up plenty of costly-minutes.
  • Conduct course recon so I know how to structure the remaining race-specific phase of my training

The experience paid big dividends for my training – the benefits of which are materializing now, a few weeks after this training week, as my body has had the opportunity to recover and adapt to the training stimulus, a.k.a., personal ass-kicking. Mentally, I have a visual to associate with the course, so I am able to consider that as I train – and also select routes now that I’m home, which will simulate race terrain.

2. Consider the timing

The timing of your camp needs to consider two basic elements: 1) your life, and 2) your ATP (athlete training planner), which is an big-picture overview of your training for the year (and sometimes multiple years).

In terms of your life: When can you set aside 3-7 days for focused training? Think about work, family, vacations, etc. Do not confuse a training camp with a fun family vacation – those things work at cross-purposes and simply won’t mix well.

When it comes to your ATP, you want to think about when your racing season begins, as well as the type of training you’ll be doing and the effects you want it to have for future training and racing. Again, if you have a coach, this should be discussed with her/him, as s/he will know when a focused training week will work for your training.

For me, early January was perfect. The week I selected was 10 weeks out from the race, and fell during my winter break from teaching, so I would have the time to devote to a solid week of training. Life, work and training – in balance!

3. Get organized

In addition to ensuring that your workouts are organize with purpose, you also want to make sure that you organize how you will execute those workouts. If you are traveling to a new location, scope out routes, figure out how you’ll refuel and restock in the middle of long workouts, and other similar logistics that will ensure smooth training throughout the week.

I was able to rely upon Patti for information for running and biking routes, and her neighborhood had a 25 yard outdoor pool – with a view of the inland water way! I also put the question out on social media, and several of my Florida friends were able to provide bike routes, and swimming pool options. I was able to do the course recon on one of my riding days, taking a 2 hour drive to Clermont and setting up my own aid station to support my bike and transition run.

4. Cost Savings

A DIY camp will definitely save you money in terms of the costs associated with a traditional training camp – which can be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars (depending on the coaching staff, the amenities and the like).

However, traveling to a warm locale for your DIY adventure still incurs costs. Even so, there are ways to cut costs, if like me, you live in a cold northern climate and need to head south.

Do you have friends you’ve been meaning to visit? Perhaps they won’t mind hosting you for this camp–and they won’t mind that you’ll be gone most of the day training, and a tired huddled heap by the end of the day. I am blessed with such a friend in Patti, who lives in St. Pete, Florida. She not only didn’t mind, she cooked my meals, made my kale smoothies, did my laundry, had fancy french press coffee ready for me, and kept me company on more than a few sessions. (For those of you who have read my blog in the past, you may also remember Patti as the friend who was willing to help me change out of my bike shorts during T2 at last year’s double. Yeah, she’s a super awesome friend. I wish for everyone that they could have a friend like Patti.)

And beyond cost saving, it was great to be able to control my food intake while away, as I was able to eat healthy, homecooked meals to support my training. As a vegetarian, it can get tricky and unhealthy to eat out when there are limited veg options available.

Other cost saving tips: since you don’t have specific dates for a particular group camp, you can be more flexible with travel dates. Flying on “off” days can lower costs significantly. In my case, I was able to book a flight on Spirit Airlines for just $88 round trip! Of course, I had to pay for my bag, and my bike, but even with those costs, my flight costs stayed under $300 (the bike box fee was the most expensive part!).

If you are lucky enough to live within driving distance of warmer climes, then that is the way to travel in terms of cost-saving. For this Jersey Girl, I’d be looking at a minimum of a 12 hour drive to find warm enough weather. The flight price seemed a fair trade to allow me to make the most of my time.

5. Push Yourself Outside of Your Comfort Zone–And Stay Positive!

Since I was flying solo without John, the first challenging lesson of the training camp was learning how to pack and unpack my own bike in a bike case. I’m not mechanical by nature, so yeah, this counts as outside of my comfort zone.

training camp
My tweet from the airport before I departed for Florida. For those of you who aren’t on Twitter or don’t follow John, @saltyrunr is John on Twitter. 🙂

I have to admit, when I arrived at my friend Patti’s in Florida, and put my bike together (successfully, without incident), I felt like a badass. I mean, did I even really need to train now that I have put together a bike?

I, I HAVE MADE BIKE!!! (To be said in Tom Hanks Castaway style.)

Seriously though, a training camp is time do hard work — both mental and physical. Of course, starting off on a positive note by being able to successfully assemble my bike was a mental boost.

This camp is a good opportunity to simulate the solo nature of racing, to become more self-sufficient, and to work the space between your ears. Ensure that there are workouts that will bring you to your edges – and be willing to go to those edges. Now, “going to your edges” does not only mean hard, threshold workouts. The definition of your edges or your limits will vary based on the kind of athlete you are.

For some of you, this may mean gaining valuable experience climbing and descending hills. For others, this may mean learning to pace yourself across longer distance swims, rides and runs, or handling the sometimes monotonous experience of a long ride that doesn’t seem to end. And, for others, getting out of your comfort zone may mean building in some threshold work (especially for endurance monsters like me who will gladly run 50 miles before racing a 5k).

Of course, when it comes to hard workouts, you need to be mindful of how you organize the week, as you can’t beat your body to a pulp every single day. The overall week still requires balance in terms of volume and intensity so you don’t break yourself.

6. Post Camp Recovery Period

MOST IMPORTANTLY: because a training camp will be a dose of training overload, you MUST plan for adequate recovery out of your training camp. The week after your training camp should not be another series of hard or long workouts, a race, stressful work days, or anything else that’s going to prevent your body from fully absorbing the work you put in over the week.

If you do not permit proper recovery from this camp, you will move from a state of functional overreaching–which is good, and from which you can recover in a few days to a week, to a potential state of nonfunctional overtraining–which is bad and potentially dangerous.

Remember: fitness gains materialize after proper recovery. Training breaks your body down – and continuing to break the body down will eventually lead to a state of overtraining. So, proper recovery protocols MUST be implemented–both during and after the camp. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Eating clean (whole, nutrient-dense foods)
  • Proper hydration
  • Sleep
  • Myofascial release (deep tissue massage, foam rolling, ART-active release technique)
  • Chiropractic care (from a practitioner who understands athletes – I think this is KEY)
  • Active recovery day (e.g., easy walk)
  • Full rest day
  • work ass offReduced training load for 5-10 days (post big blocks of training, such as a training camp)–as measured by training stress, and not just volume or intensity – but the combination of those factors

As I write this, my DIY training camp was 4 weeks ago. I have recovered out of it, and been through another cycle of training. In that time, I have noticed gains in my bike power, which was my primary goal, and I’ve also seen improvement in my swim and run performance. Bonus! I feel stronger, and better able to handle the demands that my racing season will ask of me–from the double and beyond. Perhaps the tips I’ve offered here will provide such benefit for you as you prepare to tackle your 2016 dreams.

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.