Why Camps?

This article originally appeared on the Fuse Lenses blog

Why training camps? Each spring (or whichever season describes the early part of your competitive year), athletes of all stripes head to different locales to train in groups, in better weather, or to spend some valuable time with his or her coach. But how much really changes? My old training partner, Olympic-probable Eric Lagerstrom, often points out that when other athletes talk about camp, they’re really just describing their normal training in a new setting. This is quite true. I’m in Carlsbad, California right now, with Amy and my training partner Heather Jackson, posted up in a beautiful house in the San Diego County hills. We’ll be here for twenty days, and training doesn’t look too different from normal: big days Wednesday and Saturday on the bike. Big runs Sunday. Long hard swims Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Short but hard runs sprinkled throughout. Easier rides wherever they fit. So why pull up stakes, go somewhere else for three weeks, spend a bunch of money on renting a house, driving the entire length of I-5, find coverage for our jobs and businesses?

That might seem like a stupid question. Sure, the weather is nicer in Southern California than it is in Portland right now, but training effectively in Portland isn’t hard at all. It’s wet, yes, but the temperature is fine, the running is always top-drawer, and you can swim anywhere, really. The real value of a camp is not in the amount of training you can get in, or the convenience of nice weather, or the company of strong athletes—the value of a camp is the efficiency it provides: you can do more than you normally can, not by freeing up more time to train (there’s always more time to train, it just depends on how you feel about running/riding/swimming before light or after dark, or when you’re exhausted from work), but by freeing up more time to recover and rest.

When Amy and I are back in Portland, chaos basically reigns. We both run our own small businesses: my coaching company has five coaches and 55 athletes, and Amy counsels high school students through the byzantine, competitive world of college admissions. Like most long course triathletes, amateur and professional alike, we fit our training in and around our work commitments. I think most small business owners will sympathize that you can always work—if you’re not careful you find yourself logging 80-100 hour weeks. Training camp gives me, for a wonderful three weeks, the chance to fit my work around my training, and fit my training around my rest. Long course triathlon also requires a bunch of hours (Heather and I are putting in 25-30 hour weeks; Amy is in the 21-25 range), but all that training requires a ton of recovery. Stepping away from Portland and getting out of my business bubble allows me to really focus on the work hard/rest hard equation. Here’s what a week looks like, coupled with appropriate recovery blocks.

And that’s basically it! Wash, rinse, repeat for however long you’re at camp, and then schedule some time to really rest the week after camp. We’ll be here for three total weeks, putting ourselves in a pretty deep hole by the end of March. That kind of heavy training requires heavy resting afterward, cutting training volume by 50-70%, depending on how exhausted you feel. Many athletes train hard enough, but don’t rest hard enough, and they find themselves getting tired and slow by mid-summer. Camps are great for training stimulus, but you don’t get faster until you let that stimulus soak into your body. As my first cycling mentor, Captain Dondo, once said: “Riding your bike isn’t training. Lying on the couch afterward—that’s where everything actually starts to change.”

Want to experience the highs and lows of camp yourself? Come to our legendary Bend camp in May. Five or ten days of hard training, amazing lectures, incredible home-cooked meals, lodging in beautiful Bend houses, and community unlike any other camp. Join us here.