How Camp?

Clay Trails run workout at the QT2 Pro Camp

Clay Trails run workout at the QT2 Pro Camp

I'm sitting on a plane from Orlando to Denver, where I'll grab a flight to Tucson later today. The QT2 Systems Pro Camp just finished up yesterday, and I'm traveling camp-to-camp, getting ready to run the first CBCG Tucson Dream Camp later this week with eight lucky and motivated athletes. As one camp ends and another one hurtles towards opening, I thought a brief of review of how camps work for an athlete would be in order.

I've been attending big professional spring training camps for five or six years, now—at least half of my racing career. They've become an essential part of my preparation for each season. Camps have also surged in popularity for age groupers, as coaches and athletes have realized their benefits. Camps provide a ton of benefits, such as (but not limited to!):

  • Time spent with someone looking at your swim/bike/run form and being able to make adjustments to it (preferably, this person is your coach, but it doesn't have to be)
  • A monastery-like environment, where you can focus only on training, eating to support that training, recovering, and learning
  • A burst of enthusiasm for your sport, as you brush up against people you haven't trained with, some of whom are faster than you (motivation) and some of whom you can outpace (satisfaction/confidence)
  • A big dose of stimulus (training) that, given time and recovery, provides a transformation of your athletic abilities

Well, that's great, Chris, you're saying. That all sounds wonderful, but how about some more guidance? How should these be set up? That's a very sound question. Camps should push you beyond your current abilities (in any or all of the areas of endurance, speed, or technique) without putting you in so deep a hole that you are A) injured or B) burnt out. Figuring out where that line is, though, can be quite challenging. Many triathletes—type A personalities that love making lists, tracking data, and "knowing" stuff—want to know exactly where that line is. Unfortunately, I can't give you the complete answer. If the answer were in a dark room, I would love to be able to throw a giant switch and turn on the lights, a theatrical pop and electrical buzz accompanying the illumination. I can, perhaps, give you a flashlight with which to explore.

Over the course of the 17 days at QT2 Camp (February 17th through March 5th) I:

  • Swam 69,942 yards/28,800y per week (about 1600y short of what was planned for me)
  • Rode 785 miles/323 miles per week (managed not to miss any riding)
  • Ran 85.33 miles/35 miles per week (about 30-35 miles short of what was planned for me)

Just so you don't think I'm getting all humble-braggy (or, come to think of it, actual braggy), I'm putting these numbers up there for a reason. Towards the end of camp (the Thursday of last week) my right calf twinged and flared while running up a small hill. It's one of those come-and-go injuries that recedes for about a month, and seemingly returns out of nowhere. I know better than that, especially given my past year's struggle with the various muscles and nerves of my lower body, and I'd ascribe the injury's reappearance as part negligence on my behalf, and part training stress beyond what I've been used to. Over the six weeks coming into camp, I've averaged:

  • 17500 yards per week in the pool
  • 156 miles per week on the bike
  • 23.7 miles per week of running

Those probably seem like relatively modest numbers, but those six weeks were the beginnings of my real training for the year, and include the various zeros that afflict problems with averaging data in the first place. But you can see some general forms taking shape. Camp basically meant multiplying my swim volume by 1.65, doubling my cycling, and should have seen a similar doubling in my run volume (if I'd completed all the prescribed runs, I would have ended up at 120 miles of running over 17 days, or 48 miles per week). I'd say that camp revealed the fact that my swimming and cycling durability is good right now, but my running durability still needs work. 

Gosh, you're saying now. He just keeps talking about himself! When is this going to get pertinent to me? I get it, you're absolutely correct. Here's how I would think about this data, taking into account the fact that every athlete is different and can absorb different kinds of training loads.

  • During a camp or period of higher training load, you can probably absorb up to twice the volume you've put in on your two stronger sports over the previous six weeks. This is such a vague estimate that I'm hesitant to even write it, but the additional rest and recovery and focus that camps provide allow you to get away with this.
  • Your weaker sport, or whichever sport has some injury history in it, should only experience a 1.5 multiple during camps or periods of higher training.
  • Swimming is the safest sport to add volume, as long as your shoulders are healthy
  • Cycling is the next safest sport to add volume, as long as you've had a bike fit or a fit update within the last year
  • Running is the sport most likely to damage you all the time, so be cautious with it.

So, if you're showing up to a camp this week (hint, hint) or have one in the near future, do a little number crunching and come to camp armed with some data for the coaches running camp. It's their job to watch you and get a sense of how you're doing and to pull on the reins a bit, if necessary, but why not make their jobs easier? If you let them know what you've been up to over the past six weeks, they can even better tailor camp to your needs. Remember that camp is not a race, not a competitive event; the person who "wins" camp often ends up injured not too far down the road. Camp is supposed to push you and you alone up to the "stimulus edge," where we're getting maximum benefit without injury. If you get caught up in trying to "tick the box" of every session, you're not training by your needs, you're training by someone's guess as to what your body can handle. As with any coaching relationship, it's up to you and your coach together to locate that stimulus edge, so why not give them a hand?