I had the opportunity to lead the US Military Endurance Sports Cat 1/2 road cycling team on a training trip to Southern Arizona earlier this month. We spent 3 fantastic days training in Cochise County, in and around Bisbee, Tombstone and Sierra Vista, and then moved to Tucson for the last 4 days. It was a great trip and I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect a bit on the value these camps have and offer a few tips for those considering one down the road.
This is what most folks think of when they think of camps, big miles in nice weather in order to boost fitness. From a coaching perspective, camps are a relatively high risk, high potential reward endeavor. The major training overload interjected in one sitting pretty much breaks every rule in the book in terms of applying stress, recovering and repeating at a slightly higher level. However, taking folks out of their normal environment and allowing them to just focus 100% on cycling in new surroundings for a short period, can be a huge motivator. The stress/recovery equation can normally be managed if the coach and athlete are careful in paying extra attention to recovery leading up to a camp, during and after.
Generally having a steady build up over the winter; dropping volume and intensity the week before camp; ensuring good sleep, nutrition, stretching and massage (if available) and lots of down time during camp; and planning a light training/recovery week post camp, will reduce the risk of injury and fatigue and maximize fitness gains.
High volume camps are not the place to try to shed those couple extra pounds by cutting calories. Athletes are already under additional stress from increased volume and likely intensity, and burning significantly more calories than normal. Quality nutrition is an important part of the recovery equation to ensure riders can continue to put in the big days without getting sick or overly fatigued.
Camp is a great time to reinforce good nutrition habits with more time to focus on cycling related activities: Quality nutrition at each meal, including plenty of nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, vice too many empty calories; staying hydrated both on and off the bike; developing a good nutrition strategy on the bike to prevent "bonking" late in rides; and having a post ride recovery drink followed by a quality post ride meal.
Team and Skills Building
Its one thing to wear the same jersey, but to truly function well as a road team, especially at the elite level, team members need to understand, and have trust and faith in each other's skills and abilities, and have a true interest in the successes of their teammates in addition to their own personal ambitions. This can't be measured on a chart or with a number, but it is what most often makes or breaks elite amateur cycling teams.
Successful regional and local teams are usually able to facilitate this pretty well with teammates often being friends already and training, racing and participating in group rides frequently. But with a geographically diverse team, those opportunities are rarer, and the importance of camps increases.
Providing an opportunity outside of competition for teammates to work on road skills and allowing athletes to interact and bond as a team and develop friendships is tremendously important. While you can't "make" people be friends, you can certainly create opportunities, situations and establish common goals to help foster it and develop better riders and teams because of it.
Post Camp Depression
Kind of a joke, but its for real. The return to work and "normal life" post camp, plus the body shifting into recovery mode after a big chunk of work, can leave athletes feeling a bit dragged out and grumpy. This is totally normal. A few days to a week of recovery mixing lighter rides and/or days off along with stretching, maybe a massage, and working back into a regular schedule and most folks are feeling pretty good.
Camps can be a fantastic experience and set the tone for racing season in general by improving fitness, developing team bonds and reinforcing good habits. If you get the opportunity to participate or organize one for your program, I highly encourage it! Thanks for reading, and check out some pics below from our recent camp to AZ!
Note: Special thanks to Beth Kelsey for follow car support for the Tucson portion of the trip, M&M Cycling in Sierra Vista for their mechanical support, and Dan Minjares and Stu Carter for the great Mt Lemmon photography (and pizza!).