“What is the best thing an endurance cyclist with limited training time can do to improve his or her performance?” While there are many specific things that I can answer to this question, I think a training camp is one of the most valuable ways an athlete can invest their time.
We have just returned from the 3 main editions of the Haute Route in Europe, starting in the Pyrenees and working our way through the French Alps to the Dolomites. Before that, we spent much of the summer educating riders at training camps on all things in relation to power and pacing and enjoying riding using them.
While you don’t need to travel all the way to the French Alps to participate in a training camp, here is why it is worth your time to devote 3 or more days solely to cycling.
MAXIMISE TRAINING STIMULUS
During a normal summer training camp, we rode for 5- 6 hours per day and climbed 2 -3000m as well. Over the course of 4 days, that meant that we covered about 3-400 kms with nearly 10,000m of ascending. The seven day camps had a shorter day included, but still covered about 700 kms and 15,000m of climbing.
That is 2 weeks worth of training crammed into relatively few days and creates a massive training stimulus. You certainly cannot do that each week, but this training stimulus enables your body to cope with higher loads during the rest of your build-up.
BALANCE YOUR STRESSORS
The key difference in a well-planned training camp is the elimination of external stressors that we have to cope with in normal life. In order for your body to cope with the extra heavy cycling workload, you need to get into a training routine that revolves around cycling, eating and resting.
You cannot check out of life all that often and retreat into the mountains, but one or more times a year will make a big difference for your key events.
Cyclists benefit from ‘course reconnaissance’ training camps because many courses can be broken into workable chunks and you can observe more at training pace than at racing pace. The distraction of large numbers of cyclists around you is also missing which will help with your orientation. Knowing the course also enables you to understand the terrain to improve actual race pacing. For this reason we recommend early summer training camps in the regions where the most prestigious races are to be held.
DIAL IN YOUR HABITS
Multiday Cycling camps are great for dialling in your nutrition, hydration, and recovery habits. Without the outside variables of the‘real world’ you can focus your attention on trying out new strategies or dialling in what works. This is the time to test- not during your event!
Remember the Family
All training camps require some negotiations around family time and career priorities. Especially with family, be clear about your intentions, your plans, and the reasons behind them. These 3 plus days are going to be all about you, and that means you have to make sure you reciprocate with time and effort that is not about you. Acknowledge and respect the sacrifices you are asking of your family.
FIT YOUR CAMP INTO YOUR TRAINING
You can’t just lump two weeks’ worth of training load into a few days or a week without making some accommodations within the rest of your training schedule. As a rule of thumb, taper for as many days as the camp is planned for, particularly the shorter camps. After the camp, take it easy for a few days and if you’re still tired after those three days, be conservative and take off another day, or even two.
Rule no 1 – DON’T KILL YOURSELF ON DAY 1
One big mistake athletes make during training camps and also in their multi-day events is to ride hard, fast, and long on Day 1. It feels great, but then your body is trashed by Day 3. Your goal should be to have great rides on all days of your camp and finish strong, not wasted. Energy burned on Day 1 is energy you will not get back, so be conservative in the beginning so you can maintain the quality and form throughout.
Camps that we recommend:
|Winter and early Spring||Majorca and Tenerife||Base miles with some higher end work. Varied terrain. The aim is to lift fitness so that serious training goals can be reached.|
|Mid Spring||South Tirol, lower French Alps and Pyrenees||Keeping it varied, but some serious climbing included, but shorter days than summer. Building on the fitness and improving skills|
|Early Summer||French Alps, Pyrenees, and Dolomites||Climbing focussed – long days in the saddle. Focused on pacing and improvement in the chosen terrain|
|Summer and late Summer||Alps, Pyrenees||Preparation for the following year events and beginner training.|