Determining if your training camp was a success
Training, May 14, 2018
There is nothing better than getting away for your spring training camp and logging some solid miles. But how do you know if you have done a good job and made the best of your week of training?
Spring training camps are an exciting time of the year, particularly if you live in the northern hemisphere. After a winter of cold, snow and wind there is nothing more fun than getting out on the bike in the sunshine and greenery of a southern spring day.
Our training camps are a great opportunity to build on the training we have been doing throughout the winter. They can be a real boost to help us get rolling again out on the road. What should your training camp look like to get the most benefit out of it?
Typically, most of us who are riding the trainer throughout the winter are doing fairly specific training rides. Riding a trainer at an endurance pace for hours is a mind-numbing exercise at best and a soul crushing one at worst. That means that our rides in the winter are largely interval based. And if you are riding Zwift or doing some of the popular online training programs then your winter will probably have been mainly dedicated to racing and threshold work.
A spring training camp is an opportunity to turn your attention to some different energy systems, log some solid miles, and build that aerobic base. At the gym we are always harping on about the value of a strong aerobic system. How under-appreciated its importance is to riding well. Just as your training to improve your higher wattage energy systems is very specific so too should your training for the aerobic system be specific. The mistake that many of us make at our spring training camps though is that we tend to turn these camps into race-like events, negating their ability to help our aerobic systems.
This is a typical story from a week long training camp. To get there you have a day of travel, either a long drive or a flight, with a spin in the afternoon to turn the legs. Then comes day one, a high-paced excited ride out to the base of the first climb where folks throw down and essentially race to the top. Bragging rights ensue. Day two, will often mean tired legs and an inability to ride very hard. The efforts from day one have taken a toll already. For some though who feel good day two is also a chance to race up the climbs. Then comes day three, a day where many won’t ride saving their legs for day four. Day four again starts with an excited pace out the climbs, but as the day goes on the pace on each climb gets slower with the day finishing as a complete slog. Day five is nothing more than an easy spin for those that can manage it, with everyone feeling absolutely crushed from their efforts across the week.
We would argue that this is no the way to maximize your returns from a training camp. Far better to pay attention to the specificity of working your aerobic systems. Riding to train your aerobic system properly will allow you to
achieve two goals of a proper training camp. One, you’ll be able to ride a particularly large number of hours far beyond what you would expect possible. And two, even with the big number of hours maintain your pace on the climbs throughout the week, finishing the last day at the same pace you started.
Here is an example from a recent camp in Girona, Spain. At the camp we definitely did a good job of managing our efforts and it shows in the data. We achieved the first goal of logging tons of hours, managing a total of 26 hours. This was far beyond anyone’s training throughout the winter or for many even any time previously. We also met the second goal of maintaining our pacing. We can see this with an easy comparison of a climb we did on the first and last days of the camp, Els Angels which was just outside of town.
Girona day 1 Els Angels
Girona day 6 Els Angels
Then on this last ride, after we had done Els Angels at a faster pace than day one but a similar heart rate, the group decided on doing a second climb. Everyone was tired but by riding at a totally manageable pace we were able to continue to log the hours on the bike.
We know that everyone wants to be able to smash the climbs and race with their friends. This is part of the reason everyone focuses on improving their threshold numbers and VO2. It is equally important though to have a balanced fitness on the bike – you need both a good aerobic system and an anaerobic system. Since most of us spend most of our winter training specifically on higher wattage efforts it is important that your training camp have a different focus. This will allow you to keep yourself well rounded as a rider. Too little focus on your aerobic system will leave you wanting as your rides drag on and ultimately make your group rides less fun.