The weather is warming and triathletes’ thoughts are turning to preparing for the race season. As your friends return with tales from their early season training camps, you’re probably left wondering if you missed out and thinking, ‘Should I do a training camp?’
It may seem late, but, depending on your planned race schedule, there are different reasons a training camp could fit perfectly—even now. While some triathlon training camps are aimed at getting away during the cold months, that doesn’t mean the winter is the only time for a concentrated block of training.
What kind of camp?
There are a number of different kinds of training camps and it’s important to first decide what you want to get out of your getaway. Training-intensive camps tend to focus on packing in the volume, either to jump-start a season or to put in a “huge deposit in your bank” without distractions, says Hillary Biscay, Ironman champion and Ultraman World Champion, who leads early-season training camps for athletes out of her home base in Tuscon, Ariz. There are also skills-focused camps to work on instruction and education. Or, course-specific camps provide chances to scout locations and get comfortable on course (while still loading up on plenty of training hours). Typically, those kinds of course camps are reserved for Ironman races.
“These are really popular,” says Troy Jacobson, a coach who runs the official training camps of Life Time Fitness and a number of other training camps and workshops. “There are a lot of nuances to Ironman races.”
Which kind of camp works for you will depend on your goals. Need more help with swim instruction? Sign up for a swim-focused clinic. Want some practice on the Queen K? There are more than a few Kona-specific training groups.
“Kona is a mecca,” says Oliver Kiel, founder of the Triathlon School Hawaii.
Individual coaches also tend to gather their own athletes, which has the added benefit of an instructor who knows your training and a chance for your coach to see how you work in these situations. “This is my big chance to see them in action in person—and not just for a one-off session here or there,” explains Biscay.
Because training camps can be intense events in their own right, it can typically make sense to do in a big block of training, not in the middle of the season, says Biscay, so that you can prepare and recover appropriately. Many times people also use a block of three to seven days of hard training to kick-off a season or training block—in the winter that has the added benefit of getting away from the snow and giving you the kick in the butt you might need.
“It helps keep people motivated over the winter months,” says Jacobson, giving them something to aim for and something to get them moving during the cold.
Camps focused on a specific race are best four to six weeks before the event, says Jacobson. That way it’s enough time to still get the benefit of a training block, while also close enough to the race that you’ll remember the course and details you learned.
Picking a time also depends on logistics like getting off work and fitting the trip into your schedule. And, you may want to be prepared; that means riding your bike five hours/day at camp probably shouldn’t be the first time you’ve ridden your bike this year.
As with nearly everything when it comes to triathlon, there seem to be hundreds of experts these days pedaling their wares. That’s true when it comes to training camps too.
Paying someone to take care of logistics, coordinate schedules and even lead educational components can help guarantee your camp won’t run the risks that come with putting an outing together somewhere you don’t know well. And, you won’t get the benefit of outside instruction or guidance—unless you have incredibly smart friends.
“If you do it by yourself you can’t get better if you’re doing the same mistakes over and over,” says Kiel.
When you’re deciding on camps, though, you’ll want to go with either a coach/leader you know (ie. Your coach or one you’re close with) or one whose qualifications can be checked and can be vouched for.
And, if you can’t afford the fancier options, there’s always the possibility of shacking up with a bunch of friends and doing the organization yourself. Just make sure you do your research. Picking a location that suits your needs—race and budget—and picking the right people to go with is key to a successful experience. You’ll want training buddies that are about the same ability and with the same goals. Otherwise, says Kiel, he sees lots of frustration when athletes try to push too far beyond their abilities or manage everything themselves.
What’s the downside?
If you can afford a trip—both the time and money—then there’s really only one downside to a training camp: possibly over-doing it.
To that end, it’s important to come prepared. If you’re doing a course-specific camp, then make sure you know what course and have your gear. If you’re doing a swim technique camp, then make sure you’ve been swimming enough that you can take advantage of the training. Not coming prepared or trying to push to keep up with people that are faster than you can lead to injury or overload.
“People can end up in over their heads if they haven’t trained for what the camp will ask of them or overestimate their abilities and, say, put themselves in the wrong training group,” says Biscay.
A coach or instructor can help to ensure that doesn’t happen and to make sure you get the most training benefits out of your experience. And, they’ll be there to cheer you on and support you.
“Every year I get to see people do things they thought they couldn’t do,” says Biscay. “That never gets old!”