Monday, February 1, 2016

Absorbing a Training Camp

Training camps can be an incredibly useful weapon in your training arsenal. When compared to the regular training block, they can be thought of as akin to the difference between a semi-automatic rifle and a musket. While both fire a single bullet with comparable effect, the difference in load time between the two means you can get a lot more done in a given time with the semi-auto. A training camp enables you to compress the spring in a very quick manner when compared to the more gradual "loading" of a regular training block, enabling you to fire off a few more training "rounds" in a given season. However, like the first reloadable weapons the risk of a spring malfunction is pretty significant and, just like the metaphor, if your spring malfunctions you’re kind of screwed. Therefore, taking sufficient time to absorb your training load after the training camp before "firing off another round" is imperative.

The first step in absorbing the load is planning an appropriate load and the step before that is understanding the purpose of the training camp. In my opinion, training camps are best used for two distinct purposes:

  1. Getting fit in a hurry.
  2. Getting super-fit prior to a race.

Each of these aims demands a different approach. Frequently the plan is to train as much as you can. However, there are a couple of caveats that should be added to the "training as much as you can" plan that are specific to each of the purposes above.
In the first case, getting fit in a hurry, the caveats are training as much as you can absorb and can maintain.

Absorbing the training camp means:

  • Finishing the block with more fitness than you went into it with.
  • Finishing the block with more fitness than you would have had if you’d continued regular training.

In turn this means only taking a short period of time (less than seven days) to bounce back from a camp and be ready for the next block. If you tire yourself out so much that you get sick or chew up so much mojo that it takes more than this you’ll likely leave the training camp less fit than you went in. This is shown graphically in WKO+ terms below, where two weeks of recovery at half normal load is necessitated by an overly ambitious camp and results in the athlete losing most of the fitness they built during camp and being less fit post camp than if they had continued with normal training (dashed line). In other words, in an effort to fire off a few too many rounds, they jam their spring!

This can be compared to what we would like to happen, where that athlete goes into serious recovery mode for five days following the camp to reload and is ready to ease back into normal training the following weekend. In this case, the camp results in fitness being higher than it would have been if normal training was undertaken during the same time period.

As T.S. Elliot observed, only he who risks going too far can know how far one can go and often truly knowing where the tipping point is between the load you can do versus the load you can absorb is a function of pure trial and error. However, the key is to only make the mistake of doing too much once. Learn where your TSB floor lies and shoot for a point just above this in future camps.

The second caveat of maintaining the fitness that you’ve built simply means having enough space in your life to keep the fitness that you built during the camp. Sometimes we’ll see very fit AG athletes come into a mid-season camp and lay down such a successful training camp that they’re on fire at the end of the camp -- setting season best marks, for example. Unfortunately, this is often a fire that they can’t keep blazing once they get back to their regular training and the camp (rather than the race) represents the high point of their season. This situation is also shown below.

In this situation, an athlete racing late in the year does a training camp in August, gets a good fitness bump of approximately +10 to their CTL, absorbs the training camp fine but is unable to hold onto this fitness bump though to their A race because they simply cannot fit sufficient load to hold fitness into their regular (non-camp) life. This is a common situation for competitive AG athletes.

The solution for time-limited athletes is to either plan camps early in the season where the objective is to bump fitness quickly to enable them to get to serious training a little quicker or late in the season (close to their A race) to enable them to push fitness to a higher level than their normal lives would enable them to sustain. If the athlete were racing late August (Canada or Louisville), an early August camp would allow sufficient time to hold onto their camp "super fitness" while building "super freshness" during taper. This represents the second best use of a training camp.

Training camps can be a truly powerful weapon that will give you a significant edge over your competition if used appropriately. Unfortunately I see many athletes using them in a way more in line with Rambo -- firing randomly, aimlessly and excessively than with the precision of a trained sniper. If you have this weapon at your disposal, use it intelligently -- plan your target, fire with precision and commitment then take the time to assess and carefully reload< before firing again.

Train smart.

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