You know you’re a real cyclist when your
holiday, trip away or mini-break takes place just before the start of
the racing or sportive
season and involves travel to warmer climes with, of course, your bike.
These ‘holidays’ are a great way to make sure you can compete for the whole of the season ahead, and since they’re referred to as training camps, even if they’re more of a holiday, they makes us feel more ‘pro’. Getting a group together and heading for sunnier skies, smoother roads and quieter towns mean those last few miles will be easier to claim.
What are the benefits?
Camps are used to gain every benefit from your winter’s base training and to prepare you for the up-and-coming season by fine-tuning your form both physically and mentally.
Many riders have different training aspirations, but generally speaking, intensity and volume are raised during the first two weeks.
Being in a larger group of riders of a similar ability while in a better cycling environment will mean those increases don’t seem quite so harsh, creating a perfect environment for you to improve.
Why go to a camp?
The whole idea of these camps is not only to get fitter, faster and stronger, but also to motivate you before, during and after the trip.
Knowing you have a trip booked in sunny weather is the perfect motivation to get you training steadily throughout the winter. It will encourage you to do enough to handle the harder training while out on camp. Heading to warmer weather always brings a smile to your face, so once there, getting up and doing a long, hard ride isn’t so mind blowing. And after a good week or two of solid riding on a camp, you’ll be fitter and stronger and will be ready to enjoy your local roads back home with newfound speed.
When’s the best time?
Choosing the right time to go on a training camp is crucial and this varies from one rider to the next. If your racing or event season is during the summer, going on a training camp at the end of the year would be pointless – that’s the time for resting up and enjoying a relaxing riding holiday or time off the bike.
Start training too close to an important race date and you might not have sufficient time to reap its benefits, while training too early may mean that you haven’t acquired the base fitness needed to support a concentrated hard work out when on camp. The window between late February and early April is the most popular period and it’s when most commercial camps take place.
Be smart, be prepared
As the old saying goes, “failure to prepare is preparing to fail”. Heading to a training camp without having done any preparation could be worse for your overall fitness than not going at all, as sudden extra miles and intensity could leave you exhausted, injured or ill. More miles means more rests to recover, leaving you riding less when you should be doing more if you aren’t already able to cope with the volume.
What are the options?
There are various ways to plan your training, the two main ways are either to let someone organise it for you or to do it yourself. Many organisers or companies offer a stress-free way to train by sorting everything out for you so all you have to do is ride your bike.
This can be a costly option, though, and the often strict regime might not be to your taste if you want a more free-and-easy approach. However, organised camps have various levels of ride groups available, so you will always be training at the correct effort level and every day of your stay can be easily planned according to how you feel at the time.
‘Do it yourself’ is a good alternative option, and could potentially work out more cost effective. Having total control should give you the absolute security that everything is in place, but without any knowledge of where to go, stay or which route to take, it can be tricky, though an adventure nonetheless. For a DIY trip to be successful, everyone needs to be clear on their goals as well as being willing to either ride together (or not) in order to reach them.
Think carefully about how you want the week to work out; who is taking their training goals seriously and who just wants to have a good time.
don’t worry about being too slow as every level of rider is catered for
Often the worry with organised training camps is… will I be too slow? Will I get in the way? Will I be laughed at? Well, ‘no’ is the answer! However, camps of this nature can be varied and depend on location, the experience and type of organiser and who actually runs the camp. This option can be beneficial for everyone: novices and first-timers in particular. Novice riders will be able to gain reassurance, while elite riders will be able to get the work-out they need.
Typically, there will be three or four groups defined by speed, ability and distance, ranging from an average of 15mph for the lower groups over a shorter distance of 40 to 80 miles, to an average of 21mph over 70 to 110 miles for the faster groups.
Smoother roads and larger groups make this speed easier to achieve. It would be worth finding out who has attended the camp to find out what type of riders turn up, and how many groups at what level ride out, to see if a specific camp will work for you.
This kind of camp can work well for groups of different abilities, as everyone can get the training they want, but still spend social time together off the bike. Equally, it works well for anyone on their own, as you will quickly make some new friends.
David Le Grys (www.mastercoach.co.uk/training-camps) organises a training camp in the popular destination of Majorca, around late March to early April. Supplying massage therapy, ride leaders in every group and coaching advice, this camp is designed so that you feel confident and have a positive mindset on your bike.
Most, if not all groups allow you to either go it alone or take part in the group. Meetings after each day allow you to determine which group best suits you for the next day, with all leaders letting you know the terrain, weather and distance. Prices start from around £350 for seven nights up to £600 for 14, excluding flights. Searching for your own flight means cheaper deals at the airport of your choic
want a break too? supported cycling tours are the answer
If you don’t want the serious structure of a training camp and are put off by the talk of goals and effort levels (but still want to enjoy some warm-weather cycling in the winter) there are lots of other possibilities. Many companies offer supported cycling tours in exotic locations where you can ride as little or as much as you want and still enjoy local food and culture and a holiday experience.
Mates training camp
Don’t fancy the professional approach? Do it yourself!
If you feel the need to break free and be non-conformist, then getting a bunch of mates together and hitting country roads couldn’t be more fun. Heading out with friends with no real agenda, constraints or set times is a great way to get the miles in and, of course, enjoy every moment – safe in the knowledge you’ve thought of everything you need.
“Er, we have brought a map, right?!” Prices can be very low for this type of outing; going at off-peak times, flying with low-cost airlines and staying in cheap hotels could save you a packet. Naturally, depending on where you go and what time of year you do it will have an impact on the overall cost.
If you have knowledge and experience of local roads this would be the ideal scenario. Novices and non-locals could find themselves getting lost and possibly more worried about how to get home than hitting that final signpost sprint full-on. With the right preparation and homework, though, no major problems should arise.
Getting a list together and making sure you’ve packed all spares and essential items is a good way to guarantee that you take everything you need. One key item that many people forget to take is a first-aid kit!
After a few hard days, your motivation could hit a low point and this could spread throughout the group, which would be potentially damaging in terms of reaching your full training potential.
Not having any outside help, like a coach or leader, could mean less riding as everyone looks for the easy way out. It’s wise to consider the size of the group and its range of abilities before heading out. A big difference in ability will force slower riders to ride too hard and faster riders to ride too slowly. This is bad for everyone.
Setting out with a plan for each day suitable for every riders’ ability and at a good average speed, should stop this happening. Slower, less able riders can turn off earlier to allow the keen riders to continue for harder training, as long as everyone knows where they are going.
My Experience –
How difficult was it to organise a training week abroad?
It was fairly easy to organise a trip away. As long as you know people’s expectations in terms of quality of accommodation and the cost and location in advance.
What were the advantages?
The advantages were flexibility with facilities and eating. Villas and apartments tend to have pools, outdoor eating areas and laundry facilities. If you have six people, the cost of these places becomes very good value too. You also have more space for bike storage.
Did you find motivation a problem? Not having
someone there to tell you what to do, like a coach?
I think that without a coach you could lack motivation to structure your riding, but if you have a coach at home who sets a plan for you in advance, that could work. I’ve done trips with friends that were very much about enjoying the bike riding and the wine and food in the evenings, as well as a trip this year with one friend where we both had similar plans from our coaches to follow. The latter trip was more of a training camp. We had awful weather, too.
Would you find it more beneficial to have everything organised for you? Or do you like to DIY?
I prefer the DIY approach as I like to do what I want, when I want. I’ve a very hectic time at work so I like to be relaxed when I am away. I think there could be pressure to perform against others on an organised event and over train.
Would you do it again and why?
I would do it all again and probably will. Perhaps if I have time, I’ll do a four to five-day camp that’s properly organised and another that’s more of a holiday.
Why do you think that
an organised training camp with a coach works better than one without?
The biggest error most people make when going on a training camp is overdoing it and riding themselves into the ground. A structured training camp will help you know when to keep a lid on it. Working specifically with a coach on a training camp means that they will always be thinking about the ‘bigger picture’ stuff, not just making you suffer every day – which is what tends to happen when riding with a group.
What benefits are there?
Being on a structured camp with a coach is the closest you can get to being a professional bike rider! Getting instant feedback from your coach about how a session went and planning the next day based on how you both feel the session went is really valuable. And you can work on specifics such as descending and sprinting.
How does using trained coaches and massage therapists help?
Being able to talk to your coach 24/7 and having a massage therapist on camp means that any niggles could be seen to and sorted straight away. My coach can have a conversation, if needed, about any physical problems and adjust my training accordingly.
can you think of?
An organised camp can get a little intense. It’s not a holiday and if you don’t like a lot of routine it’s not for you. It’s all about bikes, riding and training. Dinner conversations can get a bit repetitive talking about gear ratios, tyres and heart rates. Sometimes I just want to switch off.
Without a dedicated coach would you have got as much out of the camp?
Not having a coach doesn’t mean that you can’t get a lot out of a structured camp. As each day has its own specific aim and is phased in stages of intensity, you still ‘train’ rather than race every day and will be worn out by the end of the week. You’ll still have access to a professional coach for the whole of your stay and can talk about your aims and ambitions so you can tailor your time appropriately.
David Le Grys (Coach and camp leader of www.legrostrainingcamp.com)
What is the idea behind your training camp?
I’ve been to many training camps in the past. Most were unorganised, and due to poor communication with staff and riders you could easily end up in the wrong group. I wanted to change that. Our policy is that you leave with the group and you come back with it.
Why is that better than two mates doing it alone?
A couple of mates doing it alone is fine, but this approach can lack planning as well as decent company riding at your specific level.
What do you offer that no other camp does?
We plan each day of the stay by listening to riders and keeping an eye on the weather, and we structure it so that riders don’t overdo it. We have seven staff, including a masseuse (Pam Pinkerton) following in a car, and group leader meetings as well as rider meetings with their group leader.
We also play hard, we have good fun and allow riders to be as serious or as relaxed as they want to be. We care and our set-up is based on bad experiences from other camps.
Why did you go?
I’d always wanted to travel to North Africa, and Morocco is relatively quick and inexpensive to reach, but it’s a very different culture to anywhere I’ve been in Europe.
Riding my bike meant that I saw lots of different areas at a pace I could enjoy it, instead of whipping through on a tourist bus. We started in the Atlas Mountains and finished on the coast at Agadir. Riding allows you to interact with the people you meet more easily and if you see something special you want to photograph or explore it’s possible to stop and do just that.
How did each day work?
Each day our guides told us the route and any sights of interest that we’d pass along the way. We loaded our luggage into the minibuses and they drove on ahead of us stopping every few kilometres to give us directions, check we had everything we needed or to point out areas of interest.
This way, we were could cover 50 to 100km a day without worrying about navigation or where we would need to stop en route for food or water.
Do you feel the experience improved your fitness?
I didn’t go with the sole intention of getting fitter, but riding several hours a day in the mountains definitely did make me stronger.
It also meant that we steadily worked up an appetite for the local cuisine and could really appreciate our meals because we had earned them. Doing nothing but riding, eating and exploring was the all-round perfect combination for relaxation as well as good health.
This article was first published in the Autumn 2011 issue of Cycling Fitness. You can also read our magazines on Zinio, download from the Apple store and also through Kindle Fire.