My First Cycle Training Camp

Photo: Train in Spain
Looking back, I feel somewhat stupid.  

I booked a place on a cycle training camp with Train In Spain and, only as departure date drew close, did I realise I had little idea of what I'd do during the week.  

Other than ride my bike, of course.  However, it proved to be a superb six days. 

I learnt a lot, improved my cycling, enjoyed some fantastic countryside and spent time with like-minded people.  

(Incidentally, I paid full price and have receive no form of payment).

Before the camp, I was certain about four things.

1. I did not want was to pay someone just to organise bicycle outings in the hills above Denia, an area of Spain I know well.

I could do that for myself at lower cost.

2. I imagined the 'training' would be the cycle equivalent of the 5* sea kayak training course I did.  Something like, "today we're going to look at faster cornering".

3. I booked the Sportstest cycle training camp (Train In Spain run others) because Dr Garry Palmer's scientific approach to training appealed.  

His website shows athletes tested on fixed bikes, and precisely determined training 'zones' can be hugely valuable in future training sessions.  This would be practical information to take away.

4. I expected only a small group, twelve at most, so we'd receive personal attention and allow everyone to undergo this 1-to-1 testing.

Turns out I was completely wrong on all four!

Let me go through my misunderstandings in reverse order.  That way, my overall impression of this week-long training camp will emerge.

Group size.  Having come from a sea kayaking and mountaineering background, where groups are kept relatively small, I was astonished (and alarmed) to learn there would be 35 people on this camp.  

Yet this was a huge positive because, in such a large gathering, you can always find people of similar ability to ride with.  
Photo: Train in Spain
Day one was a 25km climb during which our performance was assessed.  On the basis of our speed up this climb we split into three groups. No-one needed telling which group they were in, it was obvious. I was later told that one of the young members of the fastest 'Group One' is being spoken of as a potential future Olympian.

Imagine if I'd turned up at a camp with fewer people, all of whom were of that ability!  I'd spend every ride feeling like the donkey at the back, while they hung around for ages at the top of each climb.  

I'm not rubbish on the bike, I'm just slower than people half my age who train twice as much.  Train In Spain makes clear, this camp is not for people who want a leisurely ride in the hills, you must be able to crank out a minimum average speed 22-23kph on hilly terrain.  Our average speed was slightly above this for most of the week, and I'll post some of the routes in coming days.

Some of our (slowest) Group Three had already taken part in exhausting events such as La Marmotte and Etape du Tour, to which I aspire, so I learned a great deal from their experiences.

Before you enter a big Sportive (especially one with a time limit) you wonder whether you're good enough to complete the course in the given time. That I could keep up with people who had completed such events proved extremely reassuring.

Few of these conversations happened in the evening because, once dinner was over, I tended to fall straight into bed.

Instead we'd chat to one another during the day on climbs, during rest stops, or when Mike was fixing his chain.  Again.  Poor bloke - he had five chain breaks in three days, whereas most of us got away without a single puncture.

Sometimes the tech-talk became a little nerdy.  Non-cyclists would have a tough time, because this was a self-selected group. Yet it was refreshing to be with a bunch of people who don't find it weird to count carbohydrate/protein/fat intake on a daily basis, or go to extraordinary lengths to incorporate their training into everyday life.

Or spend winter evenings pedalling a static bike like a giant hamster.

Sportstest.  Two days before departure, an e-mail arrived saying that, unlike previous Sportstest training camps, there would be no testing this year.  

So it what sense could this camp include the words 'Sports' and 'test', I wondered?  

Three lectures from Dr Garry Palmer on Nutrition, Weight Loss and Recovery were some compensation.  

Far more important, however, were 1-to-1 sessions with Garry in which we could discuss goals and ways to achieve them.  

I now realise that it would be very difficult to test a lot of people during a one week camp.  One test takes several hours, so Garry would manage at most three a day.  

Dr Garry Palmer
Those tested on the first day might perform poorly after the disruption of travelling (I rode badly on day 1), while those tested later in the week would find their performance deteriorating due to the miles they had clocked up.

In fact, had a test been offered to me after day three, I think I'd have turned it down.

However, I was slightly surprised at how many people seemed to know each other.  Then I realised, many of the riders were previous clients of Garry.

This training camp was slotted into their diaries as a chance to catch up and discuss progress.  

More than half the group seemed to have power meters, so evenings could be spent comparing wattage relative to heart-rate on their laptops.  Yep, these folk take it seriously.

Two misconceptions down and two to go - let me take them together.

Training.  In this context, it was all about getting miles into our legs.  Or rather, kilometres.  

Riding with a group close to your own ability, some better some worse, is a much more effective training exercise than riding solo.  

You push yourself harder to keep up with (or stay in front of) others in the group.  That applies both uphill and down.  

My climbing and descending both improved.  Not because I was taught any specific technique, but because I pushed myself harder than I do when riding alone.

The mild Spanish weather helps, but we were very lucky.  One week earlier and we'd have been deluged by torrential rain, which caused flooding along parts of the Costa Blanca.  

I know from past experience, March weather can be less than reliable.  Wind-proof tops and arm warmers were useful first thing in the morning, but for most of the day we were in shorts and shirts, some people using base layers underneath.

The excellent mountain roads were simply a delight.  

It's much harder to ride on the rough, pitted carriageways which pass as roads in the west highlands of Scotland.  

Spain put loads of its EU money into its mountain road network, so we mainly cruised on smooth tarmac with relatively few cars.  

Those vehicles which came past us were mostly patient and courteous, giving us the space we needed.

Organisation.  The most significant aspect of a training camp is the one which, when it works, you hardly notice it's there, because everything just happens.  

From the airport coach and separate rented van for bike boxes; to the daily 6:30pm briefings; to the small rented van ferrying fresh water to the tops of hills; and most of all, to the guides.  

Whatever the group dynamics, the range of 'guides' seemed to have it covered.

Let me give an example.  On our long day, groups one and two went off on a 180km very hilly route.

Group One had two young pro-riders as guides which ensured no-one would whizz off ahead.  Our Group Three tackled a shorter route, and somewhere along the way, we fractured into three sub-groups, each wanting to push on a little further.  

This had been anticipated, and there were guides to go with each group, bringing them back to the hotel independently of each other.

Base was the Ogisaka Garden Apartment Hotel, twenty minutes walk from the centre of Denia and close to the new bars and restaurants of the marina.

The rooms were apartments, with 2 hobs, microwave, kitchen sink and a washing machine so kit (especially shorts) could be kept clean.  

I'm not certain, but the rooms might have had some un-wanted extras.  A few of us reported bites on our legs during the night and there were no mosquitos in the room.

The food was buffet-style and not much above average.  I cooked a pan of pasta on day one, chopped tomatoes, courgette, hard-boiled egg and olives into it, and this was my post-ride fuel each day, sometimes negating the need to eat later.

Having initially misunderstood what a cycle training camp involved, I could have hated this week. I didn't.  I loved it.  I'm looking forward to going back another year.

1 comment:

Chris Walker said...

I loved it too. Second time I've been to Denia for a training camp, but the first with Garry. Fabulous experience.