Elite Training Camp, Calpe Spain.
It has been an interesting and busy 2015 so far, too busy even to write up the mountain of new information I have taken on board during a few recent professional experiences and work sessions, until now. I hope I will be able to translate them to those around me who are interested enough in contemporary sports science and are keen to improve their training know how.
Exercise physiology is a dynamic field, and is moving at a much faster pace than many other sciences in the last decade or so, in my eyes. This is probably why so many practitioners and coaches fail to keep up to date with the wealth of research coming out of both academic labs and now more commercially driven studies. It’s alot of work just trying to assimilate what’s meaningful and relevant and what’s not….it takes a trained eye to sort the rubbish from what could be ground-breaking, something which also needs constantly trying to develop and improve.
First off this year was my invitation to Calpe, Spain in sunny February for a peek into what makes a ‘millennial’ elite training camp, and this certainly was an eye-opener. Attended by 12 or so much younger riders than myself of very high standard… exemplified by the Catford CC riders, Lawrence Carpenter, Henry Latimer, Pedal Heaven notoriety Francis Cade, ex Madison-Genesis pro Pete ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins, and WR hour hopeful Ken Buckley. Somehow I wasn’t the slowest of the back-to-back ride sessions, my role was more observational (thankfully) than an obligation to train for the racing season ahead, which was the predominant reason for most affiliated team members. Never more appreciated when I took a greater share of rest days…must be getting older. I made a point about observing behaviour as a key part of understanding how different strategies work for individuals, including vegan or high fat diets or how general group interaction creates motivation and an air of natural competition on training rides. Frequency and volume of riding was the underlying important variable which I will share here.
I arrived on the second week with Ken and George, so the others were already warmed-up and riding into good shape. That didn’t mean the group rides were exceptionally tough, but the few days lag of not riding meant energy reserves were being plundered at the powers need to stay with the group. Maintaining that would ultimately be a recipe for failure for weaker riders, but the routes were amenable to mixing in some efforts and intervals for the entire ability range without too much disruption in the fluidity. At this stage, some of the top boys had started to use specific interval training interspersed with their rest days.
As we know it’s not just the riding which dictates the physiological adaptation but how the recovery and diet are exploited between sessions. Millennials are very good at this, with very few excursions or ‘holiday distractions’ outside of the camp villa to soak up the Spanish life or even sightseeing, most trips were to the supermarket (almost daily) with large re-inforced shopping bags to carry bulk purchases instead the usual British indulgence in that part of Spain (Benidorm) of crates of beer and wine. (funnily enough, this was generally quite an effective post ride/ recovery strength session lugging 8kg bags 2km back to the villa before dinner). That being said, 1 or 2 (or more, selective memory) evenings did include an indulgent couple of beers or a bottle of wine, and a couple of trips to all you can eat Chinese buffet, and one curry (surprisingly both were quite good) so the rewards were there if needed. In general I thought nutritional hygiene was excellent, if the cleanliness of the kitchen wasn’t up to scratch! Most people ate adequately and were quite aware of their endurance sports nutrition post-ride and at dinner, with quite welcome variation in meals, portion sizes were adequate and not excessive, and for not having a camp nutritionist (I didn’t pretend to be a macro-nutritional expert), I thought this aspect of their training was spot on. As previously mentioned, different nutritional strategies were working for different riders, with some quite extreme examples. The take home message is that diet is immensely personal, and if required to change needs to be gradually introduced, as not to disrupt physiological homeostasis, gastro-intestinal adaptations or ‘training the gut’ as it is known takes some conditioning similarly to the brain and muscles.
In general, most riders were well fuelled, and this showed in the stiffer sections of the wonderful climbing we had on offer, with lots of 20 minute threshold efforts to test the lactate system. Fuelling mid-ride was serious business also, although the 3 hour pizza stop in the sun on one recovery day was a bit excessive, if only good for the tan lines.
Clearly the main caveat for witnessing how these young elite riders approach early season training is double-barrelled, they are young (average age 25) which also means that they had been training/ racing for a relatively short period, 3-4 years. It would be interesting to quantitate motivation and energy reserves in this respect compared with a similarly trained but significantly older selection of riders.
However, the same elements apply, and getting quality sleep on camp was not an issue, even if not everyones post-dinner activity was watching films to wind down, but cleaning the kitchen!
Most group rides set off at 10.30am after some serious faffing (young elite riders are natural slaves to aesthetics) and doubling up on breakfast. A typical training day was somewhere between 120-150km, with 2000metres of climbing, with most riders able to sustain 3 / 4 back-to back sessions before resorting to a structured interval session or easy recovery day (which usually included 1hrs easy spin to the beach front and sitting in the cafe eating mussels and chips or tortilla). Structured interval sessions took the form of 4/5 ascents of a 6km climb averaging 5-6% or 2/3 ascents of an 8km climb averaging 7-8%, with usually the second or third being the most ‘productive’ effort.
This was quite an intensive block training as to be expected for a camp that most riders were paying for themselves, and to make the most of the roads and fantastic weather, although was mostly taken in their stride or at least little obvious verbal complaints bar a couple of riders on some days, (except for myself, not having training so early in the season for a number of years, I was definitely the outlier…which suited me!).
Riding in formation was very disciplined with little surging and even efforts, drafting was mainly pairs riding peeling of as intensity could be had on the climbs individually. However later in the camp, early efforts would kick off a training session on somedays to test their intensity and the hard won gains. Signs of fatigue were showing in some, with reduced volume towards the end of the camp or a desperate attempt to squeeze in some last rides, knowing the following weeks will be less intensive training block and recovery/ compensation for adaptive gains, it looked like most timed their training schedule, frequency and intensity very well, although how they responded only time would tell. A couple of riders were building volume quite rapidly, and had team camps to attend subsequently for honing intensity and race craft as another spring stepping stone before a full season ahead.
Having said that, clear improvements in personal power profiles were seen in many riders staying 2 weeks or more as they settled into a more realistic routine accumulating TSS and updating their Training Peaks account, structuring recovery and interval sessions, although many were familiar with 5 hours or more of back-to-back riding per day this may not have been the optimal format for yielding the best compensation. Around a third of the attendees were being coached, although I still felt there was a large dose of trial and error involved in their training even if it was ‘sociable training’ for most of it, a little more analysis possibly would have them on a path towards greater marginal gains with potentially less weekly volume on the saddle.
In all, I felt privileged to be amongst some great talent. …who are clearly savvy about their physiological well being which probably got them where they are in the first place and concerned by the training regimen for future performances and success. I’m sure many of them will be winning races this year. Although as we know the physical side of training is only one side of the coin…..I intend to address the importance of psychology and the role of the brain, in a future post.