A glimpse at the life of a full time athlete

Earlier this month I did a week’s training camp in Lanzarote.  What an eye opener. And what a great week!

It was a triathlon/running camp organised by Martin Yelling, Liz Yelling and Ian Corless.  Liz obviously focussed on running (she’s in her pre-London phase so was training hard, herself), Martin and Ian focussed on the bike with the help of pro ironman triathlete Joel Jameson, and Loughborough Uni-based swim coach and Olympic team psychologist Dave Fletcher led the swimming, again helped by Joel.  The coaches were top notch – all so good at what they do, but also supportive,  inclusive and generous with their time. And they all had a sense of humour and made even the most gruelling sessions … less gruelling.

There were two runs, a swim and a bike each day which we could all dip in and out of as we wanted.  My focus was on the bike as it’s my weakest tri discipline, but with  such a good swim coach on hand  I’d have been mad not to swim every morning, too.

My routine went something along the lines of wake up, banana, swim, breakfast, bike, food/rest/food/sleep, wake up, banana, swim, breakfast etc etc. By the end of the week I’d trained for almost 30 hours – more than double my previous max week total. That might be a normalish week for an elite triathlete, but for us campers such big volumes were extraordinary and not sustainable for much more than a week.

Most people’s focus was on working hard to make the intelligent most of the camp’s offerings, then relaxing and eating properly to recover from one session and gather energy for the next. With no normal household or work responsibilities it seemed normal to do at least two sessions a day.  After a couple of hard days I had an ‘easy’ day – although I’d already swum for an hour and biked for two! The ‘easy’ bit was a whole afternoon and evening off with no session planned. I begun to wonder how on earth I ever thought one session was enough back at home.  But of course a training camp’s not normal and, unless you’re very lucky – or a professional full-time athlete – it’s hard to fit that level of training and recovery into a regular day.

In fact I was over-reached by the last day.  Over-reaching is the first stage of over-training.  Heart rate can be erratic, mood temperamental, sleep impaired.  I’d been unable to sleep well at all for the whole week which certainly didn’t help my recovery but on the last day I was experiencing a few tell-tale signs.  My heart rate was stratospheric during the easiest of warm up drills in the pool. Then I threw a strop on the bike when it was too fast for me (well… it was meant to be an easy recovery session and it was proving a tad faster than that).

To avoid over-training I thought I’d been very careful: picking my sessions, not doing the run sessions (because I know I take a long time to recover from them and I wanted to have energy to do the major bike sessions properly)… but I’d obviously done just a bit too much.  Alternatively, perhaps I got it right, but the lack of sleep meant I didn’t get the full recovery my poor body so desperately needed.

Luckily over-reaching is fully reversable with a few days off and it was obvious to us all that the week following the camp needed to be an easy one to help us recover and let the training bed in.  If the camp had been one day longer I would have exploded.  Martin was very nice and said it meant that I’d got it about right.

Now, having been back for just over two weeks, I’m starting to feel the benefits.  My energy levels are returning and I mashed through a long bike at the weekend in a much shorter time than it would have taken me this time last year – at the same sedate perceived exertion level and heart rate. And that was at the end of quite a big week.

So. I’ve  booked for next year. I’d recommend a training camp – but make sure you get one that has the right level of activity and ethos for you.  I’m so glad I went on this one rather than a cycling-specific one – I just don’t think I’d have coped. Club la Santa in Lanzarote is a mecca for this type of activity and I can see why. And the silly tan lines for 2011 are coming along nicely.

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