Are winter training camps worth it? February and March are prime months for triathletes living in wintry weather to head south for some warm weather training. This year, some of the RTS pros are joining forces for a March camp in Henderson, Nevada while others have decided to tough out a season of winter training. What’s behind each decision? What are the pros and cons of a winter training camp?
I will admit that I am a reluctant training camp goer. At least in the lead up to departure. I have been since my high-school and university track days when I had to drag myself out of precious Christmas relaxation at home to hop on a bus on Boxing Day (December 26, a national holiday in Canada) for a 28-32 hour trip to Clermont, Florida with the University of Toronto Track Team (I vividly remember the year of the 32 hour bus ride - we ran through the entire first two seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and that was just a fraction of the trip…very grateful to often get to fly instead now!!). I love the winter - including winter sports like cross-country skiing - and I grow attached to comfortable, uninterrupted training routines at home. This year, I also found myself questioning the expense of booking flights, accommodation, cars and access to facilities as I adapt to a new budget as a newly full time pro.
That said, my feelings tend to completely shift once I am at a camp, and while I dread the interruption to my routine as I set out, I usually find it energizing once I’m there and almost always come home having learned something valuable. Fellow RTS pro Lesley Smith expressed these positives well when I asked her for her thoughts on camps:
Training camps are a great way to hyper-focus on triathlon and your goals. Simply being away from the routines at home with people who are in the same mindset allows you to get more immersed in training.
While it is ideal to train with people around your same speed to ensure ample training time together, it can work with a group of varying abilities. There's a strong sense of camaraderie from starting workouts together, doing the same swim intervals with different distances, enjoying group meals, and generally having the same expectations for the trip.
I love this description of the best of camps:
Time away from your normal routine can create extra space to focus. This can help to jumpstart new habits and to clarify and reinforce commitment to important goals.
It is often wonderful and refreshing to be around a group of people with the same priorities and similar experiences when it comes to exercise. Sometimes it’s just really nice to be in a group where you don’t need to apologetically slip away to fit in training sessions or get a bit of extra sleep. Even in a group with different experiences in the sport and different abilities, people at training camp likely get the triathlete side of you in a way that many others do not.
Particularly in a multisport environment, there is always more to learn, and training camps are an excellent way to pick up tips about training, nutrition and equipment. My coach, Suzanne Zelazo, has typically made a point of sending me to different camps with different groups so that I can develop a broader perspective on the sport. I think that this has contributed to a lot of valuable growth as an athlete.
I would also add:
Even as someone who doesn’t mind the trainer, a bit of time on the roads on a bike in the winter season is very valuable. I think that too much trainer time can mean tuning out of the bike handling instincts and awareness that are important to both better racing and better safety on the roads. This year, making sure I get in some outdoor riding time before 70.3 Oceanside in April is a key factor in my decision to head to Henderson in March.
Training camps are always fun and can give a great boost to your training, but it's also important to consider the potential drawbacks of camps. I tend to train very well at home in Guelph, even in the winter, but sometimes need a boost of motivation in the later winter. This year I decided not to do a camp to reduce the total amount of travel for the year, and because I'm in a great rhythm that I don't want to interrupt. This is the first time I've not done a winter camp of some kind in ages, so it will be interesting to how that affects early season races.
These reasons not to do a camp completely resonate:
In a sport that can involve a huge amount of logistically-complicated travel, particularly at a pro level, at-home time can feel very precious.
Training camps can be expensive, and in an expensive sport, those resources may be needed elsewhere.
While the energy boost from a camp and changing routine can be extremely beneficial to training, sometimes the comfort of familiar people and places and the continuity of a set routine can be too.
So…we will all keep tabs at 70.3 Oceanside on Jackson’s performance vs. the rest of our pro roster and make a final determination on the value of winter training camps! Haha, of course not;) Keep an eye out for some Henderson content coming up from Tamara, Nick, Nicole, Garrick and Marc. And keep on keeping at your training whether you are toughing out (or seriously enjoying) winter weather or soaking up the sun during a warm-weather camp.