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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tri Camp: Paying Attention while "Living the Pro Lifestyle"

Guest Infinit Blogger: Mike Mahoney

We often refer to time spent training at one of our triathlon camps as "living the pro lifestyle." It's a pretty accurate comparison.

In order to be faster, pros do a lot of things us age-groupers would love to be able to do.  Train like it's our job, for starters.  But big training – and having the time to do the big training – is just the start.  You don't have to know too many high-performance athletes or read too many pro biographies to figure out that pros and elites are paying attention.

They're paying attention to their training, of course, with workouts that are as well-thought-out and as well-executed as they can manage.  They're doing things like going to all the trouble to set up bike, trainer, power and heart rate in the stands above a pool, then swim a hard set and immediately run up the stairs, hop on the bike and go hard for only a few minutes.  It's paying attention to specific things that matter in their race.

Pros and elites are paying attention to their sleep, both getting enough and sleeping in an intelligent pattern.  They're paying attention to their equipment, their travel plans, and their coaching.

Not only are pros paying attention to things like all that altitude training the rest of us love to try and all that aero equipment the rest of us love to buy, they're paying attention to nutrition.

Training what most of us would consider to be a huge week, every week, they have to pay attention to good nutrition.  Just the calorie requirements to keep up that training are a lot to handle.  Never mind keeping on top of optimizing their nutrition – because you know the competition is.

And the pros I've asked all said they don't have time to pay as much attention as they'd like.

For us age-group triathletes – the ones who are training the training, racing the races, buying the equipment, and generally paying the bills in the sport – it's a bit difficult to pay attention to everything the way a pro might.  Sure, most triathletes might be just a teeny-weeny bit type A, and by and large, when it comes to nutrition we watch what we eat.

But we have jobs, and kids, and houses, and soccer practice and Aunt Martha's wedding, and it would be nice if we could leave the kids and the job and go away to triathlon camp to live the pro lifestyle for a week or two, wouldn't it?

So that's what we do.

And yes, it's awesome.  As a coach, one of the best things about running tri camps is watching the athletes decompress from life outside of camp, and get to training.  If you've never been to a triathlon camp, there's nothing like it.  Work, kids, and aunt Martha's stupid wedding are all safely back home where you can't do anything about them anyway, so you might as well train. And sleep.  And eat.  And that's pretty much it.

I remember one athlete spent the first day stressed out, phoning work to keep things rolling along and worrying about the electrical panel.  Then about halfway through day two, she let go of work, let the folks at home handle it, and relaxed.  For the rest of the week she trained harder and longer, on tougher terrain that she ever had before.  I'd get up in the morning after we'd all put in a ten-hour training day to find her sitting by a sunny window, smiling, reading, contentedly sipping coffee, as relaxed as you please and supremely at peace with the world.  It was beautiful.  That's tri camp.

That's the "pro lifestyle" we're trying for at DZ camps.  Sure, we know it's a bit idealized.  Pros have kids and travel and weddings, and sponsorships on top.  But if you could get rid of all that and just eat, sleep and train?  Would you be faster?  You bet.  Ask Head Coach Mike Coughlin about the time he lived by himself for a month on top of a mountain, just to train.

Most of the stress in our lives is not training, it's everything else. It's fun when athletes get to tri camp and start to train.  For most, it's the biggest training week of the year.  Everybody's training far more than they would at home, but still getting the sleep to recover from it.  Predictably, everybody starts to need plenty of calories.

Most tri camps will supply some form of nutrition for workouts.  At Discomfort Zone, we're fortunate to be supported by INFINIT Canada, so our athletes have access to pro-quality sports drinks, and top-tier recovery products too.  It's quite amazing to watch a group of triathletes attack a bag of RESCUE after the biggest brick workout of the week.

One of the funniest things at triathlon camp when somebody hits the wall.  Around about day 4, everyone's been training hard, eating a lot, and getting plenty of sleep, but no-one's really used to training the hours a pro would.  And so people start to bonk.  (Australians: in this case "bonk" means "to run out of energy suddenly," not, well, you know.  Funny story about that.) It's not funny at all when it happens to you.

What's happening is that your body is trying to cope with all the training you've been throwing its way.  It's trying to get energy to working muscles, to recover, to build and strengthen from the training so far, to digest all that food, and your brain's probably been working pretty hard working on technique in both new training and new social environments.  You bonk.

A lot of us know the feeling. Mile 20 of a marathon, and everything sucks.  You're grumpy, possibly emotional, stupid little things are far more important than they should be.  At least at mile 20 of a marathon, you're expecting it.  But on day 4 of tri camp there might not be any warning.

Reactions vary.  I've blown up at people for trying to get me to have a beer.  Athletes have burst into tears and left, started screaming at completely mystified drivers, thrown their bicycles down in the middle of the road, and wanted to go home.  My personal favourite is from Mike Coughlin again: "DON'T talk to me! I'm bonking!" Once, after two weeks of camp and a particularly huge workout, I nearly passed out while driving on an interstate.

The solution is nutrition.  Stop and eat will fix things nicely.  It's harder to avoid the situation in the first place.

The pros and elites are used to training the kinds of hours the rest of us are only doing at camp.  They're paying attention to things like having enough nutrition on hand, of the right kind.  They're familiar with what it feels like to be starting their second huge ride of the day, and they know not to be a camel.  They're paying attention to how much they're drinking and avoiding nutrition deficit.

For those of us who'd like to train 30 hours a week often enough to get used to it, but can't, we have to pay attention even more if we want to optimize our training and have the best time we can at camp.   Here are some suggestions:

-Over-prepare.  Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.  Prep your nutrition ahead of time and plan to bring more that you think you'll need.  DZ camps and most others offer vehicle support on long workouts, so you can bring all you need.

-Prepare recovery nutrition ahead of time, for after the workout. It's important to have protein and carbs ready to go within 30 minutes after a big workout, when your body's going to need the nutrition.  I like to make a bottle of Infinit RESCUE recovery drink with milk before a big ride, and stash it in the support vehicle for after.

-Don't count on being hungry.  In the middle of a big training week, when you're already eating a lot more that you're used to, you might not get hungry before it's too late and you're already 'in the hole'.  You'll have to eat, drink, and take nutrition on a schedule, not just when you feel hungry.

-Pack solid food too.  It's amazing what some solid food can do not only when you need nutrition, but for your mood.

-Count on helping someone else. Want a friend for life?  Give a bonking triathlete a nut-butter sandwich.

-Pick the right product, one for athletes.  It was recently brought to my attention that some popular products, ostensibly for athletes, are actually marketed more to the health-conscious crowd, and are sadly lacking in the sodium a working athlete needs.   Check your labels and either supplement with a salt tablet, or go with a product that's actually made for athletes.

-Make sure your nutrition matches your workout.  You don't want to be working out all day on a product intended for short, hard workouts.  Check the contents  and prepare based on what you're planning to do.  At camp, I like to use Infinit JETFUEL for swims, which are usually under an hour or so, then use Infinit RIDE for trips up the mountain.  For really big days I use my Infinit CUSTOM long-distance formula.

Paying attention is a big part of making any triathlon camp a great experience.  If you're attending a triathlon camp, training like a pro, you'll have to take nutrition and recovery like a pro, too.  Use the suggestions above to make sure that you get the rest and have the nutrition on hand to make triathlon camp everything it can be.

Camp is a great opportunity for age group triathletes to get away and train big.  And despite the fact that you might well be training harder at camp that you ever worked at work, it's also a great opportunity to relax and de-stress.  Remember the stressed-out athlete I mentioned, the one with the electrical panel?  She told me later that triathlon camp was one of the most relaxing experiences of the year.  As it should be.

Keep rolling!


Before his first Marine Corps Marathon, Mike Mahoney’s idea of running was something a sergeant forced you to do in a rucksack and boots.  Triathlon just kind of happened from there.  His proudest moment is being talked into a 50k at 9pm the night before, on the way to a triathlon camp.  Mike is an Associate Coach with Discomfort Zone and is currently training towards Ironman Muskoka.