By Jason Koop, CTS Coach and author of “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning”
Since the release of “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning” I have had the privilege to attend several book signings and appear on several podcasts, and one of the most frequently asked questions is: “What is the best thing an ultrarunner with limited training time can do to improve his or her performance?” While there are multiple ways to answer this question, I think a training camp – either with a professional group or a do-it-yourself camp – is one of the most valuable ways an athlete can invest their time.
Spoiler: This is not going to be an informercial for a CTS Camp. While I’d love to see you join me and my coaches for a camp, I’m also going to show you how to build an effective DIY Training Camp.
I just returned from a trip to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) in Chamonix, France. In addition to supporting and cheering for CTS Athletes Dylan Bowman, Gediminas Grinius, Kelly Wolf, and Kaci Lickteig, I organized a 4-day training camp for athletes not competing in UTMB this year. Over the four days leading up to the race, we ran the majority of the UTMB course and focused all our energy on eating, sleeping, running, and resting.
While don’t need to travel all the way to the French Alps to participate in a training camp (although it’s a really cool place to run and we’ll be holding the camp again in 2018!), here is why it is worth your time to devote 3-4 days solely to running.
Maximize training stimulus
During the Chamonix camp we ran for 27 hours over four days and completed 88.5 miles with 29,381 feet of elevation gain. That’s about two weeks’ worth of training packed into 4 days. Do I recommend you do that every week? Certainly not. But as a means of creating a massive training stimulus, a training camp is hard to beat.
Balance your stressors
In order to complete two weeks worth of training workload in four days – and not get injured – you have to eliminate as many other stresses as possible. No one was trying to balance work with training. There were even days when a call home wasn’t possible because there was neither cell coverage nor internet. We ate, ran, rested, and slept. Again, checking out of the real world to go run in the mountains isn’t something you can do on a weekly basis, but a few times a year can make a big difference in your running.
Recon Courses During Daytime
One of the reasons athletes benefit from course reconnaissance training camps is the ability to see the entire course in daylight. Inevitably, during an actual race you will cover some portion of the course at night. But during a recon camp you can break the course into chunks and run each one in daylight. This helps with orientation and provides an understanding of the terrain. In some cases it can be useful to anticipate the portion of the course you’ll be running at night and recon that section in the dark as well.
Dial in your habits
Multiday running camps are great for dialing in your nutrition, hydration, and recovery habits. Without the outside variables of the “real world” you can focus your attention on trying out new strategies or dialing in what works.
How to Build a DIY Training Camp
While I would love to see everyone take advantage of the support and educational opportunities available at professionally-run training camps, athletes can derive great benefits from a DIY Training Camp. In fact, I think training camps are so beneficial I encourage anyone who can’t attend an organized camp to build one of your own. Here how to do it:
Carve out 3-4 days
A long weekend is a great way to create a training camp. Arrange to take a Friday, Monday, or both off from work. These 3-4 days need to be entirely devoted to your training camp. Don’t go halfway and commit to running in the morning and doing housework or checking in with work later in the day. Remember, it’s not just about spending more time running; it’s about immersing yourself in all aspects of your sport for a few days.
Make the arrangements
All training camps require some negotiations around family time and career priorities. Especially with family, be clear about your intentions, your plans, and the reasons behind them. These 3-4 days are going to be all about you, and that means you have to make sure you reciprocate with time and effort that is not about you. Acknowledge and respect the sacrifices you are asking of your family.
Fit your camp into your training
You can’t just lump two weeks’ worth of training load into four days without making some accommodations within the rest of your training schedule. For a 3-4 day DIY Training Camp, plan to take 3 days easy before the camp and another 3 days easy afterward. If you’re still tired after those three days, be conservative and take another day or even two.
Don’t kill yourself on Day 1
One big mistake athletes make during DIY Camps is to go out and run hard, fast, and long on Day 1. It feels great, but then your body is trashed by Day 3. Your goal should be to have great runs on all 3-4 days of your camp and finish strong, not wasted. Energy burned on Day 1 is energy you can’t get back, so be conservative in the beginning so you can maintain the quality throughout.