We are all cyclists from the heart – but we are also much more than that. While social media sometimes makes cycling look so easy and glorious for others, the struggles that everyone faces behind the scenes often go unspoken.
In our series „Mindful Cycling”, Veloine rider Juli shares stories from behind bars and from real life and how to accommodate everything in between.
It’s that time of the year again when everybody seems to schedule some training camps. Is this the secret to become a better cyclist? Juli shares her thoughts and discusses the question with former pro cyclist, sports scientist and professional coach Mario Schmidt-Wendling.
Episode 2: Training camps - necessity or force theory?
It’s February and the cycling world tends to fly to Balearic or Canary Islands to prepare for the upcoming season. The question is: is there an urged necessity to do so to become a better cyclist? Is a some-days-stay on an island with your bike crucial for your upcoming cycling season? And is your cycling future doomed if you do not follow the tendency?
This is actually a highly data-based question although it might not look like that at the beginning. As I am no coach, I asked one of the best trainers I know to shed some light on this topic. Mario Schmidt-Wendling answered some of my questions. Mario is a former professional cyclist, sport scientist and an A-Licensed coach for the German Triathlon Union (DTU). The next view lines summarize our call.
Training camps: Three common traps
Here are some undeniable facts about the training camps. You will most probably take vacation from work - which means you will have an additional 8 hours per day for training and, more importantly, recovery. You will either go with a group of like-minded people or find such a group, this makes cycling much more fun and long hours in the saddle feel less lonely. The weather should be warmer and dryer, allowing you to ride longer hours than during the cold European winter. All of this seems to emphasize the need to go, but there are some downsides, too. And worst case, those can lead to setbacks instead of groundbreaking progress.
First, most people don‘t prepare properly beforehand and then tend to do double or triple the hours they do at home. Doing so will fatigue you at best and sicken you at worst.
Second, some might cut the food intake to get into the “right” shape. Totally ignoring that with an increased amount of active time, the amount of needed energy does increase, too. Food is energy. Cutting food should never be an option when you are in a training camp, it might lead to the same bad outcome as double/triple training hours.
Third, there is also a tendency to ride faster in a training group because there will always be someone constantly challenging you. Although challenges from time to time make you faster and more resilient, constant challenging might lead to a higher fatigue level, which impacts your training negatively. Rather enjoy the rides in good company and the coffee breaks because you have the whole day for it.
A rarely spoken aspect on the island version is, according to Mario, that somehow over the years the camp destinations became a sort of “sight-seeing-event-competition”. Neglecting their own status quo, there are some spots like lighthouses, famous climbs or roads that must be ticked off a bucket list. Which is absurd, because the distances might subjectively be too far, or the weather might be too bad on some days. Both will affect the training impact and lead to sickness at worst.
The pros and cons of training at home
Training at home might not seem so wrong now, especially in the beginning of the year when your personal race or highlight is later in the year. As for the trainings camp abroad, this option has also its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s start with the good things.
Staying at home is much cheaper than flying somewhere else. The key to success in our beloved sport is consistency, training at home will ensure that. There won’t be short period peaks of training hours, but consistent training hours due to the daily work and family load. The numbers of hours will gradually add up and make you slowly but thoroughly a fitter athlete.
On the downside you will be in reach of e-mails and family and won’t have time to genuinely regenerate because there is still the grocery shopping that must be done. Otherwise, you won’t have fuel for your body and the training. Also, there is no change of setting. Riding different roads and climbs from time to time leads to some minor breakthrough from your habits and therefore leads to growth. But you can spice up your loops at home, too.
More obvious: the winter weather in Western Europe. Usually, the cold days end mid of March to April. Until then it’s not really allowing for longer rides or training hours outside. But you can adjust your training to this and safe some holy vacation days for you and/or your family. There is no necessity to take the vacation in February or March, if your race might be in June to September, you can use the bank holidays (speaking for Germany) around April/May to prolong some weekends and do training blocks. These blocks could be seen as smaller training camps and will lead to a homogenic build up in turns of power and resilience for your race/highlight.
A good alternative option, according to Mario, is, instead of thinking, that you must block a certain number of consecutive days for your training camp at home, is to take one day vacation from work and family. You will add a full day of training to your week for a consistent period. Sure, this one will need the approval of your boss. But if he or she agrees, this option will lead to a harmonious and decent build up. Another plus on this one: for one day it is much more likely to ignore incoming e-mails or chores at home in order to train properly. This might be a more satisfactory approach for the whole family.
All of this to say, that it depends on what you want to achieve this season. There are certainly ways to get descent trainings done at home, which is less costly and more family friendly, but just as effective.
Training camps: When imposter is calling you
On another note, if you feel not good enough for a training camp the next few lines are directed at you.
After all the whole reason for such camps is to find out where your fitness level is at – and advance it. There will always be different groups from beginner to pro. At the beginning you will decide which group fits you best. If the choice was wrong, you can change groups during the camp. There is no need for this feeling, although we all feel this way.
Before my last training camp, I thought plenty of times about cancelling it. I thought I wouldn’t be fit enough. I couldn’t train through the anterior months because, well, life happened. I had so many things on my plate, that going for a (long) ride was the least I could think of. Then I was supposed to go cycling for a week with seven guys. I’d be the only woman. The idea was to start in Germany and end up in Croatia. That means a hell of a lot of climbing on the bike through the Alps, beginning with the Großglockner mountain pass (ascent 21,2k, 1753moa, 8,3%). Hell no, I was not prepared for that and was scared to get dropped by all the boys. I was clinging to the thought that one of the guys was no cyclist (although) being as fit as can be. But I said to myself, “if he can go, I can too. You might not be the last and you might not get dropped”. It took all my bravery to not cancel the camp. Well, at the end I did get dropped on day 1 during the ascent to Großglockner, but that was it. There is no shame or physical pain to it. The boys waited patiently for me and the other boys who weren’t as fit. No complains, no yelling, no bad mood. All my worries for literally no reason. It was an amazing week with amazing people and lifetime memories. I would have missed out on this if I had given in to my doubts.
So, don’t let your doubts or uncertainty hold you back. Either you train at home or abroad. No matter where you train, take your bike and make so lifetime