When you think of a training camp, the first thought that probably floods your mind is: that’s something for professionals! However, the reality is that anyone can benefit from one and it may be, in my opinion, fundamental for you to break certain plateaus some athletes reach at some point on their progression and, obviously it’s a boost in your fitness.
On any training camp, the sole purpose is to focus on training, gathering like-minded individuals in a privileged location for training, and offering them the set up to focus on just sports, for a short period of time. From the participants is expected an extra commitment in giving their best at each session while from the promoter/organizer it is expected to arrange, organize and provide all conditions for each workout so the athlete is completely carefree.
But why are they fundamental? The reason is simple when you commit to a training camp, it’s very unlikely that you will ease your way off any workout (or even skip a few) due to the peer pressure. You will “have to” show up for every scheduled session. Some athletes don’t necessarily stop working, you can still do it remotely at home, but the priority is shifted towards training and, hopefully, recovery. Improving on any sport is not just a matter of how much stress you can put your body through but also how you react and recovery from that load. This balance between work and recovery is often neglected if you have a full-time job and this is where professionals get the largest edge over amateur athletes. In a training camp, you try to act like a professional and after training, you spend days laying horizontal.
My personal experience as an athlete and having endured multiple training camps over the course of this past 10 years, is also that we are all able to apply way more training loads in this perfect scenario than in any training at home kind of camp. Even if you are on vacations, you will have too many distractions that will keep you from recovering properly. It is also true that the actual fatigue from the training camp doesn’t really settle until you are back home, which tells us that the euphoria of the camp is what actually carries you through it!
The group environment in a camp also helps you achieve and break new limits, providing you with a competitive feel to each session. Although I (and probably most coaches) would encourage athletes to respect their own efforts and goals, the reality is that it rarely happens in a group set up and we always try to beat the person next to us.
Our experience in Muscat, Oman:
If you are a cyclist, runner or triathlete in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, you probably have felt the lack of hills as being a big limiter to your training. Having found out about the quality of training in Barr Al Jissah, a bay area just outside of Muscat, Oman, I organized my first out of border training camp as a coach in the Middle East. If you have been to Muscat, you are probably aware that the city is surrounded by big hills, which are easily accessed from the Barr Al Jissah area. Also, staying outside of the city avoids the big traffic area, improving training conditions and allowing us to enjoy the wonderful weather in the region during the winter. Regarding the weather; it is very similar to the UAE and while most of the northern hemisphere is facing low temperatures and dreadful conditions for training, it is a pleasant 20-25C during the day in the area.
Over the last 10 years as an athlete, I have lost count of how many training camps I have done, and it was an extraordinary, fun experience to be on site actually making the calls and planning the sessions. I called it the Muscat Elite Triathlon Camp, not because all athletes present were elite or professional athletes, but because I felt like I wanted to take full advantage of the conditions the area offers and not exactly make of it a “holiday” camp rather have difficult, challenging sessions and full days of swim, bike and run. So the word “elite” is in the title for the commitment needed and the expectations.
We drove from Abu Dhabi to Muscat by car, an easy 5-hour drive which took us through the deserted terrains of the country but you may also drive along the coast of Oman all the way to its capital. If you are an expat in the UAE, beware that not all borders are suitable for you since they restrict access at some. The Meydzan one if you are coming from Abu Dhabi or the Hatta if coming from Dubai, are the best options. We stayed at the Shangri-La Resort in the Barr Al Jissah area and we did all our meals in the resort. The fact that you can park your car on the day you arrive and never touch it again until the day you leave, is step one to ensure training and recovery will not be neglected. The resort not just offered access to great roads for hilly rides and runs, as it provided with easy open water swimming conditions on its very own private beach.
The result of the camp exceeded my best expectations. For most athletes present, sometimes a week with 10-12 hours of training is challenging very simply because they can’t recover fast enough due to their busy lives and hectic schedules, and to be able to muster 14 hours of training in four days was probably the hardest they have ever been pushed and will certainly boost their improvement as sportsmen (and women). Hopefully, the great running, swimming but especially riding, will also leave a great stamp on their memories. The effects of a training camp are not just physical, most athletes come out of these training camps mentally tougher as well as they now know new limits. The retroactive effect will also be noticeable as these hard blocks of training will motivate them to train a little harder when they get back to their routines.
Bottom line of this article is – if you never been to a training camp, you have been missing out on great fun and an incredible training booster! ■
Words + Photos by: Pedro Gomes