This is the 2nd time I'd been to Tucson for a training camp (last time was in 2012 with Hillary's Smashfest camp). Given that, I was somewhat familiar with most of the riding we were going to do (Madera Canyon, Gates Pass, Mt Lemmon) but I was really looking forward to spending more time with Marilyn and getting to know some of the other Endurance Corner athletes and coaches (most of the athletes at this camp were EC folks but not all). I've been reading everything Alan Couzens has written since 2009 so meeting him felt like a giant honor. Also, I consider myself to be a 'student of the sport', so the nightly educational talks on the schedule were a big draw for me.
I figure there may be some people who are curious about what actually goes on at these triathlon camps, so I'll get into some of the nitty gritty inside scoop details here.
ECTucson is an all-inclusive type camp, which I think is great! At first glance it seems a bit pricy but once you take into consideration that everything is taken care of, it's actually quite reasonable. They've been running this camp for 8 years now and all the details are dialed in. They had airport shuttles lined up for us to/from the airport. When I arrived at the hotel I dropped my bike bag off in the mechanics room and they built it all up for me. (Packed it again too- this was especially nice b/c I borrowed a Ruster Sports "Hen House" case for my travel which meant essentially disassembling my whole bike to fit it in the case- easy for some but a daunting task for me.) All of our meals were taken care of and they had plenty of food/gels/drink mix available to support all our training needs. Every night after dinner there was a different speaker talking on a topic of interest (long term athletic development, mobility, running economy, heart health, etc). They organized transportation to/from the pool and the track, had sag vehicles following 3 separate groups on every ride, provided laundry service for us mid-week, scheduled a massage toward the end of the week, and a group dinner out on the last night. Organizing all of this to flow seamlessly for 25 (very) Type A athletes is no joke but Sue nailed it all. It was impressive!
So my job as an athlete there was simple (not easy). Show up on time (i.e. early) to every session with a good attitude, well fueled, and ready to work. When you see pics and short social media posts of athletes from 'camp' (more and more of these recently it seems!), it appears all glamorous and like it's all super fun and perfect. And while a lot of it is, it's not without some moments of extreme fatigue which leads to pissy mood and sometimes a lot of swearing (sorry mom). I can't speak for everyone, but I can say that personally I was tested and challenged this week in a way I am not tested and challenged at home training on my own, and I found myself digging deep into the question of 'What's My Why?' as Marilyn likes to ask… More on that in a bit. Let's start with the fun/easy stuff- swimming!
Sue organized to have 6 lanes reserved for us at the U of A rec center pool for the 3 days we swam (M-W-F). It's a super nice facility for swimming! Cliff English was on deck coaching us which was cool (I never have a coach on deck for any of my swims at home!) Short course pool was not my personal favorite and circle swimming with 4-5 other athletes in the lane felt crowded to me (something I haven't done in years), but it was all good. I got to mix it up with the boys in lane 1 and now I have a better understanding of how when you're in a swimming situation like this, it's easy to get 'lost' in the set and not know your paces, etc. Going 3rd in the lane behind 2 others made doing the math on the splits more challenging than it is when I'm swimming side by side with my training partners at home, and sometimes I was so tired that I was brain dead and couldn't do math to save my life… What number are we on? I don't know I'm just going 5" after the guy in front of me and swimming until he stops kind of thing which is not how things go at home on my own! I started to lose it during our Wednesday swim when my brain completely stopped functioning, then Cliff gave us a 500TT and OMG does anyone have a gel? Why don't I have a gel in my swim bag??? Justin finally threw me one which (sort of) saved my 500 effort (he only lapped me once) but yikes that was one of the more ugly swim sessions I've done. I found it interesting that Cliff didn't have us doing much pulling at all and I swear I would have killed to be able to grab my buoy for some of the main sets (but I didn't). Our lane swam 4600-4900 each session (x3) and maybe 400 of that (total!) was with a buoy. Out of the norm for me (kicking makes swimming hard!) but I managed and probably have a stronger swim/kick now as a result of not babying myself when I got tired. Hearing Cliff English tell me that I have a solid stroke was motivating and satisfying and all in all we'll call it a solid swim week.
Biking was the main focus of this camp and in total I rode 313 miles in the 6 days (there was one day we didn't ride). On Monday afternoon we rode ~30 miles which included a short but slightly uphill TT effort (~22'). This was just to sort out what groups we would be riding in all week. Marilyn suggested we hold back the first 3' or so in order to avoid blowing to shreds… I managed to do exactly what she said not to do (go me!) and blew up pretty hard in the last 5' or so and that hurt a lot. Nice welcome to camp effort that landed me in the 'B' group for riding.
Wednesdays ride was after a strong 6 mile hill run in the morning and then that bonky swim… It was Gates Pass (~30 miles) and somehow I thought maybe it would be a cruisy chill ride but it was not. At all. That ride was full of very hard punchy efforts up steep climbs and shit if my legs weren't just complete toast. I wish I could say I was a happy camper on this ride but instead I was frustrated with my lack of legs and the bumpy roads and low energy and yikes maybe I needed an extra serving of cake that night.
Thursday was more of the same, except that was Mt Lemmon Day so it was like misery (x 10). Not really misery b/c it was a gorgeous blue sky postcard day and Mt Lemmon is gorgeous BUT since I had done this 20 mile climb a couple times previously I knew as I was riding that I did not have the power I'd had in the past and that was frustrating. All in all a slow ride to the top, turn around frustrated freezing cold and now with a slow leak in my rear tire didn't know where the sag car was so I putzed down the mountain alone hoping to stay upright. By the time I made it to the park (25 miles later) my rear tire was completely flat and I was starving and the group was ready to roll home and I just wanted them to wait 5' so I could eat something and get some air in my tire and I think I told someone to Fuck off. (Ok I don't just think I did- I did- but sort of joking- sort of not- sorry!!!) A really long day on a mountain with energy like I had that day wasn't a super combination. Camp isn't all unicorns and rainbows but in the end I sucked it up and got the work done and that night decided that somehow I needed to turn my ship around if I was going to survive the final 2 days.
Friday morning was a track session, but in good news for me (for everyone I think!), it was not a particularly hard track session. We did drills and some short quickness stuff that was right along the lines of what Marilyn has had me doing for the last few months so this session actually left me feeling better than when I started. (In a last ditch act of desperation I also consumed an obscene- disgusting, really- amount of sugar Thursday night and Friday morning.) One more 4900yd hard swim and we were done for the day. I think some people went out shopping or exploring or whatever that afternoon but I felt like I'd been hit by a truck so I just laid down in my dark hotel room and crashed hard- woke up 3 hours later and just like that, it was time to eat again.
By Saturday morning I was so tired of food I didn't even want to look at it, but feeling bonky is worse than eating when food isn't appetizing so I stuffed a big breakfast down and got back on my bike. In good news, I must have an ideal bike fit and the perfect saddle (and great Coeur shorts! #NoAngryKitty) because I never had any saddle discomfort at all even after all those miles. Kitt Peak was a new route for me. I'd been warned about the 6 miles of "non-stop bumps every 5 feet" section on Ajo Rd and was also told it's worse on the way back (probably b/c it comes at like 85 miles into the ride) and everything they said was true (i.e. if you want to throw your bike in a ditch then you're right on track). So I nailed that part of the ride! Tucson can thrown down some serious wind as well and we got a taste of that on Saturday… 40 miles straight into a 30 mph cross/headwind- that took us forever avg speed was less than 15mph! I managed to get a nice little staple in my rear tire as well (flat #2!) but luckily this time sag was right there to help me fix it. Kitt Peak climb is ~12 miles long, steeper than Mt Lemmon, and on that day was dangerously windy and cold. In good news, I started my period that morning (TMI maybe but it's part of my story so I'm telling it!) and magically my legs reappeared (as they do every month when I start my period) so even though this ride was off the charts on the challenging scale, the fact that I could actually put some power into my pedals felt so damn good that I didn't even mind the conditions. (Plus, I wasn't PMSy pissy/angry bitch anymore!) We were climbing and ~4 miles in most of my group decided to turn around- we could all see that we were ascending right up into an ugly dark cloud and the wind was howling and threatening to blow us into the guardrails. In all honesty it was probably a super smart decision to turn around but I wanted to keep climbing because I felt better than I had in the previous days… so I opted to keep going. The fast guys were up ahead of me so I figured maybe I could ride the 40 miles back with them… anyway, long story short(er), I made it mostly to the top before I saw Justin on his way down (my cue to u-turn), and that descent was quite possibly the worst thing I've ever done on a bike. In 20+ years of riding I'm not sure I've ever actually started hyperventilating or crying while on my bike, but I just completely lost it somewhere down that mountain… I actually stopped riding- just pulled over on the side of the road trying to decide what to do… I was so cold I had no control over my hands and I was just shaking and shivering uncontrollably and pretty much just paralyzed there alone on the side of that mountain. Not too long after I stopped, Jeff rode by and asked if I was ok. When I couldn't speak he figured out the answer was no… and then I felt like such a loser… like what kind of drama queen princess can't even stay on her bike and get down this dumb hill?? GAH! But the reality was I just couldn't that day. Jeff (bless his heart I think he saved my life) took off all his warm clothes and dressed me up (skull cap, gloves, 4th layer jacket) and made me jump around to get some blood flowing and eventually I managed to get back on my bike and safely coast the rest of the way down the mountain.
Marilyn's car was there at the bottom and we got in and cranked the heat up and I stuffed my face with more food and eventually (after probably 20') stopped shivering. One by one the guys rolled up to the car after the descent and they all had the exact same frozen expression on their faces (one guy said his garmin recorded 37 degrees in the clouds at the top, so add 30mph winds and who knows what the real feel temp was? #StupidCold). They did a Chinese fire drill style rotation in and out of the car (gentlemen that they are just let me stay in the heat the whole time). Finally everyone was down and it was time to motor home. Sun came back out, wind at our backs, we were flying but it was effortless and awesome… Just the complete opposite of everything we'd experienced earlier in the ride. 95 miles later we turned onto the street where our hotel was and I was like we're done already?! So weird to feel such extremes all within one ride.
Anyway, now that it's over (and I survived!) I look back and think damn that was some solid training. The conditions of the riding last week put me right on the edge of my abilities and threw me well past my comfort zone for sure. It's way too soon to say yes I'd want to do it again, but at the same time I'm really glad I did it all. Mostly because it's like well shit, if I can do that, I can do anything, you know??
That said, I was trying to give my arm warmers away at the end of camp because I swore I wouldn't do another ride that required them… Not for a very very (very) long time anyway. ;) This girl belongs in Hawaii.