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Your training camp – is it about mileage or intensity?

Training camps are a great time - lots of bike riding, typically done at an exciting destination on amazing roads. Who could ask for more? How then to maximize this training opportunity?

In deciding how best to approach your camp it is important to keep in mind the inverse relationship of time and power. The longer your ride, or effort, the lower your power will be. Looking at a power duration curve gives us a clear insight into this relationship. As the time gets longer on the X-axis, the power on the Y-axis declines.

Any training camp is about pacing and managing your effort, just extended over the course of a week.

Your training camp will likely be the one week in the year when you can really put in some time without worrying about family and work. Take this opportunity and log more mileage than you think you can. If you decide to take this approach then you definitely need to manage your efforts accordingly. A good approach is to ride anything flat at endurance and any climbs at tempo. In this approach there is no racing on the climbs. Racing will only detract from your ability to log big miles.

A recent experience of my own really highlighted how important it is to dial back the intensity. I headed to California for a camp and logged my biggest week, 36 hours, without building up too much fatigue. Yes, the legs were sore but I wasn’t crushed. I rode the camp by feel, without any data visible, rolling steady and comfortably on the flats and then putting some tension into the legs on the climbs. At no point was I climbing and wishing the climb would be over. I always felt like I could have kept going. For me, this was the best camp I had ever done. With a bit of rest the next step would be to do some real intensity at home to get that final bump into the race season.

Many riders take a different approach to the camps – they ride steady hard everywhere and race the climbs. The problem with this approach is it mixes training goals and doesn’t do a good job of either intensity or mileage.

  • Racing on the climbs, because its comes in the middle of a big day, isn’t true intensity. It feels super hard but is typically more like high end tempo/threshold wattage done at VO2 heart rate.

  • The racing also leads to a higher accumulation of fatigue and muscle soreness, reducing the ability to log really big miles.

  • This approach also tends to start the week off with a couple of fast days before everyone gets slower and the camp turns into a death march - we end up with a negative power profile for the week as everyone fatigues

Riding your camp as a race you end up neither logging the big miles to improve your endurance, nor doing any true intensity. The week ends up in that middle ground of feeling hard and making you tired.

Better to dial things back, not worry about your wattage, and put in a bigger week of mileage than you normally would. Do it right and you’ll have sore legs come the end but not be crushed. Then on the final day, for fun, pick a climb that everyone will race up and finish off the camp with a bang!

With a bit of rest you can get back to feeling good and then return to doing some proper intensity to fine tune your fitness.

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