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5 Things I Learned from Ultra Running (or Cycling) Training Camp

by | Jun 2, 2022 | Training

Whether you’re doing an ultra-running training camp/hangout or a cycling version, here are a few tips I’ve come up with in the last week while at the Western States 100 training camp out in Auburn, CA. (I’m pacing our good friend for Western States this year, so we thought it would be a fun time and excellent course recon.) The camp was a total blast, and while it’s fresh in my brain, I thought I’d share a few things I learned:

Remember that it is a training camp

Not a race. (1 more time for the people in the back: NOT A RACE.) It’s tempting to turn it into one, and you might even add some spicier moments during your runs / rides, but try to think within yourself. Don’t look at what everyone else is doing or try to keep up. We definitely struggled with this, since it was tempting to go out with the ‘fast women,’ but honestly, that wasn’t what we were there for. We wanted to run our own pace, be fresh after, and leave camp feeling tired but capable, not cracked. And remember, often, you have no idea what someone else is doing. They might only be running half the route, or only doing one of the days, et cetera. You don’t have anything to prove. (Need more convincing? Read this post.)

Be smart about food

Simply put: Always be eating (and drinking). And while it’s probably tempting to think “This is a great time to drop a few pounds,” it is not, in fact, a great time to drop a few pounds. Eat and drink during the training sessions, but make sure breakfast and dinner are beefy as well, especially if lunch is skipped because you’re still out on your training run. I treat this similar to a race week: While I do end up craving salad by the end, I try to minimize veggie intake to a great extent (no massive salads) in order to prioritize just getting enough calories. (I do continue to drink Athletic Greens’ AG1 in my water every morning just to make sure I’m getting my various micronutrients that I’m skipping in whole food form.)

Try new things… at the end

This seems counterintuitive because training camps are a great chance to try new things ahead of race day, but at the same time, you also need to make it through the camp. I messed this up on Day #1 by using new shorts that I’d only run short distances in for the first 50 km trail run. Big mistake. After 25 miles, they get pretty darn chafe-y, which meant that for the next 2 big days of running, I was starting with an irritated patch of skin. Save the testing-new-things for the last couple days, after the big stuff is over. Same goes for ride/run food and drink, though this can be something you try daily. Try the new stuff, but save it for the final miles of the ride or run, so if you have a disaster stomach situation, you aren’t far from the finish.

Bring doubles of your MVPs

For a running camp, I mean bring two pairs of sneakers. Even your usual favorites might feel a little rough by day 3, and there’s also always a chance that they’ll rip or otherwise fall apart. For this camp, I actually brought a newer pair and my really, really old pair of trail sneakers that were already ripped. They ran their final hurrah at this camp, then I tossed them. (Trust me, these were not pass-on-able, they were truly dead.) And on this note, bringing your non-negotiable food favorites is a very good call, because you never know what you’ll have access to. Sure, it’s fun to try new things, but it’s better to have a few staples so you’re not stuck.

Sunscreen.

(And long-sleeves, when possible.) Until the last day of our camp when I finally did a short run in a sports bra (ahhh, freedom!), I was in lightweight longsleeves the entire time because I know I burn like crazy if I’m not careful. That and careful sunscreen application dutifully all week even when everyone else was psyched to get nice and tan wasn’t always fun, but my skin is happier for it.

Clothes take longer to dry than you’d expect

If you’re washing stuff in a hotel shower/sink and air drying, do this ASAP when you get back to your room, because it will take ages to dry. Have at least 2 good run kits to rotate through. If you’re in a hot area, try to bring clothes out to the pool to dry for a bit, just to get a kickstart! (And for run briefs/cycling chamois, make sure the part that hits your nether regions gets completely dry, otherwise you’re cruising for a UTI.

Bring more training clothes

On the note of packing, if you’re doing a true training camp that doesn’t involve a list of fancy places you’ll be going to eat (as some cycling camps will), don’t stress on casual clothes. Prioritize an extra pair of run shorts versus a pair of going-out pants. Have some casual wear (I was SO glad to have loose pants after long days in run shorts with built in briefs), but don’t worry about an outfit per day. You’ll be happier with an extra clean pair of socks than with a fancy pair of sandals. (This is something I’m usually guilty of.)

Making friends is hard, but worth it

I am introverted AF, and thankfully my friend is decidedly extroverted, so while my inclination is to stay in the hotel room and work when not running / training / eating, hers is to meet as many people as possible. And really, that’s the best part of it. Sure, it’s not always easy, and yes, I definitely needed some quiet time after we left, but the friends we made and the memories from post-run pool parties at a crappy motel are so much better than being totally caught up on work!

Don’t stress on the post-camp puff

I say this every time we coach a camp, but had to remind myself as well: You will feel puffy at the end of camp. Your body is trying to process a lot of training, a lot of food and a lot of water. There’s a ton of inflammation, some digestive issues, and just A LOT of things working. Don’t expect to go home lean and mean. You’ll de-puff in a day or two, but don’t panic if you have a bit of a belly or clothes feel a bit tight. It’s normal. (Also: Don’t panic if you’re having a bit of acne or your skin is acting up. Same thing. It chills out. You’ve just been sweating, re-applying sunscreen, probably jumping in the hotel pool, using weird hotel soap, etc. — skin issues aren’t surprising.

 

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