The loneliness of the long-distance runner can be interrupted, if only for a week, while on training camp. A break from the solitude can bring renewed vigor and purpose arising from shared experience.
Going it Alone
At senior level, the majority of national and international standard athletes do not earn a sufficient living from running and therefore, must work and train, when they can, on a schedule to suit them. The bosom of their underage clubs, training partners and school or University based routines are a thing of the past. If they wish to continue, the majority must go it alone or in twos and threes if they’re lucky.
In Portugal this month on the Athletics Ireland senior endurance camp, we had the full spectrum of the daily grind: teaching, radiography, medicine, the postal service to name a few. Training like a full-time athlete using the part-time hours their non-professional lives allow can look like a form of masochism. The minimum time allowed for a shower after a morning run, a breakfast – often on the go, an 8 pm run in cold weather after a long day, somehow, they make it happen.
And yet, there is something wonderful about hanging around with a group of adults who choose to immerse themselves so completely in the pursuit of being better than they have ever been before. To read my last sentence, for many, will be to read a cliché. But think about it for a second. How many adults do you know in your life that will voluntarily put their mind toward a goal of improvement for such sustained periods of time? In anything, not just running. I know few brave enough to step forward in pursuit of a goal, requiring significant investment without the guarantee of a return. Trying to improve as a senior athlete, welcomes you to a select group.
The vast majority of athletes on camp live and work in the UK and Ireland. On training camp, this meant transitioning from 2C morning runs in the dark, to mornings that allowed for a gentle pre-training stretch on the grass as temperatures climbed to 14 – 17C. The sunshine helps but so does the time afforded. Headspace allows an athlete to direct more reserves toward higher quality training and higher quality training leads to a happier athlete. Breakfast can be had before or after, there’s no rush.
Lunch in the sun allows for social interaction, a basic human need, while vitamin D levels begin to rise. Stories of training, races and injuries are shared and a common bond begins to form. Massage is available in the afternoon and if an injury niggle does threaten to derail progress, the safety net of available treatment can help to lower the anxiety that would normally occur. Sessions can be complete in small packs reducing the psychological effort required. Evening recovery runs tend to have as close to what senior athletes would call a common pace (somewhere between 7 – 8 minutes per mile) which affords the opportunity to train together, a break from the normal solitude.
Senior athletes, by virtue of remaining in the sport for an extended period of time have a wealth of knowledge and experience. To bring a group of these athletes together is also to bring together their combined interactions with various coaches, conditioning strategies, training environments etc. The right blend of athletes in a camp environment can create the perfect platform for knowledge exchange. The role of camp support, the role I am usually in, is not so much to teach athletes new things rather to help them in refining what they already know or to synthesize the sum of their experiences. In this way, I learn as much from them as they might pick up from me. In the pursuit of excellence, a training camp sure can help.
*I will write another blog about the role of sports science / physical therapy support on camp for current and future graduates in the field who might like to know what is involved.