What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger
BY KIERSTIN KLOECKNER
Training camp. Those two simple words used to make my skin crawl. Having to ride past my comfort zone is no big deal, in fact I relish it sometimes. Having the rides set by someone else … well that’s when things usually go downhill for me. My thoughts around this usually border on self doubt and flat out fear. The “what ifs” often get the best of me. But that’s my irrational side, and this year I chose to place that side – ever so gently – on the back burner and sign up for a riding camp in Mallorca, Spain, through Trek Travel with my best friend. My mantra leading up to it? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
All growth depends on activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work. – Calvin Coolidge
Training or riding camps are nothing new. People who desire camaraderie, possible guidance from coaches and a swift kick in the hiney often choose early-season camps to get the ball rolling prior to racing or challenging events. Being from Minnesota, and now living in Wisconsin, I am always completely fed up with winter by the time March hits and I long to be riding in a place with hills, ice-free roads and hopefully great food with some culture thrown in to boot.
A little over five years ago, I had discovered Mallorca, Spain. I heard from friends who had previously gone there to ride, that it’s a cyclist’s dream. Many of the pro teams head there for the winter/spring to train – the island is half mountains/half flat for a mix of terrain, and since the economy is strengthened so much by cyclists, the locals are kind to us. When the thought of great food and wine were added to the mix, I was sold. Although I didn’t use a training camp at the time, my ex-husband and I went on our own. It was essentially a spring training camp for me. Folks in Arizona and California may not know this about the Midwest, but we don’t have mountains (20-percent grade hills, yes, mountains, no) and our roads can stay ice and snow covered until mid-April. In my mind, I viewed my time on the bike there as prep for the early gravel event season which was quickly approaching. Needless to say, I fell deeply in love with Mallorca.
When you go to the mountains, you see them and you admire them. In a sense, they give you a challenge, and you try to express that challenge by climbing them. – Edmund Hillary
It’s funny, but what came prior to this year’s training camp may have done the most for me physically. Because I knew I’d have days that were 80 miles in length with 9,300 feet of elevation gain (this is not a typo), I trained a bit harder than I normally would have in January and February. I made silly personal goals like climbing Blue Mound, via a series of big hills leading to it, every month of the year (I barely reached my February goal), hopping on the indoor trainer a day each week (if you’ve read my previous articles, you know how much I hate indoor trainers), getting on group outdoor rides no matter the conditions and adding plyometrics back into my strength routine. I knew I wouldn’t be “ready” for the 6 to 7 days of mountain rides, but I also knew gentle strolls around the conservancy and rides to cafes or breweries wouldn’t get me any more prepared. The training for my mind, to rally myself in terrible conditions, was just the icing on the cake!
So what is a training or riding camp exactly and is it right for you? First, there are no specific guidelines to training camps. One company will vary greatly from others. What I got at Trek Travel is vastly different that what I would have gotten from a company like Carmichael Training Systems. I opted for a more “hands-off” approach since I’m not big into crunching numbers, at least for myself, and I wanted to support a local business. What I wanted and needed was a well-tuned bike, preset routes that would challenge me, an option to cut the day short if needed and support with water (they also gives snacks and lunch) since many of the mountain routes don’t have access to water … which I learned the hard way last time I was there.
When I asked Tania Burke – owner and founder of Trek Travel – who should sign up for their ride/training camps versus the luxury tours, she had a simple answer.
“Ride camps are designed for people looking to ride and have a more independent vacation,” Burke said. “We simplify what we include on the trip so that we can offer an amazing value to the customer that wants to focus on the miles at lower price. They don’t need all the extras because they are really there to ride with, stay in a nice place, have an awesome bike to ride, curated routes and the comfort of knowing they are supported by our world-class guides.”
Since the only other thing I wanted to focus on other than riding was eating, I knew this was the right choice for me.
Trek Travel was founded in 2003 and started leading ride camps in 2011. I was curious how the ride camp program was going and if it was catching on.
In an email, Tania said “Yes, it has been growing every year since we launched. Word of mouth is the biggest marketing. A guest returns from a ride camp and tells their riding friends and the next year brings them along. I think what a lot of people recognize is the value of ride camp. It would be hard to do it on your own for the same price. If you think about doing the research, finding a hotel, the best rides, finding someplace to rent a $4500 road bike and coordinate meals, it takes a lot of time and the costs add up. We will continue to add new destinations as well. This year we added Girona, Spain, in the fall and it is already selling well. We look forward to growing this program!”
Trek isn’t the only Midwest company to offer ride or training camps! CycleSport Travel based out of Cronometro Bike Shop in Madison, Wisconsin, also offers tours and training throughout the summer (mostly in Europe). Bluedog, based in Viroqua, Wisconsin, offers mountain-bike camps for both children and adults! There are also many companies based in other parts of the country who lead camps here in the Midwest.
Training in beautiful places with a group of like-minded folks might sound really good to you … but is a training or ride camp a perfect fit? The big question you should ask yourself is, “Are you social?” Some of the camps have you practice skills with other riders and some allow you to ride on your own, but there is always a strong social aspect. Often dinners are with the group and will last for several hours. If this makes you feel like someone is driving bamboo shoots up your fingernails, a training camp is not for you. Also, note most rides are preset. Although you may have the option to ride the route you desire, guides and coaches cannot be everything to everybody. They are there for the greater good of the group, so although your legs may be screaming for a recovery ride, if the plan is several mountain climbs, that’s where the support van and guides will go.
Being back from my camp for a week, with the jet lag and travel craze worn off, I’m able to reflect on what I was able to accomplish even in poor weather conditions (rain, wind, cold and even some snow greeted us while there). Chalking up over 32,000 feet of climbing and roughly 360 miles in March is NOT something I could or would have even tried if I had not signed up for this camp. Although by the end of the sixth consecutive day of riding (we had to abandon our seventh day due to rain and wind), I looked forward to a break from the bike, I knew I had gotten stronger in both mind and body in a very short period of time … mission accomplished!
For those of you who are sold on this fabulous way to get a jumpstart on your training, I would encourage you to do your research and essentially interview the training camp companies to ensure the best fit. Not only will you be happier if you do this, but you will also get the most out of your “vacation.”
A note from Kierstin: I would like to thank our fearless leaders, Lisa and Wouter, for the amazing routes, feeding and hydrating us along the way and putting up with our whining about the weather! You two are the best!