Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This isn't a hammerfest: Collegiate High Performance Camp

I was fortunate enough this past weekend to take part in one of the handful of Collegiate High Performance Camps offered through USA Triathlon in Newark, DE.  Yes, I'm not in college anymore, but I'll add that explanation at the very bottom of this post so you can ignore it.  The camp was designed to teach/refine the skills necessary to race the draft legal format, something I've dabbled in but am looking to do more and more in the future.  I find it interesting, addicting, and most importantly, not boring.  I like the fact that it's not simply a strategy of picking a heart rate/wattage/perceived effort and going and hoping you win the fitness test more than anybody else. Now, that's by no means a knock on non-draft racing, as I realize there becomes more and more strategy to it the better you get, but I like being a bit more engaged in the brain than the majority of flat, straight triathlon courses allow you to be.  The draft legal format adds a whole new level of strategy that's perfect for my eggheadedness (collective action, game theory, etc; I foresee a master's thesis)
For the camp we were on our own for transportation and lodging, but I emailed out to the group of people on the list also going and was originally going to split a room at the HoJo near UDel (Delawareans, that's what it's called. Deal with the fact that more New Jerseyans go to your school than Delawareans and we call it UDel. No I'm not fact checking that) Well, in the beginnings of what I imagine life is like as a neo-pro, Johny's bus to Wilmington didn't make it and I was alone but had to go pick him up in the morning right before camp started.  First thing of the day was bike checks and just some introductory stuff from the coaches.  Perhaps the greatest thing was when the 10 of us athletes went out into the parking lot after all of that and were riding around in circles, many of us remarked "oh my god my shifting works!" typical triathletes sucking at lubing our bikes and adjusting shifting....The first real thing we did were some bike drills in the grass.  I mean very, very basic stuff, riding cone slaloms, picking up water bottle off the ground, one handed slaloms, partnered riding (including riding with a hand on your partner's back) Then the favorite that any junior triathlete or cyclist knows: box drill, aka foot-down. It's a king of the hill style game with everybody into the box of four cones riding around at a really low speed, last one standing wins. I never won, but my cyclocrossing and mountain biking definitely helped me stay in towards the end of most rounds. That afternoon was our first swim, including the USAT benchmark swim test.  Typically it's a 200 all-out, minute rest, 800 from a push off the wall.  The idea is that the 200 simulates the very fast, vicious start of a draft legal race (or any high-quality tri) and then the 800 simulates the ability to settle into a still-quick pace once you've blown through your energy. We were a little pressed on time so we modified it to a 100, :30 rest, 400. I did I think a 59 for the 100 and somewhere in the 4:30s for the 400. I felt pretty good about that, because the last time I did the real test was in February and I was nowhere near those sorts of pace.  We finished the day with a dynamic warmup drill and a Q&A with Dan Feeney, senior at UDel and first year ITU pro. Dan was great to give a more insider's type of look at what life is really like as a 22 year old going around the world scraping by racing, having a blast, etc. Funny enough, the piece of advice I took best from him was "make friends on the circuit; people are always willing to split a hotel or homestay." And at that, I made the call to move from the Hojo to the floor of the Embassy Suites room that the UNC athletes had gotten after checking out of their own sketchy motel in Newark.
The next day was  some real riding, with the goal being primarily an introduction to tactics and skills. Of course, that's not possible when you get a bunch of 18-22 year olds out on bikes. After a couple loops on our rather technical course through a neighborhood with narrow, iffy roads, debris, tight corners and very little flat ground (yay for living in the flattest part of the world in Eastern VA), it started to ramp up. It may as well have been a true crit, some of the hardest riding I've probably ever done. We played a little game of cat and mouse with two groups of five broken up, but I ended up getting myself popped off the back with a few too many stupidly long/hard pulls. The coaches took some video of us riding, including this one with all of us.
In the afternoon was a strength/conditioning demonstration/talk, and some transition practice.  The transition practice ended up going pretty smoothly.  The coaches for the camp were more familiar with working with juniors, who tend to be a bit less focused I think, so they were pleasantly surprised at how no-nonsense we were.  They did, however, throw a few wrenches in our plans by switching things up and messing with our transition setups when we weren't looking (switching one of my orange running shoes with another guy's orange running shoe, that sort of thing)
The final day started with some more crazy hard riding with a flatter yet still technical course with tight-ish corners that could still be taken at speed, with a particular focus on the 180 we set up on each lap.  180s are insanely common in draft legal races because it's easier to only close one road than several. For example, Harvey Cedars is two out-and-back loops, Clermont is essentially an out and back loop, and I know many of the higher level ITU races have even more, so it's a skill that's absolutely essential to being a good rider.  We even did a little shuttle bike sort of competition back and forth between two cones about 150m apart.  That HURT...190 lb guys are not usually sprinters for a reason, and definitely not back and forth over and over like that. I feel like my cornering and 180ing improved dramatically, but I still have to work on that ability to hammer out of the turn like everybody else does, or else I'll just get yo-yo'ed off the back of any pack. After lunch on the last day, Sunday, the North Carolina contingent left us, leaving just me, Johny, and the athletes from West Point and Navy. We did a little benchmark run test, with 30 minutes on the trainer in a draft legal simulation, oscillating between sprints and recovering at race pace, then a quick 3km run off the bike. That was rough for me. I still haven't gotten that run back entirely, but I think I am getting there.
The sufferfest to destroy our legs before the 3km run in a SEPTA parking lot with awkward Sunday strollers as an audience as Matt yelled/motivated us with angry music playing
The very last thing we did was open water type of drills in the pool at UDel.  We did all sorts of buoy turns, pack swimming, dive starts, you name it.  We even had a couple of swimmers who were there swimming laps come join us. Again, I think I corner buoys very intelligently, I just don't have the top end speed and acceleration of some others to keep with it off those corners. I need to get that.
All in all, it was quite the experience.  I had a blast and learned a TON about what I should be doing and what I ought to be doing in the way forward.  I met a bunch of great athletes and coaches, all of whom I look forward to seeing again in the future. I definitely feel good about next season having done this camp.  With the recent announcement of a new Elite Development Race in Richmond in early May, I may not touch my TT bike all season next year if I'm able to just race draft legal and XTERRA. Weird. Good, exciting, but weird.
Now, for those of you who care about the technicality of why I was at a collegiate camp despite not being in college: when I first heard about the camp, I immediately emailed Matt Valyo, Regional Athlete Development Coordinator for the northeast.  I had met Matt a few years prior at Mightyman, the NECTC championship, when I was nearly fed up with playing daddy to my oh-so-wonderful teammates and needed to get away, so I went to the seminar he was offering to any interested collegiates.  That was really what piqued my interest beyond just going out and racing local age group races, maybe someday going out to "finish an Ironman." After all, I'd been conditioned to think that was what I wanted, wasn't I? Anyway, I've kept in touch with Matt back and forth for the past couple of years about this and that, occasionally bouncing ideas off of him, especially with respect to draft legal racing.  I explained the situation to him, that although I was out of college, I was really interested in draft legal racing, including planning on racing Clermont in 2013 and at least applying for Armed Forces Championships.  I also said I was considering starting a grad degree soon, so I would be back in college in the next few years, even though I wouldn't be eligible for Collegiate Nationals 2013.  Without question, he offered to help and said he would do what he could to get me into the camp. Well, here I am, as a participant of the camp, and I couldn't be happier.  While I suppose the camp was designed for those athletes who may be racing the new draft legal race at Collegiate Nationals, if it serves the larger goal of helping budding athletes interested in draft legal racing, I certainly fit that bill.  After all, except for Collegiate Nationals eligibility, there's pretty much no difference between me and a 22 year old who is still in college as far as any sort of Elite Development Races or real ITU racing goes.

After day one. From L-R: Johny (Univ of MD/Panama), me, Jake (Navy), Ben (NC State/my bike buddy from Patriots Sprint), Chris (West Point), Gil (UNC/fellow Harvey Cedarsian), Lawson (UNC), Mollie (UNC), Dylan (West Point) and Brad (West Point)

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