Tour of California 2009: Lessons Learned

Every February, Endurance Nation holds a Tour of California camp, a seven-day cycling adventure. The camp rides nearly every stage of the Tour, leaving 2-3 hours ahead of the pro peloton each day as it rides a wide variety of terrain and stages from NorCal to SoCal. Every year we are reminded of the following points, most of which run very counter-culture to the accepted triathlete’s understanding of endurance: Big Cycling Mileage is Overrated, Fitness Isn’t Built in a Linear Fashion, and Racing Isn’t All That.

Riley, Official Camp Mascot

 Camper Background
The typical camper is a long course triathlete, using the camp as a fitness/cycling boost at the beginning of their half or full Ironman® season. As the camp is in February, about 2/3 of the campers have zero to very little outdoor riding before hitting the road with us on Stage One. Finally, 100% of the attendees are Endurance Nation members emerging from — or in the middle of — our patented “Out Season” program (6-8hrs total weekly volume, bike and run, about 4hrs on the bike) with a 100% focus on lifting pace/power/speed at threshold.

Campers can expect to ride over 25hrs/350-400 miles in the week. Power athletes put up cumulative TSS north of 1300 for the week. For perspective, that’s about TWICE what these athletes will put up for their biggest Ironman® cycling week, about 4-5 weeks out from their goal race. This year our campers ran the spectrum of a potential sub-11hr IM finisher, to a 55yo+ couple with zero IM dreams. In other words, these were NOT your typical epic volume, wicked fast, uber-fit trigeeks.

Question: “Wait, let me get this straight: your typical camper drops into your camp and is expected to ride over 25hrs and close to 400 miles? They’ve been averaging only FOUR HOURS per week on the bike, haven’t had their bikes on the pavement, or ridden longer than 90′ in one sitting, since October or November?! They show up and do TWICE the volume, hours, and TSS as their biggest week of Ironman® training, which is still months and months in the future! No friggin’ way!!”

Answer: WAY! Note that this is our third year of this camp, and we’ve got the athletes, testimonials, power files and experience to back up our claims.

Long Cycling Miles are Overrated
This is the Number One lesson we’ve learned across all of our camps — anyone (literally) can ride a big week and see big fitness and skills gains from that week. Triathlon culture places the utmost importance on the ability to go long and that ability is ONLY developed by…going long.  Athletes will spend countless weekends spinning in zones one and two, adding 10% a week with a recovery period when required, as they train for their next big race.

We say do yourself, your fitness, and your brain a favor and ignore what you’ve read and heard from the “triathlon elite” — bikes were made to take you places, cell phones can help get you home. Step away from the plan that has you riding 4.5 hours in February for a June Half Ironman…we have found a better way and the first 30-days are free.

Fitness Isn’t Built in a Linear Fashion
The traditional triathlon season planning process involves pick up your training log from the previous year, totaling the volume for swim/bike/run and then adding 10% (or more). This then leads to the linear model, whereby ones fitness “improves” incrementally from January to Race Week, sloping upwards in a nice, straight, rational line. And then there’s reality. Most folks can’t plan for weeks 22, 32, and 42 in January…sure you can draw them up, but life will have something to say about it.

Reality says that you do what you can do, what fits with your life, week after week. Then, pick 2-3 weeks or long weekends per year where you can get the green light to go big, getting your go-long, build-that-FAR volume in big, time efficient chunks rather than nickle and diming your family for 30-90′ here and there, week after week. We use our camps as the immersion experience that boosts your fitness and skills, allowing you to return to your manageable, regularly scheduled life and still see improvements en route to your next A race.

Our experience says:

  • Any one can handle a 400-500% increase in cycling volume. See above.
  • Our threshold focus training protocol not only makes our athletes faster (see results) it is more than adequate to prepare them for high volume pops (see above).
  • It’s just a damn cool thing to do with your fitness (see below)!

Racing Isn’t All That
We believe that your fitness is a vehicle for doing cool stuff. Racing is just one category of cool stuff you do with your fitness. Too often we see athletes focused so much on building their fitness for one race, for ONE day, that they miss the opportunity to do something very, very cool with their fitness. “Gee, I’d like to go on this super cool ride with my friends, or attend this neat Tour of California training camp, but my training schedule says I gotta do x, y, and z 48wks out! No can do!” Our Tour of California camp is the ultimate cool experience for fitness-as-lifestyle peeps: riding hours ahead of the peloton each day, trying to out climb and out sprint your fellow campers at the KOM’s and sprint towns, all while being cheered on by hundreds of thousands of spectators! Its just…cool!

Conclusion
During the week, campers learn to redefine their concept of hard work. They learn to work together. They master the importance of recovery. And they fully grasp the notion that endurance training is not a year-round activity, but rather a race-specific exercise.

You could say that the results of the Endurance Nation athlete are built on a three-part system:

  1. Focus on building power/speed/pace at threshold in the Out-Season. We build FAST first. Please review the Out-Season results of our athletes (see results). We don’t just tell you our athletes get faster…we show you their actual results.
  2. We then build FAR on top of this FAST, by prescribing the appropriate volume for athletes closer to their races, usually beginning 12 weeks out. However, our Tour of California experience shows that not only does our FAST focus do a more than adequate job of preparing them to ride 500% of their weekly Out-Season volume, but that the base-training, “ride far to ride far” culture of our sport is just overkill. Period. Lookout for 2010 when we have folks only prepping 8 weeks for an Ironman® event!
  3. Execution skills: we give them the skills to apply their fitness (points one and two above) to the race.

Your ability to swim, bike and run the Ironman-distance has very little to do with how many hours you have logged. This is the same for people just looking to complete a race or for those of you looking to qualify for Kona. You don’t have to make a massive time sacrifice to get the race day results you want.  Don’t believe the hype…believe the results!

Learn More

Interested in joining us in 2010 for the Tour of California? Go here to learn more!

Interested in joining our team of over 400 long course athletes? Learn more but hurry, the doors close to new members on May 1!

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Coach P

All stories by: Coach P

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