Tips and Memories from Italia
I recently wrote about my training trip to Italy and I thought I'd share some further tips based on that adventure. It turns out that week was the biggest week of cycling that I’ve ever done. At 43, these weeks become more and more precious to me.
I spent the first half of my return flight reading Dan John’s book, Never Let Go, and recommend that to you. Despite training big, I managed to read five books over the trip and started a streak of 15 minutes of quiet time each day.
TIP: Once you lose the ability to think, you’ve probably done enough! Likewise, so long as your mood and sleep pattern hold up, it’s okay to keep on rolling. My week totals were massive (1,100 kilometers of cycling with over 53,000 feet of climbing, much of it threshold effort).
TIP: There is nothing better for getting fit than a catered, guided training camp where your logistics are sorted by a third party. My key fatigue metric was simple. My room was up three flights of stairs and I used the stairs to test fatigue:
TIP: You’ll get the most of out of your camp experience by forgetting about structure and executing a strategy that enables you to roll up the most work. I was on a rental bike so tracked load via distance and total climbing -- you don’t need sophisticated tools to track work.
I showed up in Italy blind to the level of fitness I’d face with the other athletes and the guides. As it turned out, my form was good and that protected me from overdoing it early in the camp. Most athletes make an error by blasting themselves on day one and the first climb each day. As a result, they are unable to sustain their effort across the camp, and day.
TIP: Treat your first day of camp training as a shakedown day and don’t place pressure on yourself to perform. I find a six-day camp is optimal and you should place a very light day on Day 4. We had a couple of rain days that worked very well for my recovery. Out of nine days of riding, I had six days that were solid and three that were easy. I was toast by Day 9.
The guides have a unique job! Imagine if every weekend you were delivered a pack of over-caffeinated middle-aged men to lead around the countryside. They did a great job putting up with us!
One of my favorite guides was “Super Micky” -- a former Italian pro who, despite being half his size, had a sweat rate to rival Scott Molina. We did two rides together and I would watch the sweat pour off him. Other than Molina, he’s the only guy I know where you get wet riding on his wheel!
With that much time in the saddle, I had time to reflect on two things Molina taught me: do it every day and keep what works.
I’ve always been a volume responder and the cornerstone of my run program was an effort to build the capacity to run daily. After getting worked at a January camp, I’ve applied my knowledge to cycling. By the conclusion of the camp, I had ridden 72 times over 72 days. My commitment to a simple mantra of “ride daily” didn’t show much progress for the first nine weeks but gave me a pop once I rested, added intensity to my program and dropped down to sea level.
Once they were tired, the triathletes were tempted to skip their (important) run and swim workouts. Having an “anchor” athlete in your training group is a valuable edition. Be sure to invite these people along.
Have you ever noticed that riding feels different depending on your relative position on the road? Being comfortable with “where you are” can be a proxy for being comfortable with “who you are.” On our toughest day, a friend was struggling and I suggested that he sag himself 10k forward so he didn’t have the mental noise of being dropped. That didn’t go down so well…
TIP: Don’t suggest getting in the van to a Kona qualifier that was effortlessly crushing you four months earlier! It took me a bag of colas and two cappuccinos to patch up our friendship. Probably his best quote of the entire camp was the observation that he “should have hit (me) harder in January.” Best to let Strava do your talking to tired training pals.
The hotel kept upgrading the strength of our guides and gave Team EC the nickname the “Bad Boys.” By the end of the week, they had brought in a couple of 25-year old pros and those guys had me sweating like Super Micky as they guided us around the Nove Colli course (a classic nine-climb route that is a Gran Fondo).
As usual, everyone’s nutrition softened as the fatigue piled on. I knew this was going to happen so hit the gelato and stepped up my evening eating in advance of the fatigue. I’ve found that having a few treats across the week keeps me from going crazy at meal times and continuing to binge when I get home. I allowed myself one scoop for every 1,000 feet of vertical but might have to review that ratio for next year.
TIP: The fastest way to nuke yourself is to combine depletion with high-volume, high-intensity training. Keep your camp short enough that you can challenge yourself without losing your standards (for hygiene, for language, for nutrition, for emotional control). Your standards are as much of a fatigue indicator as your sleep and mood. If dropping your standards is part of the “fun” of big week training then you should exercise less.
It was a great week: happy hour in the sun at the hotel lunch alongside the castle wall in San Marino, looping the ancient city of San Leo, and hours of solo riding without any plan or agenda.
Keep the fun in your sport and make time to make memories.
Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.