It’s a huge opportunity, a gift, and a blessing to be able to attend a professional training camp with other hard working like-minded individuals. Deep in my heart I knew that was true. On day one, you wake up fresh and excited about what the day holds. On day ten, you start wondering if your endurance and mental fortitude will be gracing you with its presence. On day fifteen, you wake up feeling like someone beat you with a baseball bat and left you for dead. You need two more hours of sleep to even have any hope of mustering up the” chutzpah” needed to summon your motivation. Yet, you have a sneaking suspicion that today very well might be the day where you ride your bike well over 112 miles.
It is a gift, though, and the fact remains that as hard as pro camp gets, you’re always thankful you’re there for so many reasons. My first year (2013) I didn’t know much about what to expect so I counted down the days and waited for fun group rides and a few little workouts to push me a little so I wouldn’t be alone. I was greeted with a lot more mentally grinding days and tons of swim, bike and run miles that made me strong, but also let me know this was no warm, fuzzy experience. The second year, I was a bit wiser. However, I had my good friend Beth in tow, so I used her presence like a child’s blankie and even though there was no hiding from the pain on plenty of days, I still made it through and had some great races to follow. This year I seemed to be dreading camp a bit because I knew just how hard it could be, but about two weeks out I realized I was as fit as I was going to be able to get on my own. I longed to ride my bike outside and wanted the companionship of others around me. Even though I knew it would be hard, I knew it was going to be good for me. Many bikes and runs prior were spent visualizing my time there, hoping that I was prepared for the mental tenacity necessary to tackle day one to day seventeen.
I could tell you about the “epic” days (I can’t really stand that word) or I could describe individual workouts that really pushed me, but in the end the value of camp goes far beyond fitness gains. It’s a chance to see how some of the best in the world think, breathe, function, train, work, live and eat. The beauty is, at camp we are all the same. Sure there are multiple champions at various race distances, but we realize very quickly that you leave all that behind. We are now a band of brothers and sisters, placed in situations that challenge all of us to our very core. Everyone had a day where they felt like poo (to put it nicely and PG). Some days you were the windshield and some days you were the bug. There were days when I had to get pulled home in the pouring rain by hugging the wheel of my teammates and there were days where I pulled my teammates home. No one was immune to the suffering and each day was a clean slate to rise to the occasion of what we were called to do. No matter what happened, you couldn’t take it too hard and you realized we were all in the same boat. The goal for each person was the same, do your best, be a professional, survive until the end of camp. Period.
We laughed a lot and sometimes, we also cried. We jammed out to Pandora’s “Hip Hop BBQ” station where Wheeler, Corbin, Shutt, Cindy and I traveled back to high school and became rappers. We asked more and more of bodies and even more of our minds. Sometimes we got it and sometimes, not so much. The value of being in an environment with people who are not excuse makers and are positive individuals is that it makes you want to be a better person and a better athlete. There’s something about doing that together, day after day that bonds you. You are warriors together blazing through miles in the rain on two wheels, laying down mile repeats on a track as the last bit of sunlight fades into the dusk, and jumping in the pool long after the sun has set for a second time to complete the last of a 7k swim day.
Best of all, I took a piece of each of my teammates with me as I came back to my normal life. Sure, I came out a stronger physical athlete, but that’s the easy part. The hard part is carrying that same motivation and love of the grind back to your trainer for another 5+ hour bike ride. That’s where camp trickles back into the psyche the most. This week when I hit number five of a 14 x 1 min all out bike set I heard Angela’s hard working breath coming up behind me on the bike and felt her energy as she surged past me laying down some extreme 10 min effort on the bike, pushing herself to the absolute brink. If she brought that kind of intensity and focus, so could I. I geared up the bike and was able to find another level in those next nine minutes of intensity. Another tough run this week where my fitness was forcing me to push to a new level, I felt my mile repeat group around me. I heard their footsteps and took in the outline of their heads bobbing as we surged around the track together as one unit. If they could do it, I could do it I told myself that day at camp. My key words that workout were “rise to the occasion” and “lean in”. “Rise and lean, rise and lean” I repeated to myself as I hit the numbers I was searching for so desperately. Finally, the same swim set that continued to make me cower before I left, I approached with a new mindset this morning. I remembered so many days where I didn’t know if I could even move my arms, but my swim partners, specifically Heather and Suzy, were right there. We all knew what was expected and we each took our turn forging the way. We stepped up to the plate together and when sendoff time came, I felt them right beside me stroke for stroke matching my efforts and pushing me to PR’ing several distances. The set came and went and I was pleasantly shocked at the results. Progress my friends, progress.
None of that would be possible if I hadn’t had these folks around me showing me their love of the sport and the process. They weren’t afraid to fail. I saw that multiple times as people tried to lead a lane they probably had no business leading, but they did anyway. The minds process was simple “what’s the worst that can happen here”. If you make it, then great, if you fall off the pace, there are no consequences of note. If you do pull it off, you’ve gained a new experience to draw on when times get tough and built a new swim gear that you didn’t know you had. Sounds like a win-win in my book. That’s what camp is about. Challenge – Rise – See what you can do – Find the next gear.
None of it would also be possible without the coaches who were willing to give of their time and energy for seventeen whole days of being away from their families and friends to tend to our needs and guide us each day. We are not an easy group by any stretch, and yet they handled everything in stride (and a LOT of bitching behind the scenes I’m sure). There’s no amount of words that would ever say enough about their devotion to this group and how hard they worked so we could achieve new levels. Thank you to Jesse, Tim, Tara, John and Michelle for all of your attention and sacrifices to help us become better athletes.
All in all, it was a great 2015 camp and despite my trepidation, I enjoyed much of it and felt I gave every last drop out there in the lanes of the NTC and the roads of Clermont. I’m a different athlete every time I leave, not just because of the training, but because of the new friendships I’ve encountered and the honor of getting to know these athletes on another level. They are truly an inspiration to see at work and it’s not something I will ever take for granted. It is a blessing and it is a gift. Most of all, it’s an experience worth working for and I promise to use it to springboard into the 2015 season (which consequently will kick off next month at Ironman Taiwan on April 12th!)! Let's do this!!!
Thanks to my 2015 sponsors Ultragrain, Coeur Sports, QT2 Systems, Rudy Project, NormaTec Recovery, FuelBelt, TriSports and Powerbar (and a new one coming soon! Stay tuned!).
Enjoy a little slideshow about our time there! Thanks to Pedro and everyone else who took the pictures!
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Here's a great video Pedro created as well!