To get fast you need to ride with faster people.
That’s true. This week I rode with lots of them. (And I think I got faster. Wheee! Zoom!)
Well truth be told my group was just 10 of the many. And I wasn’t slowest in all settings. On the flats I can usually hold my own and I always surprise people when it comes time to sprint. But it’s hilly at camp (very hilly!) and given my size and the hills, I’m the slowest.
Somebody has to be the slowest. I tell that to all my friends who are new to riding. (Hi Tracy!) But this week I needed to listen to my own advice.
Where exactly was I that I was the slowest rider? Coach Chris’s Training camp. It’s held every spring in Table Rock State Park in South Carolina. We weren’t the only Canadian cyclists there. Indeed, we saw at least four other organized training groups–all from Canada, all seeking warm weather, bare roads, hills, and a chance to get a head start on the spring cycling season.
There are people who take time off work to go on cycling holidays and people who take time off work to go to training camp. For all of my life so far I’ve been the former. (I’ve blogged lots about cycling holidays and you can read about my most recent one here.)
When I tell fellow cyclists that I’ve been visiting Arizona with my bike, they often ask, oh how was camp? You see I’ve been on cycling holidays to Arizona twice but before this year never to bike camp.
Yes, I’ve heard of training camp. Pre-season camp is a bit of a cycling tradition. See Bicycling Magazine’s Best Winter Cycling Camps.
Here’s Top 10 Tips for Training Camp:
More common is the kind organized by a local cycling team, club, or coach. Indeed I’ve been invited to this sort often. The Vikings in Canberra, Australia have their training camp near Bright, a small town in the Australian alps. Twice I’ve been invited and twice I’ve needed to stay home with kids. But my kids are now almost adults and that excuse is wearing thin. So this year I packed my bike into the car, drove 1350 kms to South Carolina, and got to see what cycling camp is all about.
What are the differences between a cycling holiday and training camp?
- There’s no neon green bus with snacks at training camp. You’re responsible for your own groceries, your own cooking, and your snacks on the road.
- I’m sharing a cabin with strangers, nice kind cycling strangers, now friends, but strangers to start. They’re great guys and it’s been fun getting to know each other.
- We’re riding about the same daily distance as on a cycling holiday but in a row, no lunch breaks. I’m learning to eat on the bike again while going fast. Drinking at speed is a thing again. Yes, do it at the back of the pack but I can’t let a gap between me and them open up or I’m toast.
- We’re not moving locations. This isn’t about sight seeing. It’s about getting in shape for the start of the cycling season. We’re staying in lovely cabins in a state park in South Carolina and riding from there each day. (Oh look, another hill!) On the bike tours your route is determined by getting from place to place. Here there are lots of different rides but they all begin and end at camp. I actually really appreciated getting to know some of the local rides. I like knowing my own way round but it’s more than that. It’s also really nice having ridden a stretch of road once, to ride it again. The subsequent times you know what to expect and can plan accordingly. Often on cycling holidays I found myself wanting to go back and take a second run at a given route. I’d think about the hills and the road at night and scheme a bit about how I’d do it differently now I know the road.
- There are fewer photos! On our bike tours, since we were under no speed pressure, we stopped lots to take photos. Here the pretty sights whoosh by. I still get to see them but there aren’t any pictures. There’s evidence that photo taking interferes with holiday memories anyway. We do have our group shot on top of a hill and that’s enough I think.
- Everyone is fit. These people are serious about bike training. Makes sense, that’s why they’re here. Often on biking holidays I’m among the fittest. Not here. Many of these people are coming right up on race season and they’re ready.
- There’s some coaching. Coach Chris planned the routes, organized the groups, picked the rest day, and generally kept everyone organized and on track. There were group leaders riding with each group so we got some one on one advice. A couple of the young women with us hadn’t don’t much group riding before and I think they learned a lot. I got lots of coaching on hill climbing. On bike tours the focus of the organizers is mostly on food and accommodation, on keeping everyone happy, and while there might be some riding advice it’s not geared to performance.
- Camp is definitely less expensive. We paid for our accommodation in basic state park cabins and while I thought they were lovely, they were less pricey and less luxurious than our Arizona bike tour digs. Again, that’s just fine with me. At about a third the price, camp is definitely a good deal. Also I got to drive there, instead of flying, in our hybrid car, a Prius. With sharing driving and fuel costs with another cyclist, it was certainly economical.
- On the bright side too, naps. Lots of naps. I’ve never slept so much in my life. We ride, eat, sleep…then eat and sleep some more before the next day’s ride. The routine goes like this: get up early and get ready to ride, at 9 am we ride, early afternoon we arrive back at the park to shower, eat, nap, and relax, dinner, socializing, then early to bed. Repeat.
- There’s a rest day. On cycling holidays there isn’t a rest day but generally speaking you don’t need one. Here we need one. On rest day we’ll go into town and visit local shops and eat dinner out as a group. It’s a nice chance to socialize with people from the other groups.
- We’re riding in a close, tight groups which I like. It annoys me sometimes on cycling holidays that people don’t draft. I get why they don’t. It’s scary and unfamiliar but it makes life so much easier. I like this style of riding much better. It’s a chance to improve my group riding skills and to go faster as part of the group than I could alone.
- You need to be independent about bike maintenance. See the point above about no bus. On my cycling holidays it seemed over the top luxurious to have someone check my bike each morning and inflate tires, look at the brake pads etc. Here we’re on our own. I carried CO2 cartridges, spare tubes, a pump, and a multi-tool with me each day. Checking the bike becomes part of the morning routine.
- Hills, hills, and more hills. I mentioned that the Vikings training camp is in the Australian alps. We’re here in the hills of South Carolina. Before this I would have thought that South Carolina was flat. My associations are with the coast and the low country. But we’re inland and north. There are lots of Canadian cyclists here seeking warmer weather, dry roads, and hills. One day we climbed Caesar’s Head, about a 10 km climb, with times taking from 30 to 60 minutes. We agreed on a time cut off of 1:05 and I made it 9/10 of the way there. Next year!
Caesar’s Head is said to be George Hincapie’s favourite climb.
“Ask most cyclists in Greenville, South Carolina, what their favorite local ride is, and the answer you usually get is the Bakery Ride to Saluda, for sticky buns at the Wildflour Bakery. But George Hincapie says, “The climb isn’t hard enough. Plus, those sticky buns are like a thousand calories.” His favorite: Caesars Head, which has what he calls “one of the hardest climbs in the area.” The ride crosses part of the Mountain Bridge State Natural Area near the North Carolina border, then heads back over Paris Mountain. You start casually, pedaling out of Greenville and through the tree-lined mall of Furman University. After 15 minutes, Hincapie says, you’ll hit the rolling hills, rivers and old farms of South Carolina’s Upcountry, then the 6-mile Caesars Head climb, which averages about 7 percent. Just before the summit, at 3,266 feet, there’s a chocolate shop on the left. Hincapie skips it. But everyone should stop at the crest to gawk at Table Rock and the Blue Ridge Mountains. In mid-September to November, watch for migrating birds flying through the valley below.”
Short version, I loved it. Nice to start the cycling season this way.
(Now, I also liked my cycling holidays. And I’ll do those again too.)
See you next year South Carolina! I’ll be back.