From June 30th to July 9th, I had the privilege of living and training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. After Collegiate Nationals in April, Barb Lindquist contacted me to see if I was interested in participating in the 2013 collegiate recruitment camp. I may be clueless when it comes to girls but I knew this was a pretty great opportunity for me. In general, the training center lived up to its reputation as an amazing facility and I was able to learn numerous fine points in the sport of triathlon.
The first couple of days of the camp included 2 different types of swim video tests/analysis. In one, “Dr. G” used a belt to measure our velocity in the water. The end product was a video, synchronized with a graph of our velocity, which allowed for us to identify specific parts of our stroke slowed us down. Genius! The other video session was done using high tech cameras that moved with you down the length of the pool. Like in the Olympics! The tips gained from these sessions have been very helpful. Many of the other athletes taking part in the camp had reached very high levels of swimming throughout their careers and offered great examples of how techniques should be executed. Of the three sports in triathlon, many would argue that it is most important to be an efficient swimmer. Similar to biking, in swimming we want as small an area exposed to the direction we are traveling as possible in order to minimize drag. For me, this required losing the “board shorts”. Also, it is important to accelerate throughout each stroke, otherwise we are just making more drag. One of the best ways to become a more efficient swimmer is to have someone experienced (like Coach Tess Pasternak) look at a video of you swimming and give you feedback.
One of the main focuses of the camp was the draft-legal side of triathlon. Participating and succeeding in upcoming ITU races and the Olympics is the focus for resident triathletes. Because transitions are such a large part of these races, we practiced transitions in race simulations for around three hours throughout the camp. Being efficient in the bike leg of any triathlon requires a strategy…unless you’re Cameron Dye and you smash all bike courses without regret. From what I learned, a draft-legal race requires you to pay much closer attention to the athletes around you. Have they been sitting back and letting others do all the work? Or have they been attacking relentlessly, trying to fry everyones’ run legs? We started off with basics. Riding in a straight line… with one hand… grabbing a water bottle. We worked our way up to putting arms around a partner’s shoulders so we were two wide… 3 wide… 6 wide!... and turning!... while switching positions! It was a major bonding experience to participate in this activity with athletes we had just met. After working on group formations and different pace-lines, we worked on individual skills like cornering and getting comfortable to making contact with others. We progressed to full contact games of tag, knockout and even some obstacle course races on grass. By the end, many of us had scrapes but we all felt much more comfortable on our bikes alone and making moves with other people. Even though you may never race a draft-legal triathlon, improving biking skills and etiquette will greatly enhance your bike training… it might even impress some roadies.
To work on run technique, legendary running coach Bobby Magee led us through a general running form session and then filmed us running while driving in his Subaru. After analyzing the video, he worked with us individually teaching methods to improve our biomechanics. In addition to giving us drills to work on, he assessed different strengths and weaknesses in our bodies that could inhibit our development or lead to injury. A common tip he gave athletes to work on was to focus on bringing down our feet so they land directly under our center of gravity. (Instead of just letting the foot fall to the ground.) One drill I found very helpful in controlling and limiting upper-body movement was the Velcro drill. When slowly jogging, Bobby instructed us to imagine our elbows were Velcro-ed to our rib cage, forcing our shoulders to swing. After experimenting with that, we slowly allowed our arms to minimally swing front to back. As speed is added, you simply move your arms a little faster and with a greater range of motion. When I’m out running now, if I think my upper body is not being very efficient, I Velcro my elbows in for a couple seconds and then build them in again. In addition to all of the training/skills sessions at the camp, lectures were also given that gave us information on topics ranging from the ITU points system (still a confusing topic) to nutrition and training methods.
One of the highlights of the camp was the facilities, by which I mean the dining hall. The food was incredible! The servers were very gracious and accommodating. The food never ran out. They must go through hundreds of bananas there each day between all of the athletes that eat there. Some of the things I really appreciated included a homemade smoothie always available, an awesome salad bar, different baked/steamed veggies every night, gluten-free options, Chobani yogurt (a sponsor) and several different types of meat always available. (Nutrition facts and ingredients were also displayed on everything they were serving.) Having a first-class dining hall available all day while training made me realize how much time I normally spent shopping/preparing healthy food. To have it all done for you makes the recovery step of training much simpler.
In my eyes, to be a great athlete requires dedication and hard work. Three days before going to the training center I wrote: “The biggest thing I hope to gain from this experience is knowledge.” I still have no clue about the girls topic but what I have taken away is new methods to improve my efficiency. I have already begun to implement these new techniques in my training and racing. One thing from Bobby that I really think underlines the truth is that even though we may be making efficiency changes every day, results will take time.
Follow Steve Mantell on Twitter @steve_mantell as he tears up the 2013/14 Collegiate Triathlon race season for CSU Triathlon.