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Ultra Training Camps- Are they Worth it?

Days filled with high mileage long runs and beautiful trails. Training camps sound wonderful. These “training camps” might be officially organized by a race, an organization, or a training group. But, your coach or you can also design your own training camp. Let’s look at what exactly is considered a “training camp” (for ultramarathons) and what to take into account when designing one for your athlete or yourself.

What is a Training Camp?

A training camp, aimed at ultramarathon training, condenses a high amount of training volume into a few days. Properly placed in the context of training, a training camp can provide an impactful endurance stimulus and also provide a unique opportunity to address a multitude of other considerations for race day.

What is the Structure of a Training Camp?

  1. Timing: A training camp is usually 3-4 days in length, but even a weekend of back-to-back long runs can provide a similar stimulus and experience. The camp should come after a cut-back week so a runner is coming in fresh. The camp falls in the endurance phase of training, where the focus is on low intensity and high volume. Ideally, it’s 4-8 weeks out from your race, allowing for adequate time for recovery, and a final block of race specific training.

  2. Location: Every Memorial Day weekend, Western States 100 holds a training camp where runners get to experience the course for a few days. A training camp on the actual race course doesn’t get any more race specific! Otherwise, aim for terrain and routes that are similar to the race, with similar elevation gain and ascent per mile, running surface, climate, and key course features (i.e. big climbs).

  3. Volume: Let’s take a look at a typical 3 day training camp structure. A training camp should start with the highest volume day (the largest stimulus), then decrease in volume each preceding day. For example, a 100 mile race focused training camp might look like 6 hours, 5 hours, 4 hours. The volume of the runs is specific to the runner, starting at around 3-4 times a runner’s average daily volume.

What Else Can Be Gained from a Training Camp?

A training camp also allows time to practice a variety of other ultrarunning skills specific to your goal race:

  • Nutrition and hydration

  • Running gear and clothing

  • Self talk, visualization, and mental endurance

While all of these skills should be practiced throughout training, the longer runs allow for more race-like conditions.

So is a Training Camp Worth It?

Sorry to be downer, but, like so much of training, it depends. If you’re dealing with an injury, are close to race day, and feel worn down or stressed, most likely not. But if you’re able to find a few days, further enough out from your race, where you can devote most of your attention to everything that is a part of a training camp, then yes, they could absolutely be worth it. Working with a coach that considers the individual athlete and broader training perspective (like we do here at Golden Endurance :) can help you decide.

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