Friday, 8 March 2013

DIY Winter Training Camp

In an ideal world we'd all be able to head away to the sun for the Winter.  A few hours on the road bike every day, run up a mountain and then have a swim and spa whilst the chefs cook us numerous tasty and healthy dishes to keep us fuelled.  We'd return tanned, chiselled and destroying our PB's for fun...
Another sunny Malta day
Reality time!  For most of us a week away over Winter is a luxury and even then exercise comes way down the list behind family duties so I was delighted when my wife suggested we head to Malta for three weeks this February.  Now I'll be honest, the major factors behind this idea were more to do with the fact that our two year old son couldn't pick the sun out in a line up and heating the house for our new baby is more expensive than buying a foreign island but in the back of my mind I was hatching a plan.

Having decided to train properly this year I'd had a great December and January but was already getting jaded with the idea of getting frozen and soaking yet again every day through Feb so I jumped at the idea.  Luckily with two weeks paternity and a part time contract I was able to free up a whole three weeks.  Here is what I learned.

1) Do it!

A self catering apartment in a 4 star hotel cost us 21 Euro per night for 2 adults and 2 kids!  21 Euro!  Fresh towels every day, cleaners, gym, pool, spa and all for less than it costs for us to be at home with heating, fuel etc.  The flights cost us £350 and food was really cheap with fresh veg and fruit markets everywhere.  The journey with a 2 year old and a 7 week old was a dream, Easyjet were excellent and allowed us 4 big free extra bits of luggage as well as priority boarding, brilliant.  Can't say we'd expect the same level of service from other well known (and much hated) low cost airlines though!

2) Be Organised

In the first week I was trying to fit in my running whenever I could which is really difficult.  Anyone who trains seriously knows that having no time to mentally prepare for a hard session makes it doubly hard as well as the problem of not being able to exercise within a couple of hours of eating.  By day five I decided to get up early and get out there, it was still hard on minimal sleep but at least I knew it was coming every day.  It also meant that I could spend the rest of the day being as relaxed as possible.

3) Be Realistic

I was on a family holiday which with our kids meant little sleep, constant playing, virtually no genuine relaxation and impromptu weights sessions (carrying a knackered 3 stone kid over a mile up a hill from the beach!).  As fun as this all is it isn't classic recovery time so be prepared to listen to your body and adjust your sessions accordingly.  I managed to train every day, some sessions were absolutely brutal and others were a bit more relaxed but I was amazed how well I did recover despite never stopping all day, just the mental relaxation of being on holiday can spur you on physically.

4) Be Creative and Go Explore

Malta is definitely not your quintessential mountain running training venue.  There are no mountains for a start, as well as that, virtually all spare land is used for growing veg so there are very few trails.  On day one I headed out just to see what I could find and ended up with a 7 mile loop with road, beach, trail and off-trail elements ending with a big hill.  This formed the basis for getting in some miles.  Outside our hotel were 112 steps which provided some amazing endurance and sprint interval sessions.  This led to some funny looks, filming, photos and fighting through the stink of the morning smokers but definitely made a difference.

The 112 Steps
Done 100 times!

5) Lay Off The Booze!

I'm no drinker these days but the local Cisk lager was amazing and the wines were really good too. There's undeniably something about being on holiday that makes you want to drink but if you're going to get going at 7am then you need to be disciplined. Couple of glasses at dinner = Good. Couple of bottles at dinner = Puking on the aforementioned steps.

6) Think How Bad It Is At Home!

The weather in Malta wasn't amazing initially and I wasn't hugely delighted when everyone's Facebook was showing blue skies in the Mournes but then I saw sense.  Running in shorts and short sleeves in the dead of Winter along a stunning deserted clifftop path at 7am is a total joy.  The skies were blue in the Mournes but then so would my skin have been if I'd headed out in what I could wear on holiday.  Smugness is a top motivator and no matter how much I may have dreaded an upcoming ball buster of a session, knowing it would be warm made all the difference.

7) Let The Family Know

Don't just sneak out every day, tell the family your plans.  If your partners are anywhere near as understanding as mine then it means that at least you'll get time for a shower and some breakfast when you return from running up and down 11,000 steps before you become a human climbing frame for the day!  Also there's nothing better than an adoring child saying 'did you have an excellent run daddy?' when you get through the door (obviously those with teenagers wouldn't expect this!)

Getting the family involved - Rowan doing some resistance work
So that's that.  I've never run more than three times a week in my life with biking taking up so much of my fun time so I was really intrigued to see what effect my DIY training trip had.  Since coming back I've taken chunks out of my quickest times on two of my usual testpieces and there's more in the tank.  I definitely feel fitter, stronger and mentally great having got more Vitamin D than I'd usually see this side of August in a year.  If you can free the time then I'd really recommend putting together your own Winter camp.

Malta was great, the people were lovely, the weather good, food and drink good, prices cheap and lots for the kids to do.  I'll happily pass on recommendations based on my experiences, drop me a line at if you'd like some details.

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