Adapting Training Camp in a Year of Uncertainty 

By Kelsey Connor 

October 20, 2020

On an unmarked gravel road between Boulder and Nederland, our pickle-green Honda Element is halfway in a ditch. I’m crouched on the edge of the dirt wielding a camera, waiting for cyclists to appear and begin climbing the soul crushing hill that we’re sitting atop. I’m taking photos while my Skratch Labs coworker, Frank drives. Helmets start to surface and I begin snapping photos while Frank opens coolers and starts getting bottles ready. When the group of six crests the hill, they chuck empty bottles into a salvaged clothes hamper and grab new ones from the cooler. They restock on rice cakes then take off down the hill. We pack up and drive to the next stop along their route. 

This is a typical Saturday long ride supporting Dr. Allen Lim’s summer training camp. Summer 2020 is not a typical season though-and not just because everyone was wearing masks, lathering their hands in sanitizer, and limiting contact with anyone outside of the camp “pod.” Allen explains: “I’ve spent most of my career running and helping with training camps in some way or another but training camps are always towards some goal, a particular race…they tend to not be longer than two or three weeks in length…[right now] we are 9 weeks into this training camp and it’s just continuing to go. Initially the goal was to set these athletes up for the Colorado Classic, but in the middle of all this, that race got cancelled.”

It’s not uncommon for professional cycling teams to have short, specific camps throughout the season. They may all congregate for a high-altitude training camp, or spend several weeks on the course of a goal race previewing difficult sections. However, a majority of their training is done alone. They often live scattered across the country and world, riding solo and under the virtual supervision of their personal coaches. 

Clara Honsinger, 2019 Cyclocross World Champion and Nutrition Health and Science major at Oregon State, served as Skratch’s intern for summer 2020. She also had the opportunity to participate in the training group, which she believes was a benefit for several reasons. “When I was back in Oregon training primarily on my own, every day of the week, it left a lot of questions. Am I going hard enough? Am I not going hard enough? Everything is so mediated, so steady. Having the group, there’s this aspect of play. Somebody’s going to attack and take you by surprise, and you’re going to snap back. It brings the game and playfulness back to cycling...having other people keeps it spicy.”

Throughout the summer the end goal of racing the Colorado Classic slowly fell apart. With each passing week, more and more races were cancelled. The focus of the group shifted from a specific race-or even racing at all-to maintaining fitness and health. Allen often points out that though a non-pro may view professional athletes as the epitome of health and fitness, the level of fitness necessary to race at a high level is not always healthy, especially with constant travel. Clara agrees, saying that 2020 has been beneficial because “without racing, athletes this year have been able to train and maintain their health so much more effectively versus always being on planes, going to the next trace, crashing, getting injured…I wonder if some athletes are going to come back so much better, because they’ve had a much more effective and healthful year to grow.”

Without racing goals, training at a professional level can become tedious. The day to day of training with no end in sight is mundane but builds the foundations necessary for future success. "In some ways,” Allen laughs, “it’s as monotonous as every pedal stroke these cyclists take.”

Though Skratch, Allen, myself, and Frank were able to support the riders several days a week in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to: a vehicle following their route with the ability to make bike repairs, carrying a cooler full of cold Skratch and water, fresh-made rice cakes, as well as moral support. On intense, long rides, the cyclists must plan carefully for how they’ll carry enough food, water, and what they’ll do if their bike requires repair. Having full-time support, however, eliminates that mental (and sometimes emotional) burden and allows the cyclists to focus on what’s important: riding. 

So without any real answer as to when racing will come back, what’s the point in putting in all of this work? Why would Allen Lim spend months on end without days off, training a group of athletes who may not race for another full calendar year?

It’s about what cycling represents: “Human dignity. I think that in times where things are really hard, where there are problems that we cannot solve, where it may take generations for us to come to a better place, that if we can relish in something as simple as the joy of riding a bicycle, and the smile that you get going down a beautiful mountain, or the satisfaction that you get knowing you worked hard, and our company Skratch can be a small part of the best part of somebody’s day…then I feel really content that there is some sort of just cause here, that goes beyond the act, it goes deeper to maybe the dream that we all have of becoming better in whatever way.”

Kelsey Conner an ultra runner, cyclist, and climber. When she's not supporting athletes at a race, you can find her writing, baking bread, or playing with her dogs.

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