Happy Campers – Triathlon Training Despite Winter

It’s a well-established and indisputable fact that the Northeastern United States offers a sub-optimal climate for year-round outdoor triathlon training. As opposed to many Western and Southern states, New York boasts a seemingly never-ending winter.

As a New Yorker, having an early season race on the calendar is what keeps me honest and stops me from shedding all my hard-earned endurance fitness during the long winter months. After my last race of the season is over (typically MiamiMan 70.3 in mid-November), an early season race registration means I can’t hang up my bike shoes and hibernate on the couch until the spring thaw. It also means I’m primed for a winter spent making the most of my gym membership and pedaling away on my indoor bike trainer.

Indoor training certainly has its place in any training plan. However, after months of swimming endless laps in the local pool, watching mindless TV while on the bike trainer, and plodding away on the treadmill, the end result is a bad case of cabin fever, not to mention a low Vitamin D level.

Melissa Grieco racing in the 2018 Miamiman on the bike portion.
Racing MIAMIMAN in 2018.
Melissa on a spin bike training.
Indoor training during a winter class.

Enter the glorious concept of a triathlon training camp getaway! With an early season race looming and with the right timing, a training camp is perfect for breaking the monotony of indoor workouts. It’s also great for turbo boosting your endurance while gauging your current fitness level.

I’ve attended a variety of triathlon training camps in different venues over the past decade while preparing for early season races. All of them were time, money and energy well-spent, not to mention a great way to cure the indoor winter training blahs:

Desert Camp

My first time attending a February training camp in Tucson was also my first ever visit to the beautiful state of Arizona. I was captivated by the stunning desert landscape and cacti everywhere, especially coming off a long winter of ice and snow back home. My husband and I enjoyed this camp so much that we returned three years in a row before it was sadly discontinued.

This camp was no joke in terms of the training volume. The head coach made sure to furnish us with a detailed training schedule and thorough packing list ahead of time. Each year we’d come fully prepared for an intense but fun boot camp experience.

Melissa poses for a photo with a fellow rider over looking the desert.
Riding in Saguaro National Park at a training camp.
Melissa taking a selfie while riding on the road.
Still smiling on the big climb up Mt. Lemmon.

We would undertake multiple rides into the desert of varying distances including the 80-mile Gates Pass loop and a shorter 30-40 miler to Saguaro National Park which fast became one of my favorite places to bike in the world. The last ride of the week would always feature the famous 26-mile long, 8,000-foot climb to the top of Mount Lemmon.

When we weren’t in our saddles, we were busy swimming laps in an outdoor multi-lane pool at the foot of the Catalina Mountain Range or running the trails of nearby Sabino Canyon. We’d return home with both a nice base tan and base fitness level.

Melissa celebrating at the 8,000 foot elevation sign on Mt. Lemmon.
Made it to the TOP!!
Laps in the desert.

Sunshine Camp

In March 2017, John and I were both in the grips of the late winter training blues. On a whim, we spontaneously joined a group heading to Clermont, Florida for a spring training camp. 

Clermont is a magnet for local triathletes as it’s one of the only spots in the flatlands of Florida that provides a varied topography for some good hill training. It’s also home to the National Training Center where Olympic and elite athletes often train.

The safe riding routes were more limited than those in Tucson, but it didn’t phase us as it was just so lovely to be cycling outside in the heat and Florida sunshine. Plus, we were provided access to the National Training Center with its running track and a 50-meter outdoor pool. You can’t beat that for top-of-the-line training facilities!

Florida in the winter is a great option for training.
Melissa taking in the southern sun on a triathlon training camp.
A pause in the action of bike training at Kiawah.

Island Camp

In preparation for an upcoming ITU World Championships long course triathlon, we recently returned from a February training camp on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. It was a great few days spent dialing in peak training before heading off to the race in Northern Spain.

Although the ocean temperatures were too cold for me to venture into for open water swim, the running was great, and the riding was decent. The island beaches are so wide, and the sand is so hard packed that many people run and bike along them. I did a four-mile run on the beach, and it was just glorious!

Kiawah Island is a private island, and it features a network of bike paths. However, these paths cater towards laidback beach cruisers rather than those looking to log training mileage on a tri bike. I did do one stop & go sightseeing ride along the paths, but it functioned as a recovery ride versus a training exercise.

Bikes on the beach of Kiawah Island
Wide and firm beaches on Kiawah Island.
A selfie of melissa at triathlon camp on Kiawah Island
Look, no sleeves or coats required at Island Camp.

The head coach drove us off Kiawah Island and onto Johns Island for our long training ride along a horseshoe-shaped road with minimal traffic. We did several out and backs on this road, and I managed to cover sixty hard miles while battling a serious headwind. The rural landscape lined with trees strung with Spanish moss was so pretty it helped get me through!

On our last day of camp, we were treated to a yoga class on the beach. This was a fitting finale for a wonderful few days of training in paradise before heading back to the last gasp of the New York winter and only a few short weeks of indoor bike training.

A group of riders heading out on a training ride.
You'll meet new friends at a training camp as well.
Melissa doing the splits on the beach at a training camp.
Training camps also give you a chance to do more than swim, bike, run. Like yoga.

Mountain Camp

If you can’t get away in the winter, finding a camp near where your goal race will be in the spring is another option for training. One of the best things I did to prepare for my first full Ironman triathlon was to attend a training camp in the race venue itself. The picturesque alpine village of Lake Placid is nestled in the Adirondack mountain range and hosts the longest-running Ironman triathlon in North America, apart from the Ironman World Championship.

The Ironman Lake Placid training camp I attended in late spring of 2011 helped familiarize me with the notoriously challenging race course and gave me a trial run of what lay in store for me come race day. Although I was so intimidated after completing two loops of the ultra-hilly (over 6,000 feet of climb) bike course that I convinced myself I’d never get through it, I ended up crossing the finish line that July with a big smile on my face. I’ve since completed twelve Ironman races and look forward to crossing the finish line of the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii next year.

Melissa standing next to a bobsled in the downtown area of Lake Placid.
Lake Placid has a lot of Olympic history as well as great training opportunities.
A plaque on a boulder at the edge of Lake Placid.
The longest running Ironman location outside of World Champs.
Having some fun on the run of Ironman Lake Placid.
Pushing the pedals and pace for the bike portion of Ironman Lake Placid.

If you can get away for a few days during the late winter or early spring to attend a triathlon training camp somewhere warm, it’s always a worthwhile investment. You’ll return home cured of the indoor training blues and ready to cross the finish line of any early season races you have lined up on the calendar.

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Melissa fell in love with endurance riding after competing in her first sprint triathlon in 2009. She's since gone on to complete twelve full Ironman triathlons, ten half-iron distance triathlons, and numerous shorter distance races. She enjoys spreading the love of riding and triathlon through volunteering and talking up the sport to as large an audience as possible. As a high school cross country runner, college tennis player, recreational mountain biker, Tae Kwon Do blue belt, and snowboarder, Melissa has always been athletic. But once she dialed it up to the Ironman distance, riding and engaging in an active, healthy, multi-sport lifestyle became a full-time enterprise. To that end, she received a Graduate Certificate in Nutrition Science for Communication Professionals from Tufts University Friedman School in 2016 and became a certified USAT Triathlon coach and RRCA running coach in 2017. Melissa resides in Rye, NY with her husband who is also an avid triathlete.

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