Some training camps are about skills, some are about fitness, and some camps end up being about building resilience. Learning to face adversity, adapting, and thriving is critical to every athlete.
On Sunday, December 13th, the mountain bike camp was about ALL OF THE ABOVE!
Five young female mountain bike athletes and their coach were dealt with some very challenging conditions at Mount Tzouhalem near North Cowichan, BC. They not only survived but thrived.
Now, I’ve heard it before, and I, myself, may have even been guilty of knockin’ west coast riders when I lived in colder climates. “Oh ya, well we deal with way colder temperatures here…” blah blah blah.
However, I maintain that there are few things harder to deal with than west coast rain when it’s hovering just around the freezing mark. The rain seeps in. Icy water slowly chilling you to the bone. The damp air surrounds you and prevents evaporation. The moisture just clings to you. Hypothermia is a legitimate concern.
If it’s a little colder, you get snow. Still cold, but it is USUALLY a touch drier than rain. A few degrees warmer, and rain is just, well, wet. As mountain bikers in BC, it’s pretty common to deal with the wet, but here on the South Island, we just don’t ride in the snow that often.
We knew the weather would be cold and wet, so prior to the camp we discussed how important clothing would be. I recommended a second, dry kit and dry gloves for the afternoon.
During the first part of the day, we were met with steady drizzle and temperatures about 1-2 degrees. The first hour-and-a-half was spent on the school field at Maple Bay Elementary where we worked on fundamental skills. A warm-up game of follow-the-leader around the field incorporated some tight turns through the baseball dugouts, wheelies, stoppies, track stands, bunny hops, cutties and a few sprints. We cruised through the forest trails behind the school and then hopped off the bikes for a dynamic warm-up routine.
A review of body position and an in-depth discussion about managing loads and forces on the bike and rider led to an increased fundamental understanding of the concepts for the athletes. We then delved into braking control and used the grassy slope to challenge the riders with various drills. They mastered adjusting their body position to increase stability and traction under braking loads. Now it was time to up the speed!
I talked about the physics of high-speed cornering and then gave the riders opportunities to practice REALLY leaning the bike on the grass. Switching between experimenting with fundamental techniques and cone drills allowed the athletes to dial in their skills.
After lunch, we headed up the paved climb and eventually to the trails. The weather was dismal. Zero degrees and raining. We heard reports that it was snowing higher up. This was going to be interesting!
We climbed. And climbed. And Climbed. From the very bottom of the mountain to the top of the new section of A Grand Traverse, it was a solid hour uphill and we were definitely warm as we reached the snow line. I reminded the riders that it was important to keep the output a little lower to prevent getting too sweaty. If riders became soaked and we were forced to stop for any reason, the riders would freeze!
A lap down Twist and Shout gave us some good opportunities to put into practice the body position, braking and cornering skills we had polished on the field. We headed back up for another lap.
Dropping into Finality, was sweet. Considering the weather, trail conditions here were quite good. A broken chain about a minute into that lap caused the group to stop. While we repaired the chain, I sent a few riders to hike back up in an effort to keep themselves warm. It wasn’t quite enough and I think I even heard some teeth chattering by the time we dropped back in. The group decided that it was time for a pit stop to warm up.
One of the parents was at the main parking lot with her van. The awning was pulled out and the propane fire pit was going full blast. We all had a chance to get a little toasty for a few minutes before heading out for the final hour of the day.
Many donned dry gloves or fresh layers and we left with higher spirits to hit the drops.
We headed to Resurrection, a Tzouhalem classic with some mellow drops that are ideal for really dialling in the technique. Given that riders were a little chilly and fatigued, I thought it wise to stick with a low-risk environment and we resisted the urge to head to the bigger drops higher on the mountain.
Lastly, we hit Bisectacon and Bumble Bee to smash a few high-speed turns. Smiles were ear to ear as we railed berms on these last two trails to round out an awesome five hour day.
To wrap up, we all talked about each athlete’s individual takeaways from the day. Everybody learned something significant or had a break though “lightbulb” moment.
As a coach, I saw visible improvement with each and every athlete. Skills and fitness were certainly addressed on this big day on the bike, but the mental toughness and resilience displayed by the athletes were remarkable.
Here in BC, we are, without a doubt, building yet another generation of smart, strong, skilled, athletes that are tough, both mentally and physically!
Written by Coach Adam Walker
Cycling BC’s High Performance Programs provide opportunities for athletes to optimize their potential in sport through Cycling BC training camps, coaching, race projects, educational opportunities, grants, and enhanced services. Learn more about High Performance.