“I’m only going to say this once.  Now’s your chance to pull out the rulers and compare sizes. Get it over with here before we start, because this camp is about building fitness, not ruining your season in February.”

That’s the sanitized, paraphrased version of how Central Virginia Endurance coach and Lava Magazine contributor Robert Flanigan began our well-structured, high-volume Wattie Ink Triathlon Team training camp last week.  As a new member of the team, I was excited and eager to please. So I initially ignored Flanigan’s first rule, and in doing so realized I needed a much smaller ruler compared to my new teammates.

What’s the value of a triathlon training camp? It depends on your goals, really.  For me, the Wattie Ink training camp came at the perfect time in my early season plans. I had just finished a two-month (trail) running-focused block. Dedicating five vacation days following my winter A-race (Bandit Ultra Run 30k) to pack on extra swim yards and bike miles made good sense.

The near 25-hours of training in picturesque Carlsbad, Calif. dramatically boosted my physical fitness.  (You can check out fellow Wattie teammates James Adams’ and Karin Langer’s blogs for more specifics.)  I expected that outcome. But I experienced far greater mental benefits, which surprised me.  Of course, most of those mental gains came through overcoming frustration, disappointment and re-framing my expectations.

Let me explain.  Despite still being sore from the Bandit race, I came to camp feeling good about myself. I had been hitting my training and racing goals, knew I was getting faster, and was poised to show that I belonged among such a prestigious group of athletes.

Proving myself: Mistake number one.

Some Wattie workouts required Herculian efforts on my part not to come dislodged from the back of a fast-moving cycling train. Other times I simply had to let go and watch as a group zoomed off into the horizon, feeling meek and dejected.  You’d think I would have remembered my prior foibles in this area. I’m stubborn though.  The definition of insanity is doing the same things repeatedly and expecting a different result.

Then, instead of re-calibrating my goals and actually heeding Flanny’s advice, I dug deeper.  Maybe if I just power through the workouts I’ll pick up the pace and keep up more. Wrong! Even by the third day of training camp, I had forgotten the very point of being there in the first place! It was never intended to be a race, stupid. Someone should have slapped the back of my hand with that ruler.

Being my own worst enemy: Mistake number two.

It took until the fourth day of training camp before my body and mind decided to synchronize.  That was because Flanny expertly inserted the longest workout towards the end of camp, once all the…ahem…measuring was expunged from my system.  We’d be riding 85 miles with around 6,000 feet of climbing – my longest ride since Ironman Arizona this past November. This outing wouldn’t normally be a huge effort in itself, but after three previous high-volume days and for me a big race immediately before that, I knew I had to get real.  My self-talk kinda sounded like this back in my hotel room:

Mind: Hey.

Body: What.

Mind: This whole “trying hard” thing isn’t going so well.

Body: No shit.  Thanks for noticing. By the way, have I told you today yet how much I hate you?

Mind: Yes. Several times, in fact.  But I’ve got a deal for you.

Body: Piss off.

Mind: No seriously, I think you’ll like it.

Body: The last time you said that, we wound up in the med tent.

Mind: It was so worth it! But these guys and gals are fast. Like really fast.

Body: Boy, you’re really quick, Einstein.

Mind: Thanks. Wait, that wasn’t a compliment, huh.  Look, stop worrying about them. Let’s get a ton of sleep and just pick things we want to work on from here out. Leg power balance on the bike seems like a good place to start, and how about body position in the swim?

Body: Wait. So…just go at my own pace? No strings attached?

Mind: Yeah. Let’s just pick our spots and be smart.

Body: Cool. But I still f-ing hate you.

Ten hours of sleep later, I boarded my tri bike feeling fresh, relaxed and ready to ride.  As a result, I enjoyed my best performance in the camp.  Thanks to sponsors like PowerBar, Herbalife, and Speedfil, I stayed nourished and felt strong throughout our cycling journey. I could have ridden another 40 miles at least by the time we returned.

Staying within myself: Success number one.

I wasn’t the fastest at Wattie Ink’s training camp. Not even close.  Obviously, I wasn’t the smartest either.  (Though Q&A sessions from pros like Heather Jackson, Eric Limkemann and Erin Green certainly helped me grow.) But I was reminded yet again that after a few seasons toiling in this sport I love, training your psyche, managing your ego and swallowing your pride are often the most important exercises we can do to improve. I left camp not necessarily faster, but wiser nonetheless. No more rulers needed.