Algarve Spring Training Camp 2017
By most pure string of serendipity, whilst searching for a fall marathon for 2017 after an awesome race in Athens (yes, I'm well and truly addicted!), I stumbled across 209 Events. They are one of only TWO tour companies that offer all-inclusive entries to the New York Marathon. Since at the time it was WAY too early to be checking for such entries, I clicked on their website and spied the "Spring Training Camp" with running, sports massages, yoga and one-on-one coach time! Add that to the fact it was in Algarve, Portugal - I was sold.
Of course I mentioned it like 500 times to my friends, whilst bookmarking and emailing the organisers about possibly getting a lift to the hotel a day early (yes, I'd checked flights - £39.98 return with RyanAir!). Sadly (for them) my friends were not as keen. And you didn't have to ask me twice before I'd booked my flights and paid my down-payment for the week!
I know you're curious about it. Too bad, I'm telling you anyway!
For once, I would like to announce that both flights were extremely smooth from the check-in to the landing, customs and even my airport pick-up! And the founder of the event, Mike Gratton (winner of 1983 London Marathon in a time of 2 hours and 9 minutes, hence the name 209 Events) approached me arrivals. When I asked how he guessed it was me, he said: "Well, you look like a runner!" I was flattered. I did conceded that I was wearing Salomon trail shoes (to save on packing space). He also complimented my light packing efforts - I managed on small cabin roller-bag and a tiny fuchsia pink backpack. I had surprised myself with that too. And I didn't even wear two whole running outfits I took along! LOL!
A 30-minute drive later, I checked into the Alfamar Beach and Sports Resort. I was given a wristband (which would get me into breakfast and the Sports Complex) and the wifi login - Amen! The wifi surprisingly went beyond the lobby of the hotel to the walkway leading to the beach and almost to my apartment block - about 5 minutes walk on either side of the hotel! After being given a map to my room in the apartment block, I made my tired way over at 12 midnight! It was a bit of a daunting trek - the concierge had assured me it was a 3-4 minute walk but I went past the apartment blocks at first and had to double back.
My studio apartment was basic but clean and cosy with a working heater (for cool nights) and two single beds. Off to bed I went. In the morning, I realised I had my own balcony too!
The next day after my morning run, I went out the back of the hotel to the pool and discovered the beach. The juxtaposition of the sands and the red cliffs with verdant and vibrant flowering plants was breath-taking! I immediately thanked God for bringing me there and then in the next breath, wondered if I could move to Portugal! lol!
The hotel had both an outdoor swimming pool (freezing cold), an indoor pool (bath-water warm) and jacuzzi and saunas (hot hot hot)! Past the apartments (opposite the main hotel) was the Sports complex with a multitude of tennis courts, a large indoor gym (which believe it or not, I didn't use) and an amazing athletics track (think, soft and springy underfoot).
Now, to highlight the beach: it was jaw-droppingly beautiful! The low tide in the morning allowed a flat run back to the hotel while after midday, the waves were strong but cooling on my feet - I'm not strong swimmer so not trying that extreme sport...yet! Many an afternoon was spent hiking up the cliff trails then climbing down to the beach to walk back to the hotel. A blessing indeed. I am late to this beach holiday party - first beach trip after my childhood living close to a beach was last year! Too many years, methinks! Even though it rained on the last day - Portugal was obviously sad to see us go - my surroundings were still a welcome sight.
On a random note: I noticed a plethora of stray cats (who were being fed by hotel staff daily). They were living the life!
The Running Camp
Apart from my first morning when I did a run on my own - Hill sprints x 10-13 in an 8-mile run - our days were split into morning and afternoon running sessions with an evening talk. Before the afternoon run would be either a core conditioning session, Pilates or Yoga. We had an app (yep, we're so 21st Century - called Vamoos - from which we could check each day's schedule. There was also usually a hand-written note up in the lobby if there were any last minute changes of venue or plan. We could also book ourselves in for a Sports Massage session to help ease any little niggles and get advise from the Sports Massage therapist/yoga instructor, Sue Wainwright L.S.S.M Dip. I had my sports massage on the Sunday after my 20-mile run. What better time than before a further 9-mile bike ride! lol!
The mornings were usually an 8am start outside the hotel with a 5-mile run. I ran 4 miles most mornings except the Sunday (20 miles) and Wednesday (6 miles). These runs went to Vilamoura (the next town over) and at the footbridge, I would turn around and run back along the beach. Heavenly or what? Afterwards, we would all congregate in the outdoor pool dipping our feet in for 5-10 minutes. Then on to breakfast: here I discovered a yummy fruit loaf that I made my mission to keep for later each day!
Mid-mornings, the coaches (Tom, Bruce and Nick) were available at the poolside for one-to-one discussion about training, nutrition and so on. Funnily enough, I had my chat with coach Tom on my ride back to the airport: it showed what a small world it is! He is also a Mornington Chaser club member and was a coach with them for many years. He also happened to have attended the same Run Camden Anniversary event (at Runner's Need, Camden) that was my first experience of a running club in October 2015 - he was taking pictures and helping out that evening! The best bit is: I may be a natural long distance runner - based on my improvements so far. I just have to keep going and see where it takes me!
Each day at 3pm, we headed to the hotel poolside area for either core conditioning with elite athlete and personal trainer, Jenny Jagger (amazing strength workouts here), Pilates with Michelle Doyens or Yoga with Sue Wainwright. These were light-hearted (lots of jokes) but intense sessions that really added extras to my current conditioning routines. Jenny also offered one-to-one tuition for core and conditioning during the week.
The afternoon running sessions (from 4pm) were divided into either Tempo sessions on the cross-country course (I gave these a miss), track sessions or easy runs. I opted for the track session with Mike Gratton on the first evening and then did drills or easy runs on other days. That track session consisted of 6 x 300m at 3K pace with 100m rests followed by 2 x 500m at 3K pace with 300m rests.
I'll be honest, I loved it!
The track was perfect for my recently pulled left lateral knee border (side-ways stumble on treadmill the Tuesday before travel). After completing my bit of torture - who am I kidding, I'd have done it again - I was pleased to be complimented by Mike and some of the other runners on my running form being "fluid and with good cadence". Of course, I shared that praise on social media afterwards! Seriously though, I'd been working on those two things for the last 18 months from my running books and research, so it was good to get positive feedback.
The other afternoon sessions had running drills and exercises after a gentle warm-up or tempo runs. Like my fellow camp attendees, I got A LOT out of the drill sessions: good race day preparation! Our two main coaches for these sessions were Nick Anderson and Tom Craggs of www.runningwithus.com, who have a wealth of experience and knowledge between them! As a bonus, all the drills they taught us are available on the above website as aide-memoirs!
On the Tuesday morning (16th of March), we didn't have a morning steady run. This was replaced by the Falésia 5K race. This consisted of three loops of some hilly roads. The only way I could get myself to run it was to take off my Garmin - it is very discouraging to find you are only 50 metres into a race and feel like quitting already. Well, it worked! I ran it in 22 minutes and 49 minutes without killing myself and not stopping. Yes, I passed some folks but as I say to myself in marathons: "there's only one person in this race: ME!"
In the evenings, we had talks from Mike Gratton, the coaches and Bruce Tulloh - a living legend who won the European 5K championships in 1962, running BAREFOOT! He sadly hasn't been able to run as he did in previous years but has over 50 years of coaching experience and was kind enough share his top tips on what makes an athlete. I got a signed copy of one of his many brilliant books, "Running is Easy". He was always there with his wife, Sue to offer encouragement during afternoon training sessions and around the 5K race course ("keep working up that hill, Dr"). That really helped me actually- I'm a sucker for encouragement during races!
Where do I start? On our first night at the camp, they treated us to Pizza at Pizzeria Falésia! Since we only had to pay for drinks, we also bought homemade gelato from the same restaurant. I got a scoop each of Salted caramel peanut butter and something chocolatey (cannot remember - lol). They also treated us on the last night to a barbecue evening at Flor Do Mar - the chocolate mousse was incredibly rich!
Other nights, we had pasta and pizza (the Diavola - pepperoni pizza was a winner), a Brewery burger (at an Irish pub), a chicken caesar salad (with lots of chicken in it) and chicken peri-peri (when in the land of chicken peri-peri). Standard runner's fare really!
We had gone to Flor du Mar restaurant a few nights beforehand and had a salmon dish with rice and salad. Below are pictures with their respective restaurants captioned. I highly recommend every restaurant with one noted exception, Pizzeria Ristorante Capri was very slow on service and actually FORGOT some of our orders. Not great at nearly 10pm when you've been waiting since 7:30pm. Other than that, the rest were wonderful. My favourite was the seaside, Rocha Baixinha Restaurante Praia. Located about 10 minutes from the Vilamoura Marina, it was idyllic and the food was mouthwateringly good! Anywhere which gives you bread rolls, tuna pate and olives before you have ordered is a winner in my book!
If you are a runner - whether a beginner, amateur or veteran - consider a running retreat like this.
From my very first morning, I realised that this was a runner's (athlete's) paradise: there were national teams also staying at the hotel - Germany, Russia and China to name a few we spotted!
This was definitely an great way to meet other runners from multiple walks of life. The majority were UK-based and it allowed me to make some (hopefully) life-long friends. I was adopted by RunBrighton runners (www.runbrighton.com) and plan to join them on South Downs for a long run someday soon. It was also great to meet others who have similar running goals and obsessions with running shoes - people who knew what Altra running shoes were! It also allowed me to go out of my comfort zone: in running twice a day regularly and even getting on a bike - after an 18-year hiatus!
The evening talks focussed on all aspects of running and training in our often very busy lives. What I really learned from this experience was the importance of not just "training right" but also paying attention to your nutrition and recovery (rest). I now see how useful the morning runs were for recovery (at a slow slow pace). I didn't need to foam-roll more than once during the whole week and my legs felt FRESH! This is in spite of doing many more miles than usual. I realised that I don't necessarily need to cross-train instead of running if I use my recovery runs properly. I still have to get my 'gel-consumption on the move' technique down (sips over 2-3 minutes left me with very sticky hands on today's long run).
I will be writing a few more posts which are running-related in the next few weeks. These will include reviews on shoes I wear, nutrition tips and recovery.
Well that's all for now. I hope you enjoyed this instalment!
Later, ladies and gents!
I'm Lola - a hair obsessed doctor who stumbled into running long distances and baking all the cupcakes.
I blog about life, running and of course, hair! I'm an Altra "Team Red" Sponsored Athlete, so I will do the occasional running shoe or gadget review.
For business enquires, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I do not own the copyright to all the pictures so I will credit the source, where that is the case.