Monday, October 12, 2009

Training Camp Update: Harriman State Park, NY, October 8-11

This is an unedited review by Peter Gagarin of the US Team training camp at Harriman State Park that was attended by several French national team runners, including multiple world champion Thierry Gueorgiou and WOC medalist Francois Gonon.
(Note: the US Team coach resigned his position during the preparation stage of this camp, so several US Team members stepped up and made sure that this camp happened. Many thanks to Clem McGrath and Eddie Bergeron for doing a great job with last-minute organization.)

A review of the Harriman training camp.

1. Pre-camp planning.

I'm not sure how long this training camp was in the works, as I'm only marginally involved in Team stuff these days. I wouldn't have had much interest in it, except that I'd heard that Tero was going to be there with a couple of friends, and I was curious to meet him and maybe see him in action. Participating in the camp wasn't appealing in my current state, nor was getting involved in organizing it, but it seemed like offering to hang controls would useful and would be a valid reason to be there. And also might make it easier to meet the French guys. So that's what I did, made my offer a couple of weeks ago.

And then Mike [Waddington] decided that he couldn't come, and was stepping down as coach too. So there was a bit of a leadership gap. But Eddie and Clem stepped up and got things organized, and the camp happened.

The plan was to start Thursday afternoon and run through Saturday afternoon, and then run the Highlander on Sunday. Hard training in the days leading up to the Highlander may not be the best preparation, but the thinking was, the training is more important than the Highlander and if you start the Highlander tired, so what.

Some Team members were coming for the whole thing (Eddie, Clem), some just for Friday and Saturday (Nikolay and Kat, though she only stayed part of each day), some just for Saturday (Cristina, Samantha, Ross, Ali), and some not at all. In addition, there were two promising juniors (Andrew Childs and Hannah Burgess) there the whole time plus a couple of Canadian team members (Emily and JT). And then in addition to that were several others, mostly CSU members. I'm not sure how it happened that they came (it was no problem as far as I was concerned), though I know there was some discussion about which and how many non-team members could take part. I never bothered to try to find out the details.

2. Thursday.

Eddie organized the training for Thursday. I met him there late morning to get enough of a head start to get the controls out in time. First was corridor training. Note that I had the whole map; participants had just corridors maybe 50-75 meters wide to use.

Corridors map.

Following that immediately was a control picking course --

Control picking map.

My timing was just about perfect. As I was hanging the last control Tero appeared. Glad I wasn't a minute later.

Folks arrived after a bit, with Eddie last, having not just run both courses but picked up all the controls in the process! Meanwhile Linda Kohn had arrived, and headed out to hang controls for the middle course for Friday morning. I went out to take care of the controls for the O' intervals for the next morning.

The others went off to our two wonderful hosts for the camp, Alan and Mairead Young, and Bernie and Liisa Breton. Both families were just unbelievably hospitable, including hosting dinner for all of us Friday at the Youngs and Saturday at the Bretons.

But for Thursday evening we went out for dinner, French guys included, at a local diner, and then bowling after that. Very good fun.

3. Friday

Clem had organized the training for Friday, with some help from Sandy who printed the maps. This was the only wet day, raining quite a bit in the morning, not much in the afternoon though the woods were still wet, though it really didn't make much difference.

First up were the O' intervals, to be run in small groups, with forked controls and breaks between each section to regroup and take a short break.

Intervals map.

Then there was a middle course. No route because Linda hung those.

Morning middle map.

Both these courses included sections with a mix of small features and patches of laurel, not at all easy. Other parts were wide open.

Meanwhile Linda and I were hanging controls for a rerun of the middle course from the Team Trials in 2003. We used stands for these to make sure we could get them in the right place (there is a real lack of trees in Harriman for hanging controls).

Lunch was both good and bad. Good because we all drove off to Sloatsburg to get lunch, all together, good company. Bad that it took quite a bit of time, so it was mid/late afternoon before they all started the TT course, and getting dark by the time some were finishing.

Team Trials middle map. Linda hung the 6 eastern controls.

Seems like everyone did all the training. The controls were left out in case anyone wanted to run any of the courses on Saturday.

Wonderful dinner at the Youngs, everyone there and a ton of food.

4. Saturday

The French guys had said they would organize a training for Saturday morning. Tero planned the courses at lunch on Friday and I hung the controls that afternoon, so all of them could run too.

It was a 2-person, 8-leg relay, so everyone ran 4 legs, total distance for each person was 5.6 km. Tero and I went off set up the start/finish while everyone else got a hands-on participatory warm-up led by François Gognon, another of the amazing French guys of the past decade. I gather the warm-up consisted of 10 minutes of jogging, and then 10-15 of running drills (crazy walks), and then a couple of uphill intervals to the start/finish.

The relay was excellent. Serious competition but also good karma. Winning team was Sam and J-B.

The format was two-person teams. Four legs run by each, the first three in varying order, then the last one common. The first three legs are shown in red on the map. That's what the lead-off runner got, but both runners on the team used just that one map for the first three legs each, i.e. the tag was just hand the teammate the map, they'd do same first leg, then both the second, then both the third. Six possible combinations, broke things up nicely. And then the final loop, just 800 meters, shown here in black, was actually on a separate map, again each teammate did it. Tero's time on the last leg was 3:38, Ross next best at 4:02, trying to hang with him, did good except on the uphills.

Relay map.

Back to the parking lot, which several folks pitching in to retrieve all the controls. A short but wonderful awards ceremony orchestrated by the French. Then off to lunch again, except for Ross who ran the morning middle course from the day before and picked up the controls too. Jon Torrance ran the TT course and picked up those controls. And Brendan, suffering from a sore knee, had skipped the relay and picked up the controls from the O-intervals.

Back from lunch, the serious part of the training camp, at least for Tero, was a rerun of the Short final from WOC-93. He was taking it especially seriously because his current coach is Petter Thoresen, who won the event 16 years ago.

Eric Weyman had come up just to set up the course (he was the original course setter). Everyone ran it late afternoon. Tero was 23:20 for the 4.75 km, would have been 3rd back in 1993, though the vegetation has changed some and it's hard to know how much of an adjustment to make. On this day he was way ahead of any of the North Americans.

WOC-93 Short final map.

Then Eric set off to pick up all the controls, and take all the gear back to Sandy (we had borrowed it from DVOA). And the camp was over. Except for another great dinner,this time at the Bretons, probably 30 people there.

6. Observations

-- Mostly it went well, especially considering the last-minute scrambling just to make it happen. As usual, people were willing to pitch in to help, though often not willing to commit until the last moment. There was lots of training done, despite the fact that the Highlander was looming on Sunday. No one seemed to be dogging it on Saturday. The accommodations were superb, and free. The vibes seemed to be very good.

-- So what was missing?

First, this was a training camp where you were given the opportunity to train, but you were mostly on your own as to what you were working on. Other than François's session on warming up, there was no coaching. So I'm not sure how much people got out of the camp. Or how much more they could have gotten.

Second, it seemed a bit of a missed opportunity with the French guys. They were clearly not there to be in any leadership position, they were on vacation. Nevertheless, they offered to organize Saturday morning and that was really cool. But it seemed to me that people were hesitant to make connections. They were with us from Thursday evening on, doing the same trainings, eating and relaxing together. I just think people could have been much more assertive in connecting, and learned stuff in the process.

Note that beside Tero and François, the other two French guys were also very good -- Jean-Baptiste was at two WOCs, 31st in the long-distance final in both 2003 and 2004, I think he is ranked 7th in France, and Matthieu was a little slower but not much. All were very cool, would chatter away in French, but anytime anyone engaged them, they were glad to talk about most anything, and all spoke good English. I really enjoyed having them there. I hope the others did.

Third, again because of a lack of a coach and planning, there were no indoor or evening sessions. I went to a training camp in Hamilton several years ago, where the guest stars were Holger and Sandy Hott, and there were classroom sessions every evening, and very interesting sessions. This camp had none of that. My sense was that everyone was having a good time, but that much more could have been accomplished.

Fourth, if there is a lesson in this it is that planning needs to be done much earlier and more thoroughly. Planning the woods training. Planning the non-woods training. Getting the equipment and the maps. Arranging for e-punching (didn't have that this time). Getting commitments from team members (senior and junior) to come. Getting helpers. Figuring out what policy to have about non-team members (and what to charge them, they got a free ride this time). All this is work, but it makes for a much better final result.

Fifth, as I said, the one real coaching moment was about warming up properly. So then it was interesting to note a couple of things. During the relay Saturday morning, where you were running four times with rest intervals averaging 10-15 minutes, the French guys were continually moving during their rest intervals, staying warm and ready to go. Everyone else was standing around chatting and spectating and not moving at all. And before the WOC93 race in late afternoon, the French guys did a very thorough warm-up (Tero was breathing quite hard as he stood waiting for the start command). Ditto for Jon Torrance and Nikolay. No one else did anything.

At what point do we take things seriously?

And finally, I have a lot of admiration for those team members who had the attitude that they were going to train hard, and then run the Highlander on (very) tired legs, and even flew in from some distance to do it. And not much admiration for those who showed up for the Highlander but couldn't come at least a day earlier to try and learn something. Especially with a world champion there.

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