What’s life like on a training camp and why are these so vital to professional athletes? Let me give you an insight into the time I recently spent training in Falls Creek, Australia and my life away from home and why I do it.

I’ll start by saying it’s no fairytale. Earlier this year, I was in a place called Falls Creek, one of Australia’s main ski resorts but in the summer; it makes for a great place to train. It’s a small place, and there isn’t a whole lot here – a few cafes’, some restaurants, the obligatory police station, fire station and post office and a couple of convenience stores.

Needless to say, they all charge through the roof – I paid almost £5 for a horrible tasting smoothie, and a Mars Bar costs upwards of £2. There is a bigger shop about 40 minutes down the mountain, located in a slightly larger village called Mount Beauty and this is where we all do our main shop. The drive between the two villages is down a very steep and windy mountain road, which would make a great (but very dangerous) rally course. It’s not too bad coming up but going down gives me motion sickness, so I try and limit the journey to once a week.

Andy Vernon

Andy Vernon

Professional Athlete Team GB


Andy Vernon training camp for Olympics 2016

Falls Creek – Australia

Falls Creek is at an altitude of around 5,500ft, and we climb to a maximum of 6,000ft during our hill sessions. Altitude training causes the body to produce naturally Erythropoietin, more commonly known as EPO, which is a hormone that produces red blood cells – red blood cells being the oxygen carrying blood cells that feed our muscles, allowing them to work.

Living and training in a place where the air offers less oxygen to breathe means our body makes up for it by producing the oxygen via EPO – the higher you go, the more EPO your body produces.

On returning to sea level, the effects of EPO usually last for up to three weeks and as a result, you have more natural oxygen in the air to breathe plus the extra oxygen-rich red blood cells. In theory, your muscles should be able to go further at a faster pace – win win right?

Natural EPO

You can probably now work out why so many endurance athletes across a wide range of sports, use the banned substance EPO to cheat their way to success.

The best thing about these breaks is that training comes in abundance. A typical week will include three running sessions, seven steady runs, three cross-training sessions (substituting running for this while I build up my mileage after a knee injury) and six gym sessions – a variety of 19 sessions. There is also massage, stretching and self-injury prevention methods such as foam rolling on top of that too, so it’s a pretty full-on schedule, which is why it becomes a full-time job.

I’ll break it down for you here:

Monday:

AM – 30 minutes of foam rolling – nine-mile steady run (61 – 62 minutes) – 30-minute stretch – gym (core stability and general conditioning)
PM – five-mile easy run (35 – 37 minutes) – 30 minutes of foam rolling

Tuesday:

AM – 30 minutes of foam rolling – Session: 8 x 1km between 2.54 and 2.58 pace with one fast rep in 2.47 (1 minute recovery throughout) – 30-minute stretch
PM – gym (core stability and knee rehab) – 40 minutes cross training (hard)

Wednesday:

AM – 30 minutes of foam rolling – nine-mile steady run (61 – 62 minutes) – 30-minute stretch – gym (core stability plus Hamstring and Achilles rehab) – massage
PM – five-mile easy run (35 – 37 minutes) – 30 minutes of foam rolling

Thursday:

AM – 30 minutes of foam rolling – Session: Quarters* (explained below) – 30-minute stretch
PM – gym (Core stability and knee rehab) – 40 minutes cross training (hard)

Friday:

AM – 30 minutes of foam rolling – 10-mile steady run (68 – 69 minutes) – 30-minute stretch – gym (core stability plus Hamstring and Achilles rehab) – massage
PM – five-mile easy run (35 – 37 minutes) – 30 minutes of foam rolling

Saturday:

AM – 30 minutes of foam rolling – Session: six-mile lactic threshold run (average 5.03 mile pace) – 30-minute stretch – massage
PM – gym (Core stability and knee rehab) – 40-minutes cross training (hard)

Sunday:

AM – Long run – two hours with a steady start but working down to 5.40 mile pace for the last hour

Andy Vernon Falls Creek training camp
Andy Vernon Olympics 2016 training
Andy Vernon professional athlete

The Quarters session is a continuous rep but with lots of pace change. We run along a 600m trail which has three 200m sections. We start at one end and run hard for 400m (about 67 – 68 seconds or 4.40-mile pace) we then ‘float’ 200m in 45 seconds as a recovery (still 6.00-mile pace) then turn around and run back 400m hard and float 200m again.

We repeat this eight times, and it takes around 15 minutes to complete. We then rest for two minutes and run 16 minutes of lactic threshold (around 5.00 – 5.10-mile pace).

The first part teaches the body to deal with lactic acid, pace change and eight fast accelerations without any real recovery. Our body then has to learn to buffer that build up of lactic acid in the second part while still running at a good pace.

The trails we run on are very rough and uneven which makes it even harder – my trainers don’t last more than three weeks, and even that is stretching them. It consistently works the stabilising muscles and the core, but the best thing is when we return to the track or a smooth road as it feels like we’re effortlessly gliding.

So what do athlete’s do when we’re not training?

I’ve heard it said that “world class training requires world class recovery”, so at least five afternoons out of seven I will nap for 60 – 90 minutes. After the naps, the training and eating, there isn’t an awful lot of time to do anything with so it’s mainly a bit of paperwork, watching TV or go to a café.

I stayed in an apartment with six other people, and it works well – with a good balance of fun and seriousness. There are three Australians, two Irish, a Japanese coach and myself. Two of the Aussies are a couple so they cook by themselves, but the rest of us took turns to cook dinner for each other. It’s great as we only have to cook once every five days, and it’s a good way of learning new meals.

The Japanese coach is shadowing our group for a year as he’s learning his trade from my coach – he is also the Japanese record holder for 3000m Steeplechase so an excellent runner in his day. He left his wife and six-year-old daughter at home to do this so he obviously has a VERY understanding wife!

We all get excited when it’s his turn to cook because he forges some excellent traditional meals out of the pans and makes the best chicken Katsu curry that I’ve ever tasted.

My first event after training will be a 10k road race in Tasmania, which will be my first race since September 2015 – it’s more of a fitness test than anything to see exactly where I’m at after five weeks in the mountains. For the remainder of my trip, I was based just outside Melbourne.

I raced the Melbourne track classic 5000m in March 2016 and returned to the UK the following day – and stayed at home until the end of March. I then attended another altitude training camp near San Diego, USA for five weeks – it’s a lot of days away from home, but if it gets me to the Olympics in the best shape I could be in, it will all be worth it!

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