In 2013 it was an effort at supporting World Bicycle Relief.
In 2014 it was the introduction of an annual team road trip race outing.
In 2015 it was the establishment of the Gulf Coast Triathlon Initiative.
In 2016 and 2017 it was partnering with Pillars For Promise in continuing to grow the aforementioned Initiative.
2018 would feature the addition of a late-spring team training camp leading into the formal kickoff of the season.
This camp is something which team member Coach Allen Stanfield immediately claimed as his project for coordinating and offering to the team membership - actually it was his idea so he didn't have a choice of not owning it... Drawing upon his USAT Coaching Certification, his 5+ years of experience with Team MPI as a Senior and Mentor Coach, and his knowledge of the various team members (their strengths, their weaknesses, their race season aspirations) Allen took to laying out a productive, fun, insightful, and enjoyable weekend for his fellow teammates.
With the addition of Cultivation Nation Triathlon to the 2018 team race schedule, conducting this camp in Wiggins, MS at the Flint Creek Reservoir would be a perfect fit. The venue offers on-site cabin lodging complete with kitchen and shower facilities, ease of travel to/from the location (athletes attending from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi), quality and ample roads for riding, challenging elevation profiles for running, and a large body of water ideal for donning the wetsuits in preparation for the early-season events. The only unknown would be what the weather would serve up for late-March -- as luck would have it the coldest temperature of the entire camp (7am on day #1) would quickly become a footnote as the remaining ~60 hours duration of the camp would be nearly ideal with temperatures between 60F - 75F with partly cloudy skies and some fickle winds on the bike (fickle = the favorable tailwind never really showed up as anticipated, but we are all stronger for it).
Additionally, the ability to parlay the camp into a professionally-directed duathlon in Perkinston, MS on the final day of the camp was a fantastic opportunity for those attending the camp. Though, certainly somewhere in the mix of the multiple workouts leading up to raceday or somewhere in the midst of the second run of the duathlon there were some reservations -- "why are we racing tomorrow?" "my legs are going to be shelled" "my legs ARE shelled" "whose idea was the race?" "I may be the one to own the 'reverse peristalsis badge of pride' for this event" -- but Coach Allen reassured us it would be a great way to knock off the rust on the more nuanced aspects of the sport such as transition, race gear selection, Strava uploading competency, and raceday nutrition.
The general idea of the camp was to take the opportunity to unplug from the day-to-day grind, spend some quality time together, and drift off into the world of being faux professional athletes for a couple of days. With that in mind... though we were "camping" it was far from "roughing it" - one espresso machine with many more buttons than the base model K-Classic in this author's kitchen at home, three sets of dynamic compressive leg recovery devices, one ultrasonic chain cleaner and wax station (actually I think the device is intended for use in an organic chemistry lab somewhere, but there is no such thing as overkill when watts saved is the bottom line), a water purifier with twenty gallons of water, and a healthy and generous amount of nutrition to feed on (twelve pounds of chicken breast, a dozen avocados, a bag of apples, a bag of oranges, a bag of grapes, three packs of smoked salmon, five pounds of peppers, a few jars of almond butter, two dozen eggs, the big bottle of Cholula, one gallon of egg whites, a bin of cashews, a bag of onions, and an array of gels, protein bars, and chews to round out the mix).
On to the flow of the days...
Sleep. Every camper claimed to have slept much more than while at home. Logging 8 - 10 hours of sleep a night while at the camp was a fantastic benefit. Focus on rest and recovery. Plus, the naps in the middle of the day were nice as well.
Following a full night of sleep, the kitchen was abuzz. Matt served as team barista. Allen was manning the stovetop. And the crew combined efforts on the quick cleanup duty while gearing up for the upcoming ride.
Each day would begin with a bike ride - basically the cornerstone of the day that everything else was built around. The rides varied in distance based on the particular athlete's ability, choosing, or however long he was able to hang with the pack. The routes included aspects of the Cultivation Nation course, the duathlon course (Sunday's event), and other roads favored by the Stone County athletes. Coach Allen made sure to include a few pit stops along the way - gas stations and roadside stores.
Following the morning ride, the crew would hit the feed again for some lunch or a light snack while planning for the next coupe of workouts. One day there was a run after the bike. The next day it was swim first following the bike, then run. The schedule was loose enough to allow for the momentum of the group to dictate when to begin these sessions but having a group to be held accountable to made it tough to ditch the afternoon swim and/or run.
The run routes basically coursed around the Reservoir. One day it was along the dirt/clay path that overlaps the Cultivation Nation run course. The next day it was up and down, and up and down, and up and down along the paved (and hilly) service road that provides access to the many campsites and cabins peppered along the shore. Somewhere during the run on day #2 (i.e. workout #6 for the camp - the "hilly run") is when the notion of having to go anaerobic for the pending duathlon came into question... it was going to be painful.
Swimming in the reservoir doubled as active recovery, really. With water temperatures hovering around 65 - 68F it was ideal for a wetsuit. In fact, swimming without a wetsuit was left for those who wanted to tiptoe along that line where the body stops shivering, the neurons stop firing on all cylinders, and delirium takes over. That, or for the elementary school kids on Spring break staying one cabin over who had no qualms about playing in the water sans wetsuit - they were having fun and didn't seem to mind the cold water, save for their blue lips and chattering teeth. Anyhow, the swim routes primarily coursed from boat ramp to beach access or vice versa. Some winds late in the day made for a chance to test one's swim form while heading into the chop and then leverage that same chop returning back toward shore. It was simple 1,000m loops or segments, and it worked very well.
The days ended with a team dinner. Yes, everyone chipped in and both kitchens in the two cabins were set to work. Some guys were on veggie cutting duty. Others were on the task of braising the chicken. Those who sat it out on the prep side would be put to work with cleanup duty. Beyond that, there was also the roasting of the veggies and cleaning out of the fridge for any other interesting leftovers that may serve as good additions to the buffet.
The original schedule as laid out by Coach Allen included social hour (cards, games, etc...) but by the ends of the days the crew was whipped and the Elite Eight NCAA games were on the TV, so social hour sort of fell victim to attrition and distraction, respectively.
Speaking of attrition, when Sunday morning rolled around the original crew of eight had dwindled to five. Five Chain Tri Team members would toe the line at Du It At Danny's If You Dare Duathlon hosted by the Gulf Coast Bicycle Club. Sometimes unplugging is only realistic for a defined period of time as evidenced by real world duties beckoning some of the camp attendees to get back to work come Sunday.
Perfect weather greeted the participants - overcast skies, negligible wind, and a cool mist/fog. The event includes a two mile run, sixteen mile bike, two mile run layout. The venue is fantastic - ample parking, easy athlete check-in, plenty of rack space in transition, and literally no other cars on the road besides the volunteers and the local law enforcement. Following the shotgun start - yes, an actual shotgun fired to signal the start of the single wave event, out-and-back was the flavor of the day: one mile out and one mile back for the run on the Southern side of transition, eight miles out and back on the North side of transition, then repeat the run again on the South side of transition. The Chain quintet party line was that the event was a great challenge, a fantastic atmosphere, and certainly a fun opportunity to go anaerobic following two multi-workout days. Race Director Eddie Holmes conducted a great event and the attention to detail was fantastic. Event host Danny Walton and family rolled out the red carpet - fresh fruit, grilled chicken and burgers, and plenty of beverages.
As for this author, I recommend taking part in a camp if you have the opportunity. Besides the objective measures of how many miles, watts, meters, climbs, etc... a camp provides a chance to unplug and shift the focus toward rest/recovery, nutrition, mental preparedness, and perhaps you learn something new along the way.
Many thanks to Coach Allen for the countless hours or prep time involved in this venture. He considered everything. Everything including but not limited to the food selection, the cabin rental, the workout route layout, camp ammenties (nod to the espresso machine and team barista), making sure everyone had bed sheets, pre-camp communication, and many more less-than-rewarding tasks I am sure.
Here's to looking forward to a fun and enjoyable 2018 tri season. Chain Tri Team couldn't do it without our loyal sponsors, our supportive family members, the many race directors and volunteer forces involved in hosting the events we look forward to, and our fellow team members for continuing to challenge one another. Thanks to each and every one of you.