A Glimpse Into the QT2 Florida PRO Camp

March 17, 2014

What does it mean to be a PRO triathlete? There is no job description handed to you when you get that PRO card. At QT2 when an athlete gets "the card" that is simply the first step they take toward being a PRO. They must now understand their job description. We teach our athletes what it takes to really be a PRO, day in and day out. A lot of the success the QT2 coaching group has experienced is tied to this. Being a PRO means executing all of the details that come with making a profession out of being a triathlete. This includes incredible attention to detail, across many areas like nutrition- day to day nutrition and getting in nutrient dense foods that promote recovery, controlling emotions, self-myofascial release, optimal fueling based on the athletes’ individual sweat rates and fueling needs, committing to a lifestyle that allows for adequate recovery and sleep, and always keeping a balanced stress budget- recovery and restoration activities must be commensurate with the amount of training stress and other life stress. These are just a few of the things that are a part of the unofficial job description of being a PRO triathlete.

Another very important aspect of being a PRO is the ability to handle adversity – adversity comes in many forms. On race day there is always adversity, whether it’s dropped nutrition or a crash or a mechanical – how the athlete handles this, mentally, is always key to their success on race day. Being able to stay calm and collected when things go wrong takes practice.

The QT2 PRO camp takes these two concepts – professionalism and adversity training, and forces the athletes to constantly address them, every day, for 17 days. The training they will endure will be some of the hardest they will face in their lives.  These athletes were training up around 30-40 hours a week which was roughly 25-35,000 yards of swimming, ~375-450 miles on the bike, and 40-60 run miles depending on the athlete.

With more and more Ironman wins, under head coach Jesse Kropelnicki, comes more and more professional athletes seeking out our coaching services. Because we pay incredible attention to detail, with each individual athlete, Jesse is not able to take on every PRO who inquires with us.  At QT2 we have three other coaches who apply the QT2 logic to PRO athletes, including Tim Snow, Tara Rasch and myself. This writing will serve to report out on my experience while coaching alongside Head Coach Jesse Kropelnicki and Tim Snow at the 2014 QT2 PRO camp in Clermont, Florida. PRO coach, Tara Rasch, also joined after my first 10 days.

Most athletes arrived on February 13th, with the 14th being the opening day of camp. We met the athletes at the National Training Center (NTC) pool for a quick 4000 meter swim and then they met us in the conference room at the Hampton Inn where we (coaches) were staying. That opening meeting revolved around the two concepts, I mentioned above: being a professional and handling adversity.  Jesse was very clear with the athletes, in going over the details of camp and many areas were covered - everything from never being late to a session to executing all of the details around recovery. Jesse handed out the QT2 recovery matrix which has a daily chart the athletes can check off to keep track of their recovery strategies like, juicing with fresh fruits and veggies, recovery drink post workout, Normatec usage, and much, much more.

Workouts were top secret. This was one of the ways we forced the athletes to handle adversity - the athletes never knew what was coming next (a practice used at all QT2 PRO camps). They would be told things like "meet on the deck at 7am", from there they would be given the warm-up and once done they would be told the next set/s. For cycling they would be told that we would see them at “the bike meet up” (about an hour cycle from where the athletes were staying), with enough fuel for x hours, and they wouldn’t know what the workout would be until we (coaches) met them there in the van.

Ahhh the van...The sweet smell of Tim’s Costco-sized container of prunes, spilled Powerbar Perform and random sweaty athlete clothes. Yup the van was the catch all for everything and it got WORKED! Here’s a typical day for us coaches at pro camp. Up at 6:00am, or so, for a quick workout if the coach wanted to, then quick breakfast and meet the athletes at the pool. We would then "dispatch" the workout one part at a time so they never knew what was coming. While they swam their main sets we were on deck doing things like - getting splits, getting stroke counts, moving athletes up or down a lane, sometimes even pulling an athlete out if they were too cooked from the day before. On that note - being in-person with the athletes on a day-to-day basis really allows you, as the coach, to monitor them on a close level and be able to adjust individually for each athlete (reactive recovery instead of the typical remote controlled proactive recovery). Some athletes came into camp with more training volume under their belt than others based on where they are at in their macrocycle. So Jesse would always adjust for that. Ok getting back to a typical day – after the swim we would briefly meet with the group, in the lobby of the NTC, and tell them where to meet us, at what time, and what to bring.  Sometimes it was a bike and sometimes it was a run. Once at the meeting spot Jesse would then "dispatch" the workout. If it was a recovery day things were a bit different. They would get an easy swim and then be off for the rest of the day with the exception of a few athletes who may be issued an easy ZR bike. After that swim (on a recovery day) is usually when the coaches would go and sneak out for a little workout. After sneaking in a workout like that on athlete recovery days we would then go meet with individual athletes, usually one or 2 athlete meetings those days.  The meetings were mostly a check-in, on how are they doing, where they are at with their restoration activities, their goals, and going over any limiters and how to address.

I want to share one of the hardest workout days the athletes did at camp this year......

On this particular warm, rainy and humid day they met at the clay trails at 7:30am. This location was great- no cars, soft run terrain and a unique landscape. They were broken into groups based on their respective ironman run paces. There were four groups – a 6:40/mile group, a 6:55/mile group, a 7:25/mile group, and a 7:45/mile group. Coaches set up a one mile course (half mile out, half mile back) that they would run at those paces and they would then get one minute of rest in between, no exceptions. They did 13 miles.

After the run they were told to immediately meet us at the NTC pool deck, the swim entailed a 5000 meter swim which included some very hard sets, after the swim they were given 2 hours to get to the bike meeting spot (remember it takes them an hour to bike to the meeting spot) so they needed to go home, eat something and get changed into bike clothes as fast as they could, in order to make it on time.  While they do that Tim, Jesse and I would scramble to get all the Power Bar fuels into the van, including filling the two 10 gallon tanks with Power Bar Perform, water, and ice. Once at the bike meet up they were told they would do a 4 hour (total ride time) bike in z1 (heart rate zone) BUT they can only use one gear. They needed to start the ride and get HR up into mid z1 and then whatever gear they were in would be the gear they need to use for the next few hours (the one hour ride home was the cool-down and not a part of this set) - no shifting! This meant that they would get in some big gear/low cadence work on the hills and some high cadence spinning on the flats and downhills.

After they finished the main set they were told to meet at the Van Fleet bike path at 6:30 pm with run gear and enough fuel for 3 hrs. This gave them less than two hours to get themselves there (ride home, get changed and drive to the Van Fleet path). While they did that we, again, scrambled to fill the van with more fuel and also some added items like Coca-Cola, which might be needed on an epic training day like this. Once at the Van Fleet it was dusk. The athletes didn’t know this, yet, but they would be running another 13 miles, though structured very differently this time. Jesse and I took the cone and jogged a half mile out the path to set it down. We fought back any fear of the potential for alligators coming out of the swamp on either side of the path. Our fears were evaporated when we later bumped into a friendly old man who rides his bike late night on the path – yup people do that. He said he comes out to ride every night and has never had an issue with alligators. The previous fear was real though as gators are regularly seen on the Van Fleet path during the day.

As the athletes arrived they were each given a head lamp. They were assigned into pairs. Note – there was always a lot of work that happened before these workouts – Jesse would analyze their paces and camp performances, to know how to set the groups, and then Tim and I would weigh in as well. Once broken into pairs they were told that they would run a full marathon as a team with each person alternating, so one person would run while the other rested. By the end of the night each athlete will have run another 13 miles. The tough part, however, is that they needed to run each mile faster than the previous mile as a team. If they didn’t they would get a 5 minute penalty. So they would need to start slow enough that this could happen, it also required a lot of communication among the two-person teams, to make this happen. They used one Garmin and handed it off to one another. The fastest group finished in about 2:30 and the slowest group was a little over 3 hours – Not slow!

This turned into basically an 8.5-9 hour training day, spread over about 16 hours - absolutely epic! The next two days ended up being recovery days to account for the stress of that single day.  One of the strong messages we send to our athletes is that recovery and restoration practices need to be commensurate with the training. If you are going to try and pull off some epic training then you need to back it up with some epic recovery, as well, otherwise you simply won’t absorb it and will either get sick or broken down.

For me this trip was just plain incredible. I loved every second of it. Every single one of the athletes represented a great deal of commitment to their sport and was awesome to work with. These athletes tried to soak up everything the coaches were saying.  This group was "no joke", as well, with many Ironman wins under their respective belts.  Each coach has a slightly different style, and different strengths but we are all working from the same core principles, philosophy and logic. In my opinion this really heightens athlete learning because it is hitting them from a variety of different angles. Look out for QT2 athletes this year it is going to be a BIG year! We got this!!

John Spinney is an elite development coach with QT2 Systems and he specializes in elite age group and professional triathletes as well as elite runners and cyclists. John is devoted to creating high level athletes and his experience spans many areas above and beyond training including injury prevention, mental fitness, self-myofascial release techniques, recovery strategies, food allergies as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies.