Updated: Mar 28
Friday 17th March 2023
It was finally here! The Best Athletics 2023 Spring Camp to Monte Gordo! Ever since my first training camp back in September 2022 before London, in Torrevieja, Spain, I’ve been looking forward to going back to a really hot place to run with my mates, waking up every morning to blast out Rockstar by Nickelback over the speaker, slapping on the factor 50 whilst tucking into a mushroom coffee. Living the dream.
Except this time things would be slightly different. With the help of the absolute legend and fellow Best Athletics coach Samantha Mare, we were actually in charge of organising the blooming camp. Yeah, mental! Before diving into the fun and frenzy, I want to apologize first of all to my housemates for having to cope with my elevated stress levels and copious amounts of Science in Sport stock lying around the house.
With the mushroom coffee packed and ready, the camp formally kicked off at 3am thanks to Tom Plenderleith’s impeccable timing with a drive to Gatwick Airport for an early morning flight. Congregating at the crack of dawn in the South Terminal Pret we bumped fists and chinned cappuccinos before crashing into deep dreams of negative split marathons on the plane.
Before we’d even touched down on Portuguese soil, Harry Tivnen had already smacked on his factor 50 war paint on his freshly shaved lid ready for the onslaught from the Mediterranean heat. Little did we know the border force had decided not to turn up for the day, leaving the team at the mercy of my Dad jokes for two and half hours in Faro airport whilst we waited for our passport stamps. Great start. Kudos to the guy who made his old man fake chest pains to jump to the front of the queue.
Once through, we located our checked luggage somewhere in the hordes of bags that had piled up whilst people trickled through border control. We hopped into a minibus, picked up our hire cars and were off on the road to Monte Gordo. The Portuguese sun was already beaming down, and the excitement in Sion’s voice was evident as he oooh’d and ahhh’d at the rolling hills, rows of olive trees and I’m pretty sure even a fence at one point. But to be fair to him we were a long way from the Welsh Valleys.
As we pulled into the town we caught our first glimpse of the pine forests, runners, cyclists and flat roads that would become our home for the next nine days. We settled into our flats courtesy of many generous hosts via Booking.com, and enjoyed a quick shakeout around the pine forest and along the beachfront. We soon realized we were a long way from the streets of London, and were in for a real treat as we trotted along the beach boardwalk back into the town.
The group congregated in one of the many seafront restaurants for dinner where Superbock 0% was discovered which would become a staple isotonic throughout the trip. With the camp hosting many new and existing BA members, II could already tell this was going to be a fantastic group!
Saturday 18th March 2023
The next morning started with a 6:30am sunrise dip in the Atlantic Ocean for the sturdiest of the group, followed by a coffee and morning 12k shakeout getting our bearings around the pine forest and local town of Vila Real de Santo António in preparation for the long run on Sunday. With a few more people arriving throughout Saturday, we made up camp on the beach for the day recovering for the beast of a session that was to come.
Sunday 19th March 2023 - Long Run Day!
For many of the athletes, the camp was timed perfectly to align to spring marathons, mainly Manchester and London. Sunday's plan was to hit a peak marathon session, so starting at 7:15am we met at our meet point outside the Spar in the center of town fuelled by Mojo London Nootropics Coffee and armed with SIS electrolytes as long run ammunition.
The forecast was for warm sunshine, rising into the late teens by 11:00am, so we decided to start early to avoid any risk of heat exhaustion. We picked a flat road between Vila Real de Santo Antônio and Monte Gordo which is well used within both the endurance running, power walking and triathlon communities. This straight strip of 2km road in one direction was a perfect course for a mixed ability group to be able to lap up and down, cheer each other on, hold a consistent pace without worrying about following a route or being left behind. As if monotonous 3km loops of Battersea Park weren’t enough…
With sweat and SIS gels flying everywhere, marathon grimaces in full flow, and Sion Mattey shouting out a heart rate update at every kilometer, the group crushed through sets of 3 x 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9ks depending on
ability, with Pat Parrini’s size 13 Vaporflys leaving a permanent indent in the Monte Gordo gravel after blitzing his session. With our newest professional YouTube star Anya Culling capturing the very amateur rig shot poses from all the new Local Legends, we quickly headed to the beach to complete our cool down by topping up the endorphin ecstasy with an ice cold dopamine infused dip.
The conversation died down for the next few hours as everyone attended to their Strava updates, polished off SIS protein bars and coke zero’s and demolished toasties on the seafront. The afternoon was spent either soaking up the Sunday sunshine on the beach, or some of the group chose to unwind with a round of golf across the border in Spain, which we were an hour late for when we worked out that Harry hadn’t factored in the time difference! It’s a good job the company on the golf course was good quality as much less could be said for the quality of golf as everybody scrambled to Google Translate FORE in Spanish as tee shots fired array on the first tee. The day ended with drinks and dinner back in Monte Gordo, an epic start to the camp on all fronts.
Monday 20th March 2023
Monday dawned with another surprise in store as we all made our way down to the beach for a 9am start. Little did we know
we’d bought a hidden gem with us on camp in the form of Tom Plenderleith, who through his stupendous acting career had trained as a breathwork instructor. All in all it was quite simple, in the same way running is really just putting one foot in front of the other, breathwork is just about inhaling and exhaling air violently through your nose until your limbs tingle and your toes twitch. Jokes aside, it was a refreshing and nourishing way to start the day compared to the usual struggle for air on the Northern Line.
The rest of Monday consisted of recovery on the beach and an afternoon 10K easy run to turn over the legs and clock up some more miles. What wasn’t planned was for Sam to try and volley a rock and somersault headfirst into a rusty pipe. A bag of frozen veg, trip to A&E and four stitches later and we wrapped up Monday ready for Track Tuesday Portuguese style the next morning.
Tuesday 21st March 2023
In all honesty, I don’t usually get that excited for track as an athlete, as it’s 20-30 minutes of thrashing your body through grueling efforts until you’re ready to say hello to your breakfast again. But there’s something about being abroad in stifling heat that makes that prospect so much more appealing. We arrived at the Sports Complex in Vila Real de Santo Antonio full of beans as we walked into the stadium arena.
The facilities were world class, and little did we know we were soon to be joined by a host of world class athletes from teams across Europe, with French, Slovenian, German, Polish and Czech to name a few of the team kits present. After some more amateur content capturing, the team were off, setting the track on fire with 1600m, 1200m, 1000m, 800m, 400m and 200m reps with varying total distances depending on ability. Drenched from head to toe, we headed into the gym for some strength work to round off the morning, jogging back to Monte Gordo to cool off in the sea, refuel and recover.
Ten chocolate milk cartons and a big bootie mix (Spotify it) later and we were off in the evening for a light shakeout to flush out tired legs and soak up the afternoon sun. With some of the gang heading home the next day, we headed for a team Italian to see out another very successful day.
Wednesday 22nd - Thursday 23rd March 2023
With recovery the theme of the day, early morning shakeout runs ended at the beach for another Tom P breathing master class. This time Tom led us to even deeper connections with our breath, with deep (and disturbing) groans coming from several of the squad as they reached peak levels of relaxation. For some this breathwork session was just too much, with the exercise literally sending Cool Chris Bruchhaussen to sleep in the middle of the beach.
Recovery days had options of morning and evening shakeouts, with Rhys Doherty and Anya Culling helping out leading groups whilst others took well earned rest days before our second track session of the week on Thursday morning.
The morning session tackled an over/under Canova style workout, with up to 18 sets of 1 minute at 5-10 seconds below target marathon pace, and 1 minute at 5-10 seconds over target marathon pace followed by some more strength work in the gym. This was another quality session on the track, working at controlling our tempo paces in the heat, which was a good experience for all involved.
Friday 24th March 2023 - Rest Day
Friday bought with it a well earned rest day in preparation for the final run of the training camp the following day. The majority of the day was spent at the beach, but a few of us couldn’t resist a trip to the nearby 16th century remains of Castle Marim with some of the gang, which added a small element of local history and culture alongside a rather disturbing medieval torture chamber and a cup of Portuguese mead in a medieval tavern!
Saturday 25th March 2023 - Long Run 2
With local legend crowns at stake, a smaller contingent than last weekend headed back to our favourite strip for the last session of the camp. This was another long run or marathon pacing session, with 5/4/3/2/1km blocks at target marathon pace as the objective of the day.
A solid week of training in the legs and the hottest temperatures of camp so far made this session all the more challenging, with a couple of casualties falling to the conditions (aka me!). The rest of the team gritted their teeth and knocked back hydro tabs and powered through, with exceptional sessions from Paige, Alicja, Pat and Rhys.. The only other major casualty was Helena Flippance’s local legend status from the previous legend as Alicja ungraciously dethroned her!!
With the last run complete, we made one last trip to the beach to ice sore bodies in the chilled sea and soak up some sun before enjoying a final team meal together reminiscing on an incredible week.
As far as my journey into the world of running has gone so far, this camp was an incredible experience both as a coach and an athlete, and all of that credit has to go to the amazing people who joined us on the trip. As amateur runners, it’s an amazing experience and privilege to get the opportunity to live the life of a dedicated full-time runner, without the commotion of our daily lives adding to our stress levels. The added exposure to the daily routines of some of the athletes that we shared the track with gave some real insight into those that live the life every day. Camps like these facilitate an environment to really connect with and enjoy your running, and most importantly enable us to share that experience with the people around you, and build lasting friendships.
So a big thank you to everybody who made the decision to come along to this year's spring camp, and who put their trust in Sam and I to deliver something which I hope you all enjoyed! A special shoutout goes to Sam who was amazing in helping to organize the trip, and for soldiering on after needing four stitches in her head! To those reading this who watched the camp from afar, I hope this inspires you to get involved next time, watch this space!
Coach Dan 💙