Back in the fall when I first talked to Tom about returning to training in 2013, I told him one of the things that I absolutely had to do this year was attend a training camp at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He seemed a little skeptical–and indeed, so did many of my teammates, since any camp in Colorado would not involve any actual rowing. But being that the Training Center in Colorado Springs is the headquarters for the United States Olympic Team and the flagship training center for Team USA, I had made it a goal some time ago to at some point get myself there and see what it was all about. I arrived late last Sunday with Adrienne and spent the week getting to know the Colorado Springs Training Center, and training my butt off with Adrienne and teammates Esther Lofgren and Taylor Ritzel. So there are a few things you need to know about the Colorado Springs OTC:
Colorado Springs is on the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, which means it’s up there. The altitude is right around 6,035 ft. (1839 m). The air up here is quite a bit thinner than it is at either of my other training locations (Princeton or San Diego) which presented its own unique challenges during our cardio work while we were there. It takes some time for bodies to adjust to the altitude, even highly trained aerobic systems like ours. Mostly I felt quite good during the days, and completely zonked at night. I slept well. Since we were only in Colorado for a week, we did not experience much of an appreciable training effect from our short time at altitude, but getting a sense of how training feels different at altitude was a good experience for me. Being at altitude also gave rise to the beautiful linguistic turn of the phrase rarefied air–which was very much a literal and figurative part of our experience, playing through my mind over the course of the week.
Being so isolated in Princeton most of the year, my teammates and I thrive during the short periods we get to experience being a part of a multi-sport environment. Being the flagship OTC, Colorado Springs hosts a much larger resident athlete population than our familiar OTC location in Chula Vista thanks to a significantly larger dormitory system that can accommodate many more athletes at a time–both residents and campers. The center is home to many athletes from Olympic and Paralympic teams for triathlon, modern pentathlon, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting and swimming, with regular visits from the gymnasts, boxers, judo, track & field, volleyball, and winter Olympians as well. For all intents and purposes, this is where the action is for a lot of Team USA, and it is a very cool place to train.
Along with being the athlete HQ for Team USA, Colorado Springs is also the home to the administrative family of the USOC. The people who manage the business end of what we all do, and take care of important things like our benefits and high performance directives are all based here in Colorado Springs. I was happy to finally meet in person (and thank!) several of the people who have been emailing me during my tenure with the Team.
So with all of that going on in the background, the four of us hit the ground running on Day One, and were constantly running from pool to weight room to bike lab to hiking/running trails all week with little else on our schedules and just enough time to sneak in meals at noon and around 5:30 in order to be in bed by 7 (anything later was a real struggle). Our cross training for the week took us around and outside the city on various running and hiking expeditions, as well as time spent with the more benignly familiar screens of the erg and stationary bike. One new cross training element that all four of us found both extremely helpful and extremely challenging was actual swimming coaching for our sessions in the pool from Head Paralympic Swim Team coach, Dave Denniston. Though some of us (aka Taylor) come from swimming backgrounds, the swimming skills of many US rowers leave a little something to be desired. Our rowing coaches do not offer much in terms of technical critique or coaching during our team swimming sessions in Princeton, so to have real critical feedback on what we were doing in the pool and how we could make our workouts more efficient (something that rowers are rabid for) was truly awesome. That, and Dave made us do a circuit in the pool on Thursday that I will remember for a long time because it involved a rope climb… over the pool. Also unforgettable was our execution of the Greenland Trail, which we anticipated would be a good, solidly paced hike that would take us a little over two hours. We did not anticipate that much of the 8.5 miles would be through 1-2 feet of snow. The snow slowed us down significantly, stretching the duration of the hike out a little bit longer than we maybe would have preferred, and also after sundown (brr). But the best way to look at it is that nothing in the world could have made me more appreciative of the hot shower I had that evening when I got back to the OTC. Sadly we did not get to do the Incline during our stay because of snowfall early in the week. But after our other hiking experience, maybe it was for the best. The week absolutely flew by, and before I knew it I was back at Denver International meeting some very cool and interesting travelers on my way to San Diego in order to trade one OTC for another. I’ve spent the last few days training at my OTC home-away-from-home in Chula Vista in order to tune up and fire up for our trip to Australia for World Cup I. I had a great time in Colorado Springs, and regretted not having more time to settle in and get more out of the altitude experience. . I hate to leave–but hope to be back again for more altitude camp fun some other time. Thanks to all the awesome OTC staff who took such great care of us this week! And of course, check out the training video of Adrienne, Esther, Taylor and me getting our cross-training on in COS.