Vermont-based IRONMAN pro Jessie Donavan on her recent training camp experience, and ramping up for IRONMAN Los Cabos.
I spent most of February in Clermont, Fla. with 15 other professional triathletes and my coach, Jesse Kropelnicki. This was my first experience training in a squad environment and putting 100 percent of my focus, day-in and day-out, on doing everything right.
We trained 35 to 40 hours a week, well beyond my typical volume. Most days started with six to seven km swims followed by 80 to 150 mile bikes and five to 20 mile runs. The hours were big, but it wasn’t just volume. It seemed that almost daily we were given some kind of quality effort with head-to-head competition within the group. We are all ultra-competitive athletes; when we are told to race we give it everything we have. We simulated race conditions on a daily basis, pushing beyond what we all thought was possible, while feeding off of each other for energy. When we weren’t training we were hydrating, eating fruits and vegetables, juicing, sitting in our Normatecs and sleeping. There wasn’t a spare moment in the day. I have been racing as a “professional” triathlete for the past year but these weeks at camp showed me the intense dedication that being one of the best truly demands.
The afternoon of February 25th was one of the hardest for me. We’ve all had epic training days before, but at camp these days came one after the other. This particular afternoon was day seven of a 40-hour training week. We had just come off of a 150 mile hard ride—preceded of course by a swim and followed by a run and some TRX the day before. At this point your body begins to feel like a machine, tired, but somehow ready and expecting more.
This particular ride was late—leaving enough time to take a nap and get some work done before hopping on my bike. When we arrived we were told the plan for the day was circuit races. These were four or eight mile all-out efforts that often ended in a sprint finish. In earlier races I had done well, but I always found myself just behind the lead group. Tonight I lined up with a new attitude. I put myself right in the front acting from the start like I belonged there. It worked. Half a lap in I was still with them, giving it everything I had, reacting to the attacks, even attacking myself a few times. I finished gasping for air, lying in the dirt, exhilarated by the effort and ready for more. A few more races, a team time trial and it was time to bike the hour home.
It was 6 pm when we got home. An email waited for me that read “Be at the clay trails at 6:20 pm with fuel for 4.5 hours of running and a watch that shows lap time, previous lap time, lap count and lap pace.” It was a mad dash of throwing things into backpacks and jumping into the car, thinking we couldn’t possibly be running for 4.5 hours. When we all arrived, Jesse put us in pairs – I was paired with Cait Snow. We would be doing a 40 mile relay in teams of two, alternating miles. The catch (as if starting at 7 pm on a dirt road with headlamps wasn’t enough), each mile had to be descending or else there was a 15 minute penalty. Each time we finished the out and back mile we had to click the lap button and make sure that mile was faster than the previous. The pressure was on but I was excited for what lay ahead. Cait is the most level-headed consistent athlete I know—the perfect partner for a night like this.
I started out and immediately my stomach started cramping. Whatever it was it was bad, this was not a simple side stitch, this was a knife in my side type pain. I passed off to Cait and lay down for my seven minutes, telling myself better now than on race day. This continued for the next 10 miles. I’d run then lay down, all the while sweating profusely, somehow hot and cold at the same time. Each time we passed off the watch I would force a smile and tell Cait to keep dropping the pace. As the miles ticked by and the pace descended, the moon came out and slowly my stomach eased up. The first mile I ran without pain felt amazing. The last mile I ran was one of my fastest ever. I couldn’t believe it was almost midnight and this was 20 miles later. When Cait finished her final mile we were full of smiles, we had done it. Forty alternating miles, each one descending, working as a team.
That day I gained not only the physical benefits from another hard day, but more importantly, mental strength and images to draw on during race day. I can use my attitude and success on the bike that day when I find myself in a final sprint to the finish. If stomach cramps hit me on the run during an IRONMAN I’ll remember how I was able to run through the pain no matter how bad it seemed. Triathlon is an individual sport but I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this type of intensity without my coach and teammates. I thought I was giving it all I had while on my trainer or on the roads of Vermont, but I was wrong.
Nutrition was a major component of our days at camp. Jesse laid out a very specific restorative protocol for us on day one, including a checklist to keep track of everything. From the moment I woke up I was focused on making sure I was hydrated, fueled and eating a minimum of four servings of fruits and two to four servings of vegetables, depending on the training load (in addition to juicing, Zone fish oil, and a multi-vitamin each day). On day five of camp I was shocked to realize I had already gone through an entire two pound canister of Powerbar Perform, that’s 52 “servings” in five days—not including all the bottles I’d filled up from the team jug during longer workouts.
As I write this I’m one week away from my first race of the year, IRONMAN Los Cabos. I am excited and ready for the season to start. I love the excitement of race week, the final preparations in the darkness of race morning, and treading water waiting for the gun to go off. Of course all of that leads to the race itself, putting it all out there in head to head competition, reacting to what the day brings and ultimately seeing how deep and how fast you can go.
Coach’s Report (by coach Jesse Kropelnicki)
This was a great month for Jessie. The past four weeks brought us through her largest weeks of training for Cabos. We had two very large build weeks while at the training camp, and then a recovery week the last week coming off the camp. The two large build weeks we completed at the camp were well above what we had initially planned for that period, so in order to balance the stress of the full four-week period, the preceding week and following week were lighter than planned. We finished the training camp a few days early for Jessie to begin the recovery for Cabos about 17 days out from the race. I was very pleased with Jessie’s performance at the camp; particularly in the water. We spent a lot of time working the specifics of her stroke. As of this week, her training metrics are all at life best, and we look forward to giving it a test this coming weekend.