Training Camp French-style for USA Women
July 2019 meant one thing to the seven women on the US Biathlon Team: a three-week long European camp starting with 10 days in Correncon-en-Vercors, France followed by 10 days in Antholz.
Breakfast, Rollerski Out the Door
It is 7:30 am, just 72 hours after a 16 hour trip from the USA and everyone is eating fresh baguettes, yogurt, fruit, and cereal on long communal tables at Zecamp, the new training camp hotel run by retired French star Marie Dorin Habert and her husband Lois. The talk level is low; everyone is still a bit jet lagged, feeling a few aches and pains from the previous evening with two hours of strength training in the hotel gym. At 8:30, everyone heads out onto the rollerski track that starts at the front door, taking them 800 meters to the Espace Biathlon stadium, surrounded by open fields, forest and a golf course.
Way of Life
The routine is nothing new for most of this group. It is the training camp way of life: up early, eat, train for 2-3 hours, lunch, rest, massage, train again 1-2 hours, eat, dry firing, massage sleep, repeat and repeat again. This camp is transitional: most of the last 2 month’s focus had been on building aerobic base and accuracy shooting. Now real biathlon starts with combo (interval) training with roller skiing and shooting. US Coach Armin Auchentaller explained, “We started this camp with volume; a long hike up in the mountains and classic skiing after the long trip. Now we begin combo training with low intensity. Towards the end of this camp, the intensity will go up. We will have several high intensity skiing and shooting days plus a time trial.”
Drills and Pushups
After the hiking and classic roller skiing, the team broke out the skating skis for this first intensity session. After 30 minutes of warm-up skiing and zeroing. The coach outlined the training, posting a written version on the ground next to the rifle racks. Auchentaller’s style of coaching is very interactive and personal; always teaching and advising. Before starting the shooting drills, he tells the group. “I want you to shoot 20 shots, prone or standing. Before we start, I want you to tell me what you are going to focus on.” Polling the group, the answers come. “I want to keep my rifle tighter on my hip in standing…Steady cadence…Solid in prone before shooting.” Before the last five shots, he adds, “The person with the most misses does 20 pushups.” No sooner than the last shot is fired, the numbers fly, “20, 19, 18, 18, 17, 17…and 15;’ Susan Dunklee without hesitation is on the mat doing push-ups.”
Poles or No Poles
“Five loops (about 10 minutes) of no poles on the uphills, four shootings, and recovery; then five loops of double-pole on the uphills, four shootings and recovery, about 2 hours, 15 minutes” was the coach’s explanation of the session.
That was a pretty challenging morning of training because the Correncon roller loop is basically flat in one place around the shooting range; the rest is either up or down. Kaisa Mäkäräinen, training with the US Team admitted it fit her perfectly. “The roller loop here is maybe the best in central Europe.”
Before the start, Auchentaller slipped into his teaching mode. Clare Egan said her prone position just did not feel right. The coach watched, adjusted her hand stop, then the sling, watched again, and added a few pointers and suggestions. Five more shots on paper in a nicely centered group; ready to go. She later admitted, “I started biathlon late and need to learn what to do. Armin just connects on a very personal level and that is a huge help.”
Happy to See Lunch
With the sun shining brightly, the loops came and went, each shot was recorded and the time added up. The coach looked at his watch, “2:30 and they still have one more to go.” By the finish, the clock read 2:50 and there was that exhausted look in many eyes. A few sat on the ground. Dunklee described the morning on Instagram, “Started with some shooting drills, and worked up into a heck of a long double pole and no pole session. We were happy to see the lunch!” Lunch on the hotel terrace; green salad, quinoa and veg salad, quiche and an apricot/ almond torte; everyone was a plate cleaner. Next on the agenda: rest and massages, second training session at 4:30.
Afternoon Run Up...
4:30 was time for ski poles, running shoes, and some hill bounding (basically uphill running with bounding long strides, using ski poles for propulsion) fun. However, first, there was the warm-up jog, 1500 meters up the road to an Alpine ski area. The run up the mountain road was a good indicator of the leg-tiring next hour.
Hopping and Hill Bounding
Ten long stride bounding drills with and without poles set the stage, 6 times pole-bounding of a short stretch of road, add in ten sets of frog jumps and the 1300 meters plus altitude was catching up. After the frog jumps, Hallie Grossman, definitely the shortest hopper said, “If I was a real frog in the road, I would be squished.” Yet there was still 10 sets of lateral bounding (cross-leg jumps: push off with one leg, cross over, land and repeat) and 10 minutes more of easy running on the flat. Now it was time for the real workout. Ten sets of pole-bounding, 30 seconds each with a jog down recovery up the deep grass incline on the alpine hill. Each was a long 30 seconds, trying to inject some humor and deflect the pain and fatigue, someone suggested, “Just say Pineapple at the time…or some other fruit.”
Before starting the final rep, the coach said dryly as he backed farther and farther up the hill to more than double the distance, “This time just come to me.” Legs burned, sweat poured but everyone was still standing. The jog down to the hotel was pushed the day’s training hours to roughly 4:30, a big chunk of the week’s planned 23 training hours.
Dinner and Rest Day
Dinner on the terrace as the sun dropped over the mountains was a leisurely affair with some laughs, and talk of one thing: what to on tomorrow’s rest day. Whether it was golf, horseback riding, a trip to Grenoble or absolutely nothing, the predominant theme was simple: sleep in, a priceless training camp luxury.
Hard days like these, filled with physical and mental challenges pay off when the snow flies. Biathletes are made in the summer.