James Fox |

‘When we run through the camp programme, it’s easy to feel your stomach drop’

GB Para rower James Fox on how the focus of a training camp can be a game changer

The European Championships was a roaring success on the whole for the British Rowing Team. A haul of five gold, four silver and three bronze medals saw GBR top the table at the Europeans for the first time ever, in a weekend that we hope would have made Prince Philip proud. But what now?

It’s all quiet in Japan as a question mark still lingers over our Olympic and Paralympic dreams. As the saying goes though, no news is good news and so we throw some wood on the embers that a successful championships has rekindled, and jump into another big training block.

All of the squads at Caversham will be heading away on training camp over the next few weeks for a fortnight of hard miles. Training camps in European sun traps could be seen as an undisputed perk of being a sportsperson but make no mistake, they serve a purpose.

“It becomes a world of input/output: input is food and sleep, output is training”

The idea is that if the need to commute, cook, clean and all the other basic tasks required to look after yourself are taken away, then that time and energy can be invested into going faster. And it works. It isn’t unusual for mileage to double on camp compared to a usual programme at Caversham and the intensity ramps up too. When we run through the camp programme in the weeks prior, it’s easy to feel your stomach drop but take away life’s other responsibilities and it becomes doable.

It is often a tough mindset to get in to, and then, conversely, to get out of when the camp is over. It isn’t real life. Your world is put on hold for a fortnight, and you become as close to a machine as I’d like to imagine. It becomes a world of input/output: input is food and sleep, output is training.

It can be incredibly lonely and tedious at times. There aren’t many 20k stretches of river or 2k lakes in the middle of cities, and it’s easy to get caught out missing your family, your bed – and even simple snippets of underappreciated pleasures like cooking and, dare I say it, cleaning – especially during the six-week blocks away from home in the lead-up to the major championships in the summer.

“It wouldn’t be the worst comparison in the world to describe it as being like a car wash”

But, for better or for worse, camps do what they are supposed to. In the middle of tough blocks of training we laugh about stories of going into a camp, leading up to a major competition, and being way off form; being slow, stressed and unhopeful about the season ahead and coming out two weeks later 10 seconds faster with a new mindset and a tan for the podium photo. It wouldn’t be the worst comparison in the world to describe it as being like a car wash.

Training camps have been an integral part of my calendar since I was a junior in Peterborough, through my time at University of London Boat Club, and they remain so for our Paralympic team. I hope every rower gets the opportunity to give a training camp a go at some point in their career, even if for no other reason than to get some training done on flat water! They really can be a game changer.

We will be heading off to Varese, the venue of the European Championships, in a few weeks’ time to find some speed ahead of the summer’s racing.

As our coach Tom Dyson says, this time of the year is for learning how to put speed onto the boat, the time for learning how to not take it off will come later.

Photo: James Fox