The place: Oostberg, Wisconsin. Tiny beach side town on the upper curve of Lake Michigan. The crew: thirteen women from xXx, plus their coach. The task: three days, 190 miles of biking.
The women present ranged from the team’s most experienced members, like captain Tamara, who had attended camp in SLO for five years running, to its freshest faces. Jessica was a whale trainer at the Shedd Aquarium with five or six Iron Mans under her belt. Mo was a 20-year-old biking enthusiast new to racing. Michelle was in her 50s but didn’t let that, a hip replacement a few years back, or the fact that she’d done a half Iron Man the week before stop her from coming to camp. It was a very impressive bunch.
It was my first time at camp, and the miles on the docket would be the most I had put in consecutively in a very long time. I was fighting some muscle strain in my lower back and the nervousness that comes from not knowing how you’ll stack up in the pack. Day 1 was 75 miles in the hilly terrain west of Oostberg. Day 2 was another 65 in the rain. Day 3 was an “easy” 50 that proved the hardest for some because the wind was so strong. (Or for others, like me, who had nothing left after the first two days.) Maggie put it well when she said she was never so glad to see the sign for Oostberg at the end of those 65 and 75 mile days. Oostberg! Thank goodness some of the more sensible among us brought foam rollers. And thank goodness for Randy's wife, Kari, who had come along and graciously volunteered to prepare all our meals! Those recovery sandwiches (one of which I ate in the shower) were more delicious than any sandwich ever.
Central coastal WI is much hillier than anything around flat pack Chicago, where we all train and live. The hills don’t compare to SLO or Ashville, but they were a challenge for me. Tamara once described me as a “roleur,” someone who can power through the flats, but maybe isn’t such a strong climber. I think that analysis held up. I found myself keeping up in the pack in the flat sections, but getting dropped on the climbs. The climbs also took a toll on my knees, which weren’t used to the extra force I needed to make it up. Descending was fun, though! I definitely made up some time there.
One of the most valuable exercises we did during our rides was the rotating pace line. For the new teammates especially, this was a vexing drill. You could see some of them struggle to grasp the flow and rotation- when to advance, when to fall back, when to move over, how to stay in line without getting gapped or encroaching on someone else’s space. But it was really satisfying when it clicked for them. Seeing them get it, and get the flow, was great. It’s such a valuable skill in any race or training setting.
In the evenings Randy led us through some team building exercises. Some of them were admittedly silly but fun, like describing your “perfect day” or listing “two truths and a lie” about yourself, and making the rest of the group guess which was which. We asked Randy skeptically if camp with the guys was like this. He admitted no; they were much more focused on downloading their power numbers post-ride and obsessively comparing who had hit theirs the highest. Ha! We half laughed, half groaned.
The best of those activities was watching old footage of classic European races with team tactics in mind. Everyone perked up as Randy analyzed the strategy various racers used in each clip. There seemed to be a strong desire among our group to employ team tactics more effectively in our upcoming races, especially given how large our team is now.
Overall it was a really memorable trip. It was the first women specific training camp our team ran; I doubt it will be the last.