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Unilab Active Health Camp Alpha : Masarap na Masakit

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Unilab Active Health Camp Alpha presented by Specialized : Masarap na Masakit
by: Don Manebo | Photos by: Coach Andy

This is my report on the Unilab Active Health Camp Alpha held last May 3 and 4. I was lucky enough (or unluckily if a little bit of suffering is not your thing) to sub in for my Pinoy Fitness teammate Jeff Lo who spent the weekend surfing in Baler.

What’s Camp Alpha all about? It an intense two-day triathlon training camp at The Village Sports Club in BF Homes, Paranaque, with advanced lectures on training with pace, power, and heart rate headed by Coach Andy Leuterio, with the assistance of Coach Keshia Fule, both accomplished triathletes themselves, and Coach Martin Carandang, a swimming specialist. The camp is presented by Specialized Philippines.

Day One:

Call time was 6:30AM in The Village Sports Club. The private sports club has an 8-lane 25m pool. Ria, my Pinoy Fitness teammate, and I arrived just in time. We hurriedly changed and met up with our “classmates” at the pool deck. The participants were divided into two groups based on the answers in a questionnaire submitted before the camp. I was assigned to Group A while Ria to Group B. Each group had a different program for the two-day camp.

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Coach Martin gave us our workout. We were to do 10x200m, the first four reps with paddles and the last 6 without going on 4:30. This kind of workout, on its own, is a standalone workout for me, but here, it’s just the appetizer, as it were, to begin the two-day camp. Okay, don’t think, just do, I thought. The first two reps felt good as I was still fresh: “3:32”, “3:3x”, Coach called out after each rep.

I was paired with TJ, who turns out to have quite a bit of swimming history. Coach instructed me to start 10 seconds ahead of him. Sustaining the initial pace was too much as I struggled not to get caught, afraid of bogging him down. 3:3x became 3:4x. Sometime in the middle of the set, I relented and dropped back. By this time, my form had degenerated into a choppy flailing of the arms. 3:5x. The last couple of reps felt better if only because I didn’t feel the pressure of a much faster swimmer tapping my toe with each stroke.

Ah finally, done! So, now on to the bike, my favorite of the three discipline in triathlon. This I’ll enjoy, right(?).

Bike: Three laps of Daang Hari/Daang Reyna loops: the first on a warm-up conversational pace, the second on a tempo, and the third a time-trial effort. Because I forgot my Garmin, I didn’t know how long each loop was and how to gauge my effort. Thus, I relied primarily on the pace set by the others.

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Ms. Vanj and Chang – both uber bikers – took up the cudgels up front, setting the pace for the group. I followed them. Big mistake. What was supposed to be an easy first lap quickly turned into a tempo effort for me which of course I would regret later on. We stopped at Shell to regroup. I ate a bar of Snickers and drank a can of Coke to refuel. We head off on the second loop which was to be a tempo effort but again, I found my effort creeping up into near TT zone.

These guys (and girls) just don’t do anything easy, I thought. I realized that this is Camp Alpha indeed – a bunch of sunburned alpha types who do everything just a little harder (okay, that’s an understatement) than ordinary persons. It’s no coincidence then that the coaches themselves and a good number of the participants are regular age-group podium winners and contenders. Being content with their present state of fitness, they are not. How apt is the camp moniker.

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On fresh legs, I don’t mind a little hill, wind, and heat but by now, halfway through the session, the gentle rolling hills, mild breeze, and the sun were not so benign any more. They’d become formidable walls, gusts, and skin-scorching obstacles to overcome. I was being found out, my weaknesses were manifested. Still I pushed myself, thinking I’m halfway through. We stopped once more at Shell where the SAG van supplied us with cold water, Gatorade, ice, and bananas.

Starting the third loop, a TT effort, I was not disillusioned – I knew I was spent. The unbearable heat has taken its toll. I resolved to just shut my mind off and pedal. We started in 20-second intervals. A couple people from behind passed me and throughout, try as I might, I couldn’t bridge the gap ahead. I returned to the starting point, stooped over the handlebars and desperate to hide under the shade of a tree, to shelter from the fiery heat of the late morning sun. It was done! We head back to the camp headquarters – Village Sport Club – for lunch.

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Ah but wait, I spoke to soon. Upon our return, already there were participants who were running in the compound – a brick run to top it off. I was in no rush to put my bike away and change shoes but eventually I did begin my brick run and found company in Tom, a native of Switzerland who had made Philippines his residence since, he recounted, Marcos was still the President. He described his favorite bike routes in Europe noting that Spain’s was one of the best. Our chitchat helped make the torturous heat tolerable. Before long we had completed the prescribed fifteen-minute run.

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After a quick shower, we assembled in the dining/seminar room for lunch. It was a working lunch. Coach Andy gave a every enlightening talk on training at the right intensities and illustrated the concepts through the real life example of one of his athletes – Javy Olives, also a regular age-group champ. The seminar confirmed what I already knew of myself – that I lacked specificity and method in my training. I just bike and run (and on rare occasions swim), when my time permits without really any program or plan. His methodology is very scientific and precise. More importantly, it is based not just on books he’s read or seminars he’s attended, but on the true test of effectiveness, years of personal experience. Having been self-trained since I began triathlon, I saw little need to get a coach. However, it’s become evidently clear that a coach is essential if one is serious about improving.

Coach Andy offers two coaching programs: Red and Black. Red is the standard program with a personalized training plan and periodic feedback. Black is more intensive with very frequent interaction and feedback from him. Due to the very time-consuming nature of the Black program, he only offers a handful of these slots per year. In fact, there is a try-out to join this program. Due to work commitments and given the modest goals I have for myself, the Red program would likely suffice for me.

Keeping with the theme of improving performance, the guest speakers from a company called BioBalance discussed a new individualized nutritional supplement program. In this program, an extensive test is conducted to determine the nutritional deficiencies (and surplusage) of a person. Once those are identified, a comprehensive regimen of nutritional supplement is prescribed.

The program makes perfect sense since no two individuals are alike. Thus, what one may need in terms of vitamins and minerals, another might not. It takes the guess work out – you get precisely what your body needs, no more no less. The catch? Well, it’s not cheap. The most affordable testing is P26,000 (apparently the testing is done in the US so this accounts for high cost) which does not yet include the vitamins and supplements that are packaged conveniently into morning, lunch, and dinner packets. But I suppose when considered in light of the amount triathletes spend on their equipment (especially bikes) and that it is for one’s health and well-being after all, the cost is reasonable.

Thus endeth the first day of Camp Alpha.

Day Two:

Call time was again 6:30AM. First order of the day: Grabbed a bite to eat with Ria at McDonald’s, not exactly the breakfast that makes champions but for us, it was good enough.

We would start the day on the bike. Group A’s poison was VO2 max repeats. We head back out to Daang Hari/Reyna and do one warm-up loop. TJ, the fast swimmer I was paired up with on Day One, rode alongside me. We passed time discussing our past and future races. I was surprised to discover that he was only in his second year of doing triathlons – you’d think he’s been doing this for years.

Since I learned my lesson yesterday (the hard way), I was careful not to be too eager on the first loop. Thus, we kept our pace was conversational the entire way. There would be plenty of opportunity to go hard later. We stopped along Daang Reyna; this is where our VO2 max laps would start. The loop was roughly 2 km out in length. The objective was simple: ride as hard as possible for the 2 km and spin-recover on the way back. Rinse and repeat five times. The road was ideal for this. It is slightly uphill with sporadic traffic.

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On the first lap, I jump at the start to get up to speed and settle into an uncomfortably hard pace. Almost immediately, my breathing was heavy and my quads were burning from the build up of lactic acid. I noted that the first minute was oddly the most difficult segment, accelerating from a rested state into full bore and sustaining that effort engendered thoughts of backing off but I persisted. In the middle section, the discomfort became somewhat tolerable. I kept constantly looking down at my Garmin to monitor my pace and effort. The last third of the lap I’m on survival mode, just trying to hang on for dear life. I kept thinking, “cadence, cadence!” (Pronounced kah-dens, kah-dens). It was a little mind trick I picked up from another coach and I use it to maintain a good high cadence. I cross a makeshift finish line, a green line on the road, and press lap on my Garmin. Time: 3:48

I recall what Coach Andy said the day before, the first two laps are “throwaways”, meaning I shouldn’t take too much stock in what they mean since they are done with fresh legs. The time on the second lap was identical. This I suppose was a good sign that I hadn’t gone too hard on the first. On the recovery back to the start, I really took my time but kept a relatively high cadence to keep the muscles warm and firing.

The third lap is when I really began to question my ability to complete the reps. Were we told to do five laps or six? My memory was getting hazy. I was secretly praying it was five because if it were six, I’m doomed, I thought. I had remembered a landmark – a water tank – to mark the near of the interval’s finish. Whenever this came into view, a feeling of relief would pervade my body giving me energy to push to the end. While my time on the third interval was identical to the first two, it felt significantly more difficult.

The fourth lap was excruciating and it showed as my time dropped by about four full seconds. While huffing along, a cyclist (not of our group) flew past me. He wasn’t working nearly as hard as I was and looked quite fresh and composed. Then again maybe he hadn’t done 3 reps of this, I thought. Having an external stimulus really helps in efforts like this. I reel him back in and just as I pass, the green line relieved me from having to suffer more. One more, or was it two? Again I take my time going back, no sense in rushing – does an inmate rush back to his cell? No, neither do I.

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I gather myself for what I hoped was the last interval. It’s curious how the mind is able to summon the strength when it knows that the end of a hard effort is near, much like in a race where despite an insurmountable feeling of despair or fatigue permeates every last nook in your head, one almost always finds that extra oomph to sprint for the line whether it is for first place or last. Thus, I pounce at the start, getting up to speed straightaway. It is just as painful if not more; I think about shutting my eyes so I can tune the pain out (for my health, of course I didn’t). I repetitively mumble some incomprehensible words f*#k s%^t, f*#k s%^t. Then it was all over, I press lap and see that it was 6 seconds faster than the last?!

In describing what is meant by going to failure, Coach Andy said during his seminar, “it’s precisely that, when you can’t go anymore”. By that definition, this was not yet to failure because ultimately I was able to perform the last rep just as well if not better, time-wise, than previous intervals. As far as I was concerned, however, I knew it was to failure or at least the next rep would have resulted in an epic fail. Thank goodness I didn’t have to find out because just as I finished the recovery lap, I discover that the group had already departed back to headquarters. Coach Keshia waited behind for TJ and me, as we were last to finish the set. I asked her, “was I supposed to do five or six?” She asked how many I did. “Five,” I replied. “That’s good enough”. Whew.

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We head back to The Village Sport Club. Of course, I knew better than to hope that training was over. There was a brick run waiting for us when we got back. That day’s heat was not as intense as the day prior as the blue sky was interspersed with clouds. Perhaps I had just acclimated (or have been desensitized or numbed) to the heat. Once I started running, however, I had very little motivation to do more than 15 minutes; I was exhausted and worse, hungry. There were no more bananas left in the sag van and I had no gels with me so I made do with drinking Gatorade for some much need sugar and calories.

Next on the agenda was some easy/light swimming. Throughout the 2-day camp, I heard references to “C[R]amp Alpha” accompanied by smirks. I would soon find out why.

The first set was 400m (100m pull +100m easy x2) followed by 200m (50m pull + 50m kicks x2). That was a pleasant set. It was quite refreshing getting in the water after a three hour bike-run.

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Coach Martin would up the ante on the next set: 6x100m. The exhaustion from the last two days was beginning to get to me. I was swimming like an automaton – mindlessly, probably some kind of a defense mechanism of the mind to overcome the physical fatigue. At this point, a swimmer is pulled out of the water due to cramps in his hamstrings. He looks to be in pain as a medic stretches his leg. Ah, so this is Cramp Alpha.

On the third set, we were instructed to do 3 x 200m on 4:10 paying close attention that our effort does not exceed aerobic threshold defined as 180-Age in BPM. We were to check our heart rate after each interval. I’m paired with Tom, the Swiss; we were roughly of the same swimming skill level. On the first rep, we are side by side the entire way. We reach the end of the interval at around 3:48. I count the beats, it’s too fast. Was it 14 or 15? (For facility, Coach taught us to count our heartbeat over six seconds and multiply by 10 to get the BPM).

On the second rep, I really begin to feel miserable, I can feel a twinge in my right hamstring – the unmistakable sign of an impending cramp. Ah, Cramp Alpha. I swim without regard to time, I just wanted to finish without cramping. Time: 3:58. BPM: who knows. Last rep. Here I really turned my mind off; where on the bike I couldn’t close my eyes, I sealed my eyes shut in the middle of a couple laps and imagined positive things – crispy pata, halo-halo, and of being in a happy place.

I’m reminded of the scene in Happy Gilmore when Adam Sandler, to overcome his putting woes and tune out his irksome nemesis, would imagine himself in heaven drinking beer served by his blonde girlfriend in lingerie. My happy place wasn’t quite like that but you get the idea.

I’m awakened from my dream when my hand hits the wall and Coach Martin calls out 4:15 signifying the end of our training! I had survived Camp Alpha without the “r” in Camp.

We take a shower and meet up in the dining room for lunch and one last lecture by Coach Andy. Lunch was very satisfying, I had breaded pork chop and mixed veg. Monching also requested for pancit, a favorite post-ride comfort food by Ria, and we shared in that. To top it off, I got halo-halo, realizing my happy place. It was indeed heaven.

So, would I recommend Camp Alpha? A resounding YES! In fact, I wish triathlon camps like this were held more frequently. I would probably join it every other month in lieu of races. Why, you ask, after all that I had been through? Because of many reasons: I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) do those workouts on my own; the concomitant fitness gains to be had; the knowledge you gain about the sport, training, and yourself; and most importantly, the people you meet.

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Triathlon, by its very nature, is a very solitary sport – you spend a lot of time training by yourself. All the more in races where it’s just you, the socialization you do most likely involves just teammates before and after the race. In training camps like this, you spend two days with people who are like-minded and have similar athletic aspirations. You experience the same suffering from the workouts. You urge and console each other. Acquaintances, if not friendships, are bound to develop. That, in itself, is worth the price of admission. The training and knowledge is, as it were, icing on the cake.

See you in Leg 2 of the Camp Alpha. It will be held on June 21-21, 2014 in Sandari Batulao, Batangas.

For more details and to register, contact Coach Andy Leuterio at alpha_tri@yahoo.com

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Thanks to my team Pinoy Fitness, and Mr. Jeff Lo, for the opportunity to participate in this two-day camp. To my teammate Ria who provided some comic relief during those rare idle moments. Of course, thanks to Coach Andy, Keisha, and Martin. I think I learned more in two days than I have in my four years of triathlon. Thanks too for cramming two weeks worth of training into two days. Masarap na masakit is the best way to describe my experience.

Unilab Active Health Camp Alpha is also sponsored by Newton Running and RUNNR together with Gatorade as the official Sports Drink.

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