Join the pack on a training camp
Whether you're in training for a big race, keen to accelerate out of a frustrating plateau, or just fed up with the infamous British weather, a training camp could put the spark back into your running.
Most training camps offer a busy schedule of organised runs, coaching and cross-training, such as yoga or pilates classes, and you'll have the benefit of expert coaching and individual advice, as well as a slew of fellow runners to keep you company.
The RW spring training camp, held in Portugal in association with 2:09 Events, packs in two shorter runs each day, yoga and core-stability classes, talks from experts, a handicap cross-country race and a long run at the weekend.
This year our annual training camp attendance totalled 170 runners in five ability groups, which ranged from sub-five-minute-milers to 12-minute-milers.
Jane Eastham, a regular attendee at the RW spring training camp says, "You find out who's at your ability level and look out for each other – you've got ready-made running partners!"
Tortoise or hare?
Training camps are welcoming to runners of every speed and ability – at the RW spring camp, for example, a lap system on the long run means that each runner can complete as many loops of the course as they feel able to do.
There's no need to worry if you're no Paula Radcliffe or Haile Gebrselassie; Jane describes herself as an ‘improver' and she's been running for 15 years. "On the long run, runners at the back of the pack were accompanied by staff on bikes," she says. "You actually get more support from the coaches, and more enthusiasm from the rest of the runners, if you aren't so quick."
And coach and 2:09 Events Director Mike Gratton agrees, "Just from training together, and talking socially afterwards, the more experienced runners can impart an awful lot of knowledge to beginners, the little tips that wouldn't come out in a training talk."
Just good friends
For those bitten by the training-camp bug, it can be addictive – RW forumite Ian Richardson has been on the RW Algarve spring training camp annually for the past 10 years.
He's welcomed hundreds of new runners into the fold, and says, "Roughly a third of people on each trip haven't been before, so you won't be going into an established clique. I've always gone on my own, and over the years I've made a bunch of good friends and we now meet up and travel to other events together."
Getting down to business
When it comes to the business of attacking those PBs, the staff on the camps, made up of former elite athletes and experienced running coaches, will be well prepared for the task. As well as giving time to individual runners, staff lead a packed schedule of coaching and classes.
Mike Gratton says, "We try to have a look at your running on an individual basis and see how changing training schedules and recommending things like hill work or tempo running can help people improve. The coaches are around during the day to look at training plans and to talk about individual problems. When you're in a group doing hill work or on the track you really get a buzz."
Jane agrees that this approach works, "You can find out a lot about your body – I got a proper, thorough body fat analysis, for example. You also get the benefit of personal training. I was hopeless at core stability. So I went to a group class and the trainer made a personal appointment with me for the next day. She's since emailed me a series of exercises specifically for runners."
Fun in the sun
A beguiling combination of expert coaching and relaxing holiday, training camps are often held in inspiring locations, from Switzerland or Provence, France, to the Forest of Dean. It's much easier to pull on those trainers when your training runs are along forest trails or dramatic clifftop paths rather than drizzly pavements.
Like any holiday, training camps range in budget from a full-board trail weekend in Gloucestershire that won't break the bank (£195, www.trailplus.com), to a week in the snow – and lavish smart hotels – of Switzerland (around £900, www.209events.com). The RW Algarve spring camp offers flexible itineraries (seven- to 14-day breaks), as well as a variety of accommodation options, and ranges in price from £229 to £619 (2009 prices).
And for those keen for a break from a busy training schedule, or trying to convert running-phobic partners, don't fear. The days fall into place around the main running session, leaving holidaymakers the opportunity to try pilates or yoga, see the sights or just kick off your trainers and relax!