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Successful Junior High Performance Endurance Camp in Poland

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Junior Endurance Athletes train in Poland

A junior squad of Irish middle distance athletes went to Spala, Poland for a training camp and National Junior Endurance Coach Steven Macklin reports on how it went:

The Athletics Ireland Junior High Performance Endurance Camp held in Spala Poland was a chance for our young endurance athletes to train in a high performance environment surrounded by like-minded individuals and offered few distractions. Spala provides this ideal setting with the best of facilities available from an indoor track, outdoor track, pool, forest trails, hotel on campus, indoor halls, gym and every piece of equipment available for free. The weather and food were two key factors in choosing this destination along with the facilities etc. Too often athletes travel to warm weather training designations and spend most of the time severely dehydrated or sunburnt and they also eat the wrong foods or too much food. Spala provided an ideal climate for endurance athletes while also providing a bland but nutritious food menu each day.

At the first team meeting the coaching team asked the athletes to bring their best to every training session and every day as a whole. A high performance environment moves at pace. We need to be constantly moving forward in what we aim to achieve and we asked that the athletes set this tone from the beginning of the camp. It was summed up in two simple words "Normalizing Excellence".

The camp never emphasized one particular day but a consistent 7 day block of training and returning home healthy and motivated. We chose to run this camp having a big "training" emphasis with educational pieces at the track, gym etc rather than indoors with a big focus on sleep, nutrition, hurdle mobility drills, stretching, S&C, warm up drills etc. Each morning the athletes first task was to fill in a monitoring sheet providing the coaches with specific feedback on resting heart rate, appetite, mood, motivation, quality of sleep, muscle fatigue, stress, any injury issues etc. The athletes were also weighed and gave a urine sample each morning and their hydration levels were monitored. The athletes’ compliance with this was refreshing to witness.

At the beginning of the camp we had many athletes that didn't know each other but following 7 days together we had 20 athletes departing for home who have become the best of friends. This is a special part of the sport that we all love. Those friendships that are fostered at competitions, training camps etc many of which remain for life. At a camp like this for juniors especially, it is important to find a balance between creating a high performance environment & culture but also having down time for the athletes to switch off, enjoy each other's company, relax and of course have some time for their study's. This team culture is important going forward, more collaboration and athletes working together fosters a stronger culture.

A special word of thanks to Peter Francis, Joe Ryan and Annette Quegan for their support throughout the camp. A camp is only as successful as the staff that are present and the expertise and motivation they bring to each day. A key service provider at any camp is the therapist as injuries are inevitable and here Peter Francis was invaluable. A professional with qualifications in many fields but a passion for applying this knowledge with endurance runners, he worked extremely hard each day managing any injury issues the athletes may have had, monitoring the training load/hydration and supporting with the S&C workshops. An integral part of the camp and one we were very grateful to have with us.  Another mention is deserved of the athletes personal coaches. Planning a camp like this is never easy and due to the numbers attending. Collaboration with the coaches was critical for the smooth and efficient running of the camp. All the personal coaches were extremely open to the plans for the camp and their willingness for their athletes to engage in daily group runs and workouts together allowed for a more productive and successful camp.

To the athletes - Your passion, attitude, drive, enthusiasm and hunger for knowledge was a motivating factor for us. In that kind of environment coaching is a joy and a privilege to be part of. Continue in this vein on a daily basis over the coming months/years and you will make us proud as a nation. Believe in yourself, keep working hard but smart, be open and honest with your coach, create a team of people around you that you trust, always aim high and continue to raise the bar. We asked you all to maintain a high standard from the start and you did, we asked you all to work together as a group and you did, we asked you to "Normalize Excellence" daily and you did.  We also challenged you and you challenged us in return.

Now the athletes aim to recover fully from the camp, allow the adaptations to take effect and plan towards their opening races of the track season. Many have highly challenging goals set, many dream of winning national titles, qualifying for major championships and bringing back medals to Ireland from major championships. Many will experience highs and lows this track season, be challenged and taken out of their comfort zone but the satisfaction gained by both coach & athlete on this journey is one that is worth the toil. We need to train ourselves and our athletes in what W. B. Yeats poetically described as "The Fascination of what is difficult" if we are to last the course. Endurance running is not an easy game, it takes time, patience, consistency and effort - some deep habit forming actions - with a strong degree of resilience to plough through the many failures on the path to mastery and success. This was a message we hit home at many points during the camp in Poland. Hopefully this camp has taught the athletes some of these traits and will enable Ireland to continue its proud endurance tradition and continue to raise the bar.

One of the athletes, Kevin McGrath, said: "The camp in Spala was a great experience in preparation for the track season and the European Youth Championships. We had great facilities and a really productive training environment."

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