Sunday, March 22, 2009

Camping without the tents: Triathlete visits Cliff English’s Mad Miles Tri Camp

The travel season has begun, as have racing and camps. I’ve had barely a breath this early season currently in Thailand (was in Bangkok, now in Phuket) for a work junket (and squeezing in training and, currently, "enjoying" a bad sunburn thanks to a snorkel trip, 92-degree temps and a blazing sun, hold the ozone layer). But before that, I was in Tucson for TriFest, a weekend of riding, running and general triathlon stimulation.

But before that, I spent a day with coach Cliff English of Cliff English Coaching in Tucson, Ariz. He and his wife Samantha McGlone (she of 2006 Ironman 70.3 World Champ win and 2007 Hawaii Ironman runner-up finish) along with fellow coach Paul Cross, were leading a diligent group of triathletes through the biggest day of the “Mile Madness” training camp held in Tucson; a 100-mile ride, from the East side of Tucson to the tiny ranching town of Sonoita, Ariz.

I pulled into the host hotel on ride morning and was greeted by Cliff, Sam, Paul and fellow Tucsonan and ITU pro Doug Friman, who was helping out with the camp. There were several camps being held the week before and week following TriFest, but I wanted to tag along and see Cliff’s operation. I visited with this camp last year when Peter Reid made an appearance.

This year, I simply wanted an excuse to hang out with a group of the coolest cats in the coaching (and racing) game, and ride in the sag van with Doug. Cliff, Sam, Doug and Paul are some of the nicest guys you’ll ever come across, but what draws me to hang out is the low-key element of the class. There’s no powerpoints about heartrate zones. Yes, it’s covered, but in a way that makes it easy for a guy like, well…. me, to understand. To boot, the camp was also hosting running coach Bobby McGee, someone I was looking forward to meeting as well.

The small group of athletes received as much attention as they required or wanted; on the ride, Sam rode with a group of hammerheads at the front, while Cliff and Paul settled into groups that went at a more sustainable pace.

I had a chance to meet one of the age-group “hammerheads” at the front; Dean Harper. Dean was not only a Bay Area pro back in the 80s, he has the distinct honor of gracing the very first issue of Triathlete magazine. “ I remember Bill Katovsky asked if he could take some pictures of me in my garage for his magazine,” Harper recalls. “He said he wanted to get Dave Scott on the cover, but was too intimidated. So instead I got the honor!”

The group of athletes finished their long ride at Saguaro National Park East. After a quick change into run kit, everyone was ready for a breakdown of their run form by McGee, as he rode alongside runners who had that funky form you only find after nailing a 100-mile ride—the one that looks like the legs are detached from the body.

For those who wonder how Sam McGlone is going after injuries kept her out of the Hawaii Ironman and the 70.3 World Championships last year, let notice be served; the Canuck is healthy, fit and ready to race.

“I love coming to the camps here,” McGlone said. “This year is a really good level; there were some guys putting some work into me today. A long supported ride with my 12 best new friends, it’s a great way to really get my season going—it’s been a long road.”

All told, it was just what I would want out of a camp: a good time, good education (how can you not when you have Bobby McGee analyzing your off-the-bike run form?) with good training in great winter weather. There’s something tangible to have in your back pocket 180 miles of good, outdoor riding in a matter of a few days, knowing the rest of the country is in deep freeze. Cliff and his cronies host their camps in the spring (before he’s full-time with many of his elite charges and is getting his wife ready for the Ironman season), so check out his site for those camps at

No comments: