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Many Canadian athletes take advantage of travel to other regions and countries to experience training in different climates and/or different physical environments. For many it is an opportunity to train at different conditions and for some to escape the cold, hot, rainy or snowy weather of Canada. We asked Jason Dunkerley, Paralympic runner, to share his thoughts on why he goes on training trips during the spring and how he tries to make the most of the experience.

In the spring I had an opportunity to spend ten days training in the Bay Area of California. The trip represented a welcome change – the majority of my winter training, other than running on a treadmill and a few sessions at the indoor track, had taken place in sub-zero temperatures. The moderate northern California weather in early April is optimal for runners whose legs and arms have not seen the light of day in months. Certainly, the promise of good weather is alluring for endurance athletes seeking a break from the cold; however it is not just about replenishing vitamin d, for there is a psychological element also. After so many difficult weeks of slogging through snow and ice, an early dose of sunshine can help to recalibrate our entire attitude in preparation for the rigors of the season ahead.

Then there is the matter of choosing where to go to train. In previous years, I’ve had the chance to spend time training in Florida, Texas and Arizona. Each of these locations offers unique advantages. Athletes generally go to Florida and Texas for the heat, and to Arizona for altitude. We chose Berkeley, California this year because of its proximity to San Francisco and an early season competitive opportunity which coincided nicely with our camp, because of the hills surrounding Berkeley which challenged us on every run in a way that we simply do not encounter at home, and because our coach was familiar with the area, having studied at UC Berkeley in the 1980’s.

One might argue that it is possible for athletes to tailor favourable training conditions at home, irrespective of climate. After all, we have great indoor facilities here in Canada and we even have ways of simulating altitude training through innovative technology such as hypobaric chambers. In my experience however, there is no replacement for time in an optimal environment where training can become the sole focus. When in California, we were able to push the envelope by running more volume than usual and by incorporating hard workouts on some back to back days. In the real world, most athletes strive to balance their training with family, employment or academic commitments and in this respect, training must be worked into the overall puzzle.

Some factors which may be important for athletes to consider when embarking on a period of training away from home include:

  • Making the experience meaningful – use the opportunity to serve a strategic purpose, e.g., incorporate a race or time trial to test current fitness, or if training at altitude, target a race in the days following your return to sea level to test your progress from time at the higher elevation.
  • Seek variety – since you will likely be training more than usual, situate yourself in an environment with various training options. For runners, this means having access to a track, trails, and particularly soft surfaces which will spare your legs and enable you to train more and still recover.
  • Cook when you can – it’s tempting to grab things on the go when you are training hard, but keep in mind that greasy breakfasts and prepared snacks can sabotage your training if eaten in excess. Try to stay somewhere with a kitchen, make frequent grocery runs, and eat out in moderation.
  • Embrace the opportunity – while it’s often difficult to leave thoughts of home behind, try as much as possible to place yourself in the moment. Take advantage of the chance to focus 100% of your energy on working hard, and capitalize on an opportunity to elevate your training to a new level.

Heading south for training in the spring may seem counterintuitive with the weather changing for the better here at home, but in the season of in-betweens, spending time in an optimal training environment can reinvigorate body, mind and soul at the end of a long winter and inspire you to pursue new horizons during the season to come.


About the Author

Jason has proudly represented Canada at 4 Paralympic Games, winning 5 medals in middle distance track events against other blind runners. He has been a member of the national Para Athletics team since 1998, and away from the track, has sought to promote inclusive physical activity so that more people with disabilities might catch the physical activity bug. Along with his guide runner, Josh Karanja, Jason hopes to represent Canada at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics in 2016. 


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