Train low, live high: Franziska Koch


The spring period is done and dusted. For me, my last race was Roubaix mid-April. I took a couple days off afterwards to allow proper recovery -physically and mentally; that way I was ready to go fully recharged into… yeah, what was next?

Looking at my race calendar I spotted a big block of no racing. On the one hand, time off racing for a longer period is tough since racing is what we live for, right? But on the other hand, it allows for specific work again on the form and starting a proper build again. 

Two important factors of building form are consistency and a good environment. One of my favourite quotes “a happy athlete is a good athlete” expresses the meaning of the second factor. Every athlete is different, so you have to find out for yourself which environment is the best for you. Some enjoy time at home and others like to go exploring new places. As you might remember, I am a mountain lover. So, after some talks to my trainer and team, we decided I am good to go for an altitude camp. 

Altitude camps are a popular method nowadays to make some “extra” gains and build a strong endurance foundation. But, of course, there are some more things to consider than when you do a normal training camp. I will lead you through my process of decisions and learning progress I made over the last few weeks.

The first question to face was the location and logistics. Since I will do the camp by myself, it’s a bit more complicated than with support of a team. I try to ride my new Scott Plasma RC TT bike weekly to adapt to the bike as well as possible. To keep that rhythm, I needed to bring two bikes. Unfortunately, my passion for mountain biking is too big to leave it behind for three weeks. So that makes three bikes. In the mountains you can face bad weather too, so bringing a turbo is a smart tool. To bring everything, driving by car is the easiest. Also, having a car on the mountain is necessary to be able to train low some days or doing some groceries. 

The first location I discussed with my trainer was Sierra Nevada due to good weather prediction. But the downside was the long travel. I am based in Girona, so it would be a 10h drive. Doable, but traveling never allows good recovery and since I  race straight after the altitude camp, the negative impact could be too big. In the end, we choose Andorra, which is only a 3h drive away from Girona. I did my camp from the end April to May, so the weather was already better. The weather was our biggest point of discussion, because as I said earlier, consistent training is key.  You don’t want to be stuck in snow and cold rain for too long. 

The location and logistics were clear. Well… not exactly, because regarding location you face another question: how high do you want to live? Preferably I would have liked to stay in an apartment to cook for myself. But looking into apartments, the highest I could get was around 2100m. Already proper altitude for sure, but from the past we knew I react well on altitude, so my trainer advised me to go as high as possible. I did my first camp on 1800m, but now I aimed for more. That made it a bit more difficult to go together with friends since they had different goals. I struggled with making the decision to just go by myself, but in the end I did it and didn’t regret it. I stayed in the Pic Maia hotel at 2400m, which provides good food, rooms to store your bikes and even a gym. So, everything you need to have a successful camp. 

To help you out, I want to share my top 5 tips for you for your own altitude camp:

  1. Don’t push too hard in the beginning. Especially in the first days you can destroy the success of the camp. Give your body the chance to adapt to the altitude. 
  2. Listen to your body. You will face challenging days. Recovering at altitude is different than sea level, so don’t be afraid to adapt the training plan. Not being able to perform can make an athlete doubt a lot, but it’s important to accept those days. I had a couple of days where I wasn’t reaching any high watts, but just a week later I did great again. Trust the progress.
  3. Gearing! Depending on where you go, you won’t find many flat roads. To be able to keep your legs smooth on easy days, bring the easiest gear you can find. I had 36-34 on my road bike, but used my mountain bike most recovery days to spin even lighter.
  4. Be open. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to spend three weeks just by myself, but you are never alone. Friendly hotel staff made me feel at home fast and Andorra is the Mecca of cycling, so if you look around a bit, you will meet “your kind of people”. 
  5. Clothing. Bring everything. The weather in the mountains changes a lot, so you need to be prepared for everything. 

And of course, don’t forget to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. The stunning views you will get will make up for the days the mountain top is stuck in a cloud. After every low comes a high. So train low, life high to complete the circle right. If you like you can follow me on Instagram Franzi_kc to see if the altitude camp pays off with some good race performances. 

See you soon.


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