As our athletes continue to build into 2023, a number of swimmers have been off on training camps to prime themselves ahead of what will be a crucial year for Paris 2024 preparations.
Among the biggest of these are the swimming altitude camps – one of which has just been completed. A team of 26 athletes, coaches and support staff headed to Flagstaff, Arizona for the three-week long programme, which ran from 14th January – 4th February at the NAU Wall Aquatic Centre.
One of the athletes who was out in Arizona for the camp was 23-year-old European champion and Commonwealth Games medallist Laura Stephens. The Loughborough Performance Centre athlete spoke to us about how the camp went, her targets for the year, and what the highs and lows of 2022 taught her with the international swimming season on the horizon.
Due to the evidently unique nature of an altitude camp, the environment and routine understandably involves some different elements to those that the athletes might be used to back in the UK. We asked Laura to explain exactly what a typical day looks like, and how this differs compared to regular training.
“The initial adjustment in the first week to the high altitude meant that we had to carefully control the volume and intensity of the training more than we would if we were at home. After this period, though, the training continued very similarly to our regular training, with potentially a bigger push on very high volumes. The most important part was managing our energy levels and monitoring how we were coping with the training each day to make sure we don’t get ill.
“We were training in the pool 10 or 11 times, and three times in the gym each week. On a regular day we woke up at 6.30am, had breakfast and headed to the pool for the first swim from 8am-10am. Then we either went to the gym for an hour and a half or went back to the hotel to rest and recover before the second swim at 5pm-7pm. After the second session, we had dinner in the university dining hall and then it’s some down time before we went to bed and got ready for the next day.”
Reflecting on what was her most successful year to date last year, Stephens paid tribute to the environment that the Performance Centre has afforded her, as well as how this contributed to her performance.
“2022 was a bit of a rollercoaster for me, changing programmes at the start of the year, which led to the busiest summer I have ever had competing at three major international meets” she explained.
“It was very successful, I learnt a lot and gained a lot of confidence with the back-to-back intensive racing schedule. I also think I transitioned very smoothly into the Loughborough Performance Centre, and couldn’t be happier with my new teammates, coach Dave Hemmings and the brilliant support staff we have in the centre.
“Into the new season so far, we have focused on getting a lot of volume done, whilst making some important technical changes to my stroke. It’s been my most challenging training block yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing what this brings in the racing to come.”
With 2023 set to provide a much more traditional calendar as the aquatic world gets back to normal following the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Stephens also gave some unique insight into how the camp enables the team to integrate more effectively ahead of the summer.
“The atmosphere in Flagstaff was great, everyone was pushing themselves and raising the bar in the pool each day so it was a very motivated environment. There was a good balance of competition and also finding the time to switch off away from the pool, I think it brought the whole team closer together and made the three weeks we were out there fly by so fast," added Laura.
“Since this was only my second time on an altitude camp, I’m not exactly sure how this will affect my training and racing in the future, but I’m really happy with the work I’ve been able to put into this one. The training effects aside, I think this it was a great way to bring some of the British Swimming team together and get to train with the other swimmers from Stirling in a new environment, we can all learn a lot from each other.”
With the outstanding 2023 target for Olympic swimmers being the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka this July, Stephens gave a closing comment around her aims and aspirations for life beyond the training camp, and what her time between now and the summer looks like.
“We have been making some technical changes to my stroke, so I’d like to see if I can execute them well in the racing that’s to come this season. At the moment, the focus is getting ready for the British Championships in April and then the summer racing after that, and Paris 2024 is always in the back of my mind.”
To stay up to date with all the latest information around April's British Swimming Championships at Ponds Forge in Sheffield, check out the event page.