Happy Campers
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Happy Campers

Happy Campers

by Patrice Malloy

Camp isn't just for energy-overloaded kids anymore. More and more running-lovin' grown-ups are packing up their workout gear and heading to the great outdoors to learn how to run more efficiently and to have some good old fashioned fun. Adult residential running camps, where groups of 20 to 45 runners overnight it in everything from mountain lodges to college dormitories to tented camps, have been part of the running scene for decades. In a casual vacation-like setting, campers receive individualized and group expert instruction in practically all aspects of the sport of running, including: training principles, nutrition, sports psychology, physiology and the intricacies of technical gear such as heart rate monitors.

Running 101
In addition to educational classroom sessions, campers also, well, RUN! Not so fast though...to the relief of many a camper, nobody is expected to turn in a series of four-minute miles when camp role call rolls around. "We have everybody from bashful beginners to recreational runners to peak performers attend our camps," said Coach Roy Benson of the Smoky Mountains Nike Running Camps. "We develop an individualized plan for each camper."Generally speaking, the amount of mileage a runner is expected to log prior to coming to camp can vary from zero (for an injured runner) to 40 miles a week and up. Greg Wenneborg, camp director and head coach at Craftsbury Running Camp, believes that it is ideal if novice runners log about 15 to 20 miles a week prior to coming to camp and intermediate and advanced runners come in with a minimum of 20 miles a week base. Some elite athlete and marathon training camps will recommend a more extensive mileage base.

According to Wenneborg, Craftsbury campers can expect to log anywhere from 20 to 40 miles during the week with the option of sneaking out for more or grabbing a coach for a personal running session. "Because the campers are away from their jobs and general life stress, they can get away with doing a little more mileage than they normally do," said Wenneborg. "Additionally, since many of the runs are on packed dirt roads, trails, all-weather tracks or jogging paths, the extra miles do not have as much impact on the camper as street miles."

The Fun Factor
These wooded workouts are not all work and no play. "Fun is a huge aspect of the camp experience," says Kelly Phillips of Claremont Trails Running Camp. In fact, the fun element is one of the top reasons to attend a running camp. "It should be like a vacation," says Colleen Cannon, former world-class triathlete and founder of Women's Quest Running Camp.

What would a bona fide camp experience be without canoeing, hiking, campfires, biking, volleyball and swimming? Camp activities will run the gamut of most everything you enjoyed at your childhood camp. "We even have a watering hole complete with a rope swing and 20' drop," says Claremont's Phillips.

Choosing the Right Camp
If you want your camp experience to double as an active vacation, go to a camp that is located in a geographical area that you would want to visit and would feel comfortable running in. Consider the camp's altitude, weather, terrain and proximity to other attractions when making your decision.

Know your comfort zone. Camp housing can range from mountain lodges, to vacation homes to college dormitories to military-style tents. Some camps will require you to bring your own camping gear. You should have a comfort and budget level in mind when you research camp options. Ask specific questions about camp facilities like restrooms and showers (will you have to share?), and amenities like pools, weight rooms and recreational facilities. Ask to see photographs of all of the accommodations and amenities that are important to you.

Consider a camp that caters to a specific group of people or type of runner. There are specialty camps for women only, Christians (www.christianteam.org), marathoners, masters runners and camps that cater to elite runners.

A Final Case for Camps
Tanya Manson, an alumnae of Women's Quest Performance Running Retreats, sums it up this way, "Camp is what you make of it. Sometimes I felt like a kid again, playing with my new friends. Sometimes I felt like my grandma, sitting with her oldest friends, sharing what was on my mind and having a wonderful group to listen and talk with." Greg Wenneborg adds, "Once campers get past having their friends and family make fun of them for spending vacation time running, they have a great time, create everlasting friendships and learn more about the sport that they love so much."

About the Author: Patrice Malloy is a freelance writer and competitive runner camping out in Cardiff by the Sea, California. She can be reached at patrice@patricemalloy.com.

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