A few years ago, you could count on one hand the number of trail-running camps offered by champion ultrarunners. Now, it seems as if nearly every top-10 finisher at Western States has his or her own camp or gets invited to lecture at one.
I get why these camps are popular—having spent a week at Geoff Roes’s Alaska running camp, I can attest to how physically rewarding and socially satisfying the experience can be—but how do you choose whether and where to spend precious vacation days at a trail-running camp? The people, destination, program and time of year all come into play.
I’m writing to tell you about the camp that Morgan and I are heading to in eight weeks, which still has space available for registration. It’s Team Red White & Blue Trail Running Camp, Oct. 9 – 12, and strikes me as one of the best quality and most interesting camps being offered these days. Here’s why:
The people: Liza Howard, the camp’s leader and head coach, is one of my favorite ultrarunners to follow because of her sense of humor and superlative running skills. She’s the 43-year-old mom who set a 15:07 course record last year at Umstead 100 in spite of going off course and stopping to pump her breasts since she was still nursing her second child! (For details, listen to the UltraRunnerPodcast.com interview with her that Eric and I did or read her blog post.)
She’s joined by 16 other coach/mentors—I will be one of them—so the camp has a 4-to-1 camper-mentor ratio. These coaches include well-known names such as Matt Hart, Dominic Grossman, Katie DeSplinter, Jason Schlarb and Meghan Arbogast (see all the names & bios here).
The campers are an equal mix of veterans (active and retired military personnel) and civilians, which is the heart of the experience. Team RWB’s mission is to help veterans reintegrate with civilian life. Running trails is an ideal venue to stimulate conversation and break down barriers, says Liza, an Army brat who grew up on bases while her dad was in the service.
“The goal of the camp is community-building and friendship, so while we put on a solid trail running camp — people learn really good skills — ultimately I want people to feel like, ‘There’s this nice community out there and there’s a place for me in it.’”
The campers are divided into four ability levels, so—as I’ve been trying to reassure my husband Morgan (who’s gamely coming along to be one of the campers)—you’ll have plenty of company and support if you’re relatively slow and don’t run very far. No trail running experience required. But if you’re on the other end of the spectrum—a hard-core ultrarunner—you can also learn a lot by networking and training with Liza and the other mentors.
The place: I’ve never been to Texas, and admittedly never wanted to go because I harbor some negative stereotypes Texans. Challenging those stereotypes and expanding my horizons made me want to check it out. Since our family doesn’t have military connections, I’m also truly interested to meet and get to know veterans (an interest sparked partly by one of my favorite novels I read last year, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which happens to be set in Texas).
“You’re going to be in a very pretty part of Texas,” Liza assured me. It’s at Camp Eagle near Rocksprings, about two hours northwest of San Antonio, along the Nueces River. Hilly, rocky terrain surrounds the camp. Camp Eagle operates as a church camp that hosts a variety of events and gatherings, including the Nueces 50 trail ultra in late February. Liza says the accommodations are clean and comfortable but no frills.
The program: In addition to lots of runs that teach trail running technique, the camp will have clinics on nutrition, first aid basics, racing and more. The mentors also will give mini-TED-Talk-style talks on their experiences.
And another cool thing: At the end of camp, everyone participates in an obstacle course challenge that incorporates the river!
Here’s how the top dogs do it:
To register: Register through Ultrasignup. Cost is $365. Registration is open until Oct. 5 but it’s best to register before Sept. 1 to be guaranteed they’ll have your shirt and sock size for your goodie bag.
Let me know if you plan to go!