On the way up to camp, I realized I forgot a towel. Fortunately, we passed a great Family Dollar in the town of Warrensburg where I was able to get two huge beach towels for only $5 each. Score!
I arrived at camp a bit early, so I made up my bunk. I was staying in a bunk room with ten other campers… it was totally like going back to band camp in middle school (yes, I went to band camp). As the other campers started arriving and we got to know each other, we joked that it was like a reality television show. Little did we know how true that would prove to be! The camp director, Josh, had two video cameras that were constantly recording our every move. At meals, we got to watch footage of our runs while we ate. I wasn’t really a fan of seeing myself run, but it was kind of cool 🙂
After settling in, we had our first group run. We were assured that this would be relaxed and not technical… just a nice way to ease us into trail running. There was a dirt road going to and from the camp, so our first run was just along that road. It was an out-and-back, with the furthest marked point at three miles. We were all asked to be ready for dinner in 90 minutes (including a shower, if you wanted one), and told just to go as far as we wanted. I tried to use my brand-new Garmin, but it took about 1/2 mile to find the satellites, and then my pace seemed really off (that is, I was sprinting downhill and it would say I was doing a 17:00 mile). Does anyone else have problems with pacing on the Garmin, or was it just because I was out in the middle of nowhere? Anyway, I stayed with the lead group all the way out, and then slowed down around the 4 mile point. Unfortunately, the way out was all downhill… and the way back was all pretty intense uphill! I walked a ton, which was disheartening. If that was our gentle run to ease us into trail running, what would the next day bring?
Before I get to that, I need to talk about dinner. Oh my goodness, the food we had was INCREDIBLE. I had been expecting some kind of cafeteria slop that would be ridiculously unhealthy, and just figured that with all the running I’d be doing, I’d work it off. But seriously – we joked that it should be called eating camp. The food was AMAZING, and I started to worry that I would leave camp having gained weight because I was eating so much. The first night we had baked chicken parmesan, and the best eggplant parmesan I’ve ever had (I pulled the cheese off though). For dessert, there was a blueberry peach cobbler. Breakfast the next day was roasted red pepper and goat cheese frittata (they made a no-cheese one for me!) with homemade blueberry loaf. Lunch on Saturday was avocado and bean wraps with a side of baked tomatoes and carmelized onions in phyllo dough… but I’m getting ahead of myself now. And also making myself REALLY hungry!
After dinner, we had a camp orientation. It was then that I got to see just how professionally run the camp was. I just figured it would be kind of hodge podge… a bunch of people who loved to run, with some other runners designated as counselors to lead the runs. No no… this was a structured program! We had a certified doctor to give us a lecture on safe trail running, injuries to look out for, and how to treat them. We had a yogi to teach us yoga, a personal trainer to teach us core strength, and some of the best trail runners in the northeast to teach us all we needed to know about trail running. They outlined the schedule for the next few days, and it was pretty intense! Each day there would be two runs, a yoga class, a core class, a volleyball tournament, waterfront time, and two lectures. We were encouraged to do as much or as little as we wanted, but I wanted to do it all!!
After orientation, they put on a series profiling some adventure race that happens in Seattle and takes like a week to complete… I’m now blanking on the name. Don’t worry, I’m not crazy enough to want to do that one (yet)! I started falling asleep during the movie, and eventually hit the bunks around 10:30 PM.
The next morning, I got up at 7:15 – just in time to throw on some running clothes for our morning run! This one followed the “cabin loops”: two fairly non-technical trails that went around the cabins. There was a 0.9 mile loop and a 0.4 mile loop, with everyone spread out all over them. I took my iPod for this one, since it seemed like we’d be running more solo than in groups. I did two of each loop for a nice 2.6 miles, and then hit the showers and got changed for breakfast and then a lecture to introduce us to trail running. At breakfast I met a few great women just a few years older than me – Kelly, Jess, and Melissa – who quickly became my “posse” at camp 🙂 We had fun in lecture, though agreed that all the dangers (especially the oft-mentioned “stick in the eye”) sounded kind of scary.
Yoga was phenomenal – I used to do yoga daily when I was in high school, and I forgot how much I liked it. Also, my freshman year of college, we did yoga three days a week as part of my acting studio. It occurs to me that maybe the reason my body looked so much better then was because of the yoga? I got a recommendation from the instructor to check out Shiva Rea and Rodney Yee for yoga DVDs… if you have other recommendations, pass them along, as I’d like to get back into it!
After yoga, we changed out of our sweaty clothes – it was a great workout. I opted to skip a shower though, because I knew I’d want to take one later as well, and three showers in one day just seemed like too much. However, we joked that alternate titles for the camp could have been “showering camp” or “changing clothes camp.” By lunchtime, I was already on outfit three! After lunch, we had a volleyball tournament, which necessitated another clothing change. I really suck at volleyball, but everyone was nice and encouraged me anyway, which was great. After volleyball – time for another run!
Our afternoon run was hill repeats. I had never done repeats before, and I was really excited to try a “real runner training thing” that I’d seen all of you write about in your blogs. We headed over to a steep hill that was fortunately short – it would only take a few minutes to reach the top. However, it was a SERIOUS trail. Rocks, roots, branches, leaves, hidden holes, and all the other dangers discussed in our morning lecture. And all this on a pretty steep hill that would have been tough had it just been a road! We walked the hill to get the lay of the land, then discussed it at the top, and headed back down. After a bit more discussion, we ran up the hill being careful to keep our strides short, our knees high, and our bodies leaning forward, while the counselors spread out along the hill to watch our technique and give us tips. After a water break, we did just two more, but hardcore as I am, I decided that wasn’t enough – so I did another two repeats, and then headed off to do the 0.9 and 0.4 mile loops again. Go me!
Of course, it was then time to… shower and change! (You can safely assume that we did that basically all the time and after every activity – I was glad I had brought what I originally thought was an excessive amount of workout clothes!). Just before dinner, we had our core strength class. This was a little bit slower paced, but really focused on getting the right form, so hopefully I’m taking home some good technique. Dinner came next (chicken stir fry with jasmine rice… I am salivating as I type… and then a fruity dessert that used up the rest of the blueberry loaf from breakfast), followed by a lecture on trail safety. We saw pictures of the aforementioned stick-in-the-eye (I gagged and had to close my eyes until we went to the next slide), as well as Lyme disease, broken ankles, and all kinds of crazy things. Unfortunately, my biggest takeaway for how to not get injured was… don’t run on trails. I mean, there are definitely safety precautions, but let’s face it, if a branch starts falling at breakneck speed, it’s really just luck whether you can get out of the way before it squishes you. Scary!
And then… one of the best (and most unexpected) parts of the weekend… A WINE TASTING! Seriously, was this camp made for me or what??? Our leader, Joe, works for E&J Gallo, so he knew his stuff, and I had a great time trying a lot of different varietals and even learning more about the characteristics of some classic wines. Slightly drunk and definitely exhausted, I fell into my bunk and slept soundly till morning.
Saturday dawned bright and early again… but this time, I did not want to get up. I was tired, I was sore, and I just wanted to sleep. Nevertheless, I dragged my lazy bones out of bed for our 7:30 run. This one was on some more difficult trails, and we had the option of doing a 4.3 mile run on the same course as the race the next day, a slightly easier 2.6 mile run, or for a break, the same cabin loops we had done the day before. Because there was going to be another run in the afternoon doing the 4.3 mile course, I skipped the hardest one, and opted for the middle distance – 2.6. And it was a challenge! First up the steep hill we had done all our repeats on, then single-track through the woods down to the lake, and finally a long and steep uphill to finish back at camp. I led our group for a while (impressed myself with that since it was the faster of the two groups that set off on this course), but at the last uphill, I walked and got overtaken. I couldn’t believe how much harder trail running is compared to road running, and how much slower I was! Granted, some of that is because of the uphills, but the terrain just made it much harder too.
After breakfast (blueberry pancakes, hash browns, and sausage) we had a lecture on “running chiropractic.” I would really like to see a chiropractor now – it’s crazy to see how simple alignment issues can mess up a body so much when it’s subjected to repetitive stress like running! Again, looking for recommendations – anyone know any good ones in NYC? I was absolutely exhausted from the day before, and found myself struggling to stay awake during the chriopractor’s talk, even though it was really interesting. For energy, I turned to food, hoping that low blood sugar was the cause, but no dice. I took it easy in the next core strength session, and after lunch, I headed down to the waterfront – not to swim, but to sleep on a rock and hopefully get a little tan 🙂 When it came time for the afternoon run, I was still exhausted, and my calves/feet were sore from the day before (everyone else had quad problems, which I guess shows that I’m at least good with hills, but my feet/lower legs definitely need some agility training). Jess and I bailed on the afternoon hike, choosing instead to play Scrabble and binge on the granola bars, fruit, and Goldfish that had been put out for us 🙂 I felt horribly guilty about this decision, but the next day when I woke up refreshed and without too many aches, I was glad.
After the others got back from the run, it was time for yoga. Unfortunately, it was so hot that I seriously felt like I was doing Bikram, and I took it easy because of this, but I still got some good stretching in. Dinner was baked “fried” chicken and stuffed peppers, and we were promised an extra special dessert later. Keep reading!
After dinner, my absolute favorite part of the entire camp: Tim VanOrden gave a lecture on nutrition. I could write a whole post on this (and I just may do that), but suffice to say that we learned early on in the camp that Tim is a raw vegan. That is, he basically eats only fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds – all uncooked. He made an amazing kale-banana-hempseed smoothie the first night for dinner that he let me try, which was actually delicious, and the next day for his dessert he made a sublime chocolate pudding out of avocado and Larabars. His lecture wasn’t specifically about raw veganism, but he did tell his life story and explain how he came to be a raw vegan.
Now, I have to admit – I’ve always found vegetarians/vegans to be somewhat annoying. This is because so many people are vegetarian/vegan for primarily ethical reasons, and so many of them seem to feel the need to convince you that theirs is the ONLY way to be, and that it’s just wrong to eat meat. It comes off very condescending, and I don’t like that. A lot of vegans also seem to be hippie-ish and live in ways that just aren’t compatible with a job and lifestyle like mine. However, Tim was none of that. He was totally down-to-earth (even admitting that before he tried veganism, his diet consisted primarily of the Taco Bell drive through) and normal, but explained his rationale in such a way that I was fascinated. Throughout the weekend, I kept sitting down to talk to Tim about raw veganism and all the different things he’s uncovered about eating healthfully.
I would really like to try raw veganism, but don’t want to go cold turkey. My plan to kind of ease into it is to start by cutting oils/butters when cooking, and only eat food that is steamed, boiled, or MAYBE grilled (if I have to). I had heard about how cooking at high temperatures can really destroy a lot of the nutrients in food, and Tim confirmed that, as well as gave some strong scientific evidence in support of that (which the camp doctor, who is NOT a raw vegan, said was totally sound). I also want to cut dairy, which shouldn’t be too hard – I’ve already cut cheese, and I don’t really eat much of anything else except ice cream. Ice cream is going to be hard, but I’m thinking I can switch to sorbet, frozen bananas (which taste creamy like ice cream to me), or get some of Tim’s recipes for making ice cream using coconut milk. I definitely have a lot of research of my own to do, but I just have to say I’m floored by what great shape Tim is in. He has a website (which is a bit out-of-date but is being revamped) that profiles his journey as a raw vegan athlete, and let me tell you, he is a pretty incredible athlete! He wins many of the races he does, and his goal is to be the first person over 40 to run a sub-four mile. Without doing any speedwork, he’s at a 4:30 mile, and his spirit is incredible, so I think it is definitely a reachable goal.
Anyway! Back to running camp stories… more about raw veganism and new diet plans later.
After the lecture, we had a camp talent show. Yoga Sarah (we called her that to distinguish her from Doctor Sarah) did an act with her boyfriend Brian, who is a former gymnast, that was very Cirque Du Soleil-like and awesome. There was lots of music, a dramatic recitation, and my favorite – my friend Kelly’s Irish drinking song 🙂 During the talent show, we got to try the long-awaited dessert: brownies topped with apple jelly, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. I ate three pieces, most likely gaining back any weight I had potentially lost over the course over the weekend. But it was so good that I’m not kidding when I say I don’t care. Unfortunately, this dessert was not raw vegan friendly… so if I get the recipe and thereby the means to have it again, I may not be able to actually go raw vegan.
To backtrack a bit… the director of the camp was Josh, and he is one of the most incredibly high energy people I’ve ever met. He has a lot of funny idiosyncracies, and we came up with the idea to make “Josh-O” – a bingo game based around these idiosyncracies. After Jess and I finished up Scrabble, we came up with a list of these traits and also some common words he might say (trail, socks, roots, hills, etc) and put them onto Bingo boards for everyone to secretly play with. Unfortunately, the night’s activities didn’t involve much talking on Josh’s part, so as the talent show was wrapping up, no one had yet called out “Josh-O.” Josh started making his closing announcements, and, realizing that the game was about to end with no winner, I decided to expedite the process by prompting him for some words I knew were on some people’s boards. “Josh, what is the race called tomorrow again?” “Froggy Five.” I crossed this off on my board, as Josh peered at me and asked, “Are you writing this down? What’s going on?” On a roll, we continued questioning him rapid-fire: “What obstacles do you expect along the course?” “Rocks, roots, hills…” Finally, we heard a triumphant “JOSH-O!” from the back of the room, and Bryanne proudly went to the front of the room to announce that she had won the game with “Josh wears short-shorts, Josh pauses to laugh at his own joke, Josh says ‘pink trail,’ Josh shows video footage from camp, and Josh promotes ARE apparel sales.” Josh thought it was hilarious that we had made a game about him, and we all thought it was pretty funny too, as we nearly laughed ourselves out of our seats 🙂
We headed off to our bunks, sad that camp was almost over, but excitedly looking forward to the race the next morning! The Froggy Five Miler would put our skills to the test, and we wondered… were we ready? Stay tuned to find out how we did!