My First Running Camp Report

Walker Creek Ranch (our retreat venue)
Walker Creek Ranch, the host venue of my first running camp.

I’d impatiently waited for my first running camp, having written about them here in the abstract. Like summer camp as a child, I was slightly nervous during the days leading up to the actual weekend of the  Women’s Running, Yoga and Wine retreat.

Could I keep up with the other runners? What about yoga, a practice I’ve only done a few times? Would the other attendees all know each other? What were the sleeping accommodations? Shared bathrooms? Silly, really, in retrospect.

The weekend was all and more than I expected it to be on so many levels: venue, running classes and trail runs; Pilates core strength sessions; yoga; friendly community of women; talented leaders; and truly a retreat from the day-to-day life.

The retreat was held at Walker Creek Ranch, the Marin County Outdoor Education facilities, located about 10 miles east of Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean and 45 miles north of San Francisco. Typical California coastal hills, brown dotted with sturdy oak and some fern forests and lots of range cattle, fox, deer, rabbits, and all manner of birds. The facility consists of dining hall, the Boogie Barn, small lodges for sleeping and gatherings like wine tastings, a pond for swimming, garden for meals where we were welcome to pick carrots and raspberries, and access to dirt roads and trails with amazing, heart-stopping views.

The schedule was full but with enough time in the afternoons to enjoy the area at our leisure. Sally, the leader and organizer, is also my massage therapist, along with Chi Running teacher and yoga practitioner. A former triathlete and corporate techie, she is passionate about helping others learn to be better people in health, spirit and community. She set the tone with personal introductions and enthusiasm for the weekend and the opportunity for us to form a new community of women runners.

Gingerly crossing stream at beginning of steep uphill.
Gingerly crossing stream at beginning of steep uphill.

We practiced our running mechanics before our morning trail runs. Our toughest trail, to Walker Creek peak, included crossing a stream (in California, rare to see water in a seasonal creek this time of year) before we ran (and huffed) to the peak. We were rewarded with panoramic, picture-perfect views of Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Marin County hills to the East. The five-mile round trip took us down through manzanita and oak trees peppered with ferns along the forest floor. I started running many years ago primarily on logging roads through redwood trees; although the very steep downhill off the peak was slippery and rocky, once we reached the forested trails, my heart sang in remembrance of those beginning days and all the places my life has taken me.

Running down from Walker Creek Peak! Harder than it looks.
Running down from Walker Creek Peak! Harder than it looks.

I  was definitely a neophyte for the two yoga sessions led by Sally. Some of the women had years of practice and while envious, I finally understand how it can help runners with greater flexibility and stretching. The sessions were held in the Boogie Barn, built in the early 1900s, a fitting setting for our yoga, Pilates and core strength sessions, and for our closing circle.

Caitlin Smith, two-time US Olympic Trails Qualifier in the marathon, ultrarunner, Pilates instructor and running coach, taught Pilates and core strength sessions on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. She’d won the Mt. Tamalpais 50k Saturday morning, but still arrived at the retreat looking fresh and so young! Her coach and training partner is Magda Boulet, whom I’d met in mid-July at the Napa Half Marathon expo here in Sonoma. It’s exciting to meet some of the elite women runners from the Oakland area and learn their running tips, hear their personal stories, and imagine for an instant having this passion as both a vocation and avocation.

Pilates in Boogie Barn with Caitlin Smith.
Pilates in Boogie Barn with Caitlin Smith.

Deanna Micros, who leads scenic running tours in San Francisco, was our trailblazer. Intrepid and fearless, she tried out the trails we’d run to determine whether clockwise or counter-clockwise would provide the best views and the better running experience. Her enthusiasm about running after a legal career resonated with me. Fit and tan, she’s an exemplar for masters runners!

The community of women was in and of itself a reason for the retreat. I was always a solitary runner until I met a core group of running friends later in my running career (this is the subject of my memoir, Running, Friendships and Motherhood). Here again were runners who are also mothers, professionals, and friends, open to meeting others, sharing experiences, lending support, and being each other’s cheerleaders. A number of women came together from Florida, several came with friends, and a few of us brought only ourselves. It didn’t matter, though, because by the end of the first night’s dinner, a community was building from the inside out.

The retreat targeted running, yoga and wine , but for me, it was also a time out, a marking of where I am with running, meeting new people (not always easy), and soaking in the peace and beauty of this spot in Northern California. I am so fortunate to be able to do this sort of thing: not so different from sleep-away camp as a child, except that as an adult, my appreciation and gratitude are on a different plane.

Have you attended a running camp? Did you find yourself fearful or challenged? Would you recommend it or the concept to a friend?

I'm a senior masters runner. I write about my running journey and topics of interest to runners of all ages. My current goal is to maintain of steady base of road and (new to me) trail running, with some 5k, 10k, and half marathons throughout the year.

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