Running Retreats: Summer Camp for Adults

Ginger and Cardamom might like the FIRST Camp which preaches the "Run Less/Run Faster" method of training. Image via the Furman Institute
Ginger and Cardamom might like the FIRST Camp which preaches the “Run Less/Run Faster” method of training. (Click on this photo for more info!) Image via the Furman Institute

I envied my sons all their various summer camps during their growing up years: Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama (which now has adult and family camps), kayaking and hiking camp on Catalina Island, cross-country camp at Lake Tahoe with quad-burning runs up the trails of Squaw Valley, and one summer, as I tried to fill my younger son’s while we worked, cooking camp, rocket camp, boogie board at the beach camp, cartoon-drawing camp, and water park camp.

After my boys were grown, for a milestone birthday and a more formal introduction to creative writing, I attended a writers’ retreat on Whidbey Island, six women, each with her own tiny cabin, an established author-in-residence, delicious meals, and gatherings at the farmhouse in the mornings and evenings to discuss the day’s assignments. The camaraderie, beauty, and learning combined for a lasting memory.

I think we adult women runners could use a little of that summer camp experience, don’t you? 

Last fall, I read an in-depth debriefing of Kara Goucher’s first running retreat, where the participants, women of all ages, running abilities, skills, and goals, raved about the weekend: an opportunity to run, be with like-minded women, and spend time with Olympian and mother/runner, Kara. The weekend included a keynote speech by the Oiselle CEO (one of Kara’s sponsors), nutrition tips by a clean-eating blogger, a Pilates workout, discussion with a clinical social worker on managing life’s expectations, and motivational speeches by Kara’s husband and his business partner. Kara effused about friendships, inspiring women, and bonding with the common passion of running as the primary reason she’d wanted to headline a retreat. At the time I remember wishing I’d heard of the retreat in time to register for it (although I then remembered my injury might have prevented me from enjoying the full benefit of the weekend).

This spring my email inbox seemed bombarded with advertisements of, and marketing for, running retreats, week-long or weekend events, some featuring well-known names in the elite running community like Deena Kastor at the Westin Wellness Running Escape, Kara Goucher at the Minnesuing Acres Women’s Running Retreat, and Jeff Galloway at the aptly named Jeff Galloway Running Retreats. While big names are the draw for some camps, others grab your attention with their beautiful geographic locations like the Active Altitude Women’s Running Camp in Estes Park, Colorado or the ZAP Fitness Adult Running Camp in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

Prices for the running camp range from about $400 to $2000, depending on the length of the retreat, the focus, the locale, and whether there’s a big name (like Kara Goucher) attached to it. Ancillary activities are part of the draw, including kayaking, swimming, hiking, educational seminars, nutrition classes, yoga and pilates. Many of the camps are limited to a small number of participants to allow more intimate, one-on-one coaching time. Some run several sessions during the summer, like Mountain Trails XC Camp, a camp that parents of high school runners convinced to offer camps for grown-ups. Some others, like Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp are focused on hard-core, experienced ultramarathoners, running at high altitudes on steep trails. Many others, such as the Moab Mindful Running Retreat or Craftsbury Running Camps, market themselves based on the camaraderie experienced by their attendees, the ancillary activities provided, or the psychological aspects of running.

What’s the appeal? I suppose it can be different things: the ability to improve one’s running form and technique; to meet others with similar passions; to push oneself, which may not come from solitary running with only an on-line training program for guidance; to meet personal heroes in the running community; to travel to dreamed-of places; or to regain that sense of adventure that we experienced as grade-schoolers at our first sleep-away camps. And, of course, running, morning, noon and night without commitments or distractions!

As for me, I’ve registered for a trail running retreat near Calistoga, California, for a weekend in August. The retreat’s coach is Caitlin Smith, the ITU Triathlon World Championships qualifier/yoga instructor/certified massage therapist and​ an elite road, trail and ultrarunner, running coach and U.S. Olympics 2012 marathon qualifier. The itinerary combines trail running, nutrition counseling, and yoga sessions with free time for journal writing, hiking, reading, optional massage or spa.

Doesn’t this make for a great running retreat backdrop! Image from Women’s Run & Yoga Retreat + Wine Tasting. Click the image for more information!

I spoke with Sally, the retreat’s organizer (disclaimer: my massage therapist) about the genesis of her running and yoga retreats. A serious triathlete in the early 2000s, she became injured, then disillusioned with her coach and the traditional modalities for dealing with injuries. She started to research her own methods of healing, which led to intense yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture, Reiki massage, and Chi Running. Sally wanted to share her healing approaches with other athletes who struggled with injuries; to bridge the gap between competitive athletes and energetic healing; to integrate nature into the balance of exercise; and to develop and nourish friendships. Her attendees report finding a sense of immersion, community, and balance from these times away in the mountains or near the ocean, sharing their love of running or yoga or hiking (depending on the retreat’s focus) while learning better techniques, mindful running, and incredible enthusiasm.

My limited research about running retreats is positive, especially if one focuses on the right fit for her goals. I revert back to the analogy of summer camps for adults: to meet new people with similar interests, to improve our skills and techniques, to revel in nature, and to find the balance that often gets lost in our day-to-day lives, not only from the regular living stuff but also from our sometimes intense training schedules. Like kids, we have the opportunity to remember why we so love running in the first place, and to renew that sense of wonder at the incredible joy movement of our bodies brings.

Have you ever gone to running camp? Tell us about it!

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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  1. Thanks for providing the link, Cardamom.

    This idea sounds like a really cool way to have an active vacation. I get bored wen sitting on the beach too long!

  2. i have been to several triathlon focused training camps – run by coaches and attended by fellow athletes (that I already know personally). I would love to try a running specific camp- I read about the Blowing Rock one and it sounds really fun – thanks for sharing all of these links!

  3. Thank you for mentioning Run Wild Retreats’ Moab Mindful Running Retreat in your story 🙂

    This retreat, and our other offerings (Costa Brava (Spain) Running + Wellness Retreat and the Iceland Trail Running + Wellness Retreat for women) are especially suited to runners who want a supportive, non-competitive atmosphere in which to run with like-minded women.

    As the commenter “Cardamom” says above, I understand why some women feel intimidated by the idea of traveling alone to an event (especially overseas) and the cost involved, which is why all of our retreats include pre- and post-retreat coaching.

    Our goal at Run Wild Retreats is to help you integrate all the great things you learn at the retreat into your running so that you experience lasting improvements not only to your running, but your health and overall well being.

    Going on a retreat certainly is in an investment of time and money, but when it marks an important turning point in your evolution as a runner or personal life (which it has been for some of our clients), then the rewards far outweigh the costs involved.

    I’d love to hear what others who have been on a retreat think, or from those of you considering going on a retreat; what are your biggest questions about the experience?

    Run well, be well,

    Elinor Fish
    mindful running coach
    Founder, Run Wild Retreats

    1. Elinor: Thank you for your note. I truly enjoyed my running retreat weekend. The attendees were varied in skill level as well as location, one group from Florida while the rest of us from California. The leader is key: Sally was welcoming, always available, and brought in several other awesome women to focus on trail running, pilates core/strength conditioning, to complement her yoga and ChiRunning expertise. The location (southern Marin County north of San Francisco), the time to escape from the day-to-day lives that sometimes hinder our ability to focus on ourselves, and sharing our experiences with women with whom we might not otherwise engage but with whom we have a common love–running–was perfect.