Summer Running Camp (for Big Kids!)

Arriving at summer camp
At running camp you can leave your big girl problems at home and just RUN! (Photo credit: Peter Blanchard)

I attended summer camp in Wisconsin every year between the ages of 8 and 15. It was, hands down, my favorite place on earth. I was completely convinced that when I died, I would go to heaven and it would look exactly like my summer camp (with the addition of halos and clouds and such.) I learned to paddle a canoe and fish for bluegills at camp. I didn’t have to brush my hair for an entire week (yesss!) And, if I was feeling very brave, I could hide giant Pixie Sticks under my pillow and eat them after our counselor went to bed.  Sheer, childhood bliss!

Imagine my excitement when I recently discovered that there is such a thing as summer camp for adults. Better yet, there is such a thing as summer RUNNING camp for adults! I have yet to attend one but, if I ever do, I have a feeling that my picture of heaven will get an upgrade from Pixie Sticks and bluegills.

As I’ve started to research different options for summer running camps, I’ve found that there are plenty to choose from. I was overwhelmed by the options at first, but as I’ve focused on my needs as a runner I’ve learned how to distinguish a good camp fit from a not-so-good one for me, personally. If you’re considering a trip like I am, here are 5 questions to ask yourself before pulling the trigger and packing your bags for running camp!

What’s My Style?

Most running camps focus on a particular style of running. If you’re a road runner who hates bugs and shudders at the thought of muddy shoes, you might want to think twice before signing up for something like Team RWB Trail Running Camp in Texas. At RWB, sessions are devoted to technical running form, trail etiquette, uphill/downhill running, heat and hydration management, etc. Be sure to check a running camp’s website and find out what type of terrain you’ll be exploring. It’s always good to stretch your comfort zone and experience something new, but if you already know you hate trail running, check out something more like the Craftsbury Running Camps in Vermont (where you’re unlikely to encounter anything more technical than country roads and gravel bike paths.)

What’s My Budget?

Like all vacations, running camps fall anywhere and everywhere along the spectrum of expense. The good news is that there are camps in most every region of the United States;, so there could be one near you. Make sure you know exactly what is included in the cost of camp. Are all meals included? Is there transport to and from camp from a nearby airport, if you’re flying in? How about lodging (and is the lodging single occupancy? Bunk-house style? Does the price drop if you room with a friend or two?)

I'd be a happy camper if I could run here, too! (image from Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp)
I’d be a happy camper if I could run here, too! (image from Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp)

The Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning camp, headed up by the indomitable Geoff Roes, is one of those “once in a lifetime” kinds of trips that actually offers full and partial scholarships as part of its program. Runners of all ages who want to go to ultra camp but are held back by financial challenges are encouraged to apply. I think this is fantastic and, which I know it’s extremely rare, it’s possible that there are other programs like this out there. There are also plenty of camps in much more accessible places, so don’t rule it out even if you are on a budget. Save those pennies! It can be done!

What’s My Fitness Level?

Your running ability should also influence which camp you choose to attend. If you aren’t into high volume mileage or multi-hour runs, ultra camp isn’t for you. If you’re not running elite-level paces, don’t sign up for a camp that caters to speedsters. Be realistic about your current fitness, not the fitness you *think* you might be able to gain in the weeks leading up to camp.

Also, don’t forget to  factor in geography. If you live in Iowa but are DYING to head to Arizona and attend McMillan Running Camp in the foothills of Flagstaff, be sure to train accordingly and adjust your expectations. Your body won’t be comfortable at altitude, which means you might not feel all that great at 7,000ft. of elevation. Again, don’t avoid a camp because you’re intimidated or afraid of a challenge, but don’t put yourself in a position to be uncomfortable for your entire trip, either. This IS a vacation, after all, and running IS supposed to be fun!

What Are My Other Interests?

Running, and then some... (image from Team RWB Trail Running Camp)
Running, and then some… (image from Team RWB Trail Running Camp)

For those of you who love  the idea of “general wellness” as well as running, there are options like Run Wild Retreats that have yoga, cooking demos, and guided relaxation sessions mixed in. If you don’t have luck with your initial Google search for “adult running camps,” try throwing in different keywords based on your other interests. TIP: if you’re looking for something that’s light on running and heavy on cross-training, relaxation, and girly goodness, search for running “retreats” instead of camps. These tend to focus a little less on serious running technique/training, more on overall fitness and, yes, more on guilty pleasures like pedicures and spa treatments. I’m currently drooling over this entire list of adventure trips for women….wow!

You’ll be surprised what you can find when you branch out and look for camps that include running and <<insert cool hobby or interest here>>

What Are My Goals?

Maybe you want to run your first marathon. Maybe you’ve run out of motivation and need an unconventional kick in the proverbial rear end. Maybe you know you need to revamp your nutrition but don’t know where to start. Running camps are a great place to kick off new goals or find fresh energy for lagging ones. Camps like the ones put on by Active at Altitude, for example, allow runners to pinpoint their needs and choose from a variety of programs based on which skills they want to develop. From mental training to female-specific conditioning, there’s a camp for every goal and every fitness level (not to mention a variety of schedules and locations!)

Have you ever been to running camp? Do you have your eye on any, or would you consider signing up? Share your bucket list!

I'm a nomadic runner who loves moving from city to city with my husband and Great Dane. I write about training with a Type-B personality, battling bad running habits, and becoming comfortable with sub-3 marathon racing despite my race-phobia. After a soul-searching year away from running, I'm thrilled and terrified (thrillified?) to be making a major comeback in 2018!

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  1. For the longest time I have wanted to attend a running camp so thanks for the info. I think I am going to aim for this for my 50th birthday present in a couple of years!

  2. So funny you just wrote this as I was thinking of running camp out of the blue the other day. My college team always did a 3-day camp near Traverse City that was always an amazing experience and I was feeling nostalgic. I’d love to go to one of these camps one day. Another option instead of an established running camp facility would be to rent a cabin with runner friends and do your own thing.