Wellness retreats are not just for spa, yoga and meditation. For several years, I have been reading about and dreaming of running camp and retreats that help runners improve their form, get faster and achieve new goals. Imagine being able to focus on one thing you love for a whole week (or even just a weekend), led by experts and surrounded by like-minded enthusiasts? Add in a beautiful destination, and if you are me – you find yourself adding a running camp to your travel or life bucket list.
I had the opportunity to interview Eric Orton – an elite mountain runner, a coaching star and a featured character in Born To Run and author of The Cool Impossible – about his multi-day running camp set in one of my new favorite destinations – the Teton Mountain range in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. To say that attending the Cool Impossible Running Camp at Teton Mountain Lodge would be a dream would be a gross understatement.
I was curious about what makes a running camp special and what runners can hope to take away from this intense fitness experience. Here is a bit of what I learned from Eric Orton.
Why should someone travel to a running camp (as opposed to a running coach at home)?
The goal for my camps and Mountain Running Academy is to create a one of a kind running and mountain experience that runners will remember the rest of their life. Running is a skill that needs to be learned and there are so many ways to help runners improve, whether it is run technique, run strength, or using the mountain trails as a learning “tool” to help runners believe they can tackle bigger challenges and reinvent what they think is possible for their running.
What brings someone to the Cool Impossible Run camps? Is it the destination of Jackson Hole, your expertise, running goals?
As the coach and runner, I have had runners interested in coming to Jackson Hole to train with me and this training style of “camp” became the backdrop format for my own training book. This increased the interest in my camps and Jackson Hole is now a big part of my brand, creating worldwide interest in my training camps, coaching, and the allure of running in Jackson Hole.
Is there a “type” of runner that is best suited for camp?
The best fit for the camp(s) are runners who are looking to experience trail and mountain running for the first time, or to gain coaching and training skills to increase their race goal distances and ultra running performance – or to gain the confidence to try their first ultra marathon. The great thing about being located at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is I can accommodate all abilities and use the mountain trails strategically so every runners is running at their own level of ability – this is key and unique to the experience.
How can runners prepare for camp? (and specifically, how can runners prepare to run at elevation?)
The most important preparation strategy is to be consistent with running in the months leading up to camp. Many campers follow the training program in my book The Cool Impossible for their preparation and knowledge coming into the camp. But again, consistency will always reap the greatest rewards and coming into the camp as fit as possible will always be the best strategy to help with the altitude. Running hills, if possible, at home will always help as well. But everyone will feel the effects and challenges of the altitude and I use this as a training tool to help runners learn to be patience and understand how to manage speed and efforts that ultimate help the runners learn how to pace themselves for better strength endurance. I also build in a strategic itinerary for each day of the camp, so runners are acclimatizing in a progressive manner.
What is a typical day at Cool Impossible Running camp like?
Each day is broken up into two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning session focuses on strength, skills, and technique infused in a “workout” style format. This is the most structured part of the day and this feeds into the afternoon session. This afternoon session is more of an adventure, group run on the mountain where we put into action things learned from the morning session. And each day and session builds to a day three challenge. Each evening, we have a group dinner at Teton Mountain Lodge that creates a team building atmosphere and is a time for Q&A and just a lot of fun talking about the day of training, racing and just a bunch of run talk that again helps form a bonding of the group for the next day.
What is your number one goal for attendees? (And/or, Is there one essential takeaway that is vital –especially if nothing else sticks?)
Number one is to realize that there is so much to be learned about running that is never talked about or thought of that can help anyone improve and get better for a very long time. And with an open mind, I want runners to experience a physical and mindful awareness that ‘performance fears’ are necessary to accomplish great things and if we learn to mesh the physical training and the mental training, “cool impossible” things can happen!
Are there any myths or misconceptions that runners have when they arrive at camp?
I think the myths and misconceptions happen prior to camp and during the process of deciding if this camp is for them. Many runners think I only train or coach high level elite runners and this is not the case. Yes, I have a stable of elite athletes who I coach online and come train with me, but I am really passionate to offer my camps to all runners and I love helping those to take giant leaps in their run ability and what is possible for them.
What surprises you about the progress or improvements that runners make during the camp experience?
That is easy, it is just the pure, authentic excitement and joy you see on their face when the “lightbulb goes on” and they begin to realize with proper training a whole new world of possibilities and goals open up to them. The amount of mountain running we accomplish at camp is above and beyond what they are used to doing, and they are REALLY surprises at how good they feel when learning to run well and do things in a correct fashion. And the most gratifying aspect for me is hearing from many campers long after the camp about how they have accomplished great races or tackled new goals that were set in place at the camp.
Do you have a preferred training program style?
With my personal online coaching clients, I use a mix of heart rate, speed/pace, and perceived exertion to assign appropriate intensity to meets the purpose of each workout. I coach road runners at all distances and specialize in coaching ultra trail runners from distance of 50k – 100 miles. So in dealing with ultra distances, much more has to go into the seasonal plan like hills, strength runs, and lots of long runs on trails that require a major focus on heart rate to avoid over training. I also put a big emphasis on foot strength and how the health of our feet, good or bad, directly relates to our run health. This paradigm shift is new for every runner and the camps are a great way to experience this first hand if they have not already sought out my program.
What is your favorite endurance race distance (and/or race)?
Distance is not as important to me as is running in the mountains. The harder and more technically aethstetic the landscape the better. So I prefer races in alpine, mountainous environments that offer up a lot of vertical gain at distances anywhere between 30k-100k. As a sponsored athlete for Marmot, I am really focused on more adventure styles of running, taking a mountaineering mindset to my running, creating routes in alpine terrain, running fast and light to cover extreme mountainous terrain. I am fortunate to have this right out my backdoor living in Jackson Hole.
So…who wants to experience bucket list adventures at running camp with me?
For me, running camps tick several boxes. Not only are they a chance to take my running to the next level – but they offer a way to satiate my wanderlust with dreamy destination settings. Maybe it is the fact that many of the runnings camps have mountain settings (even though I am not a lover of trail running per se) – but I feel like the experience would be an investment not just in my running but in my overall wellness journey. Some programs are singular experiences, organized as unique retreats with running legends while others are tried and true sleep away camps for runners.
Five running camps for runner nerds and wanderlusters
There are a lot of runnings camps out there. Some are permanent programs that you can count on each year, others are uniquely planned as special retreats or experiences. Either way, the chances for bucket list adventures at running camp are endless. Here are five of the running camps that I am dreaming about.
Cool Impossible Running Camp, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
You had me at Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons. Add in expert advice from Eric Orton and I am already thinking that I need to run another marathon in 2016 just so that I have an excuse to attend camp. Location wise, the camp is headquartered in Teton Mountain Village and runners will have dinner each evening together in Teton Mountain Lodge. While accommodations are not included in the camp price, runners will feel at home at the Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, Hotel Terra or Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole. Curious as to what a day at camp is like? Amanda from Run the the Finish shares her story of attending Eric’s Mountain Running Academy.
Zap Fitness Adult Running Camp, Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Twice-a-day runs, resident elite runners and the Blue Ridge Mountains make this well known camp a favorite. I like the idea of these camps that offer specialized programs including marathon week and host different running experts like Bart Yasso of Yasso 800’s and Runner’s World fame).
Westin Running Retreat with Deena Kastor, Mammoth, California
Led by Deena Kastor – a renowned Olympian, running role model and mom – the Escape to Mammoth sounds like a perfect blend of inspiration, running and beauty. How often would you be able to run with the American record holder for the marathon? Plus, with the Westin Monache Resort, as your home – relaxation and well-being is guaranteed thanks to Westin’s focus on wellness. This retreat is a one-time event (although my guess is that Westin will plan other running related retreats) and is a must for women in search of inspiration, beauty and a last bit of tuning up before the fall race season.
Active At Altitude Women’s Running Camps, Estes Park Colorado
I have a confession. I have always considered running at altitude to be the mark of a “real runner” – and something that I thought I could never do. Although I did finally run a destination half marathon at altitude this year I have this strange runner-nerd desire to spend more time at altitude to improve which is the focus at this women’s only retreat at 8,000 feet.
Moab Mindful Running Retreat, Moab, Utah
Ok fine, my wanderlust dictates this four-day retreat that ticks multiple things off my bucket list. With Moab Under Canvas (think seriously luxurious glamping) as a home base, days are spent focusing on form, mindful movement and reflection with a landscape of red rocks, cliffs and natural arches as a backdrop.