The first adult sports camp I participated in was a Multisport School of Champions event hosted in San Diego by Triathlete publisher John Duke and eight-time Ironman world champion Paula Newby-Fraser way back in 1996. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in many more triathlon and running camps, and I remember each experience both vividly and fondly.
I’m hardly unique in this respect. No one ever regrets attending an endurance training camp. There’s a dreamlike quality about these athletic idylls, all-too-brief escapes from everyday reality centered on a passion shared equally by all partakers. That’s why I decided to get involved in the camp-hosting business myself. Do you want your 2022 to include an experience you will treasure for the rest of your days?
If you need more persuading, read on. What follows is a “lost chapter” of my book Running the Dream: One Summer Living, Training, and Racing with a Team of World-Class Runners Half My Age. It describes events in my life on August 19, 2017, two days earlier I’d strained a hip abductor tendon during a workout with the Northern Arizona Elite professional running team in Flagstaff, Arizona. In the wake of this calamity, team member Stephanie Bruce invited me to participate in the adult running camp that she and her husband, Ben, were hosting that weekend, as a way to take my mind off my injury. Enjoy!
Cast of Characters
Nataki = My wife
Coach Ben = NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario
AJ = AJ Gregg, strength coach and PT for NAZ Elite
Wes Gregg = AJ’s brother and colleague
Kellyn = NAZ Elite member Kellyn Taylor
50 Days to Chicago
I went for another long walk with Nataki this morning, my injured groin grabbing warningly a few times as we went.
“The Chicago Marathon is fifty days away and I can’t even walk without pain,” I pouted.
Nataki laughed, which wasn’t the reaction I expected or wanted. But her attention was not on me but on our dog, Queenie, who’d lunged at a bird.
When we got back to the house I emailed Coach Ben to request that we meet as soon as possible after his return from Malaysia to discuss the way forward in my training. I killed the next hour like the injured fake pro runner I was, sandwiching a round of rehab exercises between contrast-therapy treatments, and then drove to Hypo2 for yet another appointment with AJ.
“How was dinner?” he asked as he led us into his office.
Nataki and I raved about the previous evening’s meal at the Cottage: artisan greens salad with beets and fennel root, cold smoked salmon tartine, venison for Nataki, and flank steak for me. AJ was very pleased.
“So, what’s the report?” he asked, abruptly shifting the topic of conversation to my groin.
I told him about my less-than-encouraging my walk, realizing as I spoke that I sounded like a teenager confessing to a joyride in daddy’s Lexus.
“Well, then, you’re not running tomorrow,” AJ said flatly.
Swallowing the urge to protest, I dutifully ran the cold laser on my reddened inner thigh for 10 minutes. When this was done, AJ put me back on the treatment table and repeated the same tests he’d used to diagnose the injury two days ago. I bent my left leg sharply and swung it out to the side like a dog watering a fire hydrant. AJ then applied gentle hand pressure to the knee, his eyebrows raised inquisitively. I shook my head, so he applied a little more pressure. I shook my head again and AJ pressed down even harder.
“Huh,” he said. “Your range of motion is back to 100 percent.”
“What harm can it do me to run for a few minutes tomorrow, really slow,
just to see how it feels?” I asked.
“None, as long as you stop right away if there’s pain above a three out of ten. You might even find that running loosens it up a bit. But to be straight with you, I’ll be happy if you’re running again in eight days.”
In the afternoon, I returned to Hypo2 with Nataki for a classroom session with attendees of Steph and Ben’s running camp. The topic du jour was mental toughness.
“What I love about running is that it’s the only part of life where you get to choose how much you suffer,” Steph told the gathering. “And the more you are willing to suffer, the greater the reward.”
Ben Bruce chimed in from the wings: “It’s kind of a messed-up sport.”
“It is messed up,” Steph agreed soberly. A camper named Amanda raised her hand and asked Steph what she tells herself during difficult moments in a race.
“Well, I’m a huge Rocky fan,” Steph confessed, lightly blushing. “I think maybe it’s because Sylvester Stallone reminds me of my father. Anyway, I usually think of lines from Rocky movies. For example, in Rocky IV there’s the part where Rocky draws blood from Ivan Drago and his trainer tells him, ‘See? He’s a man just like you!’”
At four o’clock, we shuffled over to the strength and conditioning room for a group strength workout led by Wes Gregg. Ben explained that the exercises Wes was about to teach us would all be bodyweight movements we could do at home without equipment, or using household items for resistance.
“At home, I use my kids for some of this stuff,” he said. “I just have to decide if I want to lift the three-year-old or the two-year-old.” Pausing momentarily, he grinned with a sudden thought. “Wouldn’t it be funny if I did like Hercules and the bull and kept using them as weights as they got older? Imagine when Hudson is 18 and I’m like, ‘Come here, son. Daddy’s going to pick you up,’ and he’s like, ‘This is kind of weird.’”
I laughed like a man desperate for a laugh, much louder than anyone else in the room.
In the evening we gathered again, this time at Kellyn’s house, which sits alone at the end of a dirt road. I found my fellow campers in the backyard eating pizza and drinking beer and wine. After sunset we drifted over to an area where camp chairs had been arranged around a bonfire. Steph invited everyone to write down their A, B, and C goals on a notecard and then share them with the group.
When my turn came, I told my fellow campers I was training for the Chicago Marathon and that my C goal was to run my fastest marathon since my fastest marathon nine years ago, my B goal was to beat that nine-year-old personal best, and my A goal was to do something that made other runners believe they could achieve their own A goals. Next up was Donna, a 42-year-old Californian who started running just two years ago and has already completed six marathons. “I just love running so much,” she told me at the welcome dinner two nights back, “and I feel pressure to get as fast as I can before I’m too old.”
“I want to move to Flagstaff,” she said now. Everyone laughed. “No, I’m serious!” she protested.
One of the last to speak was Mary, who’d come all the way from eastern Canada despite being injured like me and unable to run. The instant she opened her mouth, her eyes filled and a soblike sound escaped her.
“I just want to run,” she said, “to be healthy. I’ve lost my passion and I want it back.”
I waited for the group’s attention to move on, then rose and walked over to where Mary was seated, crouching before her.
“It sounds like you’re feeling pretty hopeless,” I said. “I’ve been there before.”
“Can we take a little walk?” Mary asked.
“Sure, of course,” I said.
Mary stood and led me into the darkness away from the fire. When she was satisfied we were fully out of earshot, she opened up.
“I just turned 50,” she said, emotion overtaking her a second time. “I love Spanish culture and dance. I speak the language. That was my passion for a long time—Spanish dancing. But then I got away from it. That was okay, though, because I still had running. I’ve run most of my life. I love it. I’ve been pretty successful at it.”
“It’s a part of your identity,” I threw in.
“Right. But now I don’t even have that. I’m stuck in an endless cycle. I get injured. The winters are pretty brutal where I live, and by the time spring comes I’m way behind in my fitness. I spend the whole summer just catching up. Then I get hurt again. I’m getting older. I don’t have kids. I work from home, making competitive dance costumes. When I can’t run, things get pretty dark. I almost didn’t even come here. I thought, ‘What’s the point?’”
“I get it,” I said. “I haven’t been able to run for three days and I’m going nuts. Earlier today I was driving through town and I saw people out running and I thought—”
“—you don’t know how lucky you are,” Mary finished.
“Exactly,” I said. You know, I’m always a little annoyed when people give me advice based on the idea that whatever has been true for their lives will inevitably be true for mine as well. But I think it can’t hurt for you to know that there have been times when I was certain—absolutely convinced—that I would never be able to run another competitive marathon, or even jog ten miles without pain. And now here I am at 46, running almost as well as I ever have—until Wednesday, at least,” I laughed. There’s hope for you.”
“I know,” Mary said. “Thanks.”
I asked her if I could give her a hug, if only for my sake, and she said I could.
“Are you glad you came, though?” I said as I held her.
“Yeah,” she said. “I am.”
We returned to the circle, where Steph had the campers write down their greatest fear, share it with the group if they were comfortable doing so, and toss into the bonfire.
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