Dream Run Camp

It’s no secret that a lot of the recovery modalities used by endurance athletes are basically bullshit. But are they all bullshit? Not according to a new study on myofascial release (aka foam rolling) in cyclists.

The study was conducted by Korean researchers and involved twenty-two cyclists with iliotibial band friction syndrome as subjects. Half of these athletes performed 20 minutes of foam rolling during a two-hour rest period between a pair of 10K indoor cycling time trials while the others served as controls. Members of the foam rolling group reported less pain, had a greater range of motion, and completed the second time trial 31 seconds faster than the first, whereas the controls were 74 seconds slower in the second time trial, had a lower cadence, and reported more pain both during cycling and while performing a standard test of IT band pain. All in all, these findings provides solid evidence that foam rolling is helpful for recovery, at least in special circumstances.

By the way, the question of which recovery methods actually work and which are bullshit is not an academic one for me. I’m currently working on creating a Mind-Body Recovery Lounge in the Dream Run Camp Team House, and I’m trying to decide which types of equipment to include in it and which to exclude. On the basis of my personal athletic experience, I was already planning to stock the lounge with foam rollers when I came across the study just described, but its results give me assurance I’ve made the right call.

So, what else is going in the Mind-Body Recovery Lounge? The centerpiece is a hyperbaric chamber, which is essentially the opposite of an altitude tent. The athlete lies inside the capsule and breathes pressurized pure oxygen for thirty to sixty minutes. Research findings on the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) on recovery in athletes are contradictory, but there are enough positive findings that I felt comfortable shelling out $5,250 for a used Summit to Sea unit. Actually, that’s not quite true. It was the combination of these findings and some encouraging research on HBOT in patients with long covid (which I have) that motivated me to pull out my credit card. (I lied again—I paid by Venmo.)

The other big-ticket item I’ve chosen for the Dream Run Camp Mind-Body Recovery Lounge is a vibroacoustic therapy bed made by inHarmony. To be honest (and I promise to be honest from here on), I’d never heard of vibroacoustic therapy before I started to research recovery tools with which to stock the Lounge. The most concise description of what vibroacoustic therapy is and how it works comes straight from InHarmony’s website: “The inHarmony Sound Lounge instantly soothes your busy mind and relaxes your entire body using sound frequencies. Four tactile transducers, two amplifiers, Sennheiser HD noise reduction headphones, and concert-quality cables are used to deliver powerful sound to your ears and body, making you feel amazing!”

Despite the hefty price tag attached to the unit I bought (but haven’t received yet—I can’t wait to try it out!), I didn’t particularly care whether there existed peer-reviewed scientific research demonstrating benefits of vibroacoustic therapy for athletes or anyone else. The reason is that feeling amazing is intrinsically beneficial in ways that are hard to measure. In her book Good to Go, former professional cyclist Christine Aschwanden delved deep into the science behind many of recovery modalities and came to the conclusion that most of them don’t do anything more than help athletes relax, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Relaxation is a huge part of it,” she explained on the TrainRight podcast. “You want to be able to reduce to the extent possible the stress in your life, the stress on your body, because to your body stress is stress, whether it’s coming from your workout or something else. . . Anything that helps you relax, that’s actually doing something beneficial.”

Other items that will be available to runners in the Mind-Body Recovery Lounge include a massage table, yoga mats, compression boots, massage balls, and massage guns. I’ll let you do your own research on these modalities. My own experience with various forms of massage is that my body feels different after experiencing them both acutely and chronically, and if the body feels different, then something is different, regardless of whether that difference can be measured. Oh, and there will also be a salt lamp and an aromatherapy diffuser, because what’s a Mind-Body Recovery Lounge without a salt lamp and an aromatherapy diffuser?

By the way, I expect to be ready to receive my first guests at Dream Run Camp on or around May 1, 2023. If you’re interested, email me at matt@8020endurance.com.

My wife and I are in the process of relocating from Oakdale, California, to Flagstaff, Arizona. All moves are momentous—we should know, having executed no fewer than 12 of them in our first 11 years together—but this one feels especially so. Nataki and I have lived in Oakdale off and on (but mostly on) since 2005, and have experienced some happy times here (our fifth anniversary bash stands out), and some not-so-happy times (none worse than the time a police officer came this close to blowing Nataki’s head off amid a mental health crisis).

It’s not only what we’re leaving behind that makes this transition momentous. It’s also what we’re moving toward. The property we’re buying is situated on the west side of Flagstaff in a forested area rich with trails and dirt roads popular with local runners. The house itself is under construction, and when completed will feature five bedrooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens, and a couple of spacious common areas. The backyard is huge, by tract home standards, and abuts one of the aforementioned running trails.

Nataki and I do not intend to live there in cosseted seclusion. The moment we move in, we will begin to transform our new home into the ultimate runners retreat, with a full gym, a recovery lounge, a spa pool with underwater treadmill, a cryotherapy tub, a dry sauna, shoe cubbies, you get the idea. When it’s ready, we will open our doors for runners to stay with us and live like the pros for up to 12 weeks at a stretch. I’m calling it Dream Run Camp.

Needless to say, it takes a strong motivation to plan and execute a life change so big. For me, the main impetus is my health, which has been less than good for the past 25 months. The thing I hate most about long covid is that it attacks my life force, which is the thing I like most in myself. Ever since I was a wee squirt I’ve had a gigantic appetite for life, a hunger for intense experiences coupled with an indifference to risk that permits no fear to stop me from turning my dreams into realities, or at least trying. Chronic fatigue and persistent malaise have made me unrecognizable to myself in this respect, replacing carpe diem with carpe doldrum.

But not entirely. The real me is still inside, buried under the rubble of sickness, but breathing. It’s like being hungry and queasy at the same time, wanting to eat but unsure of its feasibility. Analogies aside, what I’m trying to say is that even now I burn to live hugely, it’s just harder than it used to be. There are certain experiences I might like to have that simply aren’t feasible. The one I’ve set in motion, however, is. I think.

But why Flagstaff? Why Dream Camp? I confess that I have contemplated other wild ideas since I got sick, including selling everything I own and cruising around the world with Nataki. But one thing I’ve noticed in the past couple of years is that I tend to feel better when I’m interacting with other athletes (I still think of myself as an athlete, pitiful as that may be) in a shared physical space. There have been a handful of moments within this span when I’ve been almost symptom-free, three of which have coincided with my participation in running camps as a coach. There’s a clear pattern here, and although I can’t explain it, I can exploit it. The logic behind my imminent life change couldn’t be simpler: If I feel better at running camps, why not live in one?

Something else I’ve noticed over the past couple of years is a novel desire to serve others. There are people on this earth who experience this pull their entire lives, beginning in early childhood. I am not such a person. I’ve always been very self-focused, frankly, which partly explains my affinity for the solitary pursuits of writing and endurance sports. But this is changing. Whether it’s an effect of being sick or a natural part of getting older or both, I now get my kicks from giving of myself to my fellow humans (athletes especially) to a degree that I didn’t before.

The best 13 weeks of my life were spent as a fake professional runner in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 2017, embedded with the Hoka Northern Arizona Elite team. The purpose of Dream Run Camp is to make a similar experience available to other runners. Attendees will have opportunities to run alongside (or at least behind) the real pros and work with the same strength coaches, physical therapists, dietitians, massage therapists, and sports psychologists they use—just like I did. And they’ll be guests in my house with full access to its facilities and amenities (and me, except when I’m sleeping). If you’re interested, let me know. I can’t promise the best weeks of your life, but I will try my best, and get plenty in return. More than you can imagine.

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