Wednesday, August 10, 2011

ZAP Fitness Camp Redux - Part I

“Do you need some help?” a woman’s voice called out. I turned and walked down the flight of stairs (the wrong flight of stairs), toward her. A short woman in her early-20s with a tangle of brown hair pulled back and an orange fleece on walked over.

Far away from D.C.
“I have no idea where I’m going,” I confessed. She laughed and motioned for me to follow her. “I’m Brad,” I offered.

“I’m Alissa McCaig,” she said. For those who don’t know, Alissa is representing the U.S. in the women’s marathon World Championship in Daegu, South Korea in two weeks.

Welcome to ZAP Fitness camp.

Thirty minutes into my six hour drive to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I felt the stress of living in the D.C.-area melt away. The thought of escaping for four days to live in a small dorm in the middle of the North Carolina woods with little more to do than think about my next run, eat, and soak up all the marathoning knowledge I could seemed…well…amazing.

When Alissa got me where I needed to be, I checked in, found my room, and headed back out to mingle with the other runners who’d already arrived.

The ZAP campus
The ZAP facility has essentially three components: the main house that’s comprised of the kitchen/dining room, weight room, and athlete apartments; a large porch; the camper dorms. The facility looks like a small swath of green carved out of the woods.  But then you get inside and realize there's nothing small about it.  Magazine articles of runners breaking tapes, autographed banners, and medals adorn the walls.  Then you turn and see those same runners no more than five feet from you.

One of the best parts about being at a camp for runners is that there’s no danger of getting that glazed over look that your friends, acquaintances, and co-workers sometimes give you. You know the one where you start talking about races, splits, long runs. At a running camp, it’s what people go to first. What races are you running this fall? How many marathons have you run? Where do you train? What kinds of speed workouts do you do? How’d you get into running? In other words, the ice is already broken.

Moses Cone Park
After brief welcomes from the coaching staff, we boarded a couple of vans and drove out to Moses Cone park for a "shakeout/get-to-know-your-fellow-campers" run. The athletes use Moses Cone for interval work as a 1500m cinder path rings the lake.

Twenty-one of us trotted off together at our own paces tossing questions and answers back and forth through the pack. We were runners from as far west as San Diego, as north as Michigan, as far south as Florida, and as close as the town over. Everyone seemed to breathe a little heavier as we wound up and through the woods and let the 5,000 ft altitude take its toll.

When we returned, dinner awaited and not just camp food…we wait like royalty. From fish with quinoa salad to chicken curry, and spaghetti in homemade bolognaise sauce, there was always plenty to go around and most decidedly there were always seconds.

The first night concluded with a talk from ZAP’s head coach Pete Rea on marathon training followed by a bonfire out on the lawn.  This was just one in a weekend filled with sessions including nutrition, stretching, and mental preparation for the marathon.

The Manor shrouded in fog
Day two brought a return to Moses Cone park and an even more intimidating climb to the manor house. Our group strung out and I found myself running with sports author Matt Fitzgerald who was both attending camp and doing research on a book about ZAP and its athletes. Matt and I passed seven miles together fairly easily as he got me to open up about my former life as a hockey player and ultimately transition to runner.  What we discovered is I took my own shot similar to the ZAP athletes except mine came prior to college rather than after it.

That afternoon, we had the opportunity to sign up for personal coaching sessions and massages. I fired off an e-mail to my wife to the tune of: “I’m in heaven. Personal coaching session with ZAP coach coming up followed by half hour massage from a two-time Olympian.” Did I forget to mention that? Since retiring from running, apparently two-time Olympian Anne Marie Letko is now a full-time masseuse. I hoped she might rub some of that success into my legs.

Check out Part II to find out what happened the last two days of camp, including a brisk end to a 15 mile run, a sasquatch sighting, and the harsh reality of returning to the real world.

1 comment:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...