Thursday, August 11, 2011

ZAP Fitness Camp Redux - Part II

(Part I starts here.)

The van swung around the curves leading out of the mountains. It was early, it was warm, it was long run time. The ZAP staff drove us out 90 minutes to the Virginia Creeper Trail where we could elect to go anywhere from eight to 17 miles. The humidity had already begun to build and reminded me that, indeed, I was back in Virginia.

All weekend we’d been told how flat the Creeper was. Pancake flat. But as we were about to set out, the staff mentioned that it’s about a half percent to one percent grade hill out, but of course you get to come back down. Oi.

I set out with a group of four (Anne Marie Letko, Matt the author, and my roommate Joe). I knew running with Anne Marie could become dangerous quickly, particularly having her paired with a renowned fitness author. We set out at an easy eight minute mile pace that began to descend with every mile marker crossed. Joe and I were content to draft and take in the scenery.

The Creeper trail is like something out of "Stand by Me": high trestle bridges span a deep, fast river that carves through the thick woods. I snapped picture after picture in my head. Despite the incline on the way out, the crushed gravel and dirt made for an easy ride.

For a quarter mile, the woods opened up into a roller coaster of a hill.  Gnarled black trees were the only evidence left of a tornado that had recently blown through the area.  The sun beat down upon us all at once. Anne Marie ducked off into the high corn somewhere after mile three so Joe and I continued on our own.

“What pace do you have?” he asked, while we returned to the relatively cooler shade.
“What?! That’s faster than my marathon pace.”

But Joe was a trooper and we fed off one another to the point where he said, “Let’s make it 7.5 out to get an even 15.” So we did.

Joe emerging from a post-run dip.
And dammit if the work on the way out didn’t pay off on the way back. Joe and I stayed together for 2.5 of the 7.5 miles back to the car. “Go!” he said. And I took off. I felt my stride open up easily and I breezed through the miles at 6:30 pace, feeling euphoric, feeling like I could stay at running camp forever.

I waited for Joe at the finish and we walked gingerly together down to the river and joined some fellow campers for a quick dip in the cool, quick water. Every run should end this way, I thought.

When we arrived back at camp, the group dispersed. Some to their personal sessions, others to massages, some to nap, some to read. I hung out on the porch and chatted.

People were training for their first marathon...or 14th. Some strove for BQs, others geared up for their first Boston. Some weren’t even there to run a marathon.  We talked of races past whether we were commiserating over shared experiences or gleaning advice on how to tackle certain courses. To others, I had to assure that the chest hair didn't slow me down.  What I loved was that we’d all come from different corners of the country for different reasons, but we could relate to one another’s goals because we were all runners.

Prior to dinner that night, we had the awkward pleasure of watching each other’s videos and having our strides critiqued. I found out the source of my IT band troubles stems from a weak right glute. Fortunately, we went straight from video to the weight room to learn how to strengthen the all mighty core.

Mini Marathon campers
Sunday morning arrived entirely too fast and with it, the notion of returning to reality began to seep in. We did one final run that morning, an easy, watchless 3.2 mile loop where we had to predict our time. The path wound through Christmas tree farms and passed through covered bridges, one last mental photo for the album.

Then it was final pictures and good byes, the “stay in touches” and “good lucks.” And as quickly as I’d pulled in, I found myself packed up and pointed back toward D.C.

When asked if I got what I wanted out of camp, I can say with assurance: absolutely. After eight weeks of mile after mile after mile on the same routes to get to 400, I returned to D.C. rejuvenated and excited about starting up my NYC training.  Perhaps I’ll even be back next year.

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