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Admit it, there are times when running feels like an energy suck. When you have to find the time. When you need to do an interval workout. When you feel you should go faster or farther. The truth in each of these statements depends upon your perspective. Instead of listing all the effort you give running, consider all the things running gives you: Improved health, new friends, better fitness, inner strength, a happier vibe and a better outlook on life, just to name a few.
Harnessing the positive attributes of running can take your mood and your performance to a new level. The shift comes in realizing that running isn’t something that ends when you leave your shoes at the door. What you eat, how you sleep and your mindset are all intertwined with how you perform and feel on a run. Conversely, how you feel while logging miles spills over into the rest of your life. Becoming self-aware, appreciating your surroundings and being present in any given moment are all steps—albeit somewhat vague and ambiguous—along the journey.
“I expected nutrition and rest to be important to running,” says Leslie Cline Harper, a self-taught, 40-year-old runner from Charlotte, N.C., who attended a Mindful Running Retreat in Moab, Utah, last fall. “But it surprised me to learn that self-compassion and confidence have a place too. They need and deserve as much attention as nutrition and rest. In applying these principles, I feel a new freedom with my running practice.”
When you look at running in a new light, you are able to tap into the holistic mind and body connection and, ideally, turn your daily run into a gift instead of a chore. But, as for many new things, the experience is often better (or at least easier) when shared. Luckily for runners looking to go beyond faster splits and PRs, you’re not alone. Many professionals and age-groupers alike are on a similar quest, and new camps and programs incorporating aspects of mindfulness are cropping up to meet the need.
The approach can vary from ethereal to nuts and bolts, so understanding your desires—back to the concept of self-awareness—is essential. We checked out three programs that aim to bring new appreciation to the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. At each one, coaches share experiential knowledge in stunning locales best explored by foot, with plenty of time for informational sessions, yoga, meditation and even hanging out by a campfire.
Become present on every run and in everyday life
Being present in the moment has been a guiding tenet in Timothy Olson’s success as an ultrarunner—he’s a two-time winner and current record holder of the Western States Endurance Run, one of the country’s most challenging 100-mile trail races. He now incorporates mindfulness in every aspect of his life, from eating nutritious, whole foods and appreciating the beauty around him while on a trail run to daily meditation, a yoga practice, and the thoughtfulness with which he balances running, family and work.
“Meditation is exercise for your mind, just like running is for your body,” Olson says. “Some days a meditation practice is smoother than others. You just have to remember there is peace and calm out there for when you are ready to accept it.”
Olson launched Run Mindful Retreats last year in Boulder, Colo., and Malibu, Calif., to share the successes of his journey with others. Don’t expect to focus on form and geek out on race-day fueling triumphs and failures though. Instead participants are guided toward a greater appreciation for the experience of running and their approach to it.
Information is imparted through yoga and introductory meditation classes, delicious group meals and stunningly beautiful trail runs tailored by speed and distance to suit ability levels from hikers to experienced ultrarunners. Group runs and hikes are coordinated with meetup spots to enhance the community aspect and give the various groups shared experiences along the way.
The buzz: Expect to leave with a new or renewed sense of calm, and the ability to see the beauty in every run.
Best for: The runner looking to enhance his/her running and life through meditation, mindful fueling and community.
Dates: March 24–27, Malibu, Calif.; June 16–19, Boulder, Colo.; Aug. 11–14, Boulder
Experience nature as the perfect classroom and playground
As the coach of Born to Run author Christopher McDougall, Eric Orton incorporated his deep knowledge of body mechanics, understanding of human behavior and race experiences to help a perpetually injured runner become healthy and run a 50-mile race. Orton believes good mechanics and form are essential to injury-free running, but he also knows clients won’t put in the work if they aren’t enjoying the process. Which is why attendees of the Cool Impossible Run Camp in Jackson, Wyo., are encouraged to look at their surroundings as a giant classroom for running, learning and having fun.
“Being immersed in a camp for several days is not only a ton of fun, but it helps you absorb the lessons better since you’re getting immediate feedback,” says 32-year-old Colorado Springs resident Eric Johnson, who went from thinking about running an ultra to winning a 50K a year after attending a Cool Impossible Camp. “Eric helped me understand the concept of mixing up my runs—hitting the trails nice and slow (relatively speaking) for easy/recovery days and incorporating fartlek-style trail exercises on interval days.”
Between sessions spent running up, down and across the incredible trails at Jackson Hole Resort, Orton stresses the importance of high-
quality foods, positive thinking and visualization, and the power of awareness in both running and life. If you truly believe—and commit to the work—you can accomplish your goals. And, at least when it comes to running, total body fitness is an essential element, according to Orton. Feet and ankles get special attention with strengthening and mobility exercises because they are the foundation for a successful running program.
The buzz: Expect to leave blissfully tired, and with dirt rings around your ankles, tips for self-coaching and a game plan
for tackling your goals.
Best for: Someone ready to try something they never thought they could do: going farther, running trails or improving speed.
Dates: July 28–30, Jackson, Wyo.
Learn how to tune into you while traveling the world
At her Mindful Running Retreats (not to be confused with Run Mindful Retreats), Elinor Fish encourages people to let go of preconceived ideas and expectations, and simply “tune into you” to discover the roadblocks in your running routine. Over the course of her 25-year running career, Fish realized that the pile-on-the-miles method of running could be a recipe for disaster. For her, the result was a bout of adrenal fatigue and feeling drained by the very sport she turned to for energy. She discovered that looking at her path to health and return to running as a process made it easier to understand. This process of self-discovery is what attendees learn at her all-female retreats. “I ask clients how running serves them and fits into their life,” Fish says. “They need to be honest about it. Running should make you a better person, not add to your stress level.”
The process incorporates a whole-health approach of run recovery, setting mindful goals, creating a consistent practice around running, listening to your body and being aware of how running is working for you. All of the running and introspection happens in awe-inspiring locations, with 2016 camps in Utah, Iceland and Spain. Programs include nutritious meals prepared from fresh, locally sourced ingredients, luxurious accommodations (to help with recovery, of course!) and flowing trails with scenic views.
The buzz: Expect to leave feeling energized and prepared with the tools needed to continue fine-tuning a healthy relationship with the lifestyle of running.
Best for: The female runner looking to establish long-term running health and find more joy in the sport.
Dates: April 23–29, Costa Brava, Spain; Aug. 2–8, Reykjavik, Iceland; October, Moab, Utah