This past weekend my husband Geoff and I had the pleasure of heading to Burnsville, North Carolina to spend four days of running and camping fun at Upstate Ultra’s Mt. Mitchell Trail Camp for Big Kids. I won’t lie: coming from Myrtle Beach (aka sea level) to participate in a trail running camp on a mountain with some significantly less elevation challenged and seriously badass runners intimidated the hell out of me. I had visions of gasping and struggling my way up the mountain, all while yelling “go on without me” as I held the pack back.
As it turns out, I would definitely gasp my way up the mountain, but had an incredibly fun and welcoming weekend none the less (spoiler alert: the only person I held back was my husband. But he signed up for that with the whole marriage deal).
Upstate Ultra’s running camp was a relatively unstructured, all abilities welcome running camp. It was definitely more “summer camp” than “instructional camp” with casual runs and tons of silly games (and beers and margaritas), and honestly that was part of the appeal. It was a chance to run, relax, laugh, and enjoy nature. I’ll be going back next year, and here’s why you should join me:
Run Up and Down…and Up Again…the Highest Peak on the East Coast.
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way: it’s a running camp, and we get to run some amazing trails.
I’m a born and raised East Coaster, and a self proclaimed mountain gal. Yet, I’m ashamed to admit that until this past weekend, I’ve never even set my eyes on Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak East of the Mississippi (at 6,684 feet above sea level.)
The good news is, I had PLENTY of opportunity to run up, down, and around the mountain over the course of the 4 day running camp, making up for anything I may have missed over the last 37 years. I never get tired of the amazing vistas, gnarly trails, and green covered mountains the East Coast has to offer.
On Friday we started with an “easy” (if you are from anywhere with actual elevation, which I am currently not) run around Black Mountain Campground, ending at a gorgeous waterfall (Setrock Creek Falls).
Saturday morning we drove to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, and ran across the ridgeline covering the summits of Mount Craig, Big Tom, and more. This run was a timed out and back, so the faster runners in our group could cover more mileage, while the hikers in the back of the pack could also enjoy their time without any pressure to keep up. Being somewhere in the middle, we stumbled around both in awe of the views and laughing at our pathetic sea level lack of mountain goat legs. It was amazing.
Sunday we all set out from our campsite to summit Mt. Mitchell and beyond, if desired. Geoff and I chose to run (well, hike is a better description) the 5.5 mile climb to the summit and back down. It was an absolutely gorgeous day for a hike, and a nice reprieve from the near 100 degree temps back home.
Listing “make new friends” as a reason to go to summer camp sounds so cliché, doesn’t it? But when you start the weekend off sharing your “worst running story ever” with a group of 20+ strangers, (hint: most of the stories seemingly involve poop. Yay runners!) you almost immediately have a new group of friends.
Follow that up with cooking meals together, suffering on trails together, and laughing around a campfire together as someone woefully burns campfire cookies, and you’ve got an instant bond.
Politics, religion, current events, and all of the other issues currently causing extreme tension and divide are cast away for a few days, and instead we connect over our mutual love for trails and running. It’s always wonderful to make that human connection.
A Chance to Unplug.
There was absolutely zero cell service at our campground. This can be unnerving when you are hours away from your kids, pets, and loved ones…but it can also be incredibly freeing when you are used to being glued to your phone or the internet for work or other reasons.
Instead of updating my Instagram stories, I learned the rules to cornhole (or, corn ball as I called it) and Hammerschlagen. Instead of rushed showers between gym sessions there were long soaks in the painfully cold stream (nature’s cryotherapy!) Instead of an alarm clock I woke up to the sound of the birds and the sun shining through my tent.
Incessant Running Talk is Acceptable.
As the saying goes “How do you know someone is a runner?” Answer: they won’t stop talking about it. It’s true – runners absolutely love to talk about their sport. From races they’ve done or want to do, to what sort of lubricant works best for thigh chafing, to random gossip about that one time when a certain race broke a race registration company’s website…we could go on and on and on.
And we do.
In normal social settings, endless blather about running can (and does) warrant eye rolls and “oh, I have to take this phone call” excuses from non runners to try to escape the conversation. But at running camp: no one cares if all you talk about is running, because that’s all we want to talk about too.
The RD is Pretty Cool.
Nearly four years ago, fresh to the state of South Carolina and ultra running in general, Geoff and I ran a race from a race director we had never before met: the Paris Mountain 50K. The race included a 5 way intersection with the most incredible, confusing trail markings I’ve seen in my entire life. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we stood there staring at the signs for at least a solid three minutes, trying to figure out which way to go, and ultimately went the wrong way.
When I brought my confusion up to RD Matt, and was met with a “what part don’t you understand?” attitude, I assumed it was all my fault that I got woefully lost and confused. I was new to the ultra scene after all, maybe this was just how it was done?
And from that moment on, Matt Hammersmith of Upstate Ultras became not only one of our favorite RD’s, but a friend. He’s the kind of guy who will discuss the proper approach to a 100 miler on a track, while simultaneously kicking your butt in a game of cornhole. By the way, he’s come a long way from the 5 way intersection signs, and puts on really amazing races. Definitely check them out at www.upstateultras.com.
IN SHORT – Upstate Ultra’s Trail Running Camp for Big Kids was everything I hoped it would be: A chance to get my butt kicked by the mountain, an opporuntity to meet new friends, and weekend spent surrounded by nature. Thank you to EVERYONE who made it such an incredible success and so much fun. I can’t wait to go back next year…and hopefully give the mountain a tiny bit more hell. Time to hit the stair climber…