Green Mountain’s Coach Mike Cohen’s Tip on Choosing a Running Camp
After the fancy advertisements and wildly fantastic claims, how do you choose the best running camp? Consider the following criteria:
Are you looking for a training camp or an educational experience along-side the training opportunity? Some camps simply provide food and housing and implement a running schedule that may be sent by the team's coach. In my mind, this is simply a training camp. If the coach wants his/her team members to run 3 times a day, they will run 3 times a day. Whereas, other camps provide a well-rounded mix of running opportunities and education in areas of sports nutrition, physiology, sports psychology, racing strategy, team building, etc. There should also be ample time for socializing (but not at the expense of real programming).
In addition to the educational component you want to be able to get to know other runners from your and different geographical areas. You may want to be sure that there are activities and opportunities to work with other athletes from your school and others in a more social environment. Putting on skits, shooting a short video or a "talent night" builds memories that may well last a lifetime.
Every camp will claim that they have the best staff available anywhere. Many camps hire big-time college coaches with immediate school name recognition hoping that the high school runner will assume that coaches at large Division I schools are "obviously" superior to high school coaches or Division III college coaches. Don't make that mistake! Remember that high school coaches are used to "teaching" running not just recruiting monster runners. I know many high school coaches and Division III coaches who are far superior to many Division I coaches. Also remember that the best athletes don't always make the best coaches (teachers). If the staff is composed of All-Americans or Olympians that may not be the best situation for an average ability or even above-average ability runner. Many gifted runners cannot understand why others cannot accomplish what they can easily do.
LENGTH & SCHEDULE
Is a 6-day camp superior to a 5-day camp? Your initial reaction may be "of course it is" but don't jump to conclusions too quickly. Review the camp schedule carefully and see if there is built into the schedule a lot of "down" time or "free" time. This means that the camp is not providing programming during this "free" time that you are paying for. I have seen camps that could easily fit their 6-day schedule into 4 days or even less. An excessive amount of down or free time should be a red flag. A good camp exhibits a healthy balance in its programming.
Where are you running? Are you running on city/town sidewalks and streets, asphalt country roads, hard-pack dirt roads or grass and woodsy trails? The terrain you run and train on should approximate the race conditions you will face as close as possible. Safety should be another major concern of yours. You should be training in a safe environment and not worrying about the traffic on the roads or crossing streets and roads where drivers may be approaching at a variety of speeds.
HISTORY of the CAMP
How long has the camp been in existence? This may give you a good idea of how well your camp experience will go. If the camp has been around for many years and hundreds of runners have participated in the camp over that period of time, then you have a good "track record" for the camp. I am not saying that a first or second year camp cannot be good. However, a camp that has operated successfully for 20, 30 or 40 years or more has had the time to fine-tune their program and "get it right". After all, there has to be a reason that all those runners have been going there.
On this note, is there a support staff? Is this camp a part of a larger organization complete with staff to answer your questions or at least get you to the person who can answer your questions? Is there an up-to-date website that allows you pay online, download forms and file waivers as necessary? Do you have a phone number that you can call for information or in case of emergency? If not, that says something about the camp operation.
When it is all said and done, a good camp experience is based on people, place and program. Choose wisely and prepare for the camp properly and you will have a fantastic experience.
Mike Cohen, Co-director of Green Mountain Running Camp