Monday, October 19, 2015

Rob Krar Ultra Camp Recap

Note: This article originally appear on The North Face blog, Never Stop Exploring. I thought I'd also keep it here on my personal blog!

Rob Krar Ultra Camp
Running has been a major part of my life since I lost my dad in 2009. It’s been my outlet for staying healthy, and keeping my head on straight. As an amateur runner looking to continually grow, learn, and be inspired, I look to elite runners for advice. Of course Rob Krar is one such athlete, but I’ve always put him in a category above many of the other runners out there. Since following his career, I’ve been amazed by his honesty, vulnerability, caring attitude, and obvious appreciation for where he is (oh, and, I guess running 100 miles in under 15 hours is admirable, too!). Needless to say, when he selected me as The North Face contest winner to attend his ultra running camp, I was on cloud 9!

On July 5th, I arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona for the camp filled with excitement, and spent hours battling the urge to let my expectations run wild. I kept telling myself – just think about meeting new people, running cool trails, and learning from the pros. I also thought about gratitude. I had been overwhelmed with it ever since I was selected to attend.  

Our group at Snowbowl before our Aspen Corners run. Photo credit St├ęphane Bailliez.

The basic formula for our week at Rob Krar Ultra Camp was: running + food + new friends + informative lectures. That’s great in itself, but I was unprepared for just how much Rob, his friends, and the Flagstaff community had to offer. Truly, it was one of the best experiences of my life

Rob Krar catches up to us on the Elden Trail System in Buffalo Park. Photo Credit: Erica Teicheira
My time in Flagstaff confirmed what I suspected about the type of person Rob is, and met a lot of my basic expectations of running, learning, and meeting great people. But, it was also so much more than that! I didn’t just learn about running and nutrition – I learned how to balance running with friends and family, and I expanded my appreciation for taking care of myself. I didn’t just run with great runners – I made friendships and gained new perspectives from people with far more experience than me. I didn’t just run on amazing trails – I learned to appreciate nature, understand our impacts on the earth, and have the right mindset when heading into a new adventure.

While I can’t capture those deeper moments, I can share a short summary of our day-to-day adventures in hopes that you can have a small piece of what I experienced!

Day 1 – Arrival in Flagstaff
Mike Smith, Rob’s partner-in-crime, picked me up from the shuttle stop in Flagstaff, and dropped me off at the hotel where, at the first meeting, I met Rob, learned more about the week, and got some awesome swag from his sponsors. That night, we headed to Rob’s abode for some amazing dinner cooked by his wife, Christina, introductions to some of our guides, and a presentation by Ian Torrence on trail etiquette.

Day 2 – Our First Run, Lecture, and Cross-Training Advice
In the morning, we set off to Buffalo Park, where a bunch of world class athletes come to train. The weather was perfect – slightly cool when we started, and then warmed up just enough to make the post-run picnic delightful.

At the start of the run, we met some additional guides (folks like Ian Torrence and Chris Vargo), learned more about the routes, and how Rob uses the trails for training. The run was beautiful. The staff planned 12, 8, and 6 mile routes. I chose the 8 mile route to be safe with altitude, and to not rush the week. I managed the altitude just fine, which was a welcome sigh of relief --I think the fact that it was relatively cool compared to what I’m used to in Washington, D.C. probably helped balance the discomfort. After the run we were met by other camp staffers who prepared an amazing spread of food. It was absolutely perfect for recovery, and a great opportunity to share some lunchtime conversation with new running pals.
Just a small sample of the amazing food
Once everyone arrived and got settled with some food, we had the pleasure of hearing a talk from Andy Jones-Wilkins (aka, AJW). He talked about balance, patience, and hope in ultrarunning. AJW shared some incredible stories, and really gave some solid insights into each one of those topics. Also, he may have convinced me to do his Thomas Jefferson 100K down in Charlottesville next year…

In the afternoon, we headed to a local gym to learn some Active Isolation Stretches, as well as part of Rob’s core routine (“The Equalizer”). It was very informative, and provided much-needed inspiration for workouts I know I need to be doing more of!

Rob and Mike Smith share “The Equalizer” routine

Day 3 – Running in Sedona
We headed to sunny Sedona on Tuesday morning for some running in the heat. Sedona is stunning, and I did my best to soak it all in as we plugged along the trails. We did about ten miles before hitting the river, where we cooled off and enjoyed another nice picnic.

Some campers and Rob hanging out on the rocks

Enjoying the river!
Day 4 – Time for the Ups!
We headed to Snowbowl for some climbing and a sweet downhill run. I ended up climbing a fair bit by myself, after starting the first couple of miles with Ian Torrence, Stephanie Howe and another camper. I had a bit of a head cold that kept me from getting in a strong climb, but it wasn’t enough to bring me down!

Chasing John Onate, Ian Torrence, and Stephanie Howe

The summit came soon enough, and the view was incredible.

Up at 12,000 feet with Rob Krar and Stephanie Howe

The decent was super fun – I love bombing down hills, and enjoy it even more with great company who appreciate those moments in the mountain. What made things even better was the forest of Aspen trees that emerged as we got closer to camp. They almost feel like you’re running on another planet – truly phenomenal.  
Running through the Aspens

As usual, when we finished the run, we were greeted by the same incredible food, good company, and games.  

Once we got back to the hotel, we had a short break before heading to Wonderlust Brewery for a talk on nutrition with Stephanie Howe, beers, good company, and dinner.

Stephanie Howe talking nutrition

Day 5 – Some Net Downhill       
Thursday meant we were more than halfway done, but I did my best to stay in the moment, and appreciate what we still had left.

That morning we headed up to a section of the Arizona Trail for a nice net downhill run. I shared a few miles with Rob Hall, a local who knows everything about the area, and has decades of experience. It was super fun, and a learned a ton about Arizona and the area.

Re-grouping in the meadow

After the first mile, I was feeling pretty good and decided to catch up to the ‘lead pack’ for some quicker miles. I ran with Stephanie, Rob, and another strong camper. It was fun to listen and learn from their conversations and enjoy the scenery.

When the planned route was complete, I tacked on another 2 miles of hiking with another runner before joining the rest of the group for more food, games, and conversation. Since the run ended a little early, we were able to get back to the hotel with some extra time for wandering around the city and resting before our afternoon talk and dinner.

At dinner, we started with a talk from ultra legend Ian Torrence. He talked about longevity in the sport, balance, and never taking yourself too seriously. It was great, and really neat to hear some of his stories from so many years in the running world.

Following the talk and an amazing dinner, we headed to the Lowell Observatory where we were able to see Saturn. Pretty cool!

Heading Home
It took a few days to let everything I experienced at camp sink in. Actually, each time I step on the trail, something new hits me, which is great. For now, the biggest surprise is that I didn’t returned eager to dive 100% into ultrarunning and signup for a bunch of 100 mile races. Sure, I’m inspired to improve and go longer, but more importantly, I’m driven to be healthier, have more balance, learn patience, appreciate what’s around me, and give back to this awesome community. Who would have thought a week at ‘running camp’ could have such a profound impact?

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