Ultra Training Camp Recap

happy campers

happy campers

When I was a kid, I never got to experience summer camp because we’d pack up to England for 6 weeks to visit my mom’s family (poor me, right?). If I’ve learned anything from my best running buddy Ally, the camp experience is very special. So when I heard about an Ultra & Trail Running Camp hosted by Greg McMillan, of the McMillan calculator fame, and a few of his coaches (including mine, Emily Harrison), I jumped at the chance. A four day adult camp probably wouldn’t get me the same coming-of-age stories and lifelong friendships, but why not. I quickly forced my boyfriend to sign up with me, and then sat back and anxiously waited two months for camp to start.

Flagstaff is a two hour drive from Phoenix and sits at 7,000 feet above sea level. It is not the stereotypical Arizona desert image I had in my head. At all. Lush pine forests, grassy meadows, snow-capped mountains. It was really quite pretty here. But that altitude was humbling, to say the least. I felt great on day one, but by day 4 I couldn’t sleep or eat, my head felt like it was in a vice, and I was doing my best to not puke everywhere all the time. Super fun. I’ve run in Tahoe many times, but that’s only at 6,000 ft. Apparently that extra 1,000 feet makes a biiiig difference. Lesson learned. I don’t see any high altitude races in my future until I can move there and force my wimpy body to adapt to the thin air.

In addition to learning how poorly I react to altitude, I also learned some cool stuff at the daily afternoon seminars. The nutrition one was the most eye opening. Coach Ian Torrance explained away almost all of the nutritional hiccups I’ve had over the years: sloshy stomach (not enough electrolytes), crusted salt on my face (ingesting too much salt), cramping stomach (too cold and/or not enough water), sausage fingers (not enough electrolytes), altitude-induced loss of appetite (smaller calorie intake more frequently). There were also talks given on trail etiquette, strength training, running physiology, and Masters running and training. Despite feeling like garbage, I had a great time meeting fellow trail lovers from all over the country and talking shop about racing and training for four straight days. I will definitely be back to Flagstaff sooner or later, maybe easing into the running a bit more next time.

Lake Mary Road

Lake Mary Road

Day 1, Run 1:
8 miles
starting elevation 6,800 ft.
elevation gain 55 ft.
average pace 7:16
mood “Woohoo!”

I did this run on my own on Thursday morning since camp didn’t start until 3pm. I ran along Lake Mary, and basically had the road to myself. It was warm and super dry, but I felt great otherwise and was able to hold my usual paces.

Emily's dog, Super Bee

Emily’s dog, Super Bee

Day 1, Run 2:
5.4 miles
starting elevation 7,300 ft.
elevation gain 750 ft.
average pace 9:04
mood “Oh hey lungs. Wee!”

We met the group and went for an unassuming short run to Shultz Tank, a little man-made lake nestled between some pretty mountains. This was my first time meeting my coach Emily in person, so I was trying to keep up with her to chat but I was huffing and puffing, really feeling the altitude on the climb, so I had to keep my questions and answers embarrassingly short.

flag9Day 2, Run 1:
11.3 miles
starting elevation 4,300 ft.
elevation gain 870 ft.
average pace 9:13
mood “I can breathe!”

We drove to Sedona for this run, about 30 minutes away. The lower elevation made a huge difference and I felt pretty good here. The air was way less dry. Ironic, since it’s way more deserty. These trails were super fun, winding around Cathedral Rock and the surrounding area. I’d really love to come back here for more exploring.


Only halfway up.

Day 3, Run 1:
9 miles
starting elevation 7,700 ft.
elevation gain 2,700 ft.
average pace 13:10
mood “Holy shit. OMG. Gahhh.”

Kendrick Peak rises to almost 10,500 feet above sea level. That’s really high. I know because we ran to the top. And by “ran” I mean slowly hiked while gasping for air. This was a really challenging run but the satisfaction of reaching the fire lookout at the tippy top was huge. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees during the climb and the fog and wind were rolling in strong. Mountains being mountains. The way down was better, but the trail got really technical in sections so I couldn’t go into cruise control. My tired, oxygen-deprived brain was unhappy.


Twigs look even more like snakes in the dark.

Day 3, Run 2:
2.5 miles
starting elevation 7,200 ft.
elevation gain 190 ft.
average pace 10:39
mood “So. Tired.”

The group did a short night run to practice using headlamps, since most of us are not superstars who can run 100 miles before the sun sets. We only ran 13 minutes out on this dusty trail, but my legs were officially tired. The combo of poor sleep and little food was hitting me hard. As if to prove my tiredness, my toe managed to find one of the few rocks on the trail and I took a little digger. Hopefully noone saw because it was dark.


Can we get some Aspens up north please?

Day 4, Run 1:
8.2 miles
starting elevation 8,900 ft.
elevation gain 680 ft.
average pace 10:21

The last day was by far the most beautiful run. We had the option to run up to 7 miles on the Arizona Trail from Aspen Corner, our starting point. I had obviously decided that I would do 14, but once again my body had other plans. Not even five minutes into the run it felt like someone was repeatedly punching me in the lungs. By mile one I had decided I’d only do 10. By mile two I decided I’d only do 8. I was frustrated with my body because the trail was so gorgeous: smooth single track weaving through open meadows and aspen groves with the snow-peaked mountains popping into view every so often. I wanted to soak it all in but all I could think about was how much I wanted to lay down. And again my tired feet were barely clearing the ground so naturally I ate it, landing squarely on the least meaty part of my hip. Doh. That one left a bruise. I’ll come back to Flagstaff just to run this trail again.

2 thoughts on “Ultra Training Camp Recap

  1. Thanks for the report! Great photos. Makes me want to be there myself. Sorry you had such a rough intro to altitude, but with what you learned, I know you’ll rock your next high country visit.


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