ultimook running camp
photo: Melody Fairchild

Running in Harmony: How to Choose a Summer Running Camp

Running camps are a boon for high schoolers. Here's why, and how to choose the best one for you.

ultimook running camp

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In the ever-distracted world we live in, a running camp is a joyful and even healing experience for runners, because it’s immersive.

Ideally, a running camp provides training, community, learning, and fun all wrapped into one quality week. Athletes get to spend time running with those who share the same passion. They can learn from counselors, guest speakers, and other role models who inspire and inform the running journeys of campers. At the very least, it’s a chance to log miles in a scenic setting.

Empowering Experiences

I didn’t attend a running camp as a young runner, but was lucky enough to have two “first” running camp experiences as a guest speaker, during my first year as a pro. First, in Illinois, I attended Sub 5, a camp for girls led by Janet Leet, a former Footlocker National Cross Country champ herself. Her passion for girls—and redefining what was possible for them—left a big impression on me; it was the first all-girls camp I’d experienced, and the staff and campers’ joy and confidence uplifted me.

Second, I went to the well-established Green Mountain Running Camp in Vermont. With generations from the same families attending year after year, I loved the tradition and excellence there. The bucolic scene was lovely as we ran over rolling hills and through the dairy farms of Vermont, then iced in freshwater creeks.

fun at running camp
photo: Green Mountain Running Camp

I was inspired to start my own Girls Running Camp in 2007 to create an experience that emboldens girls to pursue a joyful, healthy, and successful lifelong relationship with running. In myself and too many others, I saw a trend of running dreams not coming to fruition. In college, for example, I witnessed a disturbing trend of teammates entering college as hopeful runners only to depart feeling discouraged and burned out, often prematurely.

Despite multiple challenges, I still hoped to become an Olympian after college and I realized that to keep my dreams alive and avoid adding to this trend, I had to harness my own will. I re-imagined what a woman’s relationship with running could be. What could college, and a vibrant competitive running life after, be for me and other runners? A springboard into the next exciting phase of life!

That’s the mold with which I’ve developed my camp, and see in other great camps: a launchpad to help athletes surge forward as they grow in both running and life. At camp, I’ve seen girls find their edge and tap into their full potential—not to mention make lifelong friends and get side stitches from laughing.

Making the Choice

When it comes to running camps for high schoolers, there are lots of choices across the U.S. Most are geared toward cross country, but others focus on track and field. Many are sleepaway—sorry, parents, but you have to stay home—and last about a week.

Important factors to consider include location, transportation, schedule, training load, topics they’ll cover, quality and reputation of staff, and cost. (Some camps offer scholarships, so it can’t hurt to ask!) Sometimes camps offer discounts for teams or coaches, or even free swag. The most important factor, beyond the logistics, is whether it sounds like a fun adventure from which you will grow.

Here are five camps to consider:

Steens Mountain Running Camp, Harney County, Oregon

This unique camp is designed to give campers ages 13 to 18 a realistic wilderness running and camping experience. One objective? To enjoy and respect wilderness beauty through running and hiking at high altitude. Another objective? Changing your life and perspective on it. I didn’t get to be a camper at Steens, but even experiencing it as a counselor changed my life, and continues to every year as I return as a guest speaker. It’s a rare opportunity not to be missed.

Craftsbury Running Camps, Craftsbury, Vermont

This early-summer camp is designed to inspire your base training for cross country and includes lots of fun activities besides running. The grounding principle of this camp is education, and it offers an all-around summer camp experience.

photo: Ultimook Running Camp

Ultimook Running Camp, Tillamook, Oregon

This camp will prepare you for the challenges of a tough cross country season as well as the ups and downs of everyday life. The goal? Building leaders. Ultimook fills my soul with beauty and emboldens my spirit. I’ve seen athletes experience the same—and they’re ready for the year ahead. It’s held on the verdant Oregon Coast.

Boulder Running Camps, Boulder, Colorado

The high-energy and pure passion for running—and for the “Running Mecca” of Boulder—that director Jay Johnson brings is worth the experience in and of itself. You’ll get high-altitude training and education in endurance running.

Melody Fairchild’s Girls Running Camp, Tillamook, Oregon

A personal plug for my camp: A one-of-a-kind experience, this camp is a launchpad for girls to surge into the successful future they imagine for themselves. They’ll leave with a boost of confidence within, so they can run happy and healthy not just for a season but for a lifetime. We cover taboo topics like periods, puberty, body image, and perfectionism to dim-down the anxiety associated with these—on top of the basics like nutrition and training. We’ll run on lush, challenging trails, play, and be co-creators in the bold new world emerging for women athletes.

Melody Fairchild is a running coach, director of Boulder Mountain Warriors Youth Run Club, founder of The Melody Fairchild Girls Running Camp, and master’s athlete in Boulder, Colorado. Her first book, GIRLS RUNNING (VeloPress), co-authored with Elizabeth Carey, is forthcoming. Elizabeth Carey is a freelance writer and running coach based in Seattle, Washington.

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