I’ve always thought adult summer camps were probably super awkward – but I signed up for one anyway. Here’s what it was like.
The thought of adult summer camps has always weirded me out. I pictured spending time with awkward strangers and being forced into awkward situations with said strangers. But, I had always been a little intrigued by the adult running summer camps at Zap Endurance.
Zap is a training center for elite runners and Olympic hopefuls. They also host adult running camps in the summer, to help raise money to support the athletes, allowing them to train full-time.
I met the Zap head coach, Pete Rea, and some of the Zap elite athletes at a local Winston-Salem track club event last year. After that, I kept bumping into the group at Bass Lake while I spending time in Boone/Blowing Rock. During one of our chats at Bass Lake, Pete invited me to attend summer camp. I eagerly said yes and then as it got closer, I got a little nervous.
I’ve travelled a LOT this year and by the time camp rolled around, I was completely fried. It didn’t help that I only had one night in my own bed after getting back from Utah before I had to leave for camp. I was dreading it a little, to be perfectly honest.
I wasn’t sure if it’d be people-overload for my somewhat introverted self. Would the people be awkward? Would I sleep well? But, at that point, it was too late to back out. So I packed my bag with lots of running gear, running shoes, and comfy clothes and hit the road for my first adult summer camp.
My first day at Zap Adult Running Camp
I arrived at the lodge on Thursday afternoon, and was immediately stunned by how beautiful the location is. We have a rental property that’s less than 10 minutes away from Zap and I had no idea that it was so close to our place. (Side note – MOST people in Boone/Blowing Rock have no idea that one of the nation’s top Olympic training groups is based there. It’s really pretty amazing.)
The setting was so serene – the lodge sat in the middle of a huge open field and a stream ran alongside it. A groomed running path circled the property.
When I pulled up, one of the elite runners, Andrew Colley (who placed second at Grandma’s Marathon this year), directed me on where to park. Then, Pardon Ndhlovu, who is an Olympian and visiting Zap that week, unloaded my suitcase from my car and carried to the lodge for me. I mean, I don’t even get that kind of warm, welcoming arrival at even the nicest hotels when I travel.
I checked in, greeted the people I knew, including Pete and Nicole, one of the female elites, and then headed up to my room.
The rooming situation
My room was simple but spotless. It had two twin beds and I was assigned to share a room, although you could pay extra to have your own room. My roommate never showed up though – apparently she has done this multiple years, where she pays and doesn’t come. So weird. But hey, I’ll gladly take my own room.
I did have to share a bathroom with the adjoining room, and in the adjoining room was Carrie Tollefson, who is a former Olympian and now a broadcaster. She was the guest speaker at camp that week, and since I’m a big fan of her podcast, C Tolle Run, I was happy to get to know her a bit better during the weekend while getting ready each day. She ended up becoming a dear friend by the end of the weekend. We’ve still kept in touch since camp.
The first group run
After everyone arrived, we hopped in some vans and headed to Moses Cone Memorial Park for our first group run.
The views were beautiful at the start of the run, and all along the way!
The beautiful thing about running is that conversations just flow so easily. I fell in stride with Sarah, who actually signed up for camp after first reading about it on my blog. We chatted away and I couldn’t believe when we hit the 2 mile turnaround point.
All meals were included – and freaking good
The first night of camp was when I was like WOAH, this is gonna be goooooood. We got back from our run and appetizers were laid out to nibble on while we showered and relaxed before dinner.
Zap has a gourmet chef, Michael Ryan, on staff to prepare meals for the athletes and for the summer campers. Previously he was a chef at the Ritz Carlton and then was the sous-chef Artisanal, one of the top restaurants in North Carolina. So dude has skills in the kitchen.
Aside from fresh vegetables, goat cheese, olives, chips and crackers, we also had salsas, hummus, smoked salmon-stuffed cucumbers, and spiced nuts he had made that day.
Before camp, Zap emailed everyone to ask about any dietary restrictions so the chef could accommodate. So at every meal, I had a gluten-free and dairy-free option and didn’t have to feel like “that person” asking what, if anything, was gf/df. The chalkboard with the menu had everything labeled that was gf/df and also noted vegetarian options since there was a plant-based camper.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner is included with the camp registration fee. And I kid you not, the food – dinner in particular – was INCREDIBLE. It’s better than any food I’ve had in Winston-Salem and among the best food I’ve ever had, period.
Not your typical camp food
- locally roasted coffee
- fruit – bananas, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries watermelon
- granola, gluten-free cereal and yogurt
- oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts and brown sugar
- Bread and bagels from Stickboy Kitchen, a local bakery that is AMAZING
I typically grabbed a banana, some peanut butter and Rice Chex before we headed out for our morning run (more on that below!)
It varied everyday, but we typically had:
- mixed greens with homemade dressing
- deli tray with Boar’s Head meat, cheese and Stick Boy bread for sandwiches
- a pasta dish (including a gluten-free option)
Dinners were one of the BEST parts of camp. I knew the food would be good, but I had no idea it would be that good — so good that I wish I could pay to go eat there over other fine dining restaurants in the area. It changed each night but some of my favorites were:
- Grilled wild salmon
- Roasted potato wedges
- Roasted sunchoke with spinach and zucchini (I’d never had sunchoke before – I loved it!)
- Pasta with freshly made pesto
- Ratatoutille (no joke, the BEST ratatouille of my life)
- Curried rice with sweet potatoes
What we did each day
6:30 a.m. – 7:45 a.m. – wake up and grab coffee and breakfast. I usually grabbed my food and coffee and sat on the covered patio to enjoy the morning views!
8:00 a.m. – leave for our morning run. On Friday, we started our run at Bass Lake (one of my FAVORITE places to run in the area). We headed to the Boone Greenway on Saturday for a group interval workout.
10:00 a.m. – yoga
11:00 a.m. – Running Seminar
The running seminars were casual presentations the coaches gave. They were optional (everything was optional, really) but really helpful. I mean, when else can you get access to an elite running coach? The sessions included:
- How to build a training plan
- 5K/10k training
- half and full marathon training
- recovery + fueling
- strength training
- running gait/stride analysis (they filmed us and then reviewed our videos individually)
- the mental side of running
12:00 p.m. – Lunch
1:30 p.m. – 4:00 – More Running Seminars (or free time)
4:00 – 6:30 p.m. – Free time – we lots of options each day.
- Group hike
- Go to Blowing Rock to shop or hit breweries
- Massage or Chiropractic appointment – the athletes’ therapists were available all weekend!
- One-on-one coaching session
- Nap, read or just hang out at the lodge. I saw a few people snoozing in the hammock and sunbathing in the lounge chairs.
- Take an ice bath in the stream next to the lodge 🙂
One day I got a massage, followed by an adjustment and then sat down with one of the coaches, Ryan Warrenburg, for a 1:1 chat.
7:00 p.m. – Dinner
8:30 – campfire with s’mores the first night. Carrie spoke the second night. And we hit up Kilwins for ice cream the third night.
How good of a runner do I need to be?
Super advanced. Or super beginner. Or somewhere in between. Truly, ANY level will fit right in.
Some people started running just a few months before camp. Others had done 5Ks or half marathons. And a few, like me, have run for years and completed multiple marathons.
Some people ran a mile each day at camp, while others ran 9+ miles. Some people ran a 12 minute pace, others ran a 7 minute pace. And a couple people walked more than ran.
You could run alone or you could find someone at a similar pace to run with – everyone had someone at their same pace.
At each group run, we were told how much time we had for the day’s run and given lots of route options depending on how far you wanted to run. Along the way, the Zap elite athletes were waiting at key points, guiding us in the right direction.
If this tells you anything, Pete, the head coach, shared a story of a camper who attended a few years ago who was in his 70s, had NEVER run, and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. But, he wanted to learn to run to honor his late wife’s memory so he came to camp and had a great time. Oh, and he changed his life after camp.
What kind of people show up to an adult summer camp?
The youngest camper was 23 and the oldest was maybe early 60s? (It’s hard to tell – runners always look so young!) Some people came with a friend. Others came with their spouse. A mother came with her daughter. And probably about half of the campers, including me, came alone.
People came from Florida, New York, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, California, Illinois. One woman even came from Canada – Sherry found out about camp from my blog! So fun! And another guy came to camp while he had a few days in the U.S. – he lives and works in Qatar – and choose to come to summer camp during his break.
I honestly can’t think of ANYONE who wouldn’t be a good fit for this camp, unless you have absolutely no interest in running. Whether you’re trying to qualify for the Olympics or just want to learn to run so you can run your first 5K, you’d have a great experience at camp.
So was it awkward?
Not. At. All.
I really hit it off with a few people and really enjoyed my conversations with everyone. I have already kept in touch with a few people and my first post-camp run felt really lonely.
Everyone had different backgrounds and life experiences, but we all had something in common – running – which was a good conversation starter. While conversations typically came back to running, I loved getting to know more about everyone and how running is part of their life.
There was never a time where I didn’t want to be there. I could be alone as much as I wanted – and I definitely took some time to walk the grounds solo or to read a book. But I also really enjoyed everyone’s company, especially since I work alone at home most days!
Bottom line: Would I do it again?
Well, if this tells you anything, I looked up the dates for the next summer camp before I even left.
I’ve shared on my blog for years that I love taking solo vacations (here’s why) but often heard from readers that they’d be nervous to travel alone. An adult summer camp would be the IDEAL situation if you want to test the waters traveling solo.
Even though you’re with a group, you can be alone as much as you want to since there is space in the lodge, multiple dining areas and plenty of trail to do your own thing. But, you also have the comfort of a group so you don’t have to feel totally on your own, which can be nerve-wracking.
I texted a friend on the second day and said, “I’m living my best life at running camp.” I stand by that statement.
Zap Running Camps
Zap has five different adult running camps between June and September. This page has details on the camps left this summer (there are still spots available!), and you can see more videos of camp in my Instagram Story highlight under Running Camp to get a better sense for what it’s like.
I’ll be going back next year for sure, if not sooner. I honestly plan to use Zap running camp as my solo vacation from now on since every day was basically my PERFECT day.
- I always got to run in a beautiful place.
- The food was INCREDIBLE.
- I didn’t have to worry about anyone else but me.
It was SUPER relaxing. Proof? I didn’t open my computer ONCE — and I almost always work on vacation. I feel like I can even see it in my eyes in all the photos from camp how relaxed I was. 🙂 It was a perfect reset to break some bad habits I’d made of working all the time and not taking enough downtime.
Have you ever considered an adult summer camp, running focused or not?
Note: Zap Fitness provided my camp experience for free but all my opinions about the camp experience are my own.