Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 9 Jul 2003 22:30:50 -0400

Camp Meetings


Dick Beardsley might have run away and hidden in shame someplace else where he wasn't so well known. Instead he stayed in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and faced down his troubles at home.

This was where he was arrested for forging prescriptions for pain-killing drugs six years ago. This was where almost everyone knew his story and now whispered "that's him" when he passed.

He could have been pardoned for leaving this place of infamy behind. Instead he rebuilt his life right where it had come tumbling down. He faced up to his addiction and took his punishment along with his treatment.

Dick now speaks freely and widely about the highs and lows of his life. No runner has put a greater distance between those two points, or tells of either better. He leaves northern Minnesota almost weekly to meet an audience.

This summer he reversed that course. He brought the runners to him at the first Dick Beardsley Marathon Camp.

I've gone to camps nearly all of the past 30 summers. This was my first to target a specific event.

We met, the 26 marathoners (a fitting number) and six "coaches" (as the staff was known), at the Rainbow Resort. It's co-owned by marathon runners Mike Schumann and his Chinese-born wife, Amy Xu. It sits on a lake nearly a marathon away from the nearest town.

Dick arrived in a black truck, labeled "Beardsley's Fishing Guide Service." He towed a sleek boat that would take campers onto Little Bemidji Lake in search of the wily walleye.

Rustic setting aside, this wasn't a roughing-it camp. No bugle sounded at five A.M. No one led boot-camp-style training, morning, noon and night.

Such camps exist for runners, but usually for kids taking crash training for cross-country season. This was an adult camp, with the hours, accommodations and activities adjusted accordingly.

There's a limit to how much an adult, even a marathoner, can train in a single week. One or two big runs will do.

Runners don't come to camp for maximum training. They come for instruction on how to train better, and for inspiration to carry out what they've learned.

The learning isn't confined to the running course or the meeting hall, and it isn't all one-way from coach to camper. We learn as much from the talks during runs as from the speeches -- as much from the meals and in the shared quarters, and even on the guided fishing trips at this camp. We learn as much from and about each other as about running techniques.

In my first night's talk I spoke as the oldtimer of running camping. "You come here mostly as strangers," I said. "I can tell you from long experience that you'll leave as friends who will keep in touch and get back together for years to come."

Jan Seeley, publisher of Marathon & Beyond magazine and the camp's organizer, made sure no one remained a stranger. She prepared a binder that profiled everyone at camp. Her matchmaking started with all the coaches greeting each camper on arrival.

Later that afternoon we all ran together. Jan assigned us to groups of three and said, "Learn five facts about your running mates so you can introduce them to the group."

My pace put me with Sara Latta -- a writer specializing in medical topics, lives in Champaign, has twin daughters, both ran the recent Indianapolis Half-Marathon with mom, Sara ran the Oklahoma City Marathon this spring. That's five facts.

My other partner was Robert Ruda. "Call me Rob," lives and works in Chicago, leads a marathon training group there, ran the Paris and London (or was it London then Paris?) Marathons on back-to-back weeks this spring, wants to beat his best friend's PR and is closing in.

Director Jan later gave each coach four or five runners to advise in their marathon training. I drew all women, and Jan put each "team" in the same car for an outing to Lake Itasca, where the Mississippi River begins. The idea was to get acquainted with these runners at camp, then to advise them as needed until their next marathon.

My aim at all camps is to talk at least once to everyone there. I do this mainly by sitting with someone different at every meal. Staying longer at this camp than at any other meant more meals and that many more chances to talk.

How often do we get to speak "running" all day for six days in a row? Even with this as my job, I seldom talk to runners for more than an hour at a time anywhere else.

This total immersion in the sport would be overwhelming as a steady diet, but it's wonderful for a few days. It's the best reason to go to a running camp -- to talk with the people who speak our language the best.

(Send inquiries on the 2004 camp to:


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