Dreamchasers Running Camp

I’m trying to remember when I found out about the Dreamchasers running camps. My father, who grew up in the area where the camps happen and now has a townhouse there, has sent me articles about local athletes, and I may have first heard about Lisa Smith-Batchen that way. If not, then I certainly heard about her on the Endurance Planet podcast, where I also learned about the camps. I contacted her last year just after she finished the running part of her 810 mile odyssey (Las Vegas to Death Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney), and once the dates and focuses for this year’s camps were set, I picked the one at the start of June.

The camp takes place in Teton Valley, along the Idaho/Wyoming border, near the towns of Driggs, ID and Alta, WY. That’s about 45 minutes by car from Jackson, WY. As a child my family usually visited the area in July for the best weather, and we still often saw hail. It turns out that at the start of June the weather is wa-a-ay colder than in most of the country. Check out the Teton Cam for an idea what it looks like. I got there almost a month ago and, as of this writing, there’s still snow there.

Since the base elevation in the area is above 6000′, Connie and I drove out a few days early to adjust, arriving late on Friday, May 29th. Since we drove, I was able to bring a lot of gear. I did a short run on the roads the next morning, and it wasn’t too bad, so I tried to do the Wind Cave hike as a trail run the next day (Sunday), hoping it was low enough to avoid excessive snow. At 0.4 miles I was almost turned around by a rushing stream, but I found a small (but not too small) fallen tree to bridge the stream and continued on. But as I climbed up the canyon, the snow covered more and more of the ground, and by 2.2 miles from the start I had lost the trail. And if I had been able to continue, it didn’t look like I could have gotten into the cave without crampons and an ice axe.

While the camp didn’t officially start until Tuesday evening, on Monday and Tuesday morning Lisa invited me to attend her core/cardio class. On Tuesday she also sent me on a trail run, along with her husband Jay, and Becky, who was one of the other campers. We covered part of the course they laid out for their 26.2/50/100-mile Grand Teton races.

Speaking of other campers, the economy has made it difficult to fill the camps, and in fact due to some last-minute cancellations, this became an informal private camp. There ended up being only two other campers—Becky and Chandler—and they stayed at Lisa and Jay’s house, while I stayed with my father. There were also a couple of other part-time campers on a couple of the days.

Lisa and Jay’s house turned out to be under a mile from where my father grew up, and on the same road. It is definitely a small world.

Tuesday evening, June 2

Lisa and Jay had us over to their house for dinner to kick off the camp. They also generously invited Connie, my father, and his friend Margie to join us. Lisa is a good cook, their house is gorgeous, and we met their two adorable daughters.

Wednesday, June 3

The camp started in earnest with speed work at 7am with Barb Lindquist (a former Olympic triathlete, ranked #1 in the world a few years ago—needless to say, I was way out of my depth). At 9am was another core/cardio class, followed by going to a high school track to get videotaped, do some work on cadence, walking, exercises like running backwards, etc. Oh, and some stuff on the bleacher steps too. After lunch we learned more about running form and saw the videotape we took in the morning. The day ended with some uphill and downhill work on Lisa and Jay’s driveway and a very short trail run. One takeaway from this day was that, while I’m a slow runner, I’m a strong walker, which should serve me well in longer events.

Thursday, June 4

I got a reprieve from the core/cardio class since I was the only camper to have already done it three times. The main event for the day was a long trail run near Swan Valley, along the Snake River. The plan was for it to be four to five hours, and with no aid stations that meant taking a lot of water. In my case I took my 96-ounce hydration bladder and two 20-ounce handheld bottles. That turned out to be a good plan since the first 3/4 of the time brought the warmest temperatures we saw for the whole camp. I was one of the few to not run out of water.

Jay ran in front with Chandler and Becky, who are substantially faster (and younger) than me, and Joe, who tends to go out too fast. Colleen, who works for Dreamchasers, ran in the back with Steve, a camp regular who was running only a few weeks after shoulder surgery. Lisa ran with me in the middle. It was a good run, with a lot of good input on my form (relax your shoulders! short steps up hills!). Lisa mildly twisted an ankle and ended up sending me ahead for the last four miles on the return, and I felt pretty strong, though the way Becky flew by on her return was very impressive.

I had some pain on my right heel during the run, and it felt like a small rock, but I couldn’t find anything there so I ignored it. It turned out that it was the fancy new La Sportiva shoes I had bought. I had never previously run more than seven miles at once in them, and they didn’t work for me at the longer distance. When I took my socks off I discovered that I had a pretty nasty blister. I am lucky enough to not get many blisters (I think this is my fourth one ever from running), so I can’t complain, but it was a small distraction for the rest of the camp.

Friday, June 5

This day brought my final core/cardio class, and then we drove to Jackson. Becky and Chandler had a short swimming session with Barb Lindquist, while Lisa looked more closely at my blister and my shoes, suggesting that I stick with what works (Brooks Adrenaline ASRs).

We had thought of climbing Teton Village, but opted for Snow King instead since it is shorter (but still a bit over 1500′ of climbing) and therefore far less snowy. Chandler, Becky, and I went up and down two times. After the first time Lisa told us all to do it faster the second time, and somehow we all succeeded at that. In my case I dropped about five minutes, from 1:03 to 0:58, though a substantial part of the improvement was not stopping to take pictures. Meanwhile Colleen and Steve went up and down once. I was half expecting Lisa to tell us to try it a third time, and the climb was a blast so I would have given it a shot if she had. But the weather was deteriorating, so I didn’t volunteer.

Saturday, June 6

The original plan was for Chandler and Becky to do a bike ride over the pass to Jackson, and for Lisa and me to run part of it, but the early word was that there was snow on the pass. The new plan seemed particularly sadistic: We ran from the Batchen’s house to the Dreamchasers office (a bit over 4 miles), taking 10-minute shifts dragging a tire attached to a padded waist belt. I used my advanced age as an excuse to take the last shift, which did mean that Becky and Chandler each ran 20 minutes with the tire while I only did about 14 minutes. After we arrived at the office we did 7-minute shifts on three exercise machines: a rower, a spin bike, and a VersaClimber, repeating each twice, for a total of 42 minutes. I felt the VersaClimber effort in my legs for the remainder of the camp, which probably means I should try to find one to use regularly.

Becky had to leave town a little early, so she had the honor of finishing her camp by running by herself back to the house dragging the tire. She did it substantially faster than the three of us did it in shifts. She’s fast.

In the afternoon there was a trail run in the Big Hole Mountains, which are on the west side of the valley. Jay stuck with me and gave me some more input (breathe deeper! stand taller!), while Chandler went ahead with some fast local runners (Jay is fast too, but someone needed to lag back with me). And then finally after dark there was a short trail run on the Aspen Trail, in the rain, for me to get more experience running on trails in the dark and to try out my new flashlights; they seemed to work well. Speaking of flashlights, Jay had a new one that put out so much light we wondered if it was nuclear-powered.

Sunday, June 7

We had the final run of the camp in the morning. We considered several trails, but due to the weather we decided to stay as low as we could, so we ran on the Aspen Trail again, this time from the Darby Canyon end. We started in the rain, but soon we were in snow (which was sticking to the plants) and a couple of times there was even hail. It was a fitting end to the camp. Jay told me later that at one point when he was behind me and I was walking, he had to briefly break into a jog to keep up. Of course he was perfectly capable of running that section, but it was cool to hear that my walking can be that strong.

Summary

It was a great camp, and a huge part of that was the people. Lisa, Jay, and Colleen are great people, willing to open their homes, their lives, and their love and knowledge of running to runners of all levels. They went out of their way to include my family in events; in fact, they all attended some of the core/cardio classes during the week with Lisa’s enthusiastic encouragement. I learned many things, and I was tired at the end of each day. Not quite enough to go face down in my soup, as Lisa threatened might happen, but there was no question I had worked hard.

Before I went, I figured this was probably a one-time thing, but I have to say I won’t be at all surprised if I’m back for another camp in a couple of years. If this sounds at all appealing, I would highly recommend that you find a way to attend one of their camps.

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4 Responses to “Dreamchasers Running Camp”

  1. Lisa Smith-Batchen Says:

    Mike..it was such a joy to have you here….can’t wait to follow your 1st 100 mile:)
    Come back anytime

    Lisa

  2. pureh2o Says:

    Mike, that sounds like a great time. You, my friend, are building yourself into one mean running machine. Keep up the great work! Thanks for the vicarious introduction to Lisa’s hospitality. She sounds like a wonderful person.

    Franz.

  3. Headlands Hundred « Random Musings About Movies, Running, and More Says:

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    […] I took the Dreamchasers running camp last summer, I have thought about doing this race, but I had expected to do it at a later time. […]

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