Find your Tribe and Change your Mindset: Why you should go to Running Camp in 2021

 I am a hard-core introvert.  I not only enjoy solitude, I revel in it.  I love my work as a physical therapist, connecting with people, getting them back on their feet and helping them discover their potential.  But outside of work, there is nothing like quiet time.  On a run, on my bike, alone at my desk with my thoughts…. In fact, outside of work, I am almost ashamed to admit that the need to social distance during the pandemic, didn’t bother me much at all. 

But I am far from anti-social.  There is nothing I value more than connecting deeply with those I hold close to me.  When I sit down at the table with someone, let’s pass up the conversational appetizers on celebrity twitter accounts and someone’s new eyebrow tattoos.  I don’t care.  Let’s get to the main course please.  Like let’s talk about what rocks your world to the core, where you see yourself in 5 years, what your life’s mission is.  

Someone once asked me what my most valued possession is.  I said “time”.  Time to spend wisely with people whose passions run deep and aren’t afraid to chew on an issue for a while with you.  People who will share in your journey, listen to your best and worst ideas and kick your ass when you need it most.  

I was accused by this Someone as being “deep”.  Like it is a bad thing.  

This is all to say that, I have had few experiences in my life when my soul has felt nourished… by people I felt were totally part of my tribe.  

One of those few experiences was 9 years ago when I attended a Women’s Running Camp at Active at Altitude in Estes Park Colorado.  This Camp is the genius of Terry Chiplin who moved to the U.S. from England with his wife Jacqueline to make highest runner’s high possible in the Rocky Mountains. 

Running the trails of Rocky Mountain National Park with fellow Active at Altitude Campers in 2016.

Running camp includes several days of living in the Chiplins’ home with other campers, amazing food to fuel your running, running on the best trails that the Rockies have to offer, learning about injury prevention, training and the best part….comaraderie and developing a game-changing mindset. 

They not only host Women’s Running Camps at three different levels (Beginning, intermediate and Advanced), they also host a Co-Ed Trail Running Camp—one in the spring and one in the fall. For complete information on the Camps, visit the Active at Altitude website.  

Pre-run fun with fellow Active at Altitude Campers in 2016.

The entirety of the camp was invaluable, but the mindset piece was absolutely game changing for me and took me from running enthusiast to running the Boston Marathon and tackling challenging mountain races that I never dreamed of running.  And meeting people who wanted to talk about all of those deep things on a run or in between was so amazing and therapeutic.  I felt like I had finally arrived—this was the tribe I was missing my whole life!  And this year—in 2021—- in a world that changes minute-to-minute, what is deep in us, our need to connect—our need to find our tribe doesn’t change. Especially after 2020, this type of experience may be exactly what you are craving.  And this is why I am so excited to be returning to trail Running Camp in Fall 2021!

For those of you who have piqued interest, my complete reflections on my Camp experiences were captured in my conversation with Chiplin back 2016.  I can’t say anything different or better today. An excerpt of this conversation follows. 


Chiplin: Can you tell us something about your running history prior to 2012?

Me: As a kid, I played a lot of team sports in which running was a punishment, so it wasn’t until college and graduate school that I took up running as a form of exercise and found that I enjoyed it.  A friend convinced me to run a half marathon, my first race ever, in 2005.  Between then and 2012, I ran several 5Ks, 10Ks and a few more half marathons.  My race times were improving and I began to take running more seriously.  I especially got a lot of enjoyment out of running after moving to New Mexico in 2009 and then Idaho in 2011 for professional reasons, as these regions introduced me to running at higher altitudes and I got my first tastes of trail running.  However, I felt that my running had plateaued and, perhaps oddly, I didn’t truly feel like I could call myself a runner.  In 2012, I felt like I needed something to bust down the wall that was preventing me from improving and I was also beginning to feel a bit beat up physically.  Never having had any formal coaching, I suspected that my form was pretty inefficient and I wasn’t taking the right approach to training—at least one that worked for me.  Although I couldn’t really articulate it at the time, I also felt that I wasn’t fully experiencing all that the sport had to offer.  That’s pretty much what brought me to Active at Altitude in 2012. 

Chiplin: You came to one of our Women’s Running Camps in 2012.  What was your experience like?

Me: The Women’s Running Camp was exactly what I needed to elevate my running from the plateau that I had reached physically—but also mentally, which was a life-changing discovery for me.  I came to camp mostly expecting to figure out what I needed to do differently to better approach the physical aspects of running—and there was certainly that!  Through a video analysis I saw for myself that I was a profound heel-striker and had lots to work on there and I learned a tremendous amount about running work outs, cross training and proper nutrition, among other things.  However, the real watershed moment for me at the Camp was discovering how far I needed to come mentally and that I would never become a runner if I didn’t first believe that myself!  I was always told in high school that I was a terrible runner, but team sport coaches left it at that and never provided constructive criticism.  During camp, I came to the realization that I had been letting other people’s criticisms define me and my potential even though I am a pretty independent person in most everything I do and I think I am fairly strong mentally.  But I really realized that I could be stronger with a supportive network of people with whom I could safely share my aspirations for running—or anything in life….a network of people that provide a safe environment to dream big and serve as a sounding board.  The Women’s Running Camp provided that network.  To this day, I have stayed in contact with fellow campers from the 2012.  This supportive atmosphere and community established by the Camp is a primary reason that I also came to Women’s Running Camps held in 2013 and 2014 as well as Trail Running Camp this year.  The Camps also take place in an absolutely stunningly beautiful area of the country and provide a wonderful place to run with like-minded folks.  The hospitality at Active at Altitude is amazing and meal times are always a highlight—they are really fun and provide great venues for laughing, dreaming, planning, mental training…they provide food for the soul as much as they do for the body.  

Chiplin: What was your biggest take away from that camp?

Me: I think the biggest take away from Camp was a new mental foundation on which to build myself as a runner—or anything–as well as a new framework for living life.  After Camp, I knew that I wanted to achieve new goals, but that the focus should really be primarily on the journey towards reaching those goals and that living life with gratitude was paramount.  I also learned the power of visualization as a tool in realizing goals.  Camp was my first real immersion in making mind-body connections and I was absolutely blown away.  In 2014, I ran a personal best at the Missoula Half Marathon.  At the time, I knew it was a bit lofty, but doable to run the race in 95 minutes.  I did the math and knew what pace I had to hit.  I had never run the course before, but had a map and course profile.  Using only those three pieces of information, I visualized several times before race morning what it would feel like to run the race in 95 minutes—with gratitude for every step.  I ended up finishing in 1:35:06 and almost couldn’t believe it.  

Chiplin: You formed a close bond with your bunkroom buddies.  What was special about this for you?

Me: Yes. My bunkroom buddies almost couldn’t have been more different than me in many ways—age, profession, ethnic background, religion, physical appearance…everything.  But we were all united at Camp in the act of self-discovery and redefining ourselves as people.  I have remained in contact with Mirabelle Tinio, one of my bunkroom buddies, who continues to be a fountain of inspiration in her dare to dream big back in 2012 and run with the Canadian Mountain Running Team—a goal that she once didn’t think was possible, but that she accomplished.  Mirabelle represents boundless energy packaged in a frame that is just over 5 feet tall.  At about nine inches taller, I have fond memories of she and I running the streets of Boulder, CO—we had a good laugh after I told her that we must look a bit like Penn and Teller to those we were passing by!  In the last four years, I’ve only had a chance to see Mirabelle twice, but she remains a key person in my support network.  Interacting with Mirabelle and others at the Camp made me realize that in today’s world, people tend to focus too much on what makes us different with respect to so many things– ethnicity, religion, gender, physical appearance, etc.—but we are all human beings—we all cry, sweat and bleed.  We all have fears and doubts.  We all also dream and have a tremendous amount of potential–more than we usually realize–to make those dreams a reality.  Mirabelle is living, walking … running proof of that.  With an environment created by a supportive network of people in which it is safe to dream and safe to take risks, we can accomplish what may have once seemed impossible.  

Front row: Me and Mirabelle Tinio, taller and shorter … total opposites united in passion for running—with Active at Altitude Campers in 2016 (Co-ed Trail Running Camp).

Chiplin: Since camp you have also qualified for Boston twice.  How important was your camp experience to helping you achieve this and what was your highlight from running Boston?

Me: Running a marathon, let alone qualifying for Boston, wouldn’t have been possible prior to coming to Camp—physically, but particularly mentally.  During the Camp, I learned that I didn’t have to listen to the doubts and fears of others about something that I could and would do.  While I was training for my first marathon in 2013, a coworker had learned what I was doing and said to me one day, “running a marathon is a really good goal to have even if you don’t finish it”.  I learned that people commonly project these criticisms onto others, but they are really just the reservations that they have about themselves.  My coworker was rudely surprised when I not only completed the marathon, but also qualified for Boston, undercutting the qualifying time by nearly 10 minutes.    

After Camp, consciously running with a sense of gratitude became a practice for me that got me through the marathon.  Before race day, I made a list of people that I was grateful for and, up until the last 5k of the race, I had this mental playlist of people and fond memories associated with them that I was flipping through.  I dedicated the last 5k of the race to every person who ever cast a shadow of doubt on my running ability—turning their negativity in motivation to cross the finish.  When I started the race that day, my goal had been to simply finish it; although the Boston qualification time was in the back of my head, it definitely wasn’t a focus.  To BQ was just the frosting on the cake.  

Boston 2015 was great, but 2014 will always have a special place in my heart.  I was really nervous, of course, to run Boston as my second marathon ever, but it was also the year after the horrific bombings of 2013.  I remember being at the Salt Lake City airport and when I arrived at the gate for the flight to Boston it was this sea of really fit people wearing the Boston jackets from years’ past and I instantly got really anxious.  I started having a bunch of negative self talk run through my head—wondering if I was really worthy of running with seasoned Boston Marathoners, etc.  I actually stepped away from the gate at one point.  When I came back, a woman in her 60’s struck up a conversation with me and asked me if I was running.  She explained to me that she had run Boston several years in a row and had planned 2013 to be her last go at it —she had had every intention of hanging up her shoes after running in 2013.  But she said that after the bombing, she would absolutely not do that and that she needed to be part of the 2014 race that would take back the City and show people that we wouldn’t live in fear—that we must overcome.  At this point, I realized that this was way more than a race and finish times.  Boston represented so much more—it was all about overcoming.  Another key moment in the race was during the latter half.  We were running up hill and I was feeling less than fresh when some guy in the crowd shouted “Meb won!  An American has won!”  Those of us who were feeling the burn were instantly reenergized.  It was amazing.  Since Boston 2014, I have thought very differently about running.  There’s always competition, but mostly running is about overcoming—it’s about the journey.  It doesn’t matter how fast one is, but every one who toes the start line of any race had to overcome something to get there.  Toeing the start line is a victory and crossing the finish is the celebration of a fantastic journey of overcoming.  


Hope to see you at Active at Altitude!

Mastering the downhill run is KEY in improving your race performance and in preventing injury

 “Fast and flat course” is a phrase that is utilized to draw some runners into signing up for particular marathons.  Hills are stigmatized even in a runner’s masochistic existence in which pushing through pain is the norm.  One of the most famous hills is “Heartbreak Hill” beginning around mile 20 of the Boston Marathon that rises 91 feet at a 3.3 % grade. Having run it, I know first hand that it’s a taxing little climb, especially at that time of the race. However, it seems to always be the hill climbing in a race that gets noted more so than any hill descent.  The Boston Marathon has a downhill trajectory from the start to about mile 8-9 when the course flattens out a bit.  Research supports that this part of the course may actually be more taxing on the body than the climb later.  In fact, mastering the downhill run may separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls in terms of performance, especially in trail and mountain running where hills are the norm.


Downhill training session at Active at Altitude Running Camp.

Downhill “pounding” = increased impact force= increased injury risk

When running downhill, the force of gravity is with you.  Anyone who runs knows that it feels like your feet are pounding the pavement more when you run downhill than when you are running on flat surfaces or going uphill.  This is of concern from an injury prevention standpoint because as the magnitude of the “pounding” or impact forces go up, so does your risk of injury.  As the steepness or the grade of the downhill increases, you may have felt as though the pounding increases as well as your muscle soreness in the days following.  What you are feeling is backed by research. In a recent study, the impact that women experienced when running at 4 meters per second (8.8 mph, ~6:30 per mile) on an instrumented treadmill at grades of -5, -10, -15 and -20%; researchers found that the impact forces were significantly increased compared to running on level surfaces (Wells et al. 2020).  These findings corroborate data generated by Gottshall and Kram (2005) that indicate running down a -2.5% grade increased impact force by 54%.  Björklund et al. (2019) specifically studied impact forces that trail runners experience when running downhill, uphill and on level surfaces and found that impact forces were greatest on the downhill segments. The stress of downhill running is evident in the days following your run too.  Chen et al (2007) found that running for 30 minutes down a -15% grade decreases running economy 4-7% for several days.  Running economy is a measure of how efficient you are or how much energy your body demands to run at a particular speed and corresponds to the amount of oxygen you need to consume in a given unit of time.  Chen et al. (2007) found that following a downhill run, runners experienced increased oxygen consumption, decreased maximum strength of muscles around the knee (extensors, specifically), decreased range of motion in the knee and ankle, increased muscle damage, increased rating of perceived exertion (how hard it feels to run), and increased lactic acid levels in the blood.  In short, downhill running substantially stresses your body.


Why you should master downhill running to improve your performance

Perhaps you didn’t need the data summary above to prove it to you, but downhill running, without a doubt, is more stressful on your body, than level surface or uphill running.  This is exactly why you need to master it.  If you are better at running downhill, you will not only reduce the negative physiological effects on your body, but you may also have a significant advantage over your competitors in your next race.

Björklund et al. (2019) identified that speed varied the most among runners during the downhill portions of a trail run, and the more technical the section of the course, the more variable the speeds became.  So if you are looking for a window of opportunity to take down your competition on your next trail race, you will probably want to consider working on your downhill running, particularly over technical terrain.  Furthermore, Kerherve et al. (2016) found that runners tend to continue losing speed over time when downhill running, whereas speed tends to reduce and then plateau on the flats or uphill segments.  Learning how to maintain speed on the downs is key to increasing your competitive edge.


Tips for mastering the downhill run

So if downhill running is stressful on the body, how do we train for it without destroying ourselves?  Small doses that allow you to practice mechanics that will reduce impact and prevent injury.

One of the main reasons that people experience greater impact forces when running down hill is that they tend to lean back and run with their feet out in front of them.  This is like driving your car downhill with your foot on the brake.  This will wear out the brakes on your car quite quickly; in running, it wears out your body and puts you at increased injury risk.  At the same time, people tend to run with lower step rate or cadence when running down hill.  This means that the foot is spending greater time in contact with the ground, which translates to greater stress on the legs and rest of the body.

Given this, you need to do the opposite of what you likely tend to do.  You need to keep your steps short, quick and light with your body over your feet.  This can be very uncomfortable for some, because adding a forward lean accentuates gravity’s force to carry you down the hill even faster.  You may even feel like you are about to fall.  But becoming comfortable with this level of discomfort will not only translate to speed on the downhills, there will be less impact on your body.

As with any new skill, it is better to train it in small doses ….CORRECTLY.  And doing downhill running correctly will likely be very uncomfortable at first.  But in time, correct practice will make this skill automatic and you’ll be whipping down the hills (and maybe even having fun while doing it) without thinking much about it.

Here is an example of how you can begin to train down hill running after warming up:

  1. Find a hill that has a grade that is challenging but not utterly daunting for you (only you can define what this is).
  2. Start at the top of the hill and run down for 10 seconds with good form (high cadence, body over feet).
  3. Walk back to the top for recovery.
  4. Run downhill for 20 seconds with correct form and walk back to the top for recovery.
  5. Continue these repeats, increasing the duration of the downhill run (i.e., 30, 40, 50 and 60 seconds).
  6. cool down

As this becomes more comfortable, you can work into using hills that you would like to conquer or maybe those that are part of or mimic your upcoming race.  Strategically place this in your training schedule so that your intense workouts come earlier in the week before your downhill training session.  Remember what the data show— your running economy will be decreased in the days following your downhill workout.  When you start training downhill running, shoot for doing this only once per week.

Tip summary:

*Increase your cadence (step rate).

*Run quietly, softly.

*Lean forward, from the ankles to keep your body over your feet.

*Practice correct downhill running form in small doses (see example workout above).

*If you feel like you are going to fall forward while running downhill, you are probably doing it right!

Want to learn more or get an in-person training session?  Get in touch with me at:


Slate Mountain Trail, Caribou National Forest just outside Pocatello, ID provides great hill workouts.


Björklund, G, Swarén, M, Born, DP, Stöggl, TL. 2019.  Biomechanical adaptations and performance indicators in short trail running.  Frontiers in Physiology. 10: p 506.

Chen, TC, Nosaka, K, Tu, JH. 2007.  Changes in running economy following downhill running.  Journal of Sports Sciences. 25(1): 55-63.

Gottshall, JS, Kram R.  2005.  Ground forces during downhill and uphill running.  J of Biomechanics. 30(3): 445-452.

Wells, MD, Dickin, DC, Popp J, Wang H.  2020. Effect of downhill running grade on lower extremity loading in female distance runners. Sports Biomech. 19(3): 333-341.