The Running Retreat Weekend: Community From the Inside Out

I'd waited with anticipation to experience my first running retreat, having written about it previously in the abstract. Like summer camp as a child, I was slightly nervous during the days leading up to the actual weekend of the Women’s Run, Yoga and Wine retreat. Could I keep up with the other runners? What about yoga, a practice I’ve only done a few times? Would the other attendees all know each other? What were the sleeping accommodations? Shared bathrooms? Silly, really, in retrospect. The weekend was all and more than I expected it to be on so many levels: venue, running classes and trail runs, Pilates core strength sessions, yoga, friendly community of women, talented leaders, and truly a retreat from the day-to-day life in which we too often get buried and short-sighted.

Walker Creek Ranch is the Marin County Outdoor Education facilities, located about 20 miles from Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean and 45 miles north of San Francisco. Typical California coastal hills, brown with sturdy oak and some fern forests, range cattle, fox, deer, rabbits, and all manner of birds. The facility consists of dining hall, the Boogie Barn (where we had our yoga and Pilates classes), small lodges for sleeping and gatherings (wine tastings at night), a pond for swimming, garden for meals (and free access to pick carrots and raspberries), and access to dirt roads and trails with amazing, panoramic views.

The schedule was full but with enough time in the afternoons to enjoy the area at our leisure, read and write, talk with new friends, and contemplate who/where we are at this point in our lives. Sally, the leader and organizer, is also my massage therapist. She teaches Chi Running (I had a morning session the weekend before the retreat to understand the core underpinnings of this running approach) and yoga. A former triathlete and corporate techie, she is passionate about helping others learn to be better persons in health, spirit and community. She set the tone with personal introductions and enthusiasm for the weekend and the opportunity for us to form a new community of women from across the country.

We worked on our running form before going on trail runs each morning and Saturday afternoon. The trail to Walker Creek peak was steep and slippery; after crossing a stream (in California, it is rare to see water in a seasonal creek this time of year), we ran/hiked (and huffed) to the peak. We were rewarded with panoramic, picture-perfect views of Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Marin County hills to the East. The five-mile round trip route took us down through Manzanita and Oak trees peppered with ferns along the forest floor. Reminiscent of my early running years ago on logging roads through redwood trees, the very steep downhill off the peak was slippery and rocky. Once we reached the forested trails, though, my heart sang in remembrance of those beginning days and all the places my life has taken me. The smile took me by surprise as it's not as common on my face these days as I'd like. So glad to see it captured even if digitally.

I'd attended a few yoga classes many years ago, so I was definitely a neophyte for the two sessions led by Sally. Some of the women had years of practice and while envious, I finally understand how it can help runners with greater flexibility and stretching. The sessions were held in the Boogie Barn, built in the early 1900s, a fitting setting in the valley of our rural spot.

Caitlin Smith, an Olympics Trial Qualifier in the women's marathon (2012 and 2016), was our Pilates instructor for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. She’d won the Tamalpa 50k Saturday morning, but still arrived at the retreat looking fresh and so young! Her coach/training partner is Magda Boulet, who I’d met in mid-July at the Napa Half Marathon expo here in Sonoma. It’s exciting to see the women runners from the Oakland area and learn their running tips, hear their personal stories, and imagine for an instant having this passion as both a vocation and avocation.

Deanna Micros, who leads scenic running tours in San Francisco, was our trailblazer. Intrepid and fearless, she tried out the trails we’d run to determine whether clockwise or counter-clockwise would provide the best views and the better running experience. Her enthusiasm about running after a legal career resonated with me. Fit and tan, she’s a vision for female runners over fifty!

The community of women was in and of itself a reason for the retreat. I’ve been a solitary runner since my beginning days, when I met wonderful friends with whom I shared this passion on a daily basis. ("First Friends: Love, Loss and Life in Humboldt County," my short memoir, highlights those golden days of running in the 1970s). Here again were women runners who are also mothers, professionals, and friends, open to meeting others, sharing experiences, lending support, and being each other’s cheerleaders. A number of women came together from Florida, several came with friends, and a few of us brought only ourselves. It didn’t matter, though, because by the end of the first night’s dinner, a community was building from the inside out.

The retreat targeted running, yoga and wine (tastings both nights), but for me, it was also a time to mark where I am with running, meeting new people (not always easy), and soaking in the peace and beauty of this spot in northern California. I am so fortunate to be able to do this sort of thing: not so different from sleep-away camp as a child, except that as an adult, my appreciation level overflows with gratitude.