Camp Boulder (Running and Writing Retreat): 2017

Maybe you remember summer camp in the mountains as a child or cross-country camp with your high school teammates or attending running or writing retreat as an adult (I've done one of each). Here's one such story of ten days in August with our now-adult younger son, Alex.

Twin Lakes between Leadville and Aspen (Sunday return from Aspen to Boulder)

Twin Lakes between Leadville and Aspen (Sunday return from Aspen to Boulder)

Camp Boulder’s first (hopefully annual) summer running and writing retreat grew somewhat organically. Alex wanted to run a summer trail marathon or half marathon; he was also working on an illustrated children’s book project. He had almost two and a half months hiatus from his job as senior producer on a daily television talk show and inquired whether he could spend some time with us. “Of course! August is completely open. We’ll look for some Colorado-area runs. When can you come?” We may have been a little too exuberant; it’d been years since we’d had extended time with him at home with us.

As his wont, Doug did lots of research on August trail races. The Aspen Backcountry trail marathon and half marathon, with a limit of 250 marathon entrants and 250 half marathon entrants, seemed right. At high elevation (7900’ start to just over 10,000’ at top), its technical, steep and rocky course could be the goal race component of his Alex’s visit.

Concentrating on art work for "Monstrous Me."

Concentrating on art work for "Monstrous Me."

We have office space, kitchen and dining room tables and lots of chairs for a budding author to move around to do his work. Alex wanted quiet, focused time to work with his illustrator and finalize the planned Kickstarter campaign (to fund printing and publication costs) for “Monstrous Me.” This would comprise the creative part of camp week (actually, ten days). We chose restaurants, trails and coffee shops to augment his days.

Dates were set, Southwest Airline tickets were purchased, race registrations completed, and schedules synchonized. Camp Boulder would soon be live!             

Alex's Boulder training plan!

Alex's Boulder training plan!

Alex studied acclimatization practices of the problem of living at sea level and racing at over 8,000' elevation. He wasn’t comfortable attempting the elevation immediately after arriving in Colorado (advocated by some endurance athletes). He didn’t have the time or money to stay in Aspen or similarly high elevation for the three to four weeks to acclimatize advocated by other runners and bicyclists. He compromised, deciding to train at our home in Boulder (5420') before going to Aspen two days before race day. He drew up a training program, aptly designated #gasping4Aspen.

Alex's Strava report and map recording his run.

Alex's Strava report and map recording his run.

Doug and Alex have scheduled several trail marathons or ultra-marathons over the past two years, only to have to cancel due to injuries to one or the other of them or work conflicts. I planned on being a spectator, not wanting to attempt this run only weeks after our "The Amazing Maasai half marathon" the third weekend in July as part of our Kenya trip. This reason became moot: I broke my right arm a week before our departure for Kenya, that adventure disappointedly cancelled. Glory and I became spectators together, me with arm in cast and sling.

Pat with arm in new blue cast and wearing shoes that Alex created about 10 years ago.

Pat with arm in new blue cast and wearing shoes that Alex created about 10 years ago.

Alex arrived as scheduled on August 2. He was making good progress on “Monstrous Me.” He’d gone through several iterations of edits from early readers. He’d received about a quarter of the completed illustrations from his art collaborator; they were stunning and delightful. He wanted to launch his Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for printing and publishing by the second week in August. He came to Camp Boulder with warnings that he had lots of work to do and couldn’t be distracted. But we could help with final edits and the video for the campaign. A bonus for us to see, up close and personal, the evolution of his first picture book project.

Boulder has been lovely this summer, warm days, cool nights, maybe not enough rain. Our backyard landscaping project, finished in late May, was in full bloom. The view from the guest bedroom was serene, lots of birds splashing in the bubbling fountain, perky roses, lavender and black-eyed Susan for the bees, and an occasional bear sighting in the back alley. After Alex arrived, we had some cool and rainy days, even an occasional thunder storm, a treat for our Los Angeles-based son. Running in the rain was nirvana for him. I made my standard chocolate chip coffees, bought lots of fruit from the Farmer’s Market, and increased our coffee supplies.

A respite from all the running and writing, watching Game of Thrones!

A respite from all the running and writing, watching Game of Thrones!

The initial week passed too quickly, lots of walks and talks (reminding me of my father), trail running (Doug and Alex as I was limited to walking, trying to obey doctor’s orders), editing his Kickstarter campaign message (me), and lots of eating at local restaurants (too much). Alex was disciplined about running and writing. In addition to “Monstrous Me,” he was working on a short picture book, attending a weekly online picture book critique group, and participating in a children’s book writing group.

Cyclops Near+Far, two of the monsters, created by Elizabeth Winters for "Monstrous Me".

Cyclops Near+Far, two of the monsters, created by Elizabeth Winters for "Monstrous Me".

And then it was two days before the race. The Kickstarter campaign was approved to go live on August 14, the day after he and Glory would return to California. Training was as complete as it could be. Alex was nervous about the run, not certain how breathing would be and how his legs would do on the steep ascents (15% grade in places), rock-strewn trail, and sharp descent (my quads ached just thinking about it). But no turning back: he and Doug would do it, race together (well, be in the same race but not necessarily the same pace), while Glory and I would wait at the park for the grand finish.

The day before the race on Hunter Creek Trail, always behind Doug!

The day before the race on Hunter Creek Trail, always behind Doug!

I walked the Rio Grande Trail during the race, capturing my “men” at the early turn from the paved trail to Hunter Creek Trail, the beginning of the ascent. Two and a half hours later, Glory and I cheered as the first runners began to cross the finish line and then, we saw Alex. In full stride with a big smile (and as we noticed later, a scratch on his head where he’d stumbled and rolled, and several other cuts), he crossed the finish line—in third place for his age group! This was his first podium finish in eleven years (the others being the local triathlons at Folsom Lake near Granite Bay, California, during high school). Doug arrived a bit later, blood dripping from his left arm and knee, but pleased, too, with his race.

Park in Aspen, start of race.

Park in Aspen, start of race.

We had a celebratory dinner Saturday, with lots of recounting of the day’s run. I was envious not to have been able to be run with them but also knew it was probably too difficult/scary for me even if we'd hadn't planned to be in Kenya or I hadn't broken my arm. Alex has had bad luck with races, often being injured after months of training and not being able to compete, so we were ecstatic for him not only finishing but doing well!

Alex on course, a quarter mile into the 13.1 mile race.

Alex on course, a quarter mile into the 13.1 mile race.

I think Camp Boulder was a success by many measures. Maybe we’ll sponsor another one next summer for both sons/grandson/daughters-in-law. We’ll have to create more activities for the different age groups, but the natural landscape and scenery of Boulder and the Rockies are perfect backdrops for most any event. 

Alex and Glory at Independence Pass, glad to be out of the car after the tight switchbacks on the narrow road to Aspen.

Alex and Glory at Independence Pass, glad to be out of the car after the tight switchbacks on the narrow road to Aspen.