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Surviving Run Camp: Confessions of a Couch Potato

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I am not a runner.

Let me rephrase.

I do not run unless something with claws is chasing me or Liam Hemsworth himself is standing at the finish line with a bottle of Chardonnay and a Labrador Retriever puppy.

And yet, at 7:30am on a frigid Saturday in February I found myself in a gym filled with enthusiastic morning people, wearing a nametag and receiving instructions for my first Borgess Run for the Health of It 5K. Yes friends, I joined Run Camp.

Like most major decisions in my life, this one was made on a whim. Essentially, I was putting on more than my fair share of winter weight and had heard that Run Camp was the perfect place to go for fitness accountability and encouragement. A glass of motivation, some minor peer pressure, and seven Nike commercials later, I completed the online registration for the May 7th, 2017 race.

Borgess Run Camp started in 2001, with 105 runners. Over the years, the experience has grown to over a thousand campers from all over the community. The premise is simple: sign up for a race, get placed on a team, and try not to freeze your buns off while running outside in the dead of winter. But there are also a few unique features about the camp I learned, like the fact that there are coaches for every race offered based on the pace a person runs, so even the beginners that need to walk to run have the encouragement necessary to be successful. There are also professional trainers, physicians and nutritionists available to speak with weekly, and mid-week strength training classes offered. Oh, and the camp offers a “used running store,” where experienced runners can donate their gently used gear for new (or newer) camp members to use. FOR FREE. Friends, I dare you to find a similar experience anywhere in the country. Good luck; there isn’t one.

So fast forward to day 1: In typical Kaitlin fashion, I ignored the informational email which discreetly mentioned that all runs would be taking place outside. That is why I showed up to my first session in leggings and a spring jacket. And like the independent millennial that I am, I thought maybe I could just suck it up for twenty minutes. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more wrong about anything, ever.

Fast forward through the team introductions, group stretching session, and nervous small talk (which I hardly paid attention to as I was preparing to say goodbye to my extremities), and we were off. The first run was a short three-miler (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) in the neighborhood surrounding the facility. About 30 steps in, I lost all feeling in my fingers, ears, and toes. For a brief moment, I thought I may actually die on my first day of Run Camp.

But then something incredible happened.

A few members of my team caught up to me (fine….they slowed down for me) and saw the shape I was in. Then, one by one, they began shedding their outer layers and offering them to me mid-stride. First gloves, then a windbreaker, then a headband. They even surveyed runners across the street to see if there was anything else I could borrow. We ran side by side for four miles, not the three I was supposed to do (curse you, poor sense of direction), learning about each other and encouraging one another to finish the run. Once we got back to the gym, they didn’t even wince when I handed them back their clothes filled with sweat, snot, and probably drool. Just like that I had gone from being cold, miserable, and exhausted to being empowered and included (and still exhausted.)

It was during this first run with my group that I realized this was different than anything I’d done before. It wasn’t just a Hail Mary to get back in shape, or a sporadic outlet to vent my anxiety. Run Camp is truly a place for the Kalamazoo community to come together and encourage each other to make healthy life choices. I personally formed a support system of people who I trust and leaned on every step of the way. I remind you - I met these people a week ago. Man, this community is awesome!

So for these reasons (and more!) I’ll be back for round two. And this time I’m bringing gloves.

Stay tuned for more Confessions of a Couch Potato - Episode 2.

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