Ana Carlasare didn’t know much about running when she signed up for her first half marathon. How hard could it be? Turns out, running 13.1 miles with minimal training is a very difficult task.
“It was terrible. I felt like I was going to die,” Carlasare remembers.
Soon after that race, Carlasare knew she wanted to keep running, but she also knew she would need a more sustained training plan before her next race. She got involved with running Coach Mark Buciak and has been training with him for nearly a decade.
Now, Carlasare has run five marathons and another 15 half marathons around Chicago, but the weekend she looks forward to the most is outside the city at Buciak’s annual Running Retreat in Plano, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago.
As Chicago’s Lakefront Trail gets more and more crowded with each warm weekend, several organizations are offering runners a chance to get out of the city, but keep their training on track.
Overnight camps, whether for new runners or Ironman athletes in training, are growing in popularity.
“It’s not a boot camp, it’s not a training camp,” said Buciak of his Running Retreat. He also coaches a Boston Marathon training program.
Although the focus is on running, Buciak said the group of about 20 participants only goes for one run each day at whatever pace they want.
“No matter what your speed or ability, you’re welcome here. Everybody has something to contribute,” he said.
The rest of the three-day weekend is spent on relaxation. With offerings including post-run yoga, massages, free injury screenings from on-site physical therapists, wine tastings, seminars, and more. The retreat takes place on 25 acres of private land that also offers a swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts.
“It’s everything a runner could want,” Buciak said.
Carlasare said she looks forward to the weekend away from the city, the chance to focus on health for a whole weekend, but mostly the opportunity to spend time with other people with similar interests.
“It’s about community as much as running,” she said.
Buciak created the program after his own experience as a teenager on his high school cross country team. The team went away for a required retreat before school started and he loved the idea so much he knew he would start his own one day.
“It’s very peaceful and relaxed. You can run on the lakefront all year long, but don’t you want to run somewhere in nature, somewhere new?” Buciak said. His running retreat costs $390 all-inclusive if people pay in full by the end of May.
For Buciak, a relaxing weekend spent thinking about running is much more appealing than registering for a half marathon in the city.
“With a race it’s a rush to get out of the house, a rush to get to the race, a rush to find a parking space and get to the starting line. Then you rush to finish the race, get your banana, and go home. But, that’s it,” he said. “Here, you sit around a campfire both nights, you hear stories from people who have been running for years. There’s plenty of time to make new friends. This is a quality event, not quantity.”
For runners who are training for specific race or want to challenge themselves in ways beyond running, Chicago Endurance Sports runs a three-day training camp on the site of Ironman Wisconsin every August.
The camp started as a daylong event a few years ago to give athletes a chance to see the course and feel comfortable with the transition areas, but has grown into an overnight event for about 50 athletes each year, said Mike Norman, owner and head coach at CES. This year the camp will run from Aug. 18-20 near the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It costs $250 for people who are not already training with CES, otherwise the program is included.
Athletes will tackle part of the Ironman race each day with an 80 to 100 mile bike ride on Friday, an open-water swim on Saturday morning, and a run on the course on Sunday. But, the camp is not all work and no play; there’s also a cook-out, live music by the lakefront, and an extended race prep clinic to walk through the start, finish, and transitions of the actual Ironman course before for the big day.
“We’ve turned it into not only a training event, but it’s a social event too,” Norman said. “We want people to come away from the weekend knowing they pushed themselves and worked hard, but also having met great people and come away with good memories.”
Norman said they program has been growing in popularity and registration fills up every year with athletes ranging from 18 to 65.
“They get challenges physically, they learn a lot about the course, but they also come away feeling stronger and better about themselves,” he said.
And, it’s not just for athletes training for an Ironman. The course can be adapted for people who may not be ready for those long-distance runs, swims, or bike rides, Norman said.
“A lot of people come into these types of events thinking they are the one who is most out of shape or they are the only one who hasn’t done it before,” he said. “They think everyone else is an expert. But, then they find out there are a lot of other people facing the same challenges they are. It’s really all about camaraderie.”