Cross Country camps: Fresh perspectives on an old ritual

Cross Country camps have traditionally ushered in the fall season. They serve as places where runners can bond, build their mileage, and establish a baseline for the fall run.

Neal Levy, the girls’ cross-country coach at Long Island power North Shore, serves as the assistant director for the Foundation Cross Country Camp in Copake, NY. Levy, who had never been a big proponent of camps, began to explore their merits four years ago after his runners chose to attend them for social reasons.  When Levy was approached by the Foundation Camp's directors, Mike Frazer and Tim Boyens, to become the camp’s training director for the summer of 2010, his own philosophy began to take shape.

“I think the problem (in camps) is in terms of educating,” said Levy. “I think what happens is you cater to the needs of the masses and not the individual.”

Levy noticed that at some camps, two-a-day workouts were common. For some athletes, this was advisable. For others, it didn’t fit their routine.

“It’s very different when you send kids to an environment where the philosophy is different from your own (program’s),” said Levy. “We’re a volume-based program (at North Shore), and we don’t ever run twice a day.”

Recognizing how jarring that change can be, Levy has tailored the needs of his camp to the few. For instance, Foundation offers the option for a second daily workout, or an alternative activity, like yoga.

“We cater our training to the needs of all kids, not just one mass workout regardless of ability,” said Levy.

For Pawling coach Jack Power, the running-camp experience had its merits. However, he believed that he could replicate that experience for his runners, with the comforts of home.

“We run our own camp,” said Power. “I noticed that when kids go away and are not able to sleep in their own bed and eat their own food, they don’t respond as well.”

Power’s Green Mountain Lake Camp in Pawling features multiple daily runs, guest speakers, and team meetings in the evenings where different aspects of the sport are discussed. Power reckons that this “in-house” experience is at least as productive as a traditional camp, and saves his runners a bundle.

“I hardly have to charge them anything,” said Power.

Training aside, it’s hard to underscore the value of the camp experience for a team. Whether or not the training clicks, or the beds need softening, the chance to spend a couple of days in the woods- or the burbs- as a team, has its own benefit.

“The most important thing is that our team comes together,” said Manhasset boys coach Steve Steiner, whose team attended the Foundation camp in late August. “It’s a chance for them to bond. They’re constantly on the internet, or on their cell phones. It’s a chance for them to step away from that.”