At the end of June, I’ll be heading to a beautiful place to do nothing but run with about 75 other people.
My non-running acquaintances think this is the opposite of an ideal vacation.
Well, maybe that’s why they’re acquaintances and not friends — pretty much all the people I consider “friends” are runners.
I’ll be in the Great Smoky Mountains with the Derby City Athletic Club for our annual cross-country camp. About 60 youth from ages 8-18 will be there, running their little butts off every day — and loving it.
Our home base is four cabins in Townsend, Tenn., about 30 minutes west of Gatlinburg. It’s much prettier and quieter than Gatlinburg, and gives us easy access to Cades Cove.
If you’ve never been to Cades Cove, pack your bags — and running shoes — as soon as possible.
Cades Cove is a 10-mile scenic loop. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the paved loop is only open to pedestrian and cycling traffic.
In addition to countless deer, turkey, cows and horses, there are also bears. Which is okay, until you realize your responsible for making sure the 10 kids watching the bear with you need to make it home alive.
The loop has two roads intersecting the loop, making for shorter loops of about 5 and 8 miles.
It is exactly as hilly as you would expect from a scenic loop in the mountains.
There are also tons of trails in and around Cades Cove that we run on as well, giving the kids a good mix of road and dirt surfaces.
There are also lots of creeks, perfect for ice baths after the runs.
It’s hard for me to not think it’s a perfect getaway — amazing volunteers provide me with three great meals a day, I run twice a day, I take a nap, I play games and go river rafting.
And I get to spend time with the greatest group of kids I’ve ever met. They make me feel guilty about my own behavior at their age. The runners come to us from a variety of schools in the Louisville area, and occasionally places farther away.
Despite being teenagers in close quarters, I’ve yet to see any major conflict.
It could be because they’re too tired.
They’re smart, compassionate toward each other and passionate about running.
The enthusiasm that bubbles out of them and into their running is infectious.
When adults go running, it is often a chore — something to do to stay in shape or because it’s on a training schedule we feel compelled to follow.
But these kids are having serious fun. They’ll come back with various treasures found along the way. They sing, they laugh, they climb trees.
On the week’s long run at camp, the high school boys think it is funny to wear spandex shorts and temporarily spray their hair neon green.
Okay, so the runs take a little longer with all the silliness, but who cares?
Besides, if a 13-year-old will wake up at 7:30 a.m. to go run 8 miles, I have no excuse.
During camp, each run is broken into multiple distances and runners work with coaches to determine the best plan for their individual training. We’re also lucky to have a parent chaperone who is an amazing physical therapist.
Runners spend the week completing various competitions and tasks in teams, then finish with a short race — in costumes.
There’s nothing better than seeing kids covered in paint and body feathers going all out down the side of a mountain.
I’m sure unfortunate onlookers have been very confused.
Then we feed them pizza and send them to Gatlinburg for henna tattoos and airbrush T-shirts, because hey, they are kids.
Some people look forward to vacations sitting on a tropical beach lounging all day. While I wouldn’t turn that down if it was offered to me, it’d be hard to ever beat DCAC camp.
And I can’t wait to be sitting in a cold stream, having a water fight with a bunch of teenagers who kicked my butt on a 10-mile run.