When it comes to Birdcamp, you probably fall into one of two buckets:
- What the heck is Birdcamp? Did you take up yet another new hobby? Are you birding?
- Or, you’re a member of the Oiselle Volee and are familiar with Birdcamp, might have gone in the past, or were totally there this weekend to experience the magic!
Either way, I’m going to share my experience with you. This will be long, but I promise it will be filled with lots of pictures from the weekend!
I’ve been a member of the Volee for almost 3 years now. The Volee is a ‘team’ of runners and fans of the Seattle-based clothing brand, Oiselle. You pay an annual fee for membership and in exchange you receive a portion back as credit to use towards their shop (team branded singlets, running shorts, sweaters, etc), and your fees then go towards funding their professional team, the Haute Volee team (emerging elite athletes), and their charitable contributions such as their Bras for Girls program.
Birdcamp came onto my radar last year when I heard they were doing a long weekend, running focused, summer camp. I wanted to go, but there was talk of a North Carolina version which sounded much better for my budget and travel plans. Unfortunately, it didn’t go forward and I had already passed on the main Birdcamp. But man, did I have FOMO! So I made myself a promise that I would attend this year, no matter what!
As soon as registration opened up in February, I was on it! I registered for the group cabin lodging the second the email came through. Only that night did I have regrets about putting myself in a room full of random strangers; I didn’t really know anyone going at that point, so maybe I should have stuck with the single room cabins. I actually emailed them the next morning asking for the switch, but alas, the single rooms were already full. Maybe it would all work out in the end?
Thankfully, we know that these things always do, and it just happened that I talked about it enough that one of my besties, Stephanie, asked me ‘what is this Volee you always talk about and how do I get in on this Birdcamp action?’ It didn’t take long before she registered and was signed up as well. Now it was just a waiting game for the 7 long months before the day arrived! As we got closer though, I started hearing that more and more of my North Carolina teammates would be in attendance. I didn’t know them very well as we would only just see each other at the occasional team event. I was excited to get to know them better, as well as immerse myself in the whole experience with other Volee team members.
Finally, Friday August 23rd was here! I had packed and repacked so many times. I left room for all the fun swag that had been announced (Solomon shoes, rumpl travel sets, NUUN hydration tabs, etc.), and for the Oiselle camp store with some newly released pieces from their latest collections. I was up at 5am partially from nerves, but mainly because I had to get in one last run per my New York Marathon training plan. Workout done, showered, and then it was off to the airport! We bumped into my coach, Jess, and a few of the ladies from the Raleigh Distance Project who are also members of the Haute Volee, and we boarded the next two flights for Newark, NJ.
After arriving at Newark, we made our way to the Terminal B Starbucks to meet up with the 50 or so other ‘birds’ (that’s what we call our Oiselle Volee flock), that were waiting for the Newark shuttles to take us to camp. We had a couple of hours to kill so we got to chat and start to get acquainted with one another before our long drive commenced. At some point I looked around and saw someone who looked a lot like Olympian Kara Goucher. I thought to myself: ‘No, there’s no way she’s on the shuttle with the lowly masses.’ Sure enough, she was, and in fact, she ended up in our shuttle in particular. We enjoyed a long ride to Camp IHC all getting to know each other, commiserating over the amount of Friday afternoon traffic, and talking about our excitement for the weekend ahead.
Due to the traffic, everyone at Birdcamp was kind enough to delay the opening ceremonies until the Newark shuttles arrived. But by the time we rolled out of the vans with our gear, we were ready to get moving again and settle into camp. It looked pretty spectacular from our walk in! A beautiful lake with giant inflatables on the other end, paddle boards and canoes, and a giant lodge right in front of us. The lawn was sprinkled with people mingling and drinking wine. It looked like the perfect start to the weekend! We went straight to registration to check in and begin picking up our swag. First, we grabbed a bag full of unknown goodies, then it was off to pick up Oiselle branded Pro-Compression socks, our beautiful wooden name tags, exclusive Kami Jammies and finally a pair of Salomon road or trail shoes (we had our pick).
Steph and I made our way to cabin 11a, the Honey Buzzards, and were pleasantly surprised to find a couple of our shuttle mates already getting situated as well. We picked our beds, dropped off our bags, and made our way to the opening ceremonies and dinner. We heard from Sally (Founder), Lesko (responsible for the team), and Steph W. (organizer and herder of cats for the whole weekend long event). We had a few other speakers including the amazing Lauren Fleshman (pro-champion runner, founder of Picky Bars, and Wilder Run/Writing retreats, etc) who kicked us off with setting our intention for the weekend. It was a special evening but by the end we were definitely ready to get settled in our bunks. It had been a long travel day and we couldn’t wait for what Saturday would bring.
Prior to camp, we had signed up for various sessions through the Guidebook app. First things first on Saturday was breakfast (obviously), and then it was off to a track session with the one-and-only Kara Goucher. Breakfast was pretty awesome and we could tell from the start that the camp staff was going to spoil us. A regular menu was provided, as well as special diet needs including vegan and gluten-free; whatever you required was pretty much covered. After we were well-fed, it was off to the flagpole to get into our breakout groups.
I joined the crew running to the track with Kara, and Steph was off to aqua jogging with elite athlete Allie Kieffer. The weather was much cooler than Raleigh, but the staff assured us the pool would be heated and far more comfortable than the outside temps. In fact, by the time I arrived at the track from our jog there, I was hot and already sweaty. I had worn a long sleeved shirt having been freezing all morning, but I embraced the sports bra workout as I knew I’d be very uncomfortable in the hot sun trying to do repeats and various track sprints. I paired up with Annie from Missouri and we did relays around the track, ending with a final run through an archway made of the ladies as they finished. It was something special to run through the cheering campers and I was already feeling emotional just one session in to the weekend. After that, Kara lets us through some core work and released us to our next activity. Mine happened to be tackling the Birdcamp store which was opening in just a few minutes. I couldn’t wait to see what new and exclusive goodies were going to be displayed!
I was close to the front of the line so had my pick of the garments. Oh did I go nuts! It didn’t help that I was freezing from poor packing (what did I say about how many times I packed and repacked?), so there were definitely a few sweaters in my pile. I went through my goods, trying things on and making my ‘keep’ pile. I picked up the new lux scarf, a quilted zip up hoodie in crimson, and a couple of additional sweaters and a pair of joggers. Ultimately, I was happy with my final haul and was much more comfortable for the rest of camp!
My next session was on sports nutrition with RD Nancy Clark. I had recently listened to an interview with her on the Science of Ultras podcast, so I was looking forward to the session. She shared some more insights and had copies of her book on hand for us to reference even further.
Then, Steph and I regrouped for a little adventure on the camp zip lines. It was a hike to the top of the campus, but we then made our way down the 4 ziplines manned by the fantastic camp staff. It was fun chatting with the various staffers who were there from all over the world (Ireland, Australia, Wales, New Zealand, etc). We then rushed over to Pilates led by my coach, Jess. I was so excited to be able to take her class at Birdcamp, though I probably had a bit of regret the next day with my aching core and booty! It was such a great whole body workout though, and the perfect end to my Saturday sessions.
Steph and I made some time to relax a bit and made our way to the small beach with our bunkmates Leslie and Mary Beth. After launching ourselves from the long water slide into the lake a few times, jumping on the trampoline, and climbing (or attempting to) the various inflatables, we hung out on the beach before making our way back to the flagpole for dinner and our second night session.
For our final presentation of the evening, Kara Goucher discussed Sports Psychology and the evolution of her career with us. It was so inspiring and eye-opening… and incredible how much she has fought for throughout her career and the work that she continues to do. I had brought my copy of her book, Strong, to camp to hopefully capture her signature. Thankfully she was open to signing and selfies after her presentation. One of the best parts of Birdcamp was how accessible all of the elites were: hanging out with us, joining us for our workouts and runs, and giving tips or sharing insights throughout the whole weekend. I went to bed that night exhausted and ready to tackle another day.
Sunday came early as it was long run day! We had a light breakfast, geared up for our runs, and made our way back to the flagpole to set off. If campers were injured, or just not in the mood for a long run, they could also do mountain biking with guides from the camp, or hang out on the property. The long run course was an out-and-back that was a mix of gravel, dirt path, and paved roadways, but no matter which surface, it included rolling hills. The main highlight being a huge hill around mile 3.5. My training called for 11 miles that day so there was no avoiding it.
I threw on my Aftershokz, put on some Mumford, and joined the crowd as we made our way out. I could have found some people in my particular pace group, but I didn’t want the pressure of having to keep up with anyone, so I just took in the views and occasionally chatted with runners that were in my vicinity. It was a beautiful course and I loved the support from runners in various stages as they passed from their turn around points or when we stopped at various aid stations. Soon enough, I was on my way back and rolling into camp ready for a hot shower.
After our long run, we were served the most amazing brunch by camp staff. It was going to be really hard going back to reality after all this weekend filled with foods meeting all of our special dietary needs. I loaded up on some gluten free pancakes, bacon, and eggs, and felt properly fueled for my next round of sessions. First up was Trail Running 101 with the amazing ultra-runner, Cat Bradley, then a Career Satisfaction chat with Lesko. Finally, I had a two hour writing seminar with elite and professional runner Lauren Fleshman.
The writing seminar was nothing like what I expected. I had heard great things about previous sessions that took place during the weekend, but I thought it was going to teach me to be a better blogger or something along those lines. Clearly that is not the case. But it was more about a style of writing called ‘wild writing‘ that takes prompts, poem reads, and then letting yourself get ‘uncomfortable’ with silence and following to the train of thought in your head. It was fascinating and I really enjoyed the process, though it proved to be very emotional and at the same time, therapeutic. The title of this post is actually one of the writing prompts that we were given in the session. I ultimately liked the exercise so much that I ordered one of her notebooks that offers tips and writing prompts so I can continue it on my own. Maybe one day I’ll also be able to participate in one of Lauren’s Wilder running and writing retreats. But until then, it’s back to Birdcamp!
After the multiple back-to-back sessions, Stephanie and I headed over to the happy hour and dinner. We had a pleasant surprise in discovering that Steph had been selected to be one of the models for the fashion show. She couldn’t remember what she had checked when she filled out the registration form, but apparently she said ‘yes’ to the fashion show and was one of the lucky few who was selected. I couldn’t wait to see her rock it down the runway! I headed over to watch with my bunk mates Mary Beth and Leslie.
Soon, the lights were dimmed and we were told to put our phones away. There was going to be some new product being unveiled and we had to keep it on the down-low. The fellow birds that were selected for the fashion show started coming out and they looked amazing! We loved seeing all of the new apparel and I cannot wait to snatch up the new yeti design for 2019. When Steph came out, I was cheering extra hard and got a little emotional seeing her up on that stage. She rocked it and I was so proud of her for getting out there! Finally, Lauren and Kara came out and while I wish I could share what they were wearing, let me just tell you that it looked fantastic, and you’ll just have to wait for the Olympic trials for Kara’s getup.
After the fashion show, we were ushered out so that they could transform the room for our Kami Jammies dance party. The wine and beer were flowing and we were all ready to dance the night away. The dance floor and stage were taken over and we were dancing with our peers, elites, an inflatable dinosaur, and a giant inflatable banana that was being thrown around. We had a blast and finally called it a night a few hours later when we crawled into our already dark cabin.
Monday rolled around and it was sadly the final day of Birdcamp. We were all pretty slow to get up after the shenanigans of the previous night, but a few of the ladies headed out for one last trail run while Steph and I hung back to pack… I had done a bit of shopping and needed to get creative in fitting everything back into my bags. Lesson learned for next time: if you think you have enough space, you probably still need some more. Pack an extra empty bag!
Once we were packed, we headed back to the Playhouse for some closing remarks, recognition of the Haute Volee, and guided final thoughts led by Lauren. Then we were back to the flagpole to lower the Birdcamp flag as Lauren sang the camp song one last time. It was bittersweet as we made our way around the lawn with final goodbyes, photo opps, and then to gather our bags to head back to the airport shuttles.
I left the weekend feeling enriched, inspired, and exhausted; but also so very motivated and fulfilled. Birdcamp met all of my expectations and more. It was amazing being surrounded by so many strong women, runners of all abilities, and a welcoming community. I’m thankful that I found the Volee and am encouraged to continue to engage with our local group, as well as stay connected with many of the ladies that I met over this amazing weekend. I have plans to continue ‘wild writing,’ read Kara’s book, test out the trail running techniques that Cat taught us, and to keep pushing myself further with my running goals!