Every summer, Morristown West takes the team and coaches, along with a couple moms, to Gatlinburg for team camp. We cram on a short bus, ride around screaming songs in our lovely voices, barely sleep, wake up before the crack of dawn, get lost, and go through blood, sweat, and tears...daily. Fun, right?
Yes it is! (For the most part.)
We left the school on Saturday, July 12th, around 2:00, crammed three to every seat, not including a guy who was coming up later that night.
This is our cabin in Black Bear Ridge Resort: home to around 40 runners for the next 6 days. Quite different from when the girls of my youth group stay in the cabin next door each spring for our annual girls' retreat.
Our first run is called "the road to nowhere," because it is on a deserted road, closed to all people and vehicles (except construction workers), which we always run on anyways. Each year the run gets a little bit longer as the road gets a little farther up. And I do mean UP...and up and up and up until you get to the end of the road. It also gets steeper and steeper as it goes. 4.25 miles of it. Then we get to go back down, though! There is also a really pretty view up there.
Since no one had taken up our phones yet, Cherie brought hers on the run to snap some pictures while we had the chance!
After asking the "head mom" if she needed help with anything, I was dubbed "cake carrier" and led everyone in singing happy birthday to one of our sophomore girls, Calista, who got the privilege of having her 15th birthday on the first day of camp.
One morning, after begging our coach to let us do something fun on our own, we got to make bracelets! Chantal and Cherie brought the string and beads to show us how to make bracelets a way they had learned on a trip. We really enjoyed doing a less-constructive activity on our own for a change.
This is the one I made!
This game actually was super fun! It is called "Chuck the Chicken." You split up into two teams (we did boys versus girls). One team chucks the chicken, then gets in a big huddle (like above) with one person running around them in circles. Each lap is a point. Meanwhile, the other team sprints to the chicken, lines up, and passes it through the line over-under-over-under style. The last person in line chucks the chicken and it starts over again, the teams switching roles each time. The game usually ends when everyone literally cannot go anymore because of exhaustion, but we just went until it was time for lunch. This really is an exhausting game!
This is me, chucking the chicken.
Each morning between breakfast and activities, we split up girls and guys, and did Bible Study/Devotion time. Kate, the "head mom"'s daughter, a boy's team member's sister, and West High XC alumni, led us.
Our team-building games seem to me to be Coach Farmer's #1 focus at camp. We may go to bed at 11:30 or not eat meals until it's bed time, but we will sure play the bonding games. This game is river crossing, which we have become pros at over the past few years. Every board must always have pressure on it, or else it is "swept away in the current." When you lose a board, it is gone for good; there is also a limited number of boards. Coach Farmer kept extending the "bank of the river," so whenever we thought we were across, surprise: we weren't. We made it over with everyone, including a "blind" teammate, despite extra challenges.
This game is called mountain tops. We have to figure out how to get from one box to another, all people starting on one of 4 boxes, finally getting everyone off and behind the box Jessica (pink tank) is standing on. We have 2 different sized boards, neither of which can touch the ground. Neither can the people.
This game was made more difficult than last year, because our pipes were not allowed to touch each other, and we couldn't touch anyone else's pipe either. Each different ball (bouncy, golf, marble, etc) represented a problem (stress, dissention, weather, fatigue, injury, etc) that we had to pass through and drop in a bucket. The ball could not stop or go backwards. Once the ball left your pipe, you had to hurry back down to the end of the line because the distance was longer than our line.
This game ended up being near impossible for us, so Coach Farmer changed it and let us do the river crossing game, which is similar.
One group activity that we do is a circle of hands. Each team member traces her hand and writes her name inside it. We all discuss and write things that we want to keep in our team inside the circle and write bad things we want to keep out on the outside. Some girls did not go to camp, so they will have to add their hands on top at a later time.
We had never done this activity in my three years so far, but some of the seniors did their freshman year. We took a towel from the cabin (Farmer said he paid for it), and destroyed it. Well, kinda. All over the towel we wrote things we want to get out of our team this season. Many of those things are the same or similar to the words on the poster, but some were a little more, such as, "back to back state champions," "stay hungry to win," and others. I wrote enjoyment, because joy is my favorite word, and I tend to get really caught up in competition and doing work that I put performance before my own good sometimes. I want to make sure that I am getting out of cross country what God wants me to get out of it. After we discuss and write, we cut the towel into pieces for each girl. We saved some room for the others who weren't there.
You miss a lot of stuff when you don't go to camp.
Tracing our hands for the circle
Day two, the first full day, we started out with a morning run. If you have never been to these cabins, you will not understand what I mean when I say these are the most killer hills I have ever seen in my life. I don't understand how buses and cars make it up, let alone people. We do our 3.5 mile morning runs as a team, leaving no one at any time, so they are around a 14:00 per mile pace. This is terribly slow for me, but I will admit, if I had to do it at my own pace, I would kill myself, my legs would fall off, and I may not make it through the rest of camp.
This picture above is from before we left on Sunday afternoon to go to Mount LeConte. Yep, we run Mount LeConte. (Much of it can't be run, though, because of safety, so I consider most of it a hike)
On the way up, Coach Farmer paired more and less experienced people together. I was with a sophomore, but first-time camper, Ana. She didn't think she was going to make it, but we did; we were the 2nd group of girls to the top, too! We walked quite a bit, but it was a fast walk, and we ran when we could! I am proud that she got all the way up there. Farmer said that this is the first year that he has had everyone make it to the top!
Once we all made it to the top, Farmer made all the girls wait on each other, so we got group pictures on the cliff tops. On the way down, I got to run with two of my best friends that I had not seen, talked to in person, or run with in over a month! We had a great time sharing about our summer, camps, future plans, and even our complaints. I love talks/runs like this with Chantal and Cherie, because we really get each other.
Every other morning, we change our morning workouts. The first and third mornings we do the run down the road and through the cabins. The second and fourth mornings we do circuits. We also have to run half a mile to get there. There are stations set up all around the big open paved area at the wedding chapel. We get in partners and do each station's exercise for a set amount of time, then move to the next. The first day of this, we did 3 sets; the second day we did boy and girl partners (which was really fun) for 4 sets.
6:00am doing core before our morning runs...
...if you walk outside even a second after 6:00, you are late and have to do pushups. One morning, I really had to go to the bathroom, and I needed more than the 30 seconds I had left, so I just stayed in the bathroom until I was finished. When I came outside, my reason for being late was, "I had to go to the bathroom, and I think doing a few pushups is worth not pooping on myself." I ended up finishing my 50 pushups almost 5 minutes before those 3 late boys because they struggle with the arm strength. Farmer said we need to have a pushup camp.
We don't know why we have to get up so early to do this stuff. We always get back and have almost an hour until breakfast is ready. Here are the reasons we don't like this: 1) We are impatient. 2) We want and need to sleep later than 5:40. 3) We are hungry by the time we get back to our cabin. 4) We need to refuel to repair our muscles right when we finish working out.
This is up the final hill before we have to go down a super steep one to the cabin. I honestly believe that the downhill is worse. Most of the team also agrees with me!
Doing strides and drills after every run has become my most favorite thing ever since Furman camp and even more since I've seen through the past few weeks how much better I feel!
At the beginning of camp, we all decorated brown paper bags with our names on them and hung them on the wall. In between meals and runs, we write little encouraging notes to each other, names optional. At the end of camp, we get to take our bags and read them. I didn't end up having time to write everyone a note, but I am still working here at home to make sure that eventually all the girls and boys will receive a note from me!
One of our activities we do each year is lead by a couple dads who had children that ran in previous years. We learn lots of self-defense moves to use if we ever get grabbed on the run.
This game is the spider web. It is a camp staple activity. The goal is for each person to make it through the web with no one ever touching the net/web. This takes a lot of focus, teamwork, strength, patience, and trust!
Unfortunately, this is how I ended up spending most of the game. I was blind. This happened because we made too many mistakes, so something had to happen. I also have bad eyes, and something flew in my eye, so Farmer said, "Let's just continue this problem and say Makenzie went blind this season. Now what do you do?" People also joke that I am a little old lady because I am cold-natured, like to go to bed early, and wear blankets and silly stuff like that. My teammates, especially Elizabeth, did a great job of keeping me updated on our progress, though! I couldn't really see what was happening, but I could visualize it.
I know from experience that it is scary being lifted up through those holes! However, it is really fun, and we always give and receive applause each time anyone makes it across.
Pieces of PVC pipe were kept out for us to mobilize/roll out our muscles with after every run. To be honest, it started to really make my quads feel even more sore than just the slow pounding, so I didn't do it all the time.
Coach Farmer and Coach Owens were obviously taking it to the max while we were in the room next door trying to sleep. They are really loud. It got worse when they went from talking to rolling. Then it was not only loud yell talking, but yelling in pain and laughing like little kids. The next morning we got onto them for keeping us awake even longer.
Along with self-defense, we also do a yoga session. It is really short and basic, but it's a good break and gives some more stretching. This is the downward dog with a partner to pull a deeper stretch.
This looks like a more stereotypical yoga pose.
On the final night, we always come back from our trail run to see the living area transformed and decorated, waiting on us to come devour a pasta and veggie meal. We each also received a shirt that was hanging from the ceiling. Not to brag, but we were told to reach up and grab a random shirt (so they wouldn't fall in our food) then take it to the person whose name was written on the tag, and I grabbed my own shirt!
The Grand Finale
By the last night of camp, we are all near delirious from the lack of sleep, cleanliness, and down time, and just being around these crazy people so much. We usually have a talent show or boys versus girls game night on Wednesday after our dinner, but this year, we were so pressed for time, we didn't even get to do anything. The 3 coaches and 4 elected captains from the boys and girls team also get together and have a meeting and talk about all kinds of stuff important to us. We finished that meeting around 12:15 in the morning, and we went to bed around 12:30. Thank goodness we got to "sleep in" until 7:00.
Around 9:00 (an hour later than planned, but that's how everything works at camp), we loaded the bus for our final destination, Cades Cove. There is an 11 mile road loop to drive through the gorgeous park that also gets quite a bit of foot and bike travel, as well. There are all kinds of things to sight see, natural, man-made, and living creatures, along with bike/hike trails off to the sides. It's my favorite run of camp!
For this run, we have a little competition. Not a race, but there is a prize (a tshirt that says you won). We call it the Cades Cove Prediction Run, where we write down a time we think we may run before we leave the cabin. No watches are allowed on the run, or else you have to do it AGAIN. Since I have done it 3 times now, I can kind of use the changes in scenery and landmarks and signs along the way to help me gauge my progress.
We start out at the entrance to the campground store and go up the road for a bit until we turn onto the driving path. Then there we go...and go and go!
Through the entire run, my goal was to get it done fast. I picked a pretty fast time, 1:17:17, and I honestly wasn't sure that I could do it! That was about a 7:03 mile pace. I was determined to do it fast, and I just couldn't let myself slow down. My new motto for this season is "No Boundaries." I don't want to set limits for myself on what I can do. So I just kept on pushing.
If you're a runner, you know how encouraging it is to know that you are nearing the end of your run, so you get all this extra speed and energy as it approaches. As I could feel myself getting closer, and see the terrain changing, I sped up bit by bit. Then I got back into the trees...crossed the creek...saw a donation box...faster!...saw the horse crossing...now the gate! When we get to the exit gate, we are about a quarter mile away. I had already picked it up a lot, but once I saw that gate, I put the hammer down! I turned left down the road past the parking lot and left into the campground loop. I busted my butt through there and came out behind the building to our finish line in 1:13:52---a 6:56ish pace. (I truly believe that with the campground and road there before and after, we get in at least 11 and a quarter, so my pace may have been faster.
The girl on the far right graduated this year, but met us at Cade's Cove for this run, and kept Emily (blue tank) company along the way. Except for Jessica who was still running at the time, this was our varsity crew from last season! After finally finishing the last run of camp 2014, we were all, like the song we made up and sang the whole week, "readyyyyyyy to go home!"
Jessica and Megan ran Cades Cove together last year and finished it like this, so they are making it a tradition! I ran another campground loop in with them, then ran ahead to the finish to take a picture of them.
These girls are crazy, but they are my crazies! Over the past year, we have all 4 become best friends. We are our own biggest competition, but we are best friends, too. I know that sounds crazy, but it works out quite well. They all 3 ran and finished together in an hour 24 minutes and something seconds, and had been craving that Mayfield soft serve from the campground store for a long time! They were thrilled to finally be licking it up.
These three girls are a hoot!
Abby and Grace (outsides) are sophomores finishing their second year of camp, and Elizabeth (middle) will be a freshman, finishing her first camp and getting started on her first year of cross country! She is also a swimmer, which has put her in great shape, but she is doing awesome! The upperclassmen and coaches see real potential in her.
Abby, left, is one of the sweetest people I know. She has an amazing heart for the Lord and for others. I admire her gentleness, humility, and unselfishness, as well. We've been missing her this week because she is gone to Washington, DC for a mission trip!
Grace, right, is one of those people you just have to know. Her class, sarcasm, and just everything about her are hilarious, but I really can't explain it. She makes us all laugh so much! You just have to meet her to understand...
Yep..our coaches ran it, too! Farmer usually always does, but Owens is into CrossFit, not really running. We are so proud of him, though, because this camp was a huge improvement from last year! Farmer even went slower than his usual so that he could get him through this whole run. Farmer ran in high school and college, so we know he can do it.
I screenshotted this picture from one of the girl's accounts because I just loved it. This is what cross country camp looks like! Celebrating Survival!