This is Matt Wisner’s weekly column. This is column 3, which I had missed. You will column #4 tomorrow. Matt runs the 800m at the University of Oregon. Over the summer, he wrote for @runblogrun at the Olympic Trials and remotely for the Olympics. Matt wrote this piece on the Oregon cross country camp. I am sure you will enjoy it.
Matt Wisner, photo from Matt Wisner
Notes on Oregon cross country camp
By Matt Wisner
Every year, the University of Oregon cross country team travels a few hours east to Sunriver for preseason camp. It’s a resort town in the mountains near Bend. Sunriver sits at 4,200 feet—probably not quite high enough elevation to receive any additional physiological benefits but high enough to feel a difference. All the other people who are in Sunriver in September are either golfers or retired or both.
We usually go to Sunriver for three weeks—enough time for a complete mindset shift, a chance to mimic the lifestyle of a professional runner. The days are organized around training sessions. There are no preoccupations of balancing running with schoolwork or a job or a boyfriend or anything else. It’s a time to focus. And it’s easy to focus.
But this year was different. The Oregon wildfires really harmed the air quality in Sunriver. (The AQI was over 500 the day we left.) We were only in Sunriver for a couple days before we had to return to Eugene, where the air was somehow pristine. The smoke stayed away, I guess because Eugene is nestled in the Emerald Valley, or because the air flows from west to east, or because we were graced with a stroke of luck or our prayers were successful or whatever else. We trained from home, which was fine, actually very good, but there’s some kind of immeasurable benefit that comes with being at camp, some kind of undefined dimension of your relationship to running that comes out, and it makes training better. It feels more serious when you’re away. There’s an implicit agreement that everybody is on their best behavior; you eat better, you run an extra mile at the end of every run, you stretch more often, you’re more singularly focused on being a runner. The list continues. Camp is magic.
When the air got better, we returned to Sunriver. We were there for seven days: enough time for a couple workouts, lots of miles, and lots of time spent with teammates. One morning we got up early to run a fartlek on the golf course fairways before the first scheduled tee time. It was the coldest morning I’d felt all summer. The dew on the grass was still icy and soaked my trainers. (Our team creative director, Matt Parker, made a YouTube video about it, and it’s really good.)
I ran the highest mileage week of my life (74), the longest run of my life (15), and ate more spaghetti in a week than I’d ever eaten before (too many spaghettis to count). It’s always seemed to me that preseason camp is the time to do that.
Camp is also the time to get closer to your teammates. You have no choice but to spend all your time with them, and sometimes you get close to somebody you weren’t expecting to. We did all sorts of fun things. We held a contest to see who could swim the furthest underwater. The coaches hosted a trivia night. My roommates and I watched all of The White Lotus on HBO (best television show of the year in my opinion). We also had a lot of time to ourselves; I read a bunch, and penned an essay about my friend Cole Hocker turning Pro for Nike and how his fandom of Kanye West has contributed to his success as a runner. While I did that, my roommates mostly worked on a jigsaw puzzle.
We hosted the first ever Oregon Cross Country Met Gala. The women’s team had the responsibility of asking a member of the men’s team to be their date. The Gala would begin at 8 p.m. sharp on Saturday night, and the outfits were to be inspired by real outfits from the real Met Gala, which happened a few days before our version of the event. Everybody took it really seriously. We meticulously planned our outfits. There were multiple trips to local thrift stores. Somebody dressed up in a makeshift version of Little Nas X’s extravagant robe. Somebody else’s outfit was inspired by Timothee Chalamet’s all-white ensemble (sweatpants to the Met Gala, really?). I tried to mimic Pete Davidson’s look, which kind of resembled a nun’s uniform. Everybody walked down the red carpet and posed for the group. We cheered for each other. We’re closer because of it.
The Met Gala reminded me of what attracted me to cross country when I was only 13. It’s always been a bunch of weirdos being weird together. Trying to run as fast as you can is deranged behavior. I think it’ll always be deranged behavior. When I first joined the cross country team, some people were fast, and some of them were slow. But everybody ran the same distance and tried to make it hurt and bonded because of it. It was a haven for the weirdos. The boys wore short shorts and shaved their legs and weren’t ridiculed for it. There were no cuts. My school’s team had a weird Dungeons and Dragons kid and an anime-obsessed boy and a horse girl. Cross country has always attracted the weird kids, and the Met Gala made me remember that I’m still around those weird kids; they’re just a couple years older and very, very fast now.
That was my first and last cross country camp at Oregon. I loved every minute.