Another retreat has gone by, and once again I’m amazed how easy it seems to come together. These weekends are always a pleasant reminder of just how much I love hosting these retreats, bringing together a group of people to embrace the magic of the trails. There were 18 of us, some trying the trails for the first time, others training for their first 50 miler. Yet that didn’t seem to interfere with the group dynamic; if anything, it made it better. It didn’t matter that some people were more experienced than others, or that people ran (or hiked) different paces. Or that the ages ranged from early thirty’s to late fifty’s. The trails are very welcoming and offer the perfect setting to embrace our differences. And maybe that’s part of the reason why I’ve been able to adopt a “go with the flow” attitude when it comes to hosting these retreats.

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When I first started organizing these weekends, I would worry constantly. Will I have enough participants? Will there be good group cohesion and dynamics? Will the weather cooperate? Will everyone’s needs and expectations be met? Have I set the right schedule?

But there’s been a shift recently. It’s not to say I no longer have worries. My mind continues to be on auto-pilot as I try to ensure that all needs are being met. But I’ve also learned to simply trust that things will work out. And to leverage more on the collective energy of the group, and let them direct the flow of events.

The most challenging part of the weekend is the thoughtful consideration of the agenda; trying to anticipate the right blend of run time, discussion sessions and down time is tricky, especially when I know very little of the participants ahead of time. And the weather can certainly put a wrench into my most well laid-out plan. But compared to past retreats, I was more laid-back in my approach this time. Although I had a general outline of how the weekend would unravel, I was equally prepared to adjust it on the fly as needed. Between the other coach Alistair Munroe and I, we had a large variety of topics that we could easily talk about based on the needs of the group. And Hockley Valley has no shortage of trails to explore; other than darkness, there are no official closing hours so the runs can easily be adjusted. Despite the gloomy weekend forecast, I stayed optimistic, albeit ready to switch to Plan B as needed. And as luck (or fate) would have it, the heavy rain, strong wind, lightning and thunder did indeed clear up when it was time to head out for our run. When our evening bonfire had to be cancelled due to rain, we all enjoyed our fallback plan of stretching out on the floor and watching the Barkley Marathon.

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But perhaps most importantly, I would simply take a pause here and there, and get a feel for what the group was seeking and adjust accordingly. Maybe this meant veering off topic and discussing an entirely new topic, or shortening (or lengthening) the run; whatever the need was, I could adjust. And over the course of the weekend, I would observe a similar response by the participants.

One of my favorite parts of the retreat is witnessing the evolution of the runners. And I’m not just talking about their increased confidence levels on the trails (it’s amazing how much more fluid and skilled runners are on Sunday compared to Saturday!) So often, runners show up on Friday night, motivated to get a certain amount of distance under their belt. But as the weekend progresses, most of them come to realize that this weekend is more than the physical exertion. Come Saturday mid afternoon (or earlier), many of them have adopted the care-free vibe of the retreat and embraced the trails even more, taking a pause in their run to take pictures and simply appreciate nature’s beauty.

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The retreat is truly a collective effort of the group. Each person brings something unique to the experience, and serves as an inspiration. Our guest speaker Chantal Warriner inspired each and one of us, as she shared her tips for balancing being a mom, working full time, and attempting to run solo the entire Bruce Trail (close to 900km!). Alistair is a prime example of how a master runner adjusts his training to continue kicking some serious ass! Furthermore, each participant has their own personal story to tell. And this is what makes the weekend truly remarkable. Although I can wear my project manager and coaching hats, this will only take me so far. It’s truly a result of the collective effort of the group to share in their experience, to relax and to let the weekend evolve as it should.

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I’m very grateful to have spent the weekend with the group, especially since they inspire me in my own running ambitions and with my future retreats. I’m now planning my next retreat “The Women’s Trail Running Fall Retreat in Blue Mountain on October 13-15”, and I couldn’t be more excited. I wonder how I can make this future weekend even better than the last?

TRAIL RUN RETREAT

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