How I Healed My Relationship With Exercise and Learned to Embrace Rest at...Wait for It...Running Camp

nike camp
Everything I Learned From Nike Running CampNike: Fred Goris and Zach Hetrick

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Content warning: This story contains details about disordered eating and eating disorders.

I’d be lying if I said my running journey has an inspiring, feel-good start. In the beginning, my goal wasn’t to move my body more or improve my cardiovascular fitness or even reduce my stress levels. The truth is that I was deep into a cycle of disordered eating and compulsive exercise—I knew it burned a lot of calories plus it was the summer of 2020 and all of my go-to gyms were closed due to the pandemic. So I hit the ground running...quite literally.

I didn’t ease into things or follow a training plan. I simply ran for as long and as hard as I could almost every single day. Aside from causing severe shin splints, this toxic approach also resulted in my developing an aggressive, all-or-nothing mindset. If I wasn’t going to push myself to the absolute limit during a workout—whether that be by running for a certain amount of time, drastically increasing my mileage, or burning a certain number of calories—I wasn’t going to run at all. And honestly, running wasn’t a form of release or an opportunity to better myself—back then, it served as punishment for (what I considered to be) poor diet choices.

After embarking on a yearlong healing journey, going to therapy, and harnessing the power of mindfulness and meditation, I managed to break the cycle of disordered eating and compulsive exercise. I’m much healthier these days, and I’ve fallen in love with running (for pleasure, not punishment)—but I’ve struggled to break out of the mindset that the only good run is a hard run. So when Nike invited me to attend a two-day camp designed to challenge the way we think about the sport and help “people who run for fun” step into their power as bona fide runners, I immediately RSVP’d.

The picturesque setting

To kick off the trip, we met at Nike’s gorgeous Upper East Side location in New York City to shop the brand’s latest and greatest running gear (more on that below!). Then we took a bus up to our destination for the next few days: Wildflower Farms in Hudson Valley, New York.

The luxury wellness retreat is surrounded by wildflower fields, natural landscapes, hiking trails, and farmland, which really set the tone for a completely transformative and restorative experience. Everyone seemed open to the process and ready to learn—plus, the team brought Nike Running global head coach (and a world-class motivational speaker, IMO) Chris Bennett along for the ride. So, from the start, I could tell this press trip was going to be special.

nike camp
Nike: Fred Goris and Zach Hetrick

The aha moment

Before our first group run, Coach Bennett did what he does best and became the ultimate hypeman. But his pep talk wasn’t at all what I expected to hear from such a seasoned veteran. Instead of echoing phrases that usually go through my head during a workout—like “embrace the pain,” “push your pace,” or “not good enough”—Coach Bennett encouraged us to enter a judgment-free zone where it’s okay to listen to your body and start slow...real slow.

nike camp
Nike: Fred Goris and Zach Hetrick

He shared that, as a Nike coach, his biggest challenge isn’t getting people to run once—it’s getting them to run again. And it makes total sense—they start out too fast, it’s incredibly painful, they feel defeated, then they are sore for days and don’t want to try again.

That nugget of insight hit home. It’s exactly how my running journey started, which is the reason running so often feels like a chore for me or a job I’m not doing well enough. Hello, aha moment! As Coach Bennett says, “If you can run, you can fly,” but as I say, “If you hate running, you can’t do either.”

These epiphanies may sound minor in the grand scheme of things, especially because I have a much healthier approach to diet and exercise these days. So why am I making a big deal about them? Well, my secret lil goal for 2023 (that I haven’t fully committed to just yet lol) is to run the New York City Marathon in November! The only thing stopping me from signing up is the fear that drastically increasing my mileage would trigger toxic old habits. Running a marathon is something I’ve wanted to do for years but not if it means I’ll once again start to obsess over my diet and exercise routine. If I want to achieve this big goal while staying healthy and happy, I know I have to adjust my mindset.

The Nike Run Club workout

Coach Bennett is a master at helping shift mindsets, so his pep talk gave me a lot to think about. My opportunity to take his advice came during our first workout: a 20-minute guided run (narrated by Coach Bennett himself!) on the Nike Run Club app. The audio reiterated everything Coach Bennett shared with us about taking it easy, being present, and honoring your body.

nike camp
Nike: Fred Goris and Zach Hetrick

His words helped me realize that the easiest workouts can be just as beneficial and effective as the hard ones, and the idea that moving my body can and should feel good finally clicked! So if any of this resonates with you or if you have been wanting to get into running but have no idea where to start, I highly suggest downloading the app and listening to the guided workout titled “First Run.”

nike camp
Zach Hetrick

The rest of the trip was just as empowering as that first run—from restorative meditation and stretching sessions to open and honest campfire chats. For me, the entire eye-opening experience boiled down to two things: grace and gratitude. Gratitude for my body when I have a great workout and grace for my body when I don’t have a great workout...or don’t even want to move my body at all that day. The easy runs that allow me to be present and actually enjoy myself are invaluable.

The real-life application

If you’ve ever been to summer camp, you know there’s such thing as a “camp high.” You feel on top of the world because you’re immersed in this incredibly inspiring and empowering environment...then you go home and your normal day-to-day feels like a bit of a letdown. As a former camp kid myself, I was conscious of this throughout the entire press trip. I knew I didn’t want to experience that post-camp slump and revert to old habits when I left, so I made mental notes about how I could actually implement what I learned into my daily workout routine at home. Sure, grace and gratitude are nice buzzwords but what do they actually look like in practice? And how can they help me complete a marathon?

For me, giving myself grace means *gradually* easing into training. I show up for myself every day, no matter what’s going on at work or in my personal life. On the bad days when my body is hurting, I slow down or simply walk. On the good days when I feel strong, I resist the urge to overdo it. I try to find at least one positive takeaway from every workout that does not revolve around my pace (I rarely even wear my Apple Watch anymore!). I don’t try to zone out during my runs or “just get it over with”—whether I have 20 minutes or two hours, I make an effort to be present. And most importantly, I put an end to the criticism and negative self-talk. I try my hardest to remember that it’s okay to take it easy—and I refuse to let burnout culture convince me otherwise! I walk if my body doesn’t want to run, I stay in on a Friday night if my social battery is low, I set boundaries at work if I’m feeling overwhelmed...the list goes on. Protect your peace, people!

The finishing touches

Okay, now back to that merch I mentioned earlier (I couldn’t write about Nike without sharing some product recs!). As part of the press trip, we got to shop the brand’s latest and greatest running gear—including sweat-wicking sports bras, lightweight leggings that have convenient hidden pockets, insulated clothing that provides warmth while protecting against wind and rain, and, of course, state-of-the-art running shoes that feature an ultra-flexible design and supportive cushioning throughout.

Keep scrolling to shop my absolute favorite pieces! Because “look good, feel good” is a real thing, and running in an outfit you love makes all the difference in your overall mindset.

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