WINTER PARK, Colo. — “Rise and shine, porcupine,” sounded harmless enough.
But that wake-up call at a Women’s Quest fitness camp here in October kick- started 48 hours of near nonstop activity. Mountain bike riding in the snow, climbing a 65-foot-high pole and jumping off harnessed to a cable for a 1,400-foot “zip line” ride —it wasn’t exactly calisthenics at day camp.
As a major sponsor of Women’s Quest, Adidas invited seven British and American journalists, including this reporter, to Snow Mountain Ranch to get a firsthand account of how a major activewear company wear-tests its products. Among the attendees were world- class runner Paula Radcliff, an athlete who sponsors the brand, and a few Adidas executives.
Here, a rundown of the Colorado “retreat”:
Saturday, Oct. 16
6:15 a.m: Expected a posh place, but it turns out to be a YMCA camp.
Colleen Cannon, the camp’s founder and a former world champion triathlete, started the day with the wake-up call. In the lodge’s living room, someone softly beat a drum, the signal for attendees to form a circle. Three-stripe fever hit the Rockies as editors turned up in Adidas warmup pants, T-shirts and long-sleeved tops, all provided by the company as part of the wear-testing experiment.
Another Iron Man triathlon finisher and former NCAA swimmer-turned-chiropractor, Lindsey Hansen-Sturm, led a crash course in gyrotonics, three-dimensional spiral exercises that make participants look like high-powered fans.
“You are supposed to breathe as if blowing on a pane of glass.”
Some were breathing a lot harder than that.
8:15 a.m, Trail Run: Campers grabbed heart monitors, Adidas gloves and ear bands to withstand unseasonably and unexpectedly cold weather — it was 32 degrees but Adidas had dressed participants for a milder day.
Gretchen Garside, a researcher at the Adidas human performance lab in Beaverton, Ore., led the pack, taking off like a rabbit. (Participants were later told that Garside had finished 12th in the Portland Marathon this year.)
Radcliff, a 90-mile-per-week runner, dashed by with her fiance, Gary Lough, in tow. During the eight-mile run, Shelley Downing, another reporter, talked about the launch of Trail Running, a magazine in development.
Keeping up, my heart rate reached 189, well over the recommended 155. The pace was faster, and tougher, than expected. After showering, it was time to eat. Eggs Benedict? A western omelet? No, granola.
11:00, Mountain Biking: Put back on the same sweatpants, piled on a few more layers — a clean T-shirt and a royal blue fleece pullover — and headed off to hear pro cyclist Shenna Fitzgerald’s safety tips about jumping logs and navigating trails.
On the bikes, the entourage experienced a few pile-ups and an unexpected snowfall.
2:15 – 4:00: Adidas executives discussed Gore-Tex sneakers and other new products in development and the popularity of trail running, especially in the Northwest. They looked disappointed, though, when reminded that many New York women frequently wear trail running sneakers with skirts or dresses.
Garside talked about a recently completed $15,000 research project about running and the company’s plans to do the same with other categories, with basketball being the next one on deck.
4:00 – 6:45: Scheduled for yoga, but that came later. First, participants were asked to write about goals and expectations in a journal covered with butterflies and inspirational quotes, answering questions about what’s missing in their lives. “Is anyone going to see this?”
Apparently, campers sometimes perform “a sweat-lodge ceremony” in the buff as part of this exercise. Fortunately, it was too cold.
While practicing color and chakra meditation, a reporter remembers Shirley MacLaine channeling similar thoughts in her keynote address at FIT’s graduation this spring, with a puzzled Bill Blass sharing the stage. With this, the yoga instructor advised, “If your mind strays from the exercise, bring it back to center.”
6:00-6:45: The actual yoga began and some wonder why a Bavarian-pretzel type pose is considered the resting position.
6:30, Wake-up call: By day two, everyone was hip to the porcupine trick and the Adidas uniform was beginning to look lived in. With the caffeine supply depleted, many settled for green tea as a warmup for gyrotonics.
No one looked terribly disappointed when rope drills were postponed, due to the 10-degree temperature.
10:00, Hike: The easy part? Not quite. During the trek to 12,200 feet, the group was asked not to speak, in order to better observe animals and nature.
Before getting started, a few travelers asked why jackets weren’t provided for wear-testing. Meanwhile, Kathy Mitchell, Adidas category manager for running, talked about the importance of having informal focus groups at Women’s Quest.
2:45, Rope Drills: Now the clothes were really going to be put to the test.
Participants were faced with a “giant’s ladder,” a 50-foot-high test of endurance, with rungs about four feet apart. More than one reporter required boosting.
7:00, Dinner and Graduation: A Boulder nutritionist explained the need to make note of the vegetables, which had sacrificed their lives for the vegetable stew. Check.
Weary participants had earned their own stripes of a sort: official “Wild Women of the West” certificates.