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Project Gold Running Camp brings together runners from all over the nation

Updated: Nov 24, 2019

JOHN CASPER JR. Jun 28, 2017

It started with a few friends wanting to train with Grace Ping. A year later, the crowd grew.

The hope is it keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The Project Gold Running Camp is being held this week on the campus of Saint Mary’s University with 27 runners of varying skill levels from across the country. The camp features workouts, strength and stretching sessions, lectures, presentations and, most important of all, a little fun.

The main draw of the camp is Tom “Tinman” Schwartz, a USATF Level 1 coach who has tutored Ping, the three-time MSHSL state champion at Cotter and multiple age-group world record holder, and others.

“Working with Coach Schwartz, his training is so different,” said Megan Ping, the camp director and Grace’s mother. “We all found a lot of success with his type of training, we just wanted to introduce that to other kids.”

That’s what drew Connor Moranos, 17, from northern Georgia; Ethan Chang, 17, from Redondo Beach, Calif., and Tiahna Vladic, who was the Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year as a sophomore last year in Montana — among others.

“I just wanted to learn some of Coach Schwartz’s thinking,” Moranos said.

There’s also a strong local contingent, including Grace and Lauren Ping, who will be running for the Cotter cross country team this fall after living the last year in Utah.

“I just wanted to get faster and understand the mechanics of running better,” said Morgan Arnold, who will be a freshman at Cotter next year.

Even the Pings can learn new tricks.

“I’m not really good with my arms,” said Lauren, who will be a seventh-grader in the fall. “I wanted to learn more about how to run.”

Interest in the camp was sparked through word of mouth and social media. That’s how Jayda Becker, a freshman-to-be at Shakopee (Minn.) High School found out about it.

“I saw it on Instagram and my mom saw it on Facebook,” Becker said. “I wanted to get faster and improve on my form.”

There was no paid advertising, which speaks to the notoriety of Schwartz, as well as the friendships and relationships that Grace Ping and her family have made across the country.

“Running is so fragmented throughout the United States,” Megan Ping said. “So many other programs would like to be a big team doing this type of training with the end result being gold medals.”

There’s plenty of those in the camp.

Vladic was the girls Class AA cross country state champion in Montana and finished 21st at the Nike Cross Nationals. The MSHSL Class AA state champion (Anna Fenske) and Class A state champion (Tierney Wolfgram) are there, too. The hope is that what the kids learn this week will translate to more medals down the road.

They are all students of the Tinman, at least for this week.

“Even if you were going to start running, just applying his principles, it’s going to take you far,” Megan Ping said. “A lot of people think that you just have to go your hardest to go faster all the time. And you really couldn’t do anything worse than that.

“He has such a strong physiology background, and just having him explain how the training helps you handle lactic acid buildup and how to make the most of that, as opposed to always working on vo2 (maximal oxygen consumption).”

The camp held a community talk with Schwartz on Tuesday night, allowing runners in the area to get a chance to hear the coach talk as well.

“We want to get (the camp) big,” Megan Ping said.

There was still time for fun. The campers took advantage of the ropes course and the pool. Megan Ping said Saint Mary’s has been a great host and is much more cost efficient than trying to host it in Utah like they did last year.

“We can stay here on campus the entire time,” she said. “You have the trails, you have the food, you have everything. It’s been amazing.”

The campers also enjoyed a presentation from a Nike representative, who told them all about the newest line of shoes and apparel. And a presentation from Gear West, a specialty sports retailer outside of the Minneapolis.

But the best part, Megan Ping said, was watching the campers interact. On Tuesday afternoon, after a couple hours on the ropes course, they attacked the pool with gusto, filling the halls of the student center with music, laughter and conversation.

“They are starting to get to know each other,” Megan Ping said. “They are from all over the country, but they see each other at elite races. A lot of these runners don’t just do track and cross country meets in Minnesota, but we go to national meets as well. It’ll be fun to see them in those national meets.”

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