On the Run in…

Thin air and breath­tak­ing views have made Flagstaff a hot spot for in­ter­na­tional run­ners.

Canadian Running - - CONTENTS - By Kate Van Buskirk

Flagstaff, Ariz.

For years, Flagstaff, Ariz., was one of the best-kept se­crets in the en­durance sports world. Nes­tled at the foot of the San Fran­cisco Peaks, this quaint moun­tain town sits at an el­e­va­tion of 2,134 me­tres, pro­vid­ing breath­tak­ing views of the sur­round­ing Co­conino Na­tional For­est. “Flag” as it is re­ferred to by lo­cals, has evolved into one of the premier alti­tude train­ing lo­ca­tions in North Amer­ica. Thanks to its high el­e­va­tion and prox­im­ity to neigh­bour­ing desert cli­mates, Flagstaff ex­pe­ri­ences low hu­mid­ity and mild day­time con­di­tions through­out most of the year. Late spring to early fall are ideal times to visit, how­ever, as sig­nif­i­cant snow ac­cu­mu­la­tion and frigid overnight tem­per­a­tures can make win­ter run­ning a chal­lenge.

Lo­cal elite dis­tance run­ners have long re­garded Flagstaff as a mecca of en­durance train­ing. How­ever, only over the last two decades have in­ter­na­tional ath­letes be­gun f lock­ing to the re­gion to soak in the thin air and spec­tac­u­lar sur­round­ings. A mere 2.5-hour drive to Phoenix, and less than an hour to the red rock town of Se­dona, there are easy sea-level and mid-range el­e­va­tion es­capes from the heartquick­en­ing alti­tude of Flag. The close prox­im­ity to these lower el­e­va­tion train­ing lo­cales al­lows ath­letes to “live high and train low,” a per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing strat­egy em­ployed by many of the world’s top dis­tance elites. Cana­dian track, road and trail run­ners alike rou­tinely in­cor­po­rate north­ern Ari­zona alti­tude stints into their yearly train­ing plans.

The num­ber of serene run­ning routes in Flag seem end­less. As its name sug­gests, the Flagstaff Ur­ban Trail Sys­tem ( futs) weaves its way through­out the greater Flagstaff area, link­ing the down­town core with var­i­ous na­tional parks and pe­riph­ery at­trac­tions. This non-mo­tor ve­hi­cle sys­tem of­fers more than 90k

of paved and groomed dirt trails, rang­ing in tech­ni­cal dif­fi­culty. The di­verse ter­rain of­fers some­thing for al­most ev­ery level of run­ner, and the abun­dance of op­tions means that you rarely need to com­pete for space or quiet.

The two mile crushed gravel loop at Buf­falo Park of­fers a rel­a­tively f lat al­ter­na­tive to the more chal­leng­ing trails in Flagstaff, mak­ing it a pop­u­lar choice for faster tempo runs and short, off-track in­ter­val train­ing. The park ’s vast, open mead­ows pro­vide sweep­ing panoramic views of the San Fran­cisco Peaks, which re­main snow­capped al­most year-round.

Orig­i­nat­ing from a com­mon trail­head, the Camp­bell Mesa Trail Sys­tem has five loops of vary­ing dis­tances, from 1,500 m to just over 9k. Run­ners wind their way through the fra­grant Pon­derosa Pines and scram­ble up gen­tle rocky in­clines with stun­ning views of Mount Humphrey tow­er­ing in the dis­tance.

Those will­ing to brave the Humphrey’s Peak Trail can ex­pect epic vis­tas. At 3,850 me­tres, Humphrey’s sum­mit is the high­est in Ari­zona. A word to the wise, how­ever: take your time with this ex­pe­di­tion. With over 914 me­tres of el­e­va­tion gain through­out the 7.2k as­cent, this trail packs a punch for those in­ex­pe­ri­enced at high al­ti­tudes.

With a thriv­ing in­de­pen­dent food, drink and arts scene, down­town “Flag” is a great place to get a dose of ur­ban moun­tain cul­ture. Vis­i­tors can hit up one of many brew­eries or cof­fee shops just off of leg­endary Route 66 to take in some lo­cal mu­sic and a postrun bev­er­age. Flagstaff ’s rugged nat­u­ral beauty, friendly res­i­dents and funky neigh­bour­hoods com­bine to cre­ate a worth­while south­west­ern ex­pe­ri­ence. Kate Van Buskirk is a pro­fes­sional track and field ath­lete com­pet­ing for Team Canada and Nike. She spe­cial­izes in the 1,500m and 5,000m events.

OP­PO­SITE The Ob­ser­va­tory Mesa Nat­u­ral Area, a sev­eral-thou­sand-acre park. En­ter via Thorpe Park or Low­ell Ob­ser­va­tory, both about a half mile west of Flagstaff. Be­hind are Fre­mont Peak and Humphreys Peak, the high­t­est point in Ari­zona OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM The sin­gle­track Han­gover Trail starts at the base of Sch­nebly Hill Road about a half mile east of Se­dona and works its way around the butte in the back­ground of­fer­ing great views LEFT A Sun­day Long Run along one of the Co­conino Na­tional For­est dirt road around A1 Moutain ABOVE The vol­canic Bab­bit Ranch near SP Crater is lo­cated about 32K north of Flagstaff within the San Fran­cisco Peaks vol­canic prov­ince. The SP Crater Marathon is run in late Fe­bru­ary.

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