by Mike Smith
Whew! Finally got back to NH! After missing our connection in Phoenix and spending a night in Tempe (and a delicious meal at the Perfect Pear) we caught a 10am flight to Dallas where we needed to make a mad dash to catch our flight into Boston, arriving just after 8pm, dedicating a full 37 hours to travel, giving me plenty of time to reflect.
The original intent on the trip to Flagstaff was to experience the feel of what it would be like to be a professional runner. The goal was to run twice a day, doing some workouts on the famous trails and roads that the collegians and professionals use to become great. If this was the experiment, then it was an utter failure. I quickly learned that in my current form, my adaptation to elevation was going to interfere with how this experiment worked out. From my first hypoxic easy run at Buffalo Park, to my last one, the idea of “training” was out the window. I don’t know if I’m simply a slow responder to elevation, or six days at 7000 feet simply isn’t long enough.
While a failure, doesn’t mean the trip or the experience was a loss, quite the contrary. First and foremost, I wanted to see what it was like running at elevation. Guess what? I found out! It’s terrible (at least for me) and there is no question that working out at 7000 feet adds a layer of effort that begs for your body to maximize the oxygen it gets.
I also learned that if I had wanted to truly experience Flagstaff like a pro, I’d have had to really put an effort into relaxing between runs and staying off the ample trail system in order to be ready for the next effort. We hit three technical trails in the six days we were there and each came at a cost. My legs were junk after our Hangover run in Sedona and our excursion down the Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon. These were both awesome experiences I would never give back, but as far as training like a professional they would count as a mistake.
Also to have had experienced Flagstaff like a pro I would have had to change our dining experience as well. While I always keep an eye on my diet with regard to my health (I had a Teriyaki Quinoa Tofu bowl after the Grand Canyon run), we did frequent the local culinary offerings daily. Let’s face it, eating-out healthy and eating-in healthy are two different things.
We also did a fair amount of sightseeing, meaning time on feet. We visited Walnut Canyon and it’s 600 steps that access Hopi cliff dwellings. We walked (and ran) portions of the Rim trail waiting for Elizabeth to finish the R2R2R excursion. We walked the downtown Flagstaff area in hunt for both food and trinkets. So we got the whole Flagstaff experience. But if I was to train like a pro, i’d have needed to cut that stuff out.
So while I’d have to consider the elevation training experiment a failure, I’d have to chalk the trip up as a tremendous success. I got to witness my favorite collegiate team do a ridiculous, mind blowing workout. I witnessed pros like Edward Cheserek, Luis Grijalva, Rachel Schneider and others getting their workouts done on the NAU track. I got to experience runs on the famed Buffalo Park loop, the Hangover trial, Fatman’s loop and the Bright Angel trail. These are likely all once in a lifetime experiences for me, experiences I value greatly.
And most of all, I got to spend six days in the presence of good friends (and family) doing the one activity that truly defines me, in a setting that is beautiful, rugged, and uniquely different from my usual experience back East. And most of all, I got to witness someone I admire, a former athlete and student, a good friend and all around bad@$$ do something truly amazing. It’s not often you get to see someone totally gut themselves in and effort that can only be described as purifying, over the span of 14 hours recognizing how important this sport is to those of us who put this much emphasis on it.
And that’s worth its weight in gold.