Flagstaff, Arizona: Where Runners Train

​No training grounds stand out quite like Flagstaff.

Cocodona 250 Finish Line

No training grounds stand out quite like Flagstaff. Access to a wide variety of terrain, year-round sun and mild winters, as well as proximity to the red rock country of Sedona and the Grand Canyon National Park make it a tough spot to beat when it comes to trail running. And then there's the altitude.

Cocodona 250 mountains and trees

Anything above 5000 feet is considered high altitude, and the city of Flagstaff sits at roughly 7000 feet above sea level. The surrounding trails will take you up to 9000 feet on Mount Elden, or just under 13,000 feet on Humphreys Peak—the highest point in Arizona. For athletes, Flagstaff offers the perfect high-altitude setting for training.

Woman running outdoors in Flagstaff

I had been living at sea level in Portland, Oregon when I raced the inaugural Cocodona 250. It’s a 250-mile footrace across Arizona, starting in Black Canyon City and ending in downtown Flagstaff at the iconic Heritage Square. The close-knit running community and prospect of warm, sunny weather initially drew me in to Flagstaff, but it was Cocodona and the concept of training at altitude that completely sold me. Almost immediately after finishing the race that first time, I decided to make the move.

Sign showing 50 miles to go in Cocodona 250 race

Living and training at high altitude in Flagstaff has significantly improved my athletic performance. Running up high is tougher, but that’s only made me feel stronger and more confident going into different ultramarathons or big adventure days in the mountains. I’ve now completed the Cocodona 250 in all three years of its existence, and this year I’m grateful to say that I came away with the win on the women’s side. I’m certainly not the only one experiencing the benefits of high-altitude training in Flagstaff.

Woman standing next to Elden Lookout Tower

Flagstaff has undoubtedly solidified itself one of the top running meccas in the United States. Professional marathoners and Track & Field athletes have been training here for decades, but trail runners have also caught on to the trend. In just the past two years, I’ve noticed more and more professional ultrarunners traveling to Flagstaff for quality training blocks ahead of races like the legendary Western States Endurance Run—the most competitive 100-miler in the country. Besides the benefits of training at altitude, runners can find virtually every type of terrain for race-specific needs. From smooth, rolling gravel roads throughout town to steep, technical climbs across the San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff offers trail runners a little bit of everything. There’s a trail for every runner to explore and enjoy, all at altitude. Personally, I can’t think of a city more fitting for runners than Flagstaff.

View of Flagstaff peaks

About the Author

Sarah Ostaszewski

Sarah is a runner and copywriter currently based in Flagstaff, AZ. Originally from the Chicago region, she spent several years exploring the Pacific Northwest before rediscovering the sun and magic of the Southwest. She has been racing ultramarathons since 2014 and is actively involved in the running community through trail work, volunteering opportunities, and media.