Running Through Flagstaff

I’ve been spending a month or two a year in Flagstaff for the last 10 years of my Professional running career and it’s grown to feel like a home away from home.

Usually I come in April (and battle the spring winds!) before the championship track season starts in June. A few times I’ve experienced the city in its wintery glory, but my favorite stint so far has been the early fall. Flagstaff has been where I go to get that last few percentage points ready before the most important racing events on my calendar. You’d be amazed at how many runners pass through this city on the journey toward their Olympic Dreams.

From a running standpoint, it’s really challenging. The paces you used to hit at sea level feel harder each day and you recover a little slower, breathe a little harder and your muscles burn that much more on the track. This is the part of coming to Flagstaff that I nervously anticipate because it’s hard, but I know you can’t get better without it. There is much more I look forward to about returning to this particular mountain top. I appreciate the long runs cruising up and down the undulating Lake Mary Road, overlooking fields and streams dotted with golden flowers, all set against a bright blue sky. On my easy days, I head to Campbell Mesa trails and let my mind wander as I slice through the soft, clear single tracks lined with Pines.  It’s my favorite run. It’s cool to stay in a place long enough to know favorite run loops, learn what each part of town is like, and become semi regular at certain coffee shops and restaurants. I run into many hungry runners craving the giant sandwiches and high-quality ingredients in Proper Meats, carb-ing up at Pizzicleta and Dark Sky or Mother Road Breweries and topping off their iron stores at Diablo Burger. Like most distance runners, I love coffee, and I rotate through my favorites when I’m really tired and need the energy for those second runs of the day. Matador and Firecreek have fueled a big chunk of my weekly mileage! Working as hard as I do up here, I tend to look forward to the food as much as the trails

We always manage to do some sightseeing while we’re here. Probably my favorite visit was the Walnut Canyon Monument. I’d run probably hundreds of miles on Walnut Canyon road in the last decade, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that we slowed down to walk through the ancient Pueblo’s built into the canyon. It reminded me that we’re all visiting this land.

While it sounds romantic and Rocky-esque to train with singular focus on a remote mountain top with little access to the outside world, the reality is that goals like making an Olympic team require many hands supporting you.  Flagstaff has that network too. While I’m here I can join a gym, find a sports massage therapist, physical therapist or chiropractor to help keep my body running. I can also get into the lab at Hypo2 to see how my blood is being changed by the altitude and how I can become a better athlete with cross training or strength coach access. Another perk of this city is that you can always find company for a run. There are athletes here year-round like NAZ Elite and runners from all over the US and the rest of the world heading to this same mountain to prepare for their championship seasons. They’re so welcoming and usually visiting and local runners alike make a point to meet up for at least one Bagel Run together during the month. 

I’ve been running long enough that when I first came to Flagstaff, it felt like somewhat of a hidden gem. Now, everyone knows it’s a running Mecca and NCAA champions to World Champions share the same roads as they chase their athletic dreams. I guess word travels fast when, as they say of training up high, “there’s gold in the hills”! 

About the Author

Molly Huddle

US Olympian 2012 and 2016 (she won the 5000m AND 10,000m at 2016 United States Olympic Trials to make the team - quite a feat)

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