Flagstaff - The Inner Basin

Running Destination: Flagstaff

I was looking forward to my visit to Flagstaff as I had heard about it as an up-and-coming location for trail runners, following on from cities such as Boulder in Colorado and Ashland in Oregon. Rob Krar, who took second place in his first 100-mile race at the Western States Endurance Run, is based in the city. It boasts an elevation of 6,910 ft (2,106 m) and a mild summer climate amongst the intense heat of its surrounding Arizona environs.

Following a two-week break after my own 100-mile jaunt at the Western States Endurance Run I would run my very first post-race steps in Flagstaff. I had thought that it would be great to bump into Rob on the trails, but unfortunately no such luck presented itself.

I performed some searches on the web for some trail running options but found a distinct lack of information. Therefore I paid a visit to a local running store named Run Flagstaff to ask the staff there for some suggestions. They were only too happy to help with suggestions, although they did apologise for the lack of climbing in the area when they heard that I had just completed Western States.

The next morning I set out for my first run from the regional Buffalo Park, located right in town. I ran straight through the park to access the huge warren of trails that are immensely popular with mountain bikers in the area. Immediately I began to ascend and I thought back to the comment about the lack of climbs in the area. Apparently setting out from altitude and then climbing 1600 feet (500 m) doesn’t count as a climb, and I had left the tougher run until the following day.

I had felt great on my hike out of the Grand Canyon a couple of days earlier but unfortunately my legs weren’t enjoying the run as much as I would have liked. I pushed on and was rewarded by overtaking a couple of mountain bikers on the climb, which is always enjoyable. I had researched my route and loaded it onto my Suunto Ambit to follow but upon reaching a complex intersection involving multiple trails and a forestry road I found no sign indicating the trail I had planned to follow. Luckily the mountain bikers I had overtaken caught up to me and I asked them for help. They weren’t quite sure but one of them was kind enough to call up her husband for directions, and he provided a couple of options to get me back on track. As it turned out the map was slightly deceptive as the trail I wanted was a very short way up the road. I regained the trail and was back on my way.

I completed a loop over a pass but unfortunately my route did not take me past the lookout that apparently provides views over Flagstaff. I eventually made my way back to Buffalo Park, and was glad to have made it through a first run back of over 16 miles (26 km).

You can see details of this run at MovesCount.com here.

For my second run in Flagstaff I would run up towards Humphrey’s Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,637 ft (3,852 m). I had mapped out a fairly long lollipop route and had not decided whether I would actually bag the peak, which required an additional out-and-back section from the loop. I would decide during the run based on how I felt.

I set out with a climb along a track called the Weatherford Trail, which climbed continuously for 7 miles (11 km) up to Doyle Saddle. The trail provided a fantastic gradient that made for tough work but could be run for its entire length. I found out a couple of days later that the reason for the nice gradient was that it had been built for vehicles as a toll road, but had been closed down for that purpose around 50 years ago. That piece of information was provided to me by a guy at the Sedona Running Company in Sedona, and I also found out the related answer to a question that would occur later in my run.

Flagstaff - Views From the Weatherford Trail
Flagstaff – Views From the Weatherford Trail

I had a great climb to the saddle and then traversed below the ridge line to reach an out-and-back trail that formed an interlude of my ascent towards Humphrey’s Peak. I would descend the Inner Basin trail through aspen forest to Lockett Meadow, before turning around and re-climbing back towards the peak. I had spotted a log building in the meadow when I reached the saddle and decided that it would make a good turnaround point, so I descended 1000 feet (300 m) to the building which turned out to house a water pump, and then turned around to make my way back up. I had been running through intermittent clouds throughout the morning but by the time I had reached the Weatherford Trail again some darker storm clouds were closing in.

I decided that I would skip climbing to the very peak and would continue directly to the point of descent on my route, but first I still needed to climb further up the ridge. I continued to climb and as I reached the next saddle it started to rain. I realised that my turn off was not until I had climbed to the next saddle, so instead I made the call to turn around and retrace my route back along the same trail. I would now attempt to outrun the storm that was blowing in, but had a return journey that was almost entirely downhill. I put on my rain jacket and set off as the rain turned to hail.

I was feeling good and enjoying the descent as I ran either at the edge of the storm front (with its drizzle, rain and hail), or occasionally in the clearing just ahead of it. Then with around 5.5 miles (9 km) remaining to my car I snagged my right foot on a rock and found myself lying on the ground. I performed a quick check, determined that nothing was seriously injured, got to my feet and started walking. I glimpsed down briefly to see some blood running down my leg but decided to leave a more thorough inspection until I reached my car. I started running again, knowing that the adrenaline surge that would be triggered by the fall would be followed by an adrenaline drop that would leave me feeling quite low.

I continued my descent more cautiously and I noticed that as I closed in on my destination the distance seemed to progress slower and slower. One further interesting event occurred when I turned a switchback to spot what looked like a motor vehicle turned on its side off the trail. It made no sense at the time, but a couple of days later I received the explanation in Sedona. Apparently the vehicle had rolled off the toll road only a few days before it was closed, and it was decided that there was no way to remove it, so 50 years later it still rests there. The last mile seemed to drag on for a long time but eventually I spotted the road across which was the parking lot, and my car. I washed off the blood from my leg, noticed a nice cut on my left knee and felt some bruising on my left hip. I knew that the next day I was going to be very stiff.

You can see the details of this eventful run at MovesCount.com here.

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