Like most runners, I have often fantasized about going all-in for the sport, living a truly running-centered life for a while and discovering just how good I can be.

Very few runners other than the gifted young men and women who earn the opportunity to run professionally are able to live out this fantasy. But this summer I made myself an exception.

I relocated with my wife, Nataki, from our home in northern California to Flagstaff to train for three months with HOKA Northern Arizona Elite and document the experience in a blog and a future book.

During this period, which will culminate at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 8, I have (to the extent that I am able) done everything the dozen full-time members of the team do: morning and afternoon runs on most days, supplemental strength training, weekly sports massage, clean eating, regular visits to the physical therapists at Hypo2 Chiropractic, and even counseling with a local sports psychologist.

The results so far have blown away my expectations. In August, I ran a 5K race in Oregon and beat my time from last year by 40 seconds (and won).

At 46, an age at which most runners who’ve been at it as long as I have are slowing down, I am fitter than I’ve ever been. The Chicago Marathon is now a week away, and I think I have a pretty good shot at improving on the personal-best time of 2:41:42 I set nine years ago -- something I told friends was impossible before I left California.

My conclusion? The pros know what they’re doing, and what works for them can work for any runner with proper scaling.

Whatever happens in Chicago, I will leave Flagstaff with a head full of precious memories, most of them involving the remarkable young men and women I’ve had the honor to be surrounded by here. Examples:

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-- Sitting around a nighttime bonfire with NAZ Elite members Ben and Stephanie Bruce and the 22 attendees of their annual summer running camp and taking my turn to share my greatest running-related fear.

-- Receiving a surprise phone call from NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario, then in Malaysia with another athlete, who’d just woken up to the news that I’d hurt myself in a workout and was as concerned about me as he would have been about any of his paid athletes.

-- Laughing myself breathless when NAZ Elite member and Flagstaff native Rochelle Kanuho mistook the hard one-mile interval I was running for a cool-down jog and asked if she could join me.

If you would like to join me for the remainder of my challenging and rewarding journey as a full-time “running bum,” you can do so by checking out my daily blog at www.finalsurge.com/therunningbum.

Matt Fitzgerald is an endurance sports coach, nutritionist and author whose many books include "The Endurance Diet" and "How Bad Do You Want It?"

Myles Schrag is coordinating editor for High Country Running. He invites submissions on any aspect of the local running scene, as well as submissions for the “To Imogene: A Flagstaff Love Letter” book project. He can be reached at myles.schrag@adinapublishing.com.

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