While local runners prepare for the Soulstice Mountain Trail Run this Saturday, I’m going to flash back to 2005. It is by far my favorite Soulstice race, and you will never convince me otherwise.

Soulstice was held at the Nordic Center -- which is now called the Arizona Nordic Village -- that year, forced off Sunset Trail because of a dispute between environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service.

Soulstice race director Neil Weintraub still found a way to make the race happen. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Race morning was cold. There was a big bonfire and everyone was huddling around it prior to the start. I had been running regularly on the NATRA runs at Buffalo Park, but my goals were modest. I ran with my friends, Andy and Rob, goofed off a little and had a great day.

Post-race, I saw Katie Lowe, who I’d become good friends with training together almost every Monday at the NATRA runs.

I asked how her race went, and she introduced me to her sister and her sister’s friend Danielle, who was mid-bite on a hot dog. I had actually briefly met Danielle at a cycling race months earlier. We spoke about running, and Soulstice actually came up in that conversation.

To stall while she finished chewing, I reminded her of our encounter. She said she remembered it, too, although I’m pretty sure it was more memorable to me because Danielle. How should I say it? Yeah, she was hot.

We all got to talking and Danielle’s mother, who had also done the run, joined us. They weren’t planning to go to Pay-n-Take for awards, so I quickly worked my magic. I won a shirt in the raffle, gave it to Danielle’s mom and talked her mom into going to Pay-n-Take so I could continue talking to Danielle.

I’m a pretty introverted guy, so this was a big deal for me.

Anyone who has been single in Flagstaff understands that dating in this town can be hard. There were two sayings about it back then. 1) “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” 2) “You’ve never missed your chance; you’ve only missed your turn.”

Well, I had experienced both of those, so I did what every single guy does before a chance to woo a beautiful runner: I went and got the worst haircut of my life. It was awful.

At Pay-n-Take, I’m pretty sure I was the first person there. I didn’t want to miss Danielle if she showed up. Luckily, Katie and her sister showed up so I wasn’t the desperate guy sitting alone on a bar stool. Later Danielle walked in with both her parents. Her parents said hello and turned and walked out … wasn’t expecting that.

We all hung out until awards were finished and went to Katie’s boyfriend’s house for a post-race hot tub. Before I left that night, Danielle and I exchanged numbers. Ten minutes later she texted me, saying that she hoped to see me again soon. I replied that I would like that as well.

The next day, I was driving back from a trip to Prescott and I got a call from Danielle.

“What are you doing tonight?” she asked. “Do you want to have dinner?”

I was really confused because she had driven with Katie’s sister back to Scottsdale.

“Are you still in Flagstaff,” I replied.

“No, but I can be up there in two hours.”

As of this Soulstice, we have been together for 12 years. We have two beautiful children together. I owe my family to the great Flagstaff running tradition of Soulstice.

Thank you to all who make it happen every year, especially you, Neil.

James Fazio, is a father and husband, and he leads strategic planning at Gore. In his limited free time he is an amateur lifestyle photographer, and loves to run so he can eat junk food and drink good red wine. Next week, his wife Danielle will tell her side of the story in Soulstice Love, Part II.

Myles Schrag is coordinating editor for High Country Running. He invites submissions for the “To Imogene: A Flagstaff Love Letter” book project at myles.schrag@adinapublishing.com.

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