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Henry Begay

Henry Begay

These days, my prework weekday ritual is to wake up around 4:30 a.m., analyze the Flagstaff Summer Series registration numbers and check the Arizona Daily Sun for the latest running news. On March 6, I read about the sudden passing of Henry Begay. It brought a flood of fond memories of my earliest Flagstaff racing days.

When I arrived here to stay, in 1986, I found a well-established series organized by the Flagstaff Road and Track Club. They held 10 races across northern Arizona, from Williams to Winslow. Thanks to them, I found my community of lifelong friends and running partners within my first month here.

Participating in races launched my obsession with putting names to faces. Henry was one of the first. I would start races alongside him, enjoying his big smile and soft laughter. Of course, in my first three years adjusting to Flagstaff’s thin air, Henry always finished far ahead. At the finish line, I’d find him and, with what little oxygen I had left in my lungs, I’d nod and say, “Nice race, Henry.”

On June 11, 1989, at the start of the Fort Tuthill 10-miler, I nodded to Henry and wished him a good race. Deep in the throes of training for my second New York City Marathon, I had upped my miles and noticed my times dropping. So I figured I’d try to keep Henry close.

On that day, we rhythmically ran side by side, quietly focused on matching each other’s stride and breathing patterns. But on the final straightaway, Henry out-sprinted me. At the finish line, both of us hunched over and gasping, we patted each other on the back. It turned out we’d just run the races of our lives, setting personal bests. That was the first time I ran any race under 7 minutes per mile. Most importantly, I made a friend for life. For the next 30 years, we would wax poetic about that magical race.

While that race series ended 25 years ago, the friendships I made inspired me to cofound the Flagstaff Summer Series with Ron Johnson, Lauren Copeland Glenn and Meg Heneghan in 2005. Many local nonprofit races had been struggling to break even, and we wanted to help — and to re-create the sense of community forged by the Flagstaff Road and Track Club.

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As the summer series enters its 15th year, its success is based on our inclusive and supportive running community. Many races feature professional runners mixing it up with us weekend warriors. We have Olympians, elite runners and some of the world’s greatest ultra-marathoners who race, volunteer or cheer at the finish line.

The Flagstaff Summer Series includes seven iconic races. The value package goes up in price April 1. To register and see all race dates, visit www.flagstaffsummerseries.com. The first race is May 4. Register today, and who knows? Maybe you’ll meet a lifelong friend like Henry Begay at the starting line this summer.

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Neil Weintraub is co-founder and volunteer director of the Flagstaff Summer Series.

Do you have a column, tip or idea for High Country Running? Run it over to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds at runner@juliehammonds.com, or tweet her @highcountry_run.

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