Helen Galerakis started trail running just two years ago when she came to Flagstaff for a trail-running camp. Soon after, she decided to make Flagstaff her home.
On Oct. 17, this newly minted Flagstaffian will take on an enormous challenge -- attempting to set the Supported Fastest Known Time on the Arizona Trail.
Her decision to run 800 miles from the Utah border to the Mexico border was born from love of the Flagstaff community, and passion for the outdoors and trail running.
“When I came to Flagstaff, I felt I belonged here,” Helen told me. “The trail-running community had the same value system as me; the same heart and soul. I’d found my people. I wanted a challenge that celebrated the community I’d found and that encouraged others to connect with their community. To run through Arizona sounded really exciting.”
The overall Fastest Known Time on the Arizona Trail is 15 days, 13 hours, 10 minutes. To beat that will mean averaging 50 miles a day.
“Even though it’s crazy numbers, it somehow feels achievable,” she said.
Running on the trails around Flagstaff, Helen initially didn’t realize the challenging nature of the Arizona Trail. “I assumed I’ll just run the trails through the state, and it will be nice and beautiful.”
Her running coach suggested a multi-day trial run last March. “I chose a 150-mile section of the Arizona Trail, from south of the Gila River, through the Superstitions and the Four Peaks.”
Helen’s four-day adventure took her through deserts and mountains on very different terrain compared to Flagstaff trails. She experienced equipment failures, walked through swollen creeks, struggled with route-finding at night with a dim headlamp, and nearly slipped down a steep slope on a narrow, snow-covered trail.
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“Even though it was one of the scariest experiences of my life, it was also one of the most rewarding. I learned so much about the trail and being out there in the wilderness, and about myself. I nearly died three times. But far from putting me off, I was even more determined to do the Arizona Trail after that," she said.
Helen has trained hard to build up a base.
She said: “I feel I’m as prepared as I can be. In the past 10 weeks of training, I’ve essentially done what I’ll be doing in 15 days: 800 miles and 110,000 feet of elevation gain.”
A focus on connecting with and celebrating community is at the heart of her upcoming attempt. She’s raising funds to support the trail’s maintenance. And friends, community members and local businesses have come together to support her adventure.
“I’m excited that my Flagstaff family can be a part of this, as they’ve been so integral to my ultra-running journey.”
Helen dreads trail mornings: getting up at 3:30, in the dark and freezing cold, to be on the trail by 4 a.m. “Running in the dark also scares me a bit. There are times I’ll be on my own, running in the dark in the middle of nowhere.”
However, she’s excited about meeting different people on the trail each day.
“And I’m excited to see what this little body can do!”