High Country Running

Members of the Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association pose for a photo.

A recent Outside Online column posted by a friend, called “Meetup Groups You Probably Should Not Join,” gave me a laugh and reminded me why I treasure Saturday morning Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association outings.

Like java? We’re really a coffee-drinking club with a trail-running problem. This explains why the post-run brunch usually outlasts our trail time.

If DNA testing recently revealed that you’re at least one percent polar bear, try one of our rugged Sedona scrambles. We’re known to heal our trail-running aches and pains by plunging into pools of icy winter water.

While many of our steep, uphill trail ventures treat you to panoramic northern Arizona views, you will also gain intimate knowledge about how well your knees bend by watching them do so at eye level.

If you’re interested in learning about local history while running abandoned railroad grades, getting your kicks on abandoned Route 66 or discovering prehistoric Native American petroglyphs along ancient trails, these Saturday tours will fill your brain with wondrous facts.

Along the way, you are likely to strike up conversations with experts on meteorology, astronomy, hydrology, best shows to binge, forest management practices, plants, treks to exotic locations, recipes, real estate, massage techniques, local art, books and workout routines.

You will learn about purple tights, local racing history (initially by studying the array of shirts donned by your fellow runners), Strava addiction and how my life changed drastically after I fell into a Sedona vortex.

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While joining the group is free, you must adhere to a few simple rules. First: If you show up late or miss a Saturday run without a note from your orthopedic surgeon, you are charged double for your annual renewal, and you’ll be implored to take home the latest iteration of the NATRA bumper sticker.

If you get lost, we might go looking for you, but not until after we've had our coffee (see above). Note: We have never lost a runner permanently.

Should you get impaled by a unicorn, run over by rampaging pandas, eaten by the elusive Sasquatch, kidnapped by the Knights of the Soulstice Round Table or meet with some other highly questionable death, you are banned from the group for life.

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If you fall, you must stay down long enough for everyone to upload a picture or video. I will eventually stroll over to assist you, in exchange for a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff.

Emotional support animals such as dogs, cats, peacocks, turtles, rabbits, pigs or fish are welcome but must be leashed at all times. And don’t forget to clean up after your pet does what pets do.

Finally, if you enjoy making lifelong friends, boosting your physical and mental health and sharing pictures of yourself running in magical landscapes because it annoys your friends and family, this is the group for you.

By following these simple guidelines, you will fit in perfectly with this highly caffeinated group, and we look forward to seeing you Saturday mornings!

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Neil Weintraub has voluntarily coordinated group runs since NATRA’s inception in 2001. The next run is always listed at natra.org. He thanks Sara Wagner and David Blanchard for their witty thoughts for this story.

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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