The story of the Flagstaff running transplant always starts the same.
Recent graduates who didn't quite achieve their collegiate goals dream of sub-four miles and Olympic Trials qualifying. They are willing to live in poverty and put their life on hold, a montage of a Flotrack Driven Series featuring themselves playing in their heads.
Then the training starts. They run alone for a while, maybe a workout at Buffalo Park at splits they could have hit back in junior high. They show up to a long run and fail to hang with the loping strides of Jim Walmsley for even a couple miles.
“I’ll just train by myself for a while,” they think, “until I’m ready to hang with those guys.” They acclimate to altitude and workouts start to click. Now it’s time to race and show everyone back home how far they’ve come.
They come down from altitude and find that perfect race, brimming with confidence. In their head, they have already run a sub-64-minute half.
The gun goes off and they hit the mile at 4:55, perfect. Right on pace. That second mile was perfect, 4:56, but it felt a little hard. How could that be? They just came from altitude. Well, it’s Trials or bust so no backing off now. Slowly, the wheels fall off. A 5:10, followed by a 5:20 and eventually they slog in with a 72-minute half, heartbroken and vexed at what could have been.
This is the pivotal moment. Here’s where they -- here’s where I -- ask those questions. Why am I living off rice and beans for this? Why I am in bed at 8 p.m. every night?
This is when I needed to hear Nick Arciniaga tell me he didn't break 30 minutes in the 10K until age 28. Just that little reminder that it’s all a process, and that eventually the work pays off.
I came here locked into a certain vision that this is my one chance to look over the mountain and see what’s on the other side.
I focused on results; more often than not in this sport, failure after failure lead only to a small glimpse of success.
I ran a 30:36 10K in college -- that’s worse than 500th on the NCAA yearly list. I tried time after time to hit half marathon and marathon qualifying marks … 67 minutes, DNF, 2:22, 69 minutes, and finally sneaking under as the last Trials qualifier in 2:18:33 after the standard was relaxed a minute back to 2:19.
I was one of the lucky ones who reiterates the message that a little time spent at the top of a mountain drops minutes off your PRs. Because honestly, if I can do it, anyone can.
The Flagstaff magic is not the altitude. It’s people like Nick, or Kiya Dandena, or Jay and Janet Bawcom who don’t see you as a competitor. They see you as a friend, a teammate and often as family.
They don’t lock up their training secrets in a vault. They share openly because they want to see you succeed.
They know what it is like to believe in yourself deep down, despite mountains of results that try to persuade you otherwise. It’s a process you cannot force, and without the guidance of those people who have been there before and believe you can do it too, the path is nearly impossible to follow.
After almost two years, I am leaving Flagstaff. But I’m also taking Flagstaff with me. I will take all the lessons I’ve learned from the great runners who have come before me and continue to grow. Flagstaff has made me the runner I am today, and I would never trade any of those experiences.
To you dreamers, don’t come to Flag to run that PR or to win that race. Don’t even come to Flag to become a better runner.
Come to Flag because running is what you love to do and you want to enjoy the grind day after day with runners and competitors who face those same demons.
I promise you, the results will come.