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I used to be a Phoenix gym rat who ran now and then when the weather wasn’t scorching hot (that is, if I recall correctly, in December and the first part of January).

When I moved to Flagstaff in 2010, the elevation change hit hard. And yet I saw runners and cyclists everywhere, moving along under their own power and not looking terribly unhappy, either.

Struggling to survive without oxygen, I couldn’t figure out how they were able to do it, so I asked my landlord, who’d been training for a marathon. Tom laughed and pulled out his map to show me all the trails I could reach from his front door.

“Go find out,” he suggested.

Forget the gym! Why exercise indoors when the weather here makes Flagstaff a mountainous version of Camelot? I started walking those trails up onto Observatory Mesa. Now and then, inspired by Tom’s example, I would run a little. But what really turned me into a high country runner was maybe the same thing that turned you into one: the Step Into Running program hosted by Team Run Flagstaff.

In 2011, some guy with a complicated accent and a passion for turning civilians into runners was our coach. We thought Mike Smith ran on water. Whatever he said to do, we did. I started out running two minutes and walking one. By the end of the session, I could run three miles without stopping.

There’s been no stopping me since (well, there was one stress fracture; let’s talk about that another time). What a strange thing to discover in midlife: I love to run.

Maybe you’re just like me — or maybe our running stories are completely different. What makes you a high country runner? When we meet each other on the roads and trails and at the starting line, I want to hear your story. We have a lot in common, and I’m always looking for people to write one of these columns.

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See, I’m the “coordinating” editor of High Country Running. My job is just to keep this party going. High Country Running isn’t about me, though; it’s about you... and you, and you, and you. It’s about everyone who runs in northern Arizona. It’s about us as individuals with dreams and questions, goals and injuries, recovery plans and training schedules and medals (whether Olympic or participant). It’s about the community we build together, every one of us.

That makes my task simple. I’m here to bring together ideas and writers so everyone continues to feel ownership and pride in our local running column. This space is not mine—it’s ours to create. That's perfect, for all of us: We'll never run out of stories.

If you have an idea or event, a suggestion to offer or a story to share, please send it in. Let’s keep building this running community, one column at a time.

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Julie Hammonds has been coordinating High Country Running since May 2018, but it’s been going a lot longer than that; since May 10, 2009, as a matter of fact. Next week’s column will celebrate the big anniversary. Look for it right here!

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