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High Country Running: It's good to be home

High Country Running: It's good to be home

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A temporary relocation to the Phoenix area took me away from the high country for several months this past winter, but I kept up my running habit, most often by getting in workouts on the Central Arizona Project Canal.

The canal offered all the benefits of a flat surface, and I reveled in the high-octane oxygen supply near sea level. On the canal’s gentle downhill grade, my easy pace was a minute faster than it is in Flagstaff. And when I pressed the accelerator on a tempo run or a stride, what fun!

I treasured those runs. There were no rocks in the trail to snag my toes, no ascent that left me light-headed at the top of the grade.

The view was fine, too. Camelback Mountain formed my northern horizon. Gambel’s quail clucked in the creosote bushes, ducks and the occasional cormorant paddled in the waterway, and once I even saw a coyote.

Many people use the canals for morning exercise, so I was always in view of cyclists, couples and families, dogs on leashes and other runners. They formed my “low country running” community. I even became a “local legend” on Strava for the stretch I used the most.

In mid-April, I came home to Flagstaff for the first time since January. I chose Sinclair Wash for my homecoming run. Starting out from the trailhead next to the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, I worried about running on a trail after months away. Had the canal’s smooth surface dulled my agility? Would the elevation tax my cardiovascular system?

Taking off slowly, I inhaled the ponderosa-scented air in long, grateful breaths. It tasted sweet and fresh after months in the dusty city. By keeping my pace easy, I could enjoy the route without straining my lungs.

The wide, smooth path soon gave way to variable single-track. I didn’t stumble once. As I followed the trail’s sinuous curves, rocks and roots gave my feet and brain interesting terrain to discover together.

I trotted along, enjoying the views as they opened out to the southeast. When I turned around, my eyes caressed the familiar angles of the San Francisco Peaks.

All the way out and back, I saw only one other runner. She smiled, and so did I. There is nothing like an absence of several months to make the heart grow even fonder of home ground, is there? Open space, the forest and solitude filled my heart with appreciation. It’s good to be back.

Have you had a memorable run recently? Send your story to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds (


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