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High Country Running:Year in review celebrates this community’s resilience

High Country Running:Year in review celebrates this community’s resilience

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I’m as eager as you are to shut the door on 2020, but first let’s take a look at how high country runners handled the year and its challenges:

Resilient you

Let’s start with you. Did you find yourself relying on running even more for fitness, mental health or the comfort of routine -- or maybe for all three? Did you explore new roads or trails? Did you set different goals and find creative ways to achieve them? Or even this: On a day when the complications of pandemic life threatened to overwhelm you, did you go for a run and come back stronger?

Local running, re-imagined  

Our running groups adapted, some by hibernating, others by offering virtual activities or even the occasional group run that respected public health guidelines and gave people opportunities to socialize from a distance.

Team Run Flagstaff’s popular track workouts morphed into running challenges team members could complete on their own. Coach Mike Smith and others inspired the team via Zoom. TRF didn’t just survive, it thrived ... thanks to its creative leaders and team members.

The Flagstaff Summer Series made a successful leap into the virtual realm under the guidance of Neil Weintraub, Gail Hughes and a dedicated group of race directors. There were 750 unique runners across the eight events, of whom 174 were registered in the full series. Your entry fees raised many thousands of dollars for nonprofits as well!

Go team!

In January, Northern Arizona University senior Tyler Day broke the American collegiate record for the indoor 5K with 13:16.95 and was named US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s Men's Indoor National Athlete of the Week (the first Lumberjack men's runner in program history to get that honor). In October, the Lumberjacks men's cross country team topped that association’s coaches poll for the 30th straight week -- the longest streak in history. There was only one meet for the cross country teams this year as the bulk of the schedule will hit in the coming weeks, but the men’s and women’s teams both won the Big Sky indoor track and field championships.

For high school highlights, including more running accomplishments, read Daily Sun Sports Editor Lance Hartzler’s article “Local, prep sports 2020 in review."

Those who go long

Throughout the year, several Flagstaff runners finished the Flagstaff Fearsome Four, notably Drew Frehs, who completed the route in 6:16:03. Frehs also won the Coldwater Rumble 100 Mile in January.

In January and February, Eric Senseman ran every street in Flagstaff. Every single street!

In February, Jim Walmsley broke the Pemberton 50K course record by more than 21 minutes, finishing in 2:49:03. The record in this 23-year-old race had stood since 2007.

In September, Emily Torrence represented the United States in the IAU 6-hour Virtual Global Solidarity Run (the World 100K Championships were canceled this year).

November was a busy month. Stephen Kersh ran the third-fastest time ever at the 58th annual JFK 50 Mile in Maryland. He finished the 50.8-mile course in 5:27:07, second only to the new course record-holder. Ian Torrence cemented his name in JFK history when he became just the 28th person to finish the race at least 25 times. And Peter Mortimer took second at the Georgia Death Race 74 Miler.

Our athletes can compete

A new professional running team came to town this year in the form of Dark Sky Distance, sponsored by Under Armour.

HOKA NAZ Elite, established here since 2014 under the leadership of Ben Rosario, proved its creativity and resilience in a dozen ways. Read all about their inspiring year in Daily Sun Associate Editor Michael Hartman’s article “Marathons, PRs highlight 2020 for Rosario and his crew” (Dec. 31, 2020).

Flagstaff’s Sara Hall set her marathon PR at the London Marathon in October, then broke it in December, when her 2:20:32 made her the second-fastest American woman of all time at the distance.

The almost-Olympic year

When Aliphine Tuliamuk of HOKA NAZ Elite flew toward the finish line of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February, crossing first in 2:27:23, it was a thrilling moment for fans, who also cheered her teammates Steph Bruce and Kellyn Taylor to top-10 finishes. Abdi Abdirahman, who also trains in Flagstaff, was third on the men’s side to make the team for the now-2021 Tokyo Olympics.


When Flagstaff’s Tommy Rivers Puzey, an internationally known long-distance runner, was diagnosed with a rare lung cancer, the community responded, raising funds to offset the cost of his life-saving treatment. Across the world and right here at home, people are still running, riding and hiking with Rivs.

The power of the pen

Stories by and about the high country running community continued to make literary waves in 2020. This year’s entry, published in May, was “Running the Dream: One Summer Living, Training, and Racing With a Team of World-Class Runners Half my Age.” Written by California-based journalist Matt Fitzgerald, it captures the humor and challenge of training in Flagstaff alongside NAZ Elite.

Speaking of writers: twenty-seven people wrote 52 editions of this column, which turned 11 years old in May. Thank you, high country running tribe. Here’s to your hopes and dreams for 2021!

Julie Hammonds is coordinating editor of High Country Running. She sends gratitude to friends in the running community who helped her put this column together, and to Michael Hartman and Lance Hartzler at the Arizona Daily Sun for their weekly encouragement.


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