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The area's elite runners say they are having a hard time finding a track on which to train -- at least in Flagstaff.

Instead, some are traveling to Sedona and elsewhere to do their speed workouts.

Although there are five hard-surface tracks in Flagstaff, the elite runners have lost the one track on which they were officially allowed to train when Lumberjack Stadium underwent construction last fall. It won't be reopened until fall 2011.

Without it, many of the area's elite athletes have met resistance trying to train during the morning hours on the three high school tracks in Flagstaff and the track inside the Walkup Skydome.

The Skydome's track requires a liability insurance policy and high school officials are restricting access to the newly resurfaced tracks by non-students during school hours because of liability issues.

FUSD athletic director George Moate said he's not worried about a handful of distance runners using the track. It's allowing an open-door policy to non-students during school hours that invites problems.

"There's all the other people that can come in after (the elite runners) that we can't stop," Moate said.

As a result, some of the athletes have gone elsewhere for their workouts, even though they lose the cardiovascular advantage of training at Flagstaff's 7,000-foot elevation.

NO LONGER AS FRIENDLY

Facil Bizuneh, an elite distance runner, came to the area three years ago because of its reputation for distance training. He had received a stipend from the now-closed High Altitude Training Center at NAU. Although he still receives enough from his sponsorships to get by, he said he tells other runners to think twice before relocating here to train.

"It's not as friendly as it used to be," Bizuneh said.

Although there are hundreds of miles of trails surrounding Flagstaff, running on a surface track is an important part of the elite runners' training. It's where they do their most rigorous workouts, which don't work well when there are casual runners or local teams crowding the lanes later in the day.

Bizuneh has been kicked out of the Skydome because he was running at the same time as NAU's track team.

"We've always had an open-door policy," said Dave Brown, the Skydome's director, said.

But he added that runners now need their own insurance and can't be practicing the same time as NAU teams.

Previously, runners were allowed access to NAU facilities as long as they went through the High Altitude Training Center, which covered the insurance costs.

Since the center closed, Bizuneh and other elite runners in Flagstaff have had to find a plan B. Bizuneh primarily runs at the Sinagua High School track and at Sedona Red Rock High School's track while school's still in session.

He hasn't had a problem thus far. He said that Sedona welcomes the runners to work out on the track, while at Sinagua, he sees other people casually using the school's facilities.

"Still, it's a risk," Bizuneh said about running at Sinagua.

WORKING TOWARD AGREEMENT

Greg McMillan's elite training group has been running into problems, too.

Although the group has been allowed to train in the Skydome because it met the insurance requirements, the athletes have been driving to Sedona since the indoor track was converted for NAU spring football practice.

Unlike the non-elite Team Run Flagstaff, which consists primarily of community runners and practices at Coconino's track in the afternoon, McMillan's group needs to do its workouts in the morning. They've been getting up at 7 a.m. to drive to Sedona. Between driving and training, it takes up nearly half the day.

The group hasn't worked out a deal yet with the Flagstaff-area high schools, though something is in the works.

"Since the (high school) tracks have been resurfaced, they've been on lockdown," McMillan said.

Moate said he's been working with the other athletic directors to try to arrange times for usage. He's hoping to allow early-morning access at two of the schools and one could be open in the afternoon.

"We're working with them trying to find a time where we can oversee the track," Moate said, citing the need to lock the track afterward. "We're trying to help, but it's not a finished product."

McMillan sees it as a work in progress, too.

"That's a starting point," she said. "They'll develop a policy over the summer and we'll go from there."

Jacob May can be reached at jmay@azdailysun.com or 556-2257.

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