Flagstaff 2017: The Quest for Fitness

Forget about the reasons why you can’t in life and start to try, cause it’s your time, time to fly.

      After a quick internet search of throwback 90’s music hits, I found myself uploading some Hilary Duff songs to my ipod. Growing up, I had Hilary’s metamorphosis cd and it got me through your classic teenage angst. I listened to that on repeat. So it wasn’t a surprise that I found myself glued to these new tracks in particular. I find each season there’s an artist or a song that I am addicted to that becomes my race mantra. Last year, it was Linkin Park, and this spring was Macklemore and Blink 182. Fast forward to now, this one line in the song “Fly” really rings true to this season. I know I’m in the best shape of my life and it’s my time to really go for it, not to hold anything back, to fly.

      Over the summer months we also started planning a trip to Flagstaff, Arizona to boost our training and give us a vacation as well. How surprised was I to learn that the North Arizona Elite (NAZ) team’s mantra was #timetofly. It just felt like this trip, at this time, was meant to be. Further ingraining my obsession with listening to this song on recovery runs and belting it out along the Grand River trails [and you know how awesome my singing voice is from my vlogs ;)].

 The Build

      My training this summer has been by far the most quality training I’ve ever put together. (After some fun and games of off-season of course ;)) Boosted fitness from my spring build up and pb’s helped me reach new levels of fitness in workouts and mileage. After Ottawa 10k Championships, where I ended my spring season, I started back on a “build” full steam ahead with the intent of a great lead up to a fall marathon.

After last year’s marathon, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do another one so soon. But I knew, with how strong I felt this year, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to actually nail one. From June on, I took on the task of putting together month on top of month of consistent training.


The legend Mitch on the right

With the wisdom of Mitch Free, our team’s best marathoner (who always nails it), I was hitting long run tempos at my goal marathon pace as early as July. He really helped me feel confident in those early workouts since he is always upfront and honest with his statements.

 I’ve hit the most mileage I have ever run and I’ve been able to place those weeks consistently on top of each other. While this was quite exhausting and at times very challenging, getting up at 5am still half-asleep to run twenty kilometers before the heat of the day hit and before heading to work. I also saw recovery as the upmost importance. I started napping religiously after every workout Wednesday and long-run tempo. I was relentless on my search for healthy recipes, ensuring I was cooking healthy meals even when I got home from work at 8 o’clock at night. I also added one-hour massages any time my body started to feel run down. The increase in training load was not without the respect it deserved.

Tune-up Races

      Come end of July, it was time to test my legs. Durham Quarter was first up a 10.549km race in Oshawa. It was a great rust-buster but my legs were tired from the mileage and all they wanted to do was run marathon pace. I pushed the first kilometers running in 2nd place (female) until the untimely mid-race shoe tie forced me to stop which bumped into 3rd and with my “marathon legs” in full-force, I was unable to make back up the ground 2nd place had gained on me. I was happy to walk away with a 3rd place finish in my favourite hometown event in front of my family who came to watch.

         Next up was the 3 Runner’s Den Sunset Series races. Dan from Runner’s Den Hamilton runs these local 5km races every 2 weeks on Tuesday evenings starting in July.

The first one was only 3 days after Durham Quarter in fact! But, Josh and I love supporting Dan and the Hamilton Bombers who always help make it a hell of a time, so we did it anyways. I decided to chase the back of Mitch who ultimately ran a 5k pb and paid hard for the lack of recovery from DQM and from going out the first few km too fast. As the series progressed, so did my times. From 17:39 to 17:08 a new 5k pb was set by the end of the series. Did that 5k ever hurt, I remember thinking “oh god this hurts” and then shortly after hearing someone in the crown yell “one mile in.” Yikes. During the 2nd 5k of the series, I also had a humorous encounter with a “circling roller-blader,” as I will forever refer to her as. Let’s just say, if you yell at runners tell them they suck and then happen to get in my way while turning, sorry about your luck #straightarm.

Flagstaff 2017 – 15 days

20170823_190845_Richtone(HDR)On August 23rd, the very next day after setting my new 5k pb, we were airborne headed to Flagstaff! By some luck and hard searching, we were able to stay with Matt Llano, a Pro runner with NAZ Elite and Hoka One One. He was a very gracious host with beautiful home whom we were able to learn a lot from. Another privilege was getting to meet Matt Fitzgerald (“Fitz”), an iconic journalist who writes running literature. He happened to be staying with Matt for his entire build-up to the Chicago Marathon, living and training like the pros as part of his new literary adventure. Every day he writes short blog posts that accompany his running logs, check them out here. We learned a lot from Fitz and he made us feel quite at home, filling the silence with meaningful conversations about training and its greater meaning in life.

          We landed quite late the first day grabbed our rental car and before we knew it, the sun was setting. We planned a scenic drive through Sedona on our way to Flagstaff, but the darkening skies had other plans. I did snap a few pictures though.

              As we stumbled into Matt’s home at 1am we tip toed around trying to avoid 20170824_094106_Richtone(HDR)waking everyone else up. As I laid in bed that first night, my heart was racing and breathing was heavy. A side effect of being at 7000ft, I assumed. We set an early alarm to get up and head to the Grand Canyon (while we still had the rental car). Five-thirty am. We stumbled out of bed and headed to a local coffee shop Macy’s where we grabbed our caffeine and muffins for the day. It such a beautiful drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. Much better than the views from our midnight arrival the previous night. As we arrived at the South Rim of the Canyon we were greeted by the park rangers in their iconic white-brimmed hats. We knew we had arrived. Set out running down the Bright Angel Trail, we took in the beautiful sights. 2 hours, 16 kilometers and 3500ft of elevation gain/loss later, we had heavy legs but full hearts. Here are a few of my favourite shots from that day.

        The Lava Rock River Cave was a must-see pit stop on the way home. Though uninteresting from the surface, the cave was over a kilometer long reaching heights of 10 feet at some points. Not without its slow stepping and carefully timed footwork, this was one of our favourite sites we visited during our time.

        We finally headed home, grabbed groceries and greeted our housemates. In their minds, we hadn’t even arrived yet, with the late arrival and early morning no-one had met us yet. Matt Llano was still away on an extended race-weekend trip and they had been texting him questioning him on whether we were still coming. He said, “they’ll be there, trust me.” After a few laughs and dropping off the rental car, Josh and I headed out for another 14km to total 30km on the day. We were, after all, there to train.


          The following day (Friday) we did a shakeout in the morning 8k, followed by a 6.5km run each way run into town. We quickly realized that the task of running up and down the Grand Canyon yesterday was no joke. Our legs were in agony, quadriceps aching and knotted. At least we had some great tea and coffee out of it. After a quick nap, we added another 8km on to the day’s total, 30k.

20170828_074338.jpgThe first few days at altitude we felt great, energized and excited about being there. As the days went on, we started to hit the wall of exhaustion from our heavy training loads and the altitude. Saturday was another double, legs still in agony from the Canyon. It also included a glorious nap, as did almost every day there. Did I mention that the trails in Flagstaff are endless? There are never ending trail systems including the Ponderosa Trail, a 9km paved trail that runs throughout the entire neighborhood we were staying in, as well as more traditional dirt trails that were also footsteps from out doorstep. Most of my easy runs were some kind of combination of these two trail systems. Almost every day I ran on the iconic Lake Mary Road, but more about this later.

       That Sunday was our first long-run at altitude was a reduced 27km with a planned 3x5km at marathon pace. My exhausted state of mind and knotted legs decided to let me do 2x5km and I was happy with that. Especially since that day started thinking that there was 20170827_111533no way I could do any kind of effort. That evening Fitz took pity on us and lent us his recovery boots and they were heavenly. Basically the “boots” add compression via an air pump that travels up and down the boot systematically; which can help speed up recovery by aiding the body to pump new blood to the legs. We talked all things running with Fitz every night we could, to pick his brain about his own knowledge and that in which he’s gained while training with the NAZ Elite team. Matt Llano finally arrived home that night and we got to meet him for the first time.


I finished that first half-week there with my highest mileage to date, 150km (including that 5km pb race).

       On Monday August 28 we celebrated our 1 year anniversary in Flagstaff! I got up early and did a shakeout run and later that day we did another run together. We took an Uber into town for dinner and went on short walk to a nearby coffee shop before Ubering home. It was great to have some rich food as we had been cooking all our meals and eating very clean since we had arrived 5 days earlier.


Our first workout at altitude was a humbling 15x300m on the Tuesday, just steps outside of Matt’s house on the Ponderosa trail. I struggled to run my sea-level 1k repeat pace while sucking back air at 7000ft! Yikes. This was our first real experience where we both said, yeah the altitude does make a big difference, as we didn’t notice as much on easy runs. We finished this off with a core workout and we were done for the day. We were slugs as we made our dinner and laid there on the ground for hours post workout.


Ponderosa Trail

      Now it had been a few days since we did our trip into town, and without a car, we were getting stir-crazy. I had planned for us to run to a nearby lookout point called Fisher’s Point. Now by nearby, I exaggerate. It was FAR. As we started running towards it, leaving from Matt’s house, I kept looking for the turn off into the trailhead and we just kept going, and going. It ended up being a total of 25k for the run in the midday heat, and a day post-workout.

Not my greatest idea, but I knew I wanted to go there so I sucked it up and trudged along until we arrived. We decided to mostly hike to the top of the peak as we were exhausted. Shortly up the trail, we were then again humbled by an older man who appeared to be in his 60s doing hill repeats up and down the lookout passing us not once, but twice!


Coach hard at work

    Coach Josh gave me the following day as a down day, just 10miles, as the Americans would say. I was quite grumpy as the exhaustion was setting in and I used that single run and a mental reset to go explore new trails instead of worrying about grinding out mileage. I crossed the interstate roundabouts and headed over to Fort Tuthill, what would become one of my new favourite trails in the area. It was filled with pine trees as far as the eye could see and had single track trails as well as a flat, soft dirt trail that was part of the Urban Trail system that actually led all the way into town if you took it far enough.

            My new beloved trail system would turn around to bite me in the butt the very next day as I bragged to Josh about how “we should run our workout there, it was nice and flat, just like our Paris to Cambridge trail back home.” I would soon eat my words as I struggled to run my 10min tempo + 4x(1600m + 400m) workout, cursing every step of the way. We would later tell Matt and his roommate Jason about our thwarted attempts and a workout in Fort Tuthill. Matt hated doing workouts in there, and hadn’t done so in years. We felt much better about our efforts after his complaints harmonized with ours.

            Saturday I had planned for another double day but our stir-craziness had other plans. We walked the 6.5km each way into town to go out for lunch and to check out Run Flagstaff, a local running store. Of course we also stopped for Josh to try out another coffee shop on the “best rated” list. After 13km’s of walking, that 13km run that morning was enough for the day.

Sunday. The word that is synonymous with long-run day in a runner’s vocabulary. The church of the Sunday long-run. We woke up quite early and my body was feeling the mileage of the week, the fatigue in my body was endless. The warm-up was already a 20170828_074713death trap and was only made more demoralizing as I tripped and wiped out, covering myself in the red dirt I had been trudging through day in and day out. In an emotional, fatigued state, Josh asked whether I should even attempt the long-run workout today. Stubborn me, knew I would be fine once I started the pick-ups I would feel fine. I have a pre-workout anxiety that often sets in and makes me dread each workout. Until I start, I’m a mess. 36k went off without a hitch. We ran the majority of our long-run on the infamous Lake Mary Road. It is a well-paved road marked out every 1/4mile for 18 or 19miles straight. Every elite marathoner who have done altitude stints here have run on this very road, logging hundreds of miles here. It was a great experience being able to follow in the footsteps of legends. After finishing my 5km warm-up, I did 10k at marathon “effort” (MP adjusted for altitude) in 41:45 (4:11s), 2k easy followed by another 6k at marathon effort thankfully being able to average 4:05s. I was slightly worried during my 10km that I would even be able to do the 2nd pick-up as my legs felt like lead as the hills of Lake Mary Rd took its toll. I was pleasantly surprised that once I started my 6k my legs didn’t feel any worse; they actually felt better! Since it was an out-and-back I needed another 13k to get back home to finish the week at my first ever 100mile week.


            The celebrated “100mile week” was something I had my eye on this summer. I knew that if my body would let me, this is something I’d like to accomplish this build. The idea is that running more mileage would help build strength to help the body finish strong in the final miles of the marathon; up until a certain point of course! More is not always better. I knew that the increased recovery of being able to nap every day, double my runs and not working while training would allow my body to hit the illustrious 100mile week while here in Flagstaff. I was proud to accomplish this goal, thinking back to just a few short years ago hitting 100km/week for the first time ever.

            Nothing special happened the next day, just a double run and enjoying our time in Flagstaff talking with Fitz and Matt as much as possible. Trying to absorb the experience


Walnut Canyon

and as much knowledge as possible. On the Tuesday we did a easy run with NAZ and got to meet the team including coach Ben Rosario. Everyone was very welcoming and easy to talk to. As we set out, I found myself running next to Kellyn Taylor, a great marathoner. We made conversation about the usual runner thing including what our goals are for this season, what races we are doing, and how we were adjusting to altitude. I turned around with her as the boys were doing a longer run and I wanted to double for the day. Then she dropped a bomb on me, “you guys are just going to miss tarantula season,” she said casually. If you know me, you know I HATE spiders and these and are giant! This was the only reason that I was glad to be leaving in two days.

            The final day before we left, Josh and I joined some of the NAZ elite team for their 25x400m workout at Camp Verde. What makes Camp Verde special is that in just 20170906_092209short of an hour drive, the elevation decreases to 3500ft instead of the 7000ft of Flag. It was such a cool experience being able to see how the pros prep for their workouts and to run one with them. The NAZ team always puts out their Roll Recovery mats and stretch before each run. This workout had the two Scotts (fauble and smith), Futsum, and our host Matt Llano. As the team has different goal races, they often aren’t doing workouts all together. We did a warm-up with the NAZ guys and took in the sights of the rolling mountains around. Josh ran with the guys for the 400s and hung on so well to do 22 of them. I was so proud to see him rolling with pros. I decided to do 20x 400 and try to aim for my sea-level 10k pace. It was definitely tough but I felt a lot better than any of my previous altitude workouts. Futsum even gave me props for doing the entire workout solo, “you’re my hero, doing that solo,” he exclaimed as he finished his drills. We cooled down and had some laughs especially with Scott Fauble. He told us stories about animals having sex on our cool-down route and how he gets into a dark place in workouts where he hates those being too optimistic. We had the NAZ guys pose for the classic GRE post-workout pic, a great memoir of our endless 400s.


The following day Matt nicely drove us to the shuttle for the airport bright and early at 7am. We were sad to be leaving Flagstaff but excited to test our fitness when we arrived home.

I learned a lot while running in Flagstaff. We had the amazing scenery of Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Lava River Cave, Fisher Point, Flagstaff city, and Camp Verde. We gained new friendships with Matt Llano, Matt Fitzgerald and his wife Nataki, and the very welcoming NAZ Elite team. The biggest thing I learned while at altitude is that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. I can run at 7000ft. I can run high volume workouts similar to the elites. I can run 100miles in one week. I also increased my perceived pain threshold being able to push harder even while hurting immensely.

As always, thank you to Skechers Performance Canada for their continued support by providing me with the best apparel and shoes! If you haven’t seen any stores that carry the performance line near you check out the new online retail store (in Canada now) here. A big shout out to my GRE crew who are very supportive even through their own tough times, to my Dad who’s a great supporter and there for any race he can be, and of course to Coach Josh who always pumps me up even when he’s exhausted from his own training.

4 more weeks until STWM.

Until then, Grind ON.



This entry was posted in advice, cross-training, Durham 1/4, flagstaff, long-run, marathon, Mizuno Sunset Series, naz elite, nutrition, race recap, running, Skechers Performance Division, Toronto Island Longboat race, training, Vacation, Wedding. Bookmark the permalink.

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