Friday, 5 February 2016

Running in Flagstaff - how to for non-Americans

I'll try to summarize my experience in training in Flagstaff. It's from non-American person point of view. Apologies to any American readers, if I misunderstood anything or you feel offended by anything I wrote - that wasn't my intention at all. Also, if you spot any wrong information, please contact me or leave a comment.
It's a while since I got back from the USA, but finally decided to get it done. Why? More on that soon.

1. Getting there
I'm assuming you've made your way to the USA and you don't have a car there. I took a flight from NY to Phoenix, and then a Greyhound coach to Flagstaff.
Domestic flights in America are quite cheap and Greyhounds are even cheaper. It takes 5 hours on a plane from NY to Phoenix, and just under 3 hours by a coach from Phoenix to Flagstaff. If you need to spend a night in Phoenix, there are number of cheap, but ok motels very close to the airport. Greyhound station is close as well.

2. Accommodation
I choose to stay in the motel. There are many motels in Flagstaff, especially along the historic Route 66. Most of them have weekly offers. It's around $250 (+ tax) per week, and you're getting a decent-sized room with a bathroom. There is a small fridge, microwave and a tv in the room (although my TV didn't work. Or I didn't know how to make it work. Probably the latter). Usually there is WiFi as well but it can be of not the best quality, to say the least.

3. Food
That's more tricky. I think it's harder to find healthy food in markets in America than in Europe. Vast majority of food in the markets is highly processed, and really "rich" in sugar and fat.
But - having a microwave and a fridge in your room - you can improvise.
I don't have any food allergies so it's also easier for me. You can find good products, usually marked "organic"  (definitely more expensive though).
Bread is no big deal, and there are also eggs, milk, cheese. Actually, there is a really good Mexican style cottage cheese. It's very tasty and doesn't contain any artificial shit in it. I think it's called "Queso Ranchero".
I usually eat crazy amounts of veggies and fruit (someone who I haven't seen in a while, asked me recently if I still eat like a dinosaur...). In the beginning I was buying this in Walmart, but quite soon I realized it's actually hard to find tomatoes and lemons there. So I decided to give the "Farmer's Market" a go. I noticed this shop right when I arrived at Flagstaff (it was just next to my motel), but for some stupid reason I assumed it's a market FOR farmers. A place that sells plant seeds, tools, fertilizers, "Sheep are from Venus, farmers are from Mars" books, etc.
(Ok, that was a bad joke, apologies).
Obviously I was very wrong. It was a market with all sorts of veggies and fruit, most of them grown locally. Plus milk, cheese, eggs, local honey. It instantly became my favorite shop in Flagstaff.
It's located at N 4th Street, just next to the Route 66.

So that covers breakfasts and suppers + snacks. Living in a motel means you need to go to a restaurant for a lunch (unless you want to "cook" in the microwave). You are lucky here. There are many good and not expensive restaurants in Flagstaff. First of all, you can't go wrong with Mexican food. I found Mexican food in Arizona simply amazing. Big portions, very tasty and nutritious. There are also good pizza places, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. Obviously there are traditional American places with great steaks, burgers, ribs etc., but if you're there for training, you should probably avoid those places... Which is not that easy as the food is delicious.

4. Getting around
Some means of transport is essential. Even if you're staying in the downtown or in the campus area, you'd miss out on many cool locations if you can't travel further than 10-15 km one way (that's probably reasonable max distance you can do if you're not training for an ultra run).
At least get a bike, but if you're up for doing more tourism, a motorbike or car would be much more handy. I got the cheapest bike I could find, $99 speed demon from Walmart. It did the job, although it was a bit hard to ride it (I'm not a cyclist at all). Although I managed to do a 100+ km ride in one day, with 1km ascent. A bit of advice - it get's much easier if you inflate your tires properly first...

5. Running trails
I know mostly the eastern part of the city, as that's where I was staying.
First of all, you can run on the streets, and for your short, recovery runs, that would probably be the main choice. Of course, it's not that fun, and because of traffic and traffic lights at every junction, you may need to run in random direction from time to time, or just wait for the light to change.
There are a couple of trails for short runs as well, but it always involves a bit of road running (or cycling to the location).
For longer runs there are really cool trails.
One of my favorites was the road to Walnut Canyon. It's probably the best to get to the Flagstaff Athletics Club East first, and start from there. After about a mile on the road (with almost no traffic, for a change), you're getting on a trail that goes for miles. You're in the forest, it's green, quiet, simply beautiful. The trail is reasonably flat, what helps as well (you're at altitude after all, it's hard to run even on a flat surface).

6. Track

There are two tracks in Flagstaff. One is at Coconino High School (Izabel Street, next to E Cedar Avenue). The other one is at NUA campus. Both tracks are really good, but it's worth checking the opening times. The one at High School tends to be closed when it's getting dark, and can be closed on the weekend as well. NUA one is open during the day even on the weekends (at least on Saturday), but I don't know until how late. So better check in advance.

7. Gym

There are a number of smaller gyms in Flagstaff, that cater mostly for personal trainers and their clients. You may be able to use one of those, but if you want - check first what are the opening times, as they tend to be open only during shorter time slots.
But there is Flagstaff Athletics Club. They have two massive gyms, and I definitely recommend them. I was using the east one. The other one is in the western part of the town, past the downtown and campus.
The gym is simply awesome. It's big, very well equipped, got a swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi, all sorts of aerobic stuff (bikes, treadmills, elipticals and so on).
What's most important though - very big and well quipped weights room. Two squat racks, plenty of free weights, benches, machines, all you need and much more. And it's not crowded at all - I've never had to wait for any piece of equipment. It also has tiny indoor track! Membership is $95/month, and you can join for just one month. It's open from 5am to 11pm from Monday to Thursday, and a bit shorter on other days. More details here: http://www.flagstaffathleticclub.com/

That's probably enough to get you an idea about training in Flagstaff. If by any chance anyone is reading this and is interested in more details, please feel free to contact me (or leave a comment).

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