Supporting NH Athletes in THE Original Sport!

Short Strides and Odd Thoughts Series: Confessions of a (Running) Dirtbag

By Michael Smith

In rock climbing, the term “dirt-bag” is used to describe a climber that lives cheaply, sleeping in their vehicle near the local climbing area in an effort to spend as much time as they can doing what they love, climbing. With no job and nothing on the agenda but to head to the rock face, lace up those grippy climbing shoes and work on perfecting the craft, life becomes very simple, eat, climb, sleep.

For the professional runner the rhythm of the day would be similar, replacing climb with run. Grinding out the miles, day in, day out, in an effort to perfect the craft.

Many of the professional running community chose to do so in Flagstaff, AZ, where the rarified air adds another challenge thus upping the training ante everyday. Sitting at a hypoxic 7000 feet of elevation, with a vast urban and wilderness trail system, many pro groups choose “Flag” as their high altitude base camp. Northern Arizona University, one of the top D1 distance programs in the US, along with pro groups like NAZ Elite, Dark Sky Distance project, pros Jim Wamsley, Molly Seidel, and other top individuals call Flagstaff home.

I no longer (never?!) possess the talent to be considered elite, sub elite, or even local legend status where chucking it all and doing an altitude stint to take that next step would be of any performance benefit. Moving to Flagstaff would likely only mean I’m the slowest person in town that has dedicated so much time to running. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking, what if?

So this April vacation, I will be spending six days in Flagstaff, connecting with my inner running dirtbag. And while six days of altitude training is going to do almost nothing for my VO2 max, my lactate threshold, my red blood cell count, or add any benefit to my running fitness, I will get the mental benefit of “playing pro” albeit for a very short time.

So the game plan is to thrash myself twice a day, maybe take a nap somewhere in the middle, and get up and do it again the next day. I’ve rented a sweet airBnB on the edge of town, right on the Flag urban trail system and within jogging distance to Buffalo Park. I’ve got a list of the local hot spots where the pros and collegians alike get their workouts in and I’m looking to do the same.

I’ve got a couple of friends coming out with me with their main purpose to run back and forth across the Grand Canyon. I won’t be doing that, as 48+ miles of trail running would certainly mean I wouldn’t be running anything the next day (or maybe the next month!) defeating the purpose for me going out there. I do have a plan to get some miles of running in the Big Ditch with an eye on getting up and getting after it again the next day.

I have no idea how it’s going to go, whether I can handle this fairly aggressive plan. Will this be another nail in my coffin or will it lead to a strong summer campaign? Who knows?. What I do know is it will be hard, oxygen depleted, and a struggle to catch my breath. And if I’m lucky, absolutely fulfilling.

Coach Smith will be sending along diary entries chronicling his daily adventures.

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