Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Flagstaff's Strava Itch

"The 'note' takes mere milliseconds to arrive, but the sting lasts for days." - recently dethroned Strava CR (course record) holder

It has now become abundantly clear that Strava has passed from fad to tradition in our budding mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona.  What once was a customary climb to a peak or ridge now attracts a growing history of published footprints and battles fought against ethereal ghosts.  From national champions to world champions, from trail 100-mile victors to Olympians, from seekers to destroyers, the Flagstaff Strava overall segment leaderboards are a veritable who's who of the talented and accomplished.

Strava segments are user-created and user-edited.  Segments are designated portion(s) of a route where Strava users can compete against themselves (past efforts) or other users for time.  Segments can be listed publicly or privately depending on the creator's preferences.  Strava is a tool that isn't for everyone, however, it can certainly come in handy if you're looking for incentive to push harder on the trails and roads or looking to connect with other runners.  Public segments can be explored thus sparking inspiration to seek out new trail adventures.  The drive to be atop the leaderboard also breeds lively, local rivalries.

Flagstaff and its surrounding mountains are covered with Strava segments.  Here are my top ten (and a few added bonuses) based on nothing more than my own opinion. 

1) Buffalo Park Loop (counter clock-wise)
Buffalo Park

And we'd be remiss if we didn't include Buffalo Park finish strong, the final climb on this Buffalo Park 2-mile loop.  It's been the undoing of high school, collegiate and professional runners from all over the world.  Both records are owned by NAU alum David McNeill.  He sports a 13:25 5K PR and seems to always perform better at altitude.  Good luck taking either of these segments down.  UPDATE as of press time:  Scotland's Andrew Lemoncello (see Poo Pond Climb below) just took down McNeill's segment time as of 6/9/2015.

2) Poo Pond Climb
 Sewage treatment ponds in Flagstaff's Rio de Flag.  The setting for this segment.

This segment is short but deadly.  It's often included in the infamous Bagel Run and is part of the 800-mile long Mexico to Utah Arizona Trail.  I had the pleasure of witnessing this record being set from far behind during a recent Bagel Run.  Andrew Lemoncello, current CR holder and 2008 Olympian, was heard two miles later gasping, "I'm still trying to catch my breath."

3) Woody Mountain Road Climb
Woody Mountain Road

This ever-popular forest road meanders south from Flagstaff up and over the shoulder of Woody Mountain and then on to Rogers Lake.  The climb is a mile, but at 7000' it always leaves you breathless.  CR holder and 2:11 marathoner Nick Arciniaga said this about his recent best effort, "It was a week out from the Boston Marathon and I was in full on taper mode.  I was feeling good and Woody Mountain became Heart Break Hill for the day."

4) Heart Trail
Heart Trail

What goes up must come down, so I've also included the Descent of Heart Trail.  If you're ever thinking of running Zane Grey 50 Mile local ultrarunners will direct you to this trail.  If you enjoy Heart then you might enjoy Zane.  Have a miserable time and they'd advise you against heading down to the Mogollon Rim on race day.  In Flagstaff there's no better way to introduce yourself to crappy footing (roots, rocks and ruts), steep terrain and exposure to the high altitude sun.  Well-known locally, but not yet nationally, trail running stud Art Degraw cleans up on Heart.

5) Schultz Creek Trail Ascent ("Y" to Lincoln Logs)
Schultz Creek Trail

Again, the downhill is just as fun! Schultz Creek Trail Descent (Lincoln Logs to "Y")
Invented to encourage time trialing, these ONB (out and back) smooth single-track segments were split in two to provide rest for those wishing to run each 4-mile segment in "full beast mode."  adiUltra athlete Brian Tinder holds the CRs in both directions. "I live two miles from the Schultz Creek/Schultz Pass 'Y,'" says Tinder.  "I can bop up here on a whim and lay down tracks. Most runners must drive to the start, I get a good warm-up before diving in."

6)  Sunset Climb
Views from the top of Sunset Trail

Classic Flagstaff single-track!  This ascent is the deadliest climb on the Soulstice Trail Run course.  Women's CR holder, JFK 50 Mile winner and 2:32 marathoner Emily Harrison comments on this segment, "I'm from northern Virgina. We have tough climbs there, but nothing as smooth as the Sunset Trail.  I love running uphill at top end.  I set this record during the Soulstice race and made up for a lot of lost time on the lead guys."

7) Kendrick Peak climb trail #22
Kendrick in winter

The 4.5-mile climb is single-track, but has excellent footing.  Running downhill is just as important to master.  The Kendrick Peak Descent offers an excellent opportunity to test those quads.  Though Kendrick is hard to miss on the northern Arizona skyline and has been standing here for eons it has now just become the newest heartthrob in the "elite" Flagstaff running community.  Art Degraw, once again, has laid his claim on this mountain.

8)  Snowbowl Base to Mt. Humphrey's
Arizona's high point
We'd definitely be remiss if we didn't mention our mind-blowing backdrop and Arizona's highest mountain.  Have you run the HURT 100 Mile or Squamish 50 Mile?  Add in the lung-popping altitude and you have the roots and slipperiness of these two events on both the ascent and descent (Escape from Humphrey's Peak) of Mt Humphreys.

9)  Brookbank Mile Climb
Signage on Brookbank

Chris Vargo said this of his CR run, "Colt and I had a disagreement that morning.  He just doesn't listen to anything I say.  I needed to go out and release my frustrations. Brookbank filled the bill.  Needless to say, Colt and I made up. I can't stay mad at him for long."
Brookbank Baby Bobbleheads is the aptly-named descent of the climb. If you like dancing on rolling rocks then this segment is for you.  Side note:  Rumor has it that this trail may soon become extinct.  The US Forest Service may soon realign the trail to eliminate erosion problems and the formation of said baby heads.  Better get on it quick as this CR may stand forever once the trail is decommissioned.

10) Mt Elden LO Rd Climb (Gate to East Towers)
The start of the uphill segment.
 "I've stared at these gates many times.  Now a little throw up gathers in my gullet when I see 'em." - Jacob Puzey

 The awesome sweeping views from the top of Mt. Elden.  The segment ends at the towers seen here.

The reverse direction is just as challenging if running fast - Mt Elden LO Rd Descent (East Towers to Gate).  There are two summits to Elden:  Dubbed East Towers and West Towers.  Not all quality efforts show up on the East Tower segment because some runners go west. However, Lookout Suckkahs (a smaller segment glimpse of the ascent) let's you decide who the fastest is on the uphill forest road. 

Bonus #1a & 1b - The "trail-less" segments:  Bootleg trails are a part of any mountain town.  Some are accepted, others are not.  Flagstaff is in the process of reviewing bootleg trails that should become incorporated into the official trail system.  Here are two segments that won't show up on any official map, but may on a Strava segment search.

a) Private Reserve
 Yes, you'll run up that cliff.

He takes his running seriously and if there were ever a segment that he'd claim as his own, it'd be this one.  "The key is knowing the segment intimately," say Rob Krar.  "Once I hit the meadow on top, I open up my stride and collect the CR there. This is my favorite climb in Flagstaff and is part of one of my favorite running routes."

b) Slay the Ginger -  This segment is part of the growing-in-popularity loop named Afternoon Delight.  After today's ascent, CR holder Chris Vargo was heard muttering, "This climb gets worse each time I do it."

Bonus #2 - The Oldham Steps 

 An aspen growing along the volcanic boulders that cast their shadows on the Oldham Steps route.

This is my personal favorite.  I start from home and after a few miles on the Flagstaff Urban Trail (FUTS) and a pass through Buffalo Park, I tackle this short and sweet 6-mile loop.  It's also part of the Flagstaff Monday Night Hill Runs.  Now that it's no longer a secret, I expect to see some new CRs on this loop segment.  By simply eying some of the other smaller segments on this loop, like Arizona Trail Climb, I can tell things will get real soon.

Bonus #3 - The under-appreciated and unknown.  If there were ever a climb that was overlooked, it's O'Leary:  O'Leary all the way
 The start and end of the O'Leary segments.

 After roughly a half-mile you can see where you must go.

The O'Leary Free Fall is the ascent in reverse.  With nothing but soft cinders under your feet, you can really open up on this descent.  Road and trail runners alike can enjoy this non-technical, but steep climb to gorgeous views of the San Francisco Peaks.

So there you have it.  Do you have a favorite segment?  Share it in the comments section below.