Considering that over 90% of my running has been done at an elevation of about 600 ft., you can imagine that running at an elevation of close to 7 thousand (7,000) ft. probably felt a tad bit different. And that was definitely a huge understatement!
Why on earth would I go somewhere ~7,000 ft. above sea level to run? Well, I am glad you asked! No, I am not training for the Boston Marathon, or any race for that matter. I was in Williams, AZ where I had spent the night a few weekends ago while I was visiting the Grand Canyon. And as usual, I packed my running shoes because I hoped to get a run in as I am trying to run outside in as many places as possible. Since I love to travel, and I get to do so quite a bit, the list of places I’ve run outside is coming along quite nicely :).
Williams, AZ is a city in Coconino County, Arizona, west of Flagstaff. It lies on the route of Historic Route 66, Interstate 40, and the Southwest Chief Amtrak train route. It is also the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway, which takes visitors to Grand Canyon Village. There are numerous inns, motels, restaurants and gas stations that cater to the large influx of tourists rather than local residents, especially during the summer and holiday seasons.
I was staying right along Route 66 so it was the perfect place to run I thought. Early the next morning, I got up and it was about 35 F. Blimey! I was not prepared for such frigid temps in May but I decided to do it anyway- just one mile. Little did I know that ambient temperature would be the least of my worries!
I knew that running at higher elevation was more difficult. I only knew this because I had heard someone say it or I read it somewhere. I just thought one would be slightly more out of breath, no big deal. It was worse. lol. Athletes train at high elevations so that when it’s time for competition, they end up performing better. In fact, USA Track & Field has recommended that athletes live between 7,000 and 8,000 feet above sea level. Sparse oxygen at such altitude forces your body to increase its number of red blood cells, thus increasing the amount of oxygen delivered to muscles during exercise and improving performance.Great! Now, I can run a marathon :).
If you were curious, here are some [popular] U.S. cities and their elevations to give you a sense of how high Williams, AZ is.
- Bozeman, Montana- 4,816 ft.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico- 4,954 ft.
- Boulder, Colorado- 5,272 ft.
- Colorado Springs, Colorado- 6,322 ft.
- Flagstaff, Arizona- 6,834 ft.
I have run 3 half marathons so running a few miles usually isn’t a big deal. However, those 3 races were all in Indiana :). Let’s just say the difference was very clear. I literally couldn’t breathe and I felt tired almost immediately so I definitely wasn’t expecting a PR. But I had to achieve my goal of running in a new city- and I felt that 1 mile was the threshold. I kept thinking how awesome it would be to add Williams, AZ to my list and just have Arizona show up on my activity for my running app.
Speaking of app- unfortunately, my phone is silly and extremely sillier when I am out of town. Meaning it likes to do things like die suddenly even when the battery % is reasonably high, like 50%. So my phone decided to die during this very historic run and as a result I don’t think all the stats are accurate (when I plugged in my phone, the end point registered as my location when the phone ‘woke up’). However, you get the gist…
It was hard, but I am glad I did it despite the cold, the elevation, and my nagging foot injury. After that, I had a huge breakfast and continued on with my Arizona adventures which included hiking at the Grand Canyon National Park! Look out for a blog post [and maybe even a vlog] or two on that soon :).
Header Photo: Route 66, Early Sunday Morning. Perfect Route for a short run. May 2016. Photo by O Thomas.