Flagstaff’s high-elevation trails and forest roads are an ideal training ground for the Imogene Pass Run… and we have thousands of IPR finishers to prove it.
Nat White’s Guide to Training for Imogene
Flagstaff is a brilliant place to train for the Imogene Pass Run. Here’s some advice from one of the town’s most illustrious runners, Nat White.
Your motivation for running Imogene influences your overall training plan.
• If your goal is to be first in some category, that requires a more technical and strategic approach and a long-term running background.
• If your goal is to see what you can do all-out, that requires good overall conditioning with long runs and strategic training over a four- to five-month period.
• If your goal is to complete the run as a personal challenge, that requires lots of power hill hiking and long, slow runs over three or four months.
In my mind, IPR is 90 percent training and 10 percent strategy.~Nat White
Your training plan should be capitalizing on your strong points and strengthening your weaker points. Your strategies must take account of your training and running background and your age. For most runners, the run has four elements that you will encounter and need to train or prepare for, plus gear:
• continuous running uphill
• significant uphill power walking
• continuous downhill running
Things I have done that probably were not the most efficient training:
• Run until tired every day.
• Focus on lots of mileage.
• Long, hard runs high on the Peaks.
• Training at high altitude.
• Sleeping at altitude.
Things that worked better for me:
• Early on in the training I start with a guess as to easily manageable weekly mileage and divide this distance into one longer run and all the rest shorter runs.
• I may increase the weekly mileage or not, but I do increase the distance and intensity of the longer run over time.
• On the shorter runs during the week, I might emphasize repeat hills, or downhill running or power walking or just easy running.
• I will do some fast-slow running once a week.
Favorite training spots:
• For long runs: Mount Elden Road, Inner Basin Road, Schultz Pass Road east to west, cinder cones north and west of Winona, Snowbowl from Aspen Corner to midway up the Agassiz ski run switchbacks.
• For shorter runs: Lowell Flagstaff Urban Trail System, Buffalo Park, the many roads and trails on Observatory Mesa, and some track runs.
Train rested, with the primary goal of a more intense weekly long run.~Nat White
More Favorite Training Spots
“We loved the summer training runs on the Peaks, including Kendrick, Sunset Trail, Schultz Pass, Inner Basin, Doyle Saddle, and Elden Lookout Road.” ~Dr. Walter and Nancy Taylor completed 20 IPRs.
The advantage of altitude training is not a myth.~Tess Siemens
“To get ready, I train up on the San Francisco Peaks, up Weatherford or Waterline Road or Kachina Trail. We also like to go up Kendrick Mountain, or Elden Lookout Road from the place four miles below where the road splits at the top.” ~Al Hendricks first ran the Imogene Pass Run in 1995 and has had an unbroken streak ever since.
“I try to work on just building time on my feet. If I can do three hours on my feet at lower elevation rather than up high, I can do Imogene.” ~Sarah Hendricks would have completed 22 in a row in 2018, but a knee problem (for which she would later have surgery) pulled her up at Upper Camp Bird.
“Dennis [Connell, her trainer, who launched many a Flagstaff runner toward Imogene Pass] adjusted my training routine to include Rocky Ridge, then up Brookbank, through the Dry Lakes and down Lost Burrito. He also added Kachina Trail so that I would be running at 9,000 feet. He emphasized that it wasn’t as much about distance as it was about time spent running.” ~Monica Baker
Flagstaff Finishes First
There’s a rich tradition supporting any Flagstaff runner who decides to try Imogene. Flagstaff consistently sends more runners to the race than any other town, including any town in Colorado. Here’s the proof.
What We Wish We’d Known
The best place to learn how to run Imogene is at Imogene, but here are some wise words from Flagstaffians who have done it. There’s a whole section in To Imogene, a Flagstaff Love Letter with more words of wisdom. This is just a taste.
Train at higher elevations: “For my first Imogene, my two friends (Kim Culbertson and Jennifer DeMott Miller) and I trained really hard all summer, hoping to beat the goal of four hours. We were running up to 30 miles per week by the end of the summer and were in great shape… .
Once we reached the steep grade at the start of our first Imogene, though, we realized we hadn’t trained correctly. We thought that since we lived at 7,000 feet, simply running our trails would be sufficient. Unfortunately, we hadn’t spent enough time training at higher elevations, so we all ended up hypoxic above Upper Camp Bird.” ~Emy Tice
Start early. “I’d wake up at 4:30 a.m. to hug some cold coffee and force down an apple, a granola bar, a cookie; anything to get some calories in. Then I’d head for the trailhead. The early bird misses the crowd, the heat, the monsoons.” ~Elise Rumpf
Call on your crew. In 2015, Dr. Beverly Tew began training for her first IPR, having given birth to twins in February. “My littles slept a lot as they were growing fast, so while they slept away, I would rise early, pump breast milk, hit the trails, come home, breastfeed, go to work while they went to day care, come home, repeat. We hiked the Weatherford Trail and Humphreys Peak. Our final prerace preparation was the Grand Canyon in August—South Rim to North Rim (breast pump in backpack), meet my family at the top, enjoy a layover day, then North Rim to South Rim. We covered a lot of miles and had fun doing it.”
Train for the downhill. Mike Olson was in second place at Imogene Pass, but ended up getting passed on the downhill to finish fourth. “When racing an uphill/downhill race, remember to train for both.”
Appreciate the moments. “When I came to the last steep section before Oldham Park [during a training run on Elden Lookout Road], which almost forced my body to a standstill, I urged my legs to keep going and stay fluid and tried to allow air to flow into my lungs. I stopped for a second to gaze at the small meadow, snapped a picture on my phone, and texted it to a friend. ‘Almost there, just have to get to those trees!’ was the caption. I’m not sure why I felt so strong, but at that moment I felt like a superhero.” ~Emily Hoppe
Train hard. “People told me Elden Lookout Road was similar to Imogene. So, I ran it. Monday-night group runs met at Buffalo Park and dropped down to Lower Oldham Trail Loop. Tuesdays were TRF workouts at the Northern Arizona University track. I trained harder that summer than for any past race I’d ever run.” ~Steve Sue
How to Make the Upper Camp Bird Cutoff
Many people, especially those who haven’t run IPR before, worry about making the cutoff at Upper Camp Bird. Flagstaff has a secret weapon: Weatherford Trail.
Liz Brauer did the research. “I hadn’t done a lot of trail running on the San Francisco Peaks, so I didn’t know the trails very well. I pulled out my “Flagstaff Trails Map” from Emmitt Barks Cartography and started plotting profiles. I put the distance in miles on the x axis and the elevation in feet on the y axis. I started with the uphill to Imogene Pass, then added Weatherford, Humphreys, Inner Basin, and Waterline. I would study the map and add more trails and more points. It got quite elaborate, but here is a simplified version.
“My conclusion was that the Weatherford Trail from Schultz Tank to the intersection with Inner Basin was the best match for the first 7.6 miles of Imogene. They have almost the same starting altitude and steepness. When I ran that section of the Weatherford Trail in 2:20, I knew I could make the Imogene cutoff. I remember looking at my watch and saying, ‘Ha!'”
Learn all about Flagstaff’s long-distance romance with Imogene
Learn more about training for and running Imogene in the pages of the award-winning book To Imogene, a Flagstaff Love Letter. (208 pages, hardbound, $37.95 plus tax and shipping)
“To Imogene, a Flagstaff Love Letter” is a book for everyone — runners and non-runners alike. If you’ve ever participated in the Imogene Pass Run or it’s on your bucket list, if you’re from Flagstaff or not (you’ll feel like part of the family), or if you’ve ever set your mind to accomplish something very challenging and succeeded – battered and bruised but not broken – this book will resonate. I love the physical book: the feel, look, colors, and smell. The pictures and illustrations enhance the reading of each love letter. Finally, I love that I can find a piece of myself and how I felt when I was running the race, in each of the stories.~Stephanie Edgerton