blog post 80

Meet Me in Flagstaff

My wife and I are in the process of relocating from Oakdale, California, to Flagstaff, Arizona. All moves are momentous—we should know, having executed no fewer than 12 of them in our first 11 years together—but this one feels especially so. Nataki and I have lived in Oakdale off and on (but mostly on) since 2005, and have experienced some happy times here (our fifth anniversary bash stands out), and some not-so-happy times (none worse than the time a police officer came this close to blowing Nataki’s head off amid a mental health crisis).

It’s not only what we’re leaving behind that makes this transition momentous. It’s also what we’re moving toward. The property we’re buying is situated on the west side of Flagstaff in a forested area rich with trails and dirt roads popular with local runners. The house itself is under construction, and when completed will feature five bedrooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens, and a couple of spacious common areas. The backyard is huge, by tract home standards, and abuts one of the aforementioned running trails.

blog post 81

Nataki and I do not intend to live there in cosseted seclusion. The moment we move in, we will begin to transform our new home into the ultimate runners retreat, with a full gym, a recovery lounge, a spa pool with underwater treadmill, a cryotherapy tub, a dry sauna, shoe cubbies, you get the idea. When it’s ready, we will open our doors for runners to stay with us and live like the pros for up to 12 weeks at a stretch. I’m calling it Dream Run Camp.

Needless to say, it takes a strong motivation to plan and execute a life change so big. For me, the main impetus is my health, which has been less than good for the past 25 months. The thing I hate most about long covid is that it attacks my life force, which is the thing I like most in myself. Ever since I was a wee squirt I’ve had a gigantic appetite for life, a hunger for intense experiences coupled with an indifference to risk that permits no fear to stop me from turning my dreams into realities, or at least trying. Chronic fatigue and persistent malaise have made me unrecognizable to myself in this respect, replacing carpe diem with carpe doldrum.

But not entirely. The real me is still inside, buried under the rubble of sickness, but breathing. It’s like being hungry and queasy at the same time, wanting to eat but unsure of its feasibility. Analogies aside, what I’m trying to say is that even now I burn to live hugely, it’s just harder than it used to be. There are certain experiences I might like to have that simply aren’t feasible. The one I’ve set in motion, however, is. I think.

But why Flagstaff? Why Dream Camp? I confess that I have contemplated other wild ideas since I got sick, including selling everything I own and cruising around the world with Nataki. But one thing I’ve noticed in the past couple of years is that I tend to feel better when I’m interacting with other athletes (I still think of myself as an athlete, pitiful as that may be) in a shared physical space. There have been a handful of moments within this span when I’ve been almost symptom-free, three of which have coincided with my participation in running camps as a coach. There’s a clear pattern here, and although I can’t explain it, I can exploit it. The logic behind my imminent life change couldn’t be simpler: If I feel better at running camps, why not live in one?

Something else I’ve noticed over the past couple of years is a novel desire to serve others. There are people on this earth who experience this pull their entire lives, beginning in early childhood. I am not such a person. I’ve always been very self-focused, frankly, which partly explains my affinity for the solitary pursuits of writing and endurance sports. But this is changing. Whether it’s an effect of being sick or a natural part of getting older or both, I now get my kicks from giving of myself to my fellow humans (athletes especially) to a degree that I didn’t before.

The best 13 weeks of my life were spent as a fake professional runner in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 2017, embedded with the Hoka Northern Arizona Elite team. The purpose of Dream Run Camp is to make a similar experience available to other runners. Attendees will have opportunities to run alongside (or at least behind) the real pros and work with the same strength coaches, physical therapists, dietitians, massage therapists, and sports psychologists they use—just like I did. And they’ll be guests in my house with full access to its facilities and amenities (and me, except when I’m sleeping). If you’re interested, let me know. I can’t promise the best weeks of your life, but I will try my best, and get plenty in return. More than you can imagine.