MTC Note: The following feature is part of our occasional “destinations” series showcasing out-of-state racing opportunities for Montana runners.
|Desert Sunrise - Credit: Aravaipa Running|
Come winter, when snow and ice send most of our mountain trails into a five month
hibernation, the trail running world turns its attention to the Sonoran Desert. Nearly every week this winter national trail running news outlets have reported on feats of endurance taking place under the Arizona sun. Over the past month or so, American runners have set national records in a handful of distances spanning from 100 miles to total distance covered in six days! But not all Arizona trail races are about speed. Many are simply about getting out and enjoying a long trail run under 70-degree sunshine at a time when runners in much of the country are scraping windshields and strapping on Yaktrax.
|Hal Koerner running for the win - Credit: Aravaipa Running|
The driving force behind the Arizona trail and ultrarunning scene is Aravaipa Running, a race management company owned and operated by the accomplished trail running brothers Jamil and Nick Coury. Thanks to Aravaipa, Montana runners are a cheap direct flight away from extending our season or taking a break from that long trail hibernation.
According to Jamil Coury—who will be getting a taste of Montana trail running this September by competing in The Rut 50k—when people think of the Phoenix area urban sprawl might come to mind. But the metropolis also offers superb trail running on mountains mixed in and around the city itself and at the seven Maricopa County parks, which Coury considers “one of the largest and best county regional park systems in the world.” Aravaipa hosts 14 events within the parks on their extensive trail systems. He credits the parks for accommodating trail runners and other recreationalists by “constantly building new trails and reworking existing ones to better serve the outdoor community.”
Coury knows a thing or two about trails. A year out of college he quit a job with an accounting firm to embark on an 800-mile hike of the Arizona trail. Wanderlust led him further afield to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail across Vermont, run a rugged 50K in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and spend time living and running with friends in Silverton, Colorado, and Ashland, Oregon. The experiences planted a seed for Coury. He envisioned building a trail running community in Arizona akin to the thriving one in Ashland where he experienced weekly group runs with like-minded athletes. Needless to say, there was no going back to accounting for Coury who now, by his own admission, lives and breathes trail running.
In 2009, Coury committed to his dream of starting his own business. “Ultra running, trail running, and getting in the outdoors are my passion,” he explains, “and I wanted to share that with others.” He called his new company Aravaipa (Air-Uh-Vie-Pah) after a hike he took through the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. He started a winter trail running series in the Phoenix area (after this weekend’s Coldwater Rumble there are two more events on the 2014 winter calendar: Elephant Mountain on February 22 and Mesquite Canyon on March 22) and focused on the community side of things with weekly group runs. According to Coury, “I really want to be a positive part of the trail running community as a whole. I like to be very involved and offer opportunities to share what I love with the community. Creating a community is part of the dream of our company.” In that sense, the weekly group runs are just as much a part of Aravaipa as the exciting competitive races.
In a very short time, the community did blossom. Aravaipa’s schedule now features 21 events of all distances, sizes, and formats: 100-miler on a track, check; nighttime run with headlamp, check; scree-filled vertical kilometer, check. Among the more well-known Aravaipa events is the Javelina Jundred, which was founded in 2003 (Coury began directing it in 2008) and is now the 3rd largest 100 mile trail run in North America. There is also the fixed-time Across The Years, a 1.05 mile loop where runners go as far as they can in 1, 2, 3 or 6 days. Participants literally run into the new year. Joe Fejas, the overall winner of the 2013-2014 edition, covered an astonishing 555 miles! For us mortals, in addition to its winter series, Aravaipa also offers a summer series—yes, summer endurance events in Arizona—made possible only by the fact that all five races in this “Insomniac” series are run at night when the temperature may very well drop to a relatively "cool" 70 degrees.
|Credit: Aravaipa Running|
While these events seem particularly well-suited for those with masochistic tendencies, Aravaipa offers “options for the whole family” from 4 miles up to 50 miles. A couple of the most unique events on the Aravaipa 2014 schedule include the new Black Canyon Trail 100K, which takes place on a point to point net downhill course on windy single track just outside of Phoenix, and the Crown King Scramble 50K that starts in the desert outside Phoenix and climbs to finish at a saloon in the old mining town of Crown King where a cool Ponderosa Pine forest and much colder beer greet finishers.
|Credit: Aravaipa Running|
With Aravaipa’s local races, the Courys strive to balance “good support in terms of aid stations” with “a tough challenge for trail runners all in epic settings.” They also feature unique geographic challenges, such as Goldmine Mountain at the San Tan Scramble, Ford Canyon at Mesquite Canyon, or Thompson Peak at McDowell Mountain Frenzy. When the desert sun becomes too harsh for even Aravaipa Running, the Coury brothers take their show on the road to Silverton, Colorado, where their Silverton Mountain Running organizes three events, including the classic Kendall Mountain Run and the Silverton Alpine Marathon & 50K. Jamil, a two-time Hardrock 100 finisher, fell in love with Silverton while preparing for and competing in the iconic race. This year, he'll likely be crewing little brother Nick who hopes to kiss the rock for a third time.
Capping off Aravaipa’s busy summer is its place on the US Skyrunning series with the Run Steep Get High Flagstaff races. Rut 50K fans will take interest to learn that these challenging high mountain races will serve as the championship for the inaugural U.S. series. The preliminary statistics for the races tell the tale: the 37K Flagstaff Sky Race will feature around 9,500 feet of climb and the 56K Flagstaff Ultra Sky Race will feature some 13,000 feet of climb. According to Jamil Coury, “both will end with a brutal ascent up the ski slopes at the Arizona Snowbowl and a screaming descent to the finish." The weekend will also feature the Vertical Kilometer US Championships for 2014. The races will reward the kings and queens of the mountain with a $4,500 prize purse. Coury assures that “it will be a guaranteed beautiful and ass kicker of a course and feature a great post-race party!” Check out the preview video here.
So if you need an intense dose of February Vitamin D, or are having a little running wanderlust of your own, consider cactus country. Aravaipa Running will reward your efforts with a unique experience while making you feel at home in a mountain running-in-the-desert sort of way.