The higher the mountain, the sweeter the air—so goes the sentiment for plenty of top-ranked elite runners. Thanks to the theory that training in high elevation benefits performance, many Olympic athletes make their homes in mountain towns. Elevated locations around the world have thus become hubs for professional runners who traverse the variety of trails and terrain these peak regions can offer.
That doesn’t mean the thin air is only for pros, however. Everyday athletes have taken to the top elevations for a new view on training. Some visit for brief periods, while others make a home in these up-high ZIP codes.
Elevation: 6,900 feet
When most people think of Arizona, they think of arid desert trails peppered with cacti and rattlesnakes. Though that’s true for much of the state, residents know relief from the heat is just a short drive away. Many southwestern runners flock to Flagstaff in the summertime for the lush forest trails and cool temperatures of this high-altitude respite.
GO: Visit in October, when autumn’s golden leaves create breathtaking views.
RUN: Start at Buffalo Park for a 2-mile warm-up along smooth dirt. The path eventually meets up with the Oldham Trail for a 5-mile effort up Mount Elden. The climb is brutal, but the views are more than worth it.
STAR SIGHTING: Stephanie Rothstein Bruce, elite marathoner, longtime Flagstaff resident and blogger for womensrunning.com, can frequently be seen knocking out tempo runs along Lake Mary Road.
MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA
Elevation: 7,800 feet
Mammoth Lakes is no place for lounging. Everything about this Northern California town caters to endurance athletes, from the abundance of health-centered restaurants to the wide variety of year-round outdoor activities (skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, ﬂy fishing, hiking and kayaking to name a few). Athletes of all ages and fitness levels—from beginners to Olympic hopefuls—gather on the area’s lovely network of trails to inspire each other to PR-worthy performances.
GO: Most people head to Mammoth during ski season, but runners know to visit in August, when the weather is warm and ski resorts list very reasonable off-season rates.
RUN: A ﬂat warm-up run from Mammoth Creek Park leads to the Mammoth Rock Trail. The first portion of singletrack is a grind, but your burning lungs will be rewarded with sights of the stunning valleys. Return to the park via Old Mammoth Road and the Town Loop to wrap up your 6-mile adventure.
STAR SIGHTING: Keep your eyes peeled for Deena Kastor, the American record holder in both the marathon and the half. Now competing foremost as a masters runner (and still crushing records), Kastor often trains with the Mammoth Track Club, a group of up-and-coming elites coached by her husband, Andrew.
Elevation: 5,500 feet
With more than 31,000 acres of parkland and 200 miles of off-road running options, Boulder is a runner’s paradise. It’s no wonder this free-spirited town is home to many of the world’s best endurance athletes.
GO: Though the city is full of runners at any time of the year, Memorial Day weekend is a guaranteed winner for weather, trail quality and one of the biggest and best races in the United States: the Bolder Boulder 10K.
RUN: Try the Mesa Trail, a 13-mile out-and-back of undulating hills along Boulder’s Flatirons and foothills. Allow yourself plenty of time to stop—yes, to catch your breath, but also to snap some photos of the postcard-worthy scenery.
STAR SIGHTING: Jenny Simpson, the 1500-meter world champion and University of Colorado alum is just one of the many marquee athletes known to log miles on Magnolia Road, a popular dirt path tucked in the mountains west of Boulder.