Trail to 50k: Road Trippin

One way to know you're a true runner, or crazy, is when you plan trips just for running. And that's exactly what Tom Cirillo did this summer as he trains for StumpJump later this month!! Here's his recount of the adventure (Try not to get too jealous!)

At the end of July I traveled to Flagstaff, AZ for some running in the Southwest as I prepare for StumpJump. I arrived in Phoenix on the morning on July 22nd, got my car, and didn’t waste any time. It’s about two hours from Phoenix to Flagstaff and there are some good spots to run on the way up in the Oak Creek and Sedona areas.

Day One: Woods Canyon Trail

The Woods Canyon Trail is off Highway 179 and heads into the Munds Mountain Wilderness Area. The setting is quintessential Southwest. Red rocks, cacti, lizards, low scraggly pine trees.

The trail begins at the Red Rock Visitor Center, which has good amenities and maps. The trail looked pretty easy to follow in the guidebooks and I wasn’t worried about getting lost. I started off on a gravelly road that ascended gently before giving way to rockier terrain made up entirely of sandstone. The trail got steeper but was still runnable – the elevation ranged from 3,900 feet at the beginning to 4,300 feet at the turn-around point. I didn’t feel any effects from the altitude here, but I anticipated that changing when I was running in Flagstaff later in the week. About 2 miles in I came to a strange looking gate-like contraption that I thought was made of barbwire – this couldn’t be the end of the line. It was actually a cattle gate and after fussing with it for a minute or so I got it open. The trail follows a creek bed and never got so steep or rugged that you couldn’t run at a decent clip. At a little over 5 miles cacti and other brush overtook the trail and it was time to head back. The trail was beautiful but fairly uniform with no noticeable landmarks and I got semi-disoriented on the way back, finding myself down in the actual creek bed or higher up on the canyon wall than I wanted to be. But I knew if I kept the creek to my left (south) I wouldn’t get off course. Had to backtrack a few times but never too far and once back to the cattle gate I was in the homestretch. Great first run in AZ, but I wanted more mountains.

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Day Two: Humphrey’s Peak

After Woods Canyon I drove up to Flagstaff through Sedona – I’ve been to Sedona a few times but seeing those sandstone rock formations never gets old. You don’t need to get out of the car for some jaw dropping scenery. I stayed the night in Flagstaff and the next day decided to go all out and take on Humphrey’s Peak. At 12,633 feet it’s the highest point in Arizona (129th in the USA, there are a few more mountains to climb…). I had researched this trail pretty carefully in guide books and online – it’s a popular training route for Western States Endurance Race competitors, many of whom live and train in Flagstaff. A great thing about Flagstaff is that so many trails are only a short drive from downtown. The trailhead is northwest of the city at the top of Snow Bowl Road (there’s a ski resort here in winter). Contrary to Woods Canyon, my starting elevation here was 9,300 feet – the run started off on a flat stretch through a small mountain meadow, but I was huffing and puffing 10 seconds in… ouch. However, the ragged breathing subsided after about two minutes. This was something I noticed during every run on this trip – 90 to 120 seconds of tough going right at the start and then feeling fine breathing-wise after. This trail was tough – straight up, straight down.

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As much “power hiking” (i.e., walking) as running. The terrain didn’t make things easier – big rocks, lots of roots. It was visually stunning challenge and my favorite trail in Flagstaff. The trail is mainly in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness and takes switchbacks as you gain elevation through a pine forest before opening up after 3 miles or so. Humphrey’s is part of the San Francisco Peaks and breaking out on to the ridgeline connecting them was one of the best moments of the trip. At 4 miles you arrive at a saddle between the summit and Agassiz Peak to the southeast which can be reached by the Waterford Trail. The view is brutal and breathtaking.

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I stopped at the saddle to rest and was approached by an older gentleman who was hiking. He asked if I was an ultra-runner and I said I was trying to be one. I told him that I was training for my first 50K and we talked for a while about the trails in Flagstaff and elsewhere in Arizona (he was from Phoenix). He had run his last 100-miler (Javelina 100 – I looked him up on ultrasignup) at age 70 and now considered himself retired – pretty amazing and inspiring. We set off on our separate ways as I turned north towards the top. The San Francisco Peaks are part of a dormant volcano field and all the mountains in this range are remnants of a hypothesized San Francisco Mountain that once towered 16,000 feet before blowing its top 220,000 years ago – these are fairly young mountains. The point of the geology lesson: igneous rock was way tougher to run on than the red sandstone at 5,000 feet lower altitude in Sedona – it was slippery, loose, jagged, and had zero give to it. Humphrey’s has several “false” summits and I churned out that last still-ascending mile over boulders and gravel in a blazing 31:57. Obviously I was sweating profusely on the way up but after reaching the summit and stopping for a bit to collect myself and eat something I was cold and dry since the wind was really gusting up there. The view was amazing. Looking north you can see the Grand Canyon if you squint. I ambled down without incident and got ready for day 3.

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Day Three: Fat Man’s Loop and Elden Lookout

The morning of day three I did a tempo workout in Buffalo Park (flat dirt loop trail with lots of runners doing speed type workouts). In the afternoon I hit the east side of Flagstaff to do the Elden Lookout Trail. I enjoy terrifying myself so I had googled “mountain lions, Flagstaff” the previous evening. The first result was a news story dated to the end of May titled “Climber stalked by mountain lions on Mount Elden.” More research told me that mountain lions track their prey from behind then descend on it from a tree while going straight for the throat. Sounds painless, certainly less painful than Humphrey’s Peak had been. In fact, there have only been 12 fatalities due to mountain lion attacks in the United State in the last 100 years. When asked about this topic my park ranger friend with whom I was staying said “Why would they want to eat you when there are so many deer around?” I thought, what if they’re hungry and there aren’t any deer around? Anyway, I was still gonna do the trail, which begins off Highway 89 just a few miles north of residential East Flagstaff. It was a steep one. You start on Fat Man’s Loop, so named because there is a small passage through two rocks at one point that would be a bit of a squeeze for Andre the Giant… I don’t know who names these things. From mile 2 to the lookout tower at mile 3 there’s 1,000 feet of elevation gain, but not as rugged as Humphrey’s. High point on this trail was about 9,300 feet. There was a light rain the whole way up and then a full on storm at the top, I hit the deck at an especially loud thunder clap but remembered from my research that mountain lions are more likely to attack humans when they are stooped over because they resemble deer. I popped up, figuring lightning strike was preferable to mauling, and got back to the trailhead and out of the weather. Late July is monsoon season in Northern AZ and just about every afternoon there were short-lived storms.

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Day Four: Campbell Mesa and Grand Canyon North Rim

On Day Four I ran at Campbell Mesa. This was not too wild, just a nice park southeast of the city – some rolling hills, dirt/sand surface. Not long after the run I left for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where I was going to stay for the night with my park ranger friends. The plan was to check out parts of the park in the afternoon and then tackle some of the North Kaibab trail the following morning. Flagstaff is the closest city to the Grand Canyon but it’s still almost four hours to the North Rim (I hear they’re working on that bridge over the canyon). I didn’t mind the drive – the Vermillion Cliffs off Highway 89 heading north are something else.

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Got to the North Rim in the afternoon and did a quick jaunt on the bridle path around the visitor’s center, cabins, and ranger buildings. This was a flat, well-maintained gravel road, also the only trail where I took a fall. The visitor’s center is on a promontory between Bright Angel Canyon and Transept Canyon which juts out into the Grand Canyon.


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After the run I met my friends for dinner and got a scouting report on the Kaibab trail. My plan was to run down about 5 miles to a spot called Roaring Springs and back up. There are several rest areas on the way down with shelters, bathrooms, and drinkable water.

Day Five: North Kaibab Trail

I got an early start because it was going to be hot – nowhere near as humid as Nashville, but close to all-time high temps for the North Rim. The starting elevation was 8,300 feet and I would descend to 5,000 feet at Roaring Springs. The full North Kaibab trail goes 14 miles down to the bottom of the canyon (the trail beginning from the South Rim is 7 miles to the bottom and could probably be done in a day). North Kaibab does not start in the Grand Canyon itself, but in Bright Angel Canyon and only enters the Grand later. While looking at the map, I realized that I made it about a third of the way to the floor Grand Canyon and the Colorado River – that was humbling. The trail was loose sandstone with the occasional set of wooden steps, fairly runnable, though the constant switchbacks made going pretty slow – didn’t matter, I wanted to take it all in. One thing I loved about this trail was the names of various overlooks and waypoints: Coconino Overlook, Supai Tunnel, Red Wall Bridge, Roaring Springs, etc. Towards the bottom of my run where the trail encounters Roaring Springs and prepares to veer west things leveled out and the curves were gentler than the switchbacks had been – I loved running with the canyon wall on one side and drop-off on the other. After turning around at Roaring Springs I decided to push it a little bit on the way back up and I felt good during that 3,000 feet of climbing – still slow miles, but able to move way faster than I was going up Humphrey’s. After wrapping up the run I hung around the park and visitors’ center to bid farewell to my hosts and then headed back towards Flagstaff.

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Day 6 et alia:

I was leaving in the morning so I just did a quick run in Buffalo Park. Flagstaff is an excellent city off-trail too, if you visit and are looking for some fun places to eat and drink I recommend the following: Crown Railroad Café or MartAnne’s (get the chilaquiles) for breakfast, pizza at NiMarco’s or, if you want a fancier place, at Pizzicletta, best brewery and burger was Lumberyard Brewing Co. (all their beers are named for trails near Flagstaff), a place called The Museum Club on old Rte. 66 has a weird but cool vibe (it’s home to about 100 taxidermy specimens of Arizona wildlife) and has good live music. Running in Flagstaff was a great experience and I hope it will go a long way for StumpJump. The area offers such a multitude of trails that you could go a lifetime without running one twice.

NRC: Ok, who's booking their flight to Flagstaff??!! Thanks so much for the awesome write-up, Tom! T-minus 3 weeks and 2 days until StumpJump!!


Crew's Summer Faves -- Lee Wilson

Just because it’s September and football season is upon us doesn’t mean summer is over. And here to provide you with his summertime faves is our fearless leader, Lee Wilson.

Shoe(s) - I love Inov-8 trail shoes. I've worn a few flavors of their shoes, but my favorite over the years has been the Inov-8 X-Talon 195 (flexible, light and awesome traction). Currently, I've been wearing the Inov-8 Parkclaw 275, and it's been really in the toebox, cushion for the longer runs, and per the usual with Inov-8 . . . good traction. On the road, I'm not as picky. I wear about six types at one given time (Mizuno Shadow, adidas Boston, HOKA Hupana, Brooks Revel, ON Cloudflow and Altra Escalante), and I like them all, actually. I've never been one that's stuck on a certain flavor of shoe because I like my muscles (or lack thereof) to get a different workout each run. Plus, styles change from season to season. By changing it up, I don’t get all bent out of shape if a brand changes anything. 


Nutrition - As far as gels go, something that is tasty and doesn't mess with my GI are key. I usually go with a combo of two local brands...Huma and Spring. As for Huma, any of the fruit ones (I'm not a chocolate or mocha gel fanatic), and with Spring, you can't beat Canaberry. For hydration, I like Skratch because it's real (without any chalkiness) and doesn't mess with my GI. I also like using GU Roctane because it has quite a few calories which is always nice during long runs.

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Apparel - I'm not too picky on shorts, although I still love the split shorts (makes me still think I'm fast, possibly). I've never really had a pair that I couldn't stand wearing as long as it's not past my knees and too much fabric that holds sweat during these humid months. My favorite shirts at the moment are the Patagonia Cap (because it's thin and light) and the North Face BTN (for the same reasons...light and doesn't hold much sweat). 

Socks - I will wear the Swiftwick Aspire Zero, Balega Ultralight, and on the trails, I'll try to put on the Swiftwick Pursuit Hike Four (thin and seems to be durable so far).

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Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, Lee! There's still plenty of hot summer running left  . . . stop by to stock up on any of Lee's favorites!

Trail to 50K

Tom Cirillo has been a staple at 12South Runners, PR Bandits, and East Nasty for a long time, and now he's joined our RunWILD trail training group. He's currently training for his first 50k -- StumpJump -- and we wanted to join Tom on his Trail to 50K. Tom was gracious enough to answer some of our questions, and over the next few weeks, we'll give you insight into why a 50K, his training, and any fun adventures he has a long the way!

NRC: What made you want to race a 50k?

Tom: Two races, one that I ran and one that I volunteered at, made me want to race a 50k.

Last November (2017), I ran The Flying Monkey Marathon in Percy Warner after a few years of hearing about how hard, hilly, and awful it was. I wanted to run it like a regular marathon even though it isn’t. I didn’t want to walk the hills and just stroll to the finish. From July until race day, I focused on that race and ran at Percy Warner about 3 times I week. I gradually stepped it up from the 5.8 to the 11.2 to going double on the 11.2 (11.2 x 2 is my favorite road training route in Nashville). The race was, to this point, the most challenging one I’ve done, but I felt great while I was running, was happy with the result, and knew that if I made and followed a tough training plan, I could run a race that was a more than a typical marathon.

 The past two years I’ve volunteered at an aid station for NRC’s Dark Sky race. The whole experience - from hanging out in the woods at the aid station to watching the runners go for 50 miles – made me want to participate as a runner in an ultra distance race.

NRC:  Why StumpJump

Tom: I chose StumpJump because it’s fairly close to Nashville and because several friends have enjoyed running it in the past and can give me some pointers.

NRC: How long have you been running? Trails?

Tom: I’ve been running since 2008 when I was a grad student at USC. I had done some other sports in high school (football, wrestling) and college (football – Go Kenyon!) – running was either a conditioning test or a punishment in those sports and anything more than 50 yards was considered long distance. After my incredibly mediocre gridiron career came to a close, I kept up with some working out but never thought much about running more than a mile at a time.

When I got to USC I became friends with some guys who led a club sports team that trained for the LA or Pasadena marathon from October to March every year. I ran the Pasadena Marathon in March 2009 – finishing the race itself was an incredible feeling, but it had been the training that I really loved. I made great friends, many of whom I’m still in touch with, I had something to do every weekend, and I found that I actually like getting up at 5 am on Sunday mornings to run 15-20 miles. Two months after my first marathon, I ran the LA race and I was hooked from there on out. From 2009 to 2014, I ran two to four marathons per year – never super-fast but with steady improvement.

When I moved to Nashville in the summer of 2015, I was coming off an injury that had had me out of commission for three months. I was psyched to find all the running groups (namely East Nasty, 12South, PR Bandits) in town – I jumped into those in order to meet people and learn about places to run in Nashville. I vividly remember doing the 11.2 in Percy Warner on July 4th, 2015 with PR Bandits, we saw a huge great horned owl right before starting and I thought “this could be a pretty interesting place to run.” However, I still had only a vague idea about the trails in Percy, despite hearing people talk cryptically (as far as I was concerned) about running “three reds,” “red, white, and blue,” etc.

I think my first time on trails was NRC’s Dry Creek Half in February 2016. I tried looking back to see if I had gotten off-road before doing it, but it was in the pre-Strava days for me so I’m not sure. Dry Creek was a good first trail race for me – approachable and runnable for someone new, but with enough rocks, roots, and mud to make it an adventure. The atmosphere of the event was also a huge factor in making me interested in doing more trail races. It was more laid back than a road race - runners and aid station volunteers were really encouraging to all the participants, but people were still out to work hard.

I signed up for the NRC 6-mile trail series, but I still hadn’t made running the trails part of the weekly regimen. I sprained my ankle at Bells Bend and thought that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this stuff and that I should stick to the roads so that I wouldn’t get injured. However, I’d also gotten the idea stuck in my head that trail running was real running and if I wanted to really run I’d have to do more of it on trails. I made sure I got out on the red trail in Percy once a week for the summer of 2016 and signed up for the rest of the NRC series. I ran those without hurting myself and decided to try the Dry Creek Marathon in February 2017. It was so much harder than the half had been and I faded really badly at the end. I was shuffling at probably a 15:00/mile pace thinking that theoretically I could keep this pace forever, but I ended up walking until I was just around the bend from the finish line. I returned to the roads for the rest of the winter and spring, but still wanted to be a trail runner.

Over the summer of 2017, someone was talking to me in less than flattering terms about the NRC Defeated Creek race and told me that “it was definitely not worth doing for just a t-shirt and no medal.” The name of the race and the description sounded cool if not a little intimidating, and I didn’t really care about a t-shirt or a medal, not that there’s anything bad about t-shirts and medals (turns out entrants got a hat and a cup too – who am I kidding? races are about the swag). The race lived up to its name - it was a harrowing slog especially early on when you’re “running” sideways down rocky uneven switchbacks. But after a mile, the course was more or less runnable up to the big climb that gets you to the turn-around point where you’re greeted with some incredible views that are better than t-shirts or medals.


I think that’s my favorite part of running on the trails – getting up to the top of something or the end of something and the feeling of remoteness, even if you’re in a city park. I had this experience recently when I drove down to this place called Black Mountain south of Crossville, TN. I read about it in a Tennessee hiking guide but couldn’t find much information online. The trailhead was hard to find, and I was cursing my luck for driving 2.5 hours and now being faced with the prospect of heading back for Nashville with no run. I ended up finding the trail, which had no markings at its start. The trail was narrow, overgrown, and went up a solid incline that made keeping a run difficult. To make things even better it started raining, light at first then a downpour, and I could hear some claps of thunder that seemed closer every few minutes until they were directly overhead. But after about three miles of plodding upwards, things leveled out near the summit, and there was some interesting stuff up there, and I had the feeling that no one had been to this place in quite a while (I made a Strava segment of the climb to the top and plenty of people have been there…but it didn’t feel like it at the time).


At the summit the storm chilled out for a few minutes and there were great views of the surrounding country side.


The elevation is nothing crazy, but pretty good for middle Tennessee (about 2800 feet). In the end of I was thankful for the weather, because the low clouds made it feel like I was much higher up. This run in particular made me want to get out an explore some more trails in TN that are a little further away from Nashville, so the next week, on July 4th, I went out to Mousetail Landing State Park  near Linden, TN and ran the Eagle Point Trail. AVOID THIS PARK AT ALL COSTS: I spent the next two hours eating cobwebs. The trail was runnable, had some good ups and downs, but I was stopping every five minutes to peel the webs and spiders off of me. You win some, you lose some.

Ok, pardon the digression: post-Defeated Creek, I was pretty focused on Flying Monkey and then the Country Music Marathon in April 2018 (I signed up for it the day after the 2017 race in which I got roasted by the heat and, like many, had the most miserable running experience of my life). In the meantime, I ran the 2018 Dry Creek marathon and had a much better go of it than the previous year. It was the first time that I felt like I was actually pushing it and racing on a trail. Country Music went well (PR by about seven minutes). I signed up for StumpJump around this time and decided that I needed to do most of my running on trails. Being on summer break, it’s been pretty easy for me to carve out some time to get in two or three decently long runs during the week at Percy Warner.

Looking ahead towards the next 2.5 months or so of training I’ll do more of the same – I work pretty close to the park, so I’ll head over in the afternoon/evening about twice a week and then get longer runs back-to-back runs in on the weekend.

NRC: Huge thanks to Tom for sharing some awesome trails and runs with us! Stay tuned for his nutrition and gear go-tos, as well as any fun (or mishaps) he's had training so far!





Crew's Summer Faves -- Diane Zandstra

Even though back to school is just around the corner, summer is still in full force! Crew member Diane Zandstra offers up her favorite gear for running through the summer!

Shoe - On Cloud

I’ve run through this shoe but like it now for post-run and cross-training. The elastic laces make it easy to slip on and off, and it’s the perfect lightweight, run around shoe for the summer. Plus, they are cool looking and the new colors are awesome!



Nutrition - Spring Canaberry Gel

I love everything from Spring as it’s all natural and tasty. Always want to have these on hand for those long run days. 


Goodr Glasses

What’s not to love about these sunglasses?!? Polarized, no slip, great colors (with funny names) and at $25, you can get several pairs. 


Oiselle Roga Shorts

This brand is made for women and most items are number sized for a more precise fit. They use great fabrics and the waistband on this short is comfy with a drawstring and a zip pocket on the back. 



Patagonia “Run NRC” cap sleeve tech shirt

This shirt is super lightweight and a great fit with a v-neck collar. And I get to represent the best running store in Nashville every time I wear it :-)


Thanks for sharing, Diane!! Stop by to try on or try out any of Diane's favorites!!


Crew's Summer Faves -- Christa Poremba

Crew member Christa Poremba loves the summer and the heat! Part of that reason may be her summertime favorites from NRC -- she lays out what she uses to make the summer, not only bearable but fun!

Brooks Levitate: I love these shoes because of how much responsiveness it gives. And I love the upper material as well. 


Flip belt: This belt is amazing to train with! Fits so many things in it!

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Balega socks: Ultra light is my favorite sock. Fits the foot like a glove. It has the perfect amount of cushion. I wear this sock all year round. 


Spring Nutrition: I have a sensitive stomach when it comes to gels. The one nutrition product that gives me no problems is Spring. I love how it’s all real food (no added sugar!)


From Christa: NRC is the best running store in town! With the most amazing crew :) We want everyone in Nashville to shop with us!


Crew's Summer Faves -- Ashley Carney

We don't know about you, but we're feeling the heat! Summer running/racing is in full swing. Crew member Ashley Carney lays out her favorite gear and nutrition to keep you on track while sweating it out. 

1. Grab the Gold: both flavors are great, and they’re a nice substantial breakfast before a race (or every day life) that doesn’t sit too heavy, offers balanced nutrition, and is Also gluten free! 


2. Oiselle Roga Shorts: the wide waistband, super light fabric, and mid-length inseam are perfect for running! 

3. Adidas Boston: fave shoe because it’s really light and feels minimal but still offers some Cush. May not be enough for high mileage, but do a great job of allowing you to feel the road softly. 


4. Goodr sunglasses: they are fun to wear and perfect for ALL kinds of outdoor activities. I love that they’re polarized and and fit well on my head. Because they’re only priced at $25, I am also not afraid to actually wear them out! 



5. NRC tees and tanks! I love wearing our brand because it makes me feel like I’m part of a “team” - which is true! It’s always fun to rep a local business. 

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If any of these summer picks strikes your fancy, stop by our store, and we'll be happy to hook you up!

Crew's Summer Faves -- Brian Johnson

Even though the weather indicates that it’s been here for quite some time, Summer officially began last week! As with anything, your favorite gear, clothing, and nutrition can change with the seasons. We’ve asked our expert staff to provide you with their Summer Favorites!!

Up first, Brian Johnson (avid runner, outdoor enthusiast, and integral part of PR Bandits) shares what he uses to get through the Dog Days of Summer Running.

Tailwind - Great flavors and keep me going through runs, Orange Theory workouts, and long hikes. (complete energy + electrolytes + hydration with no guy bombs)


Timp by Altra - Love these shoes! Aggressive (enough) tread for off road use but still great for those days I’m pounding pavement too. 



Patagonia Trucker Hats – While I’m not always able to hit the shower immediately after a run, these hats are great to throw on for errands after a run or even a casual day around town.


Thanks for sharing, Brian! If any of these tickle your fancy, stop by and let Brian or one of our other awesome crew members help you out!