James Nipperess is one of Australia’s top runners. From steeplechase to 10,000m and Cross Country, he’s had a great season that has put him in a good position to qualify for the World Championships. To maximise his chances James has been training in Flagstaff, Arizona. Here he tells us about life at altitude.
How’s training going ahead of your attempt to make the World Champs team?
Training is coming along nicely but you never know until you put it out there in a race. I’m excited for the opportunity to be in some quick steeplechase races over here and just want to get the best out of myself.
What made you go to Flagstaff?
My coach (Ken Green at the Asics Sydney Running Academy) and I decided on the USA over a coffee back at our Falls Creek camp in January. After a few domestic races I wanted to have another good month or so of altitude training before racing again. I spoke to a few Aussies that had trained here in the past, and knew a few people from other countries heading up, so we decided to fly here straight after the World Cross in China.
What is the training environment like?
I have really enjoyed the group Sunday long run organised by Team Run Flagstaff which has typically had ~30 people each week. There are probably 10 different professional teams here at the moment, world and Olympic medallists amongst them, and despite potential rivalry, for the most part there is a good communal vibe at the track with everyone cheering each other on.
Who do you have to train with?
I have done my general runs with two local marathoners that I’m staying with: Nick Hilton and Danny Mercado. For sessions I have linked up with Aaron Pulford and Hamish Carson from NZ, Alex Genest and Chris Winter from Canada and Will Leer from USA. As well as being good athletes, their positive attitudes and laid-back nature have made the hard training fun.
What makes it better than other places you’ve trained in? Is there anything it lacks?
Flagstaff ticks a lot of boxes: – 5 tracks (1 indoor if it snows) – 45 mins drive from 2 other lower altitude tracks at Sedona & Prescott – The Flagstaff Urban Trail System has >80km of trails If I wanted to be greedy I’d say relocate the Falls Creek aqueduct system and Cronulla beach up here, but other than that, its got everything you could want.
How does it compare and contrast to Iten?
The altitude is similar ~2400m in Iten vs ~2200m where I am in Flagstaff. The quality of the trails is by far superior in flagstaff. In Iten a lot of the trails have tractor holes which get annoying, and it’s difficult to find a flat run. If you want to find hills in Flagstaff you definitely can- I’m sure my mate Dave Byrne would like the technical trails up Shultz pass or Mt Eldon. I think each location is great in their own right, and each is better at different cycles within the training year.
Outside of running, what else is there to do?
Flagstaff is a town of ~70,000 so cabin fever isn’t really a problem. There are dozens of cafes and bars, plus tourist attractions like the Lowell Observatory, Arizona meteor crater, and it’s 1hr drive from the Grand Canyon. I’d definitely train here again.