My Month on Mount Lemmon

Discomfort Zone Head Coach and founder Mike Coughlin

by Mike Coughlin

Looking back at over 10 years of training and racing, I must admit I have done some pretty “crazy” things in training. EPIC Camps, back to back races and challenge workouts in extreme conditions are all notable entries in my training diary. However, my most memorable block of training was in October of 2011 when I spent a month living and training on Mount Lemmon.

Many triathletes are familiar with this iconic mountain in Southern Arizona. Most of the time, climbing the 25 miles from the desert floor to the pine trees above serves as the pinnacle ride of a winter training escape. Yet it always amazed me that I never heard of athletes using Mt. Lemmon itself as a training base, considering the quaint village of Summerhaven near its peak was at an ideal sleeping altitude of 8000ft, and the Mt. Lemmon highway was the best piece of pavement in the area.

Determined to take advantage of these factors, I rented a cabin in Summerhaven and had the most enjoyable month of training in my life. The following are some of the highlights and challenges from my experience.


  • The isolation: Most people know me as a social person, and I was a bit concerned about the “hermit” side of this training experience. I was alone up there and in most of my training sessions. However, a combination of the internet, trips down the mountain and interaction with others in Summerhaven made the isolation a non-factor.

  • The commute: My commute was 40 minutes to the grocery store and 45 minutes to the pool. I commuted probably 20 out of the 30 days, and staged my training at various locations from the top of the mountain to Tuscon itself. Planning each day’s activities really helped here.

  • The weather: I was told that it didn’t snow on Lemmon until December, but we were hit with 2 early snowstorms, including one that knocked out the power and took trees down around the cabin. I decided to train low on those days.


  • The Mount Lemmon highway: This is the most beautiful 25 miles of road I have ever trained on, and I got to know every inch of it in my car, on my bike and on foot. If I could only ride one road for the rest of my life, this would be it.

  • Chuckie V: I had met Chuckie earlier in the year, and he was kind enough to let me crash with him in Tucson before moving up the mountain. Chuckie is a true legend in triathlon and we had many long, memorable conversations on and off the bike.

  • The Mount Lemmon Marathon: Touted the “hardest road marathon in the world”, this uphill 26 mile test was held during my stay on the mountain, and provided a great training session. As the only participant living on the course, I had home-field advantage and used it, passing a lot of athletes once we ascended above 7000ft.

We are blessed in endurance sport with the opportunity to explore our limits in beautiful environments. My time on Mount Lemmon had all of this in spades.

Live your dreams!