Sunday, March 11, 2012

As Advertised: Arizona's Toughest Trail Half Marathon

I came running down a dry creek bed, feet being swallowed by soft, course sand, the grit working its way into my socks.  My feet just conformed, relaxed in the sand.  I loved it.  It was soft, it was flat.  There weren't any foot grabbing crags, no two foot high steps, no drops requiring my hands on a boulder on each side of the trail, dipping myself down.  No cactus to avoid, sharp turns to catch and no stretches of trail just wide enough for one foot at a time.

I was thankful for the smooth terrain, the first I'd seen in nearly three hours. 

As I came around the slow bend, the finish line opened up before me ... and I was shocked.  There were people laying in the dirt, crying.  Runners were bloodied, others having cactus removed from various body parts.  There was a man with a blown knee being helped along...and all while the peppy music played.

My wife and mother were there, cheering me along.  They looked relieved.  It was an hour after my projected time!

As I came in a woman behind them said, "Oh, here comes the one with the hurt hip."  Shortly after I got there another man limped across and she said, "And he's got the busted ankle."

Runners trickled in, dazed, bleary eyed.  This raced fit its billing as Arizona's Toughest Trail Half Marathon!  The problem is ... that billing is on a website belonging to someone other than the race director, I didn't see it until after the race.

I came in with a time of exactly 3 hours, on the nose.  For a half marathon, crazy!  My first half marathon was 1:42 and change and I just BS'ed the entire run.  The winning runner today came in just under 2 and a half hours!

But I was whole, unbroken.  All the skin was on my body, save what was rubbed raw by my backpack (under my right arm and two spots on my lower back).

I ran with the lead pack for the first four miles, just going by how I felt.  I was going too hard, we all were, the climb was intense, the terrain 100% unforgiving.  But, I figured I'd slow down and relax once I got to the top.  Little did I know, that wouldn't happen for 4 miles!

When I reached the top my piriformis really hurt.  I tweaked it somehow during my duathlon three weeks ago.  I figured I'd baby it for a while and let it loosen, but as it turned out, jumping over boulders, twisting around and through rock slides while climbing or descending over 400 feet per mile, isn't a nice thing to do with a bum ... with a bum bum.  It progressively got worse and went from the okay kind of pain, to the watch out now or you'll be laid up for months kind of pain.

In hindsight, I think that was the best thing that could've happened.  I was beat and sore, but mentally fresh the whole run.  I ran with a young lady for a while and I began walking up the hills while she ran.  I stayed right with her!  She was stumbling and I feared she'd fall.  I feared a fall there would result in a broken arm or worse.  She was an experienced trail runner and discussed the importance of focus and how your mind can't wander for a moment out "here" or you'll be down.

I lost her, or she lost me, down the hills.  I limped down favoring my right leg, stepping up and down left leg first for 8 miles.  Now I know what the advice of a seasoned trail runner who said, "Run when you can, walk when you must," really meant.

After coming up lame I only passed one person, the man with the busted ankle.  I offered him help, but he was fine, just hurting.  We both had an opportunity to cut three miles off of the run and just limp back with a DNF, but neither of us did.  I can't say how long he though of it, but the thought crossed my mind for about a nano second ... I couldn't have lived with myself.

It was tough out there.  Shortly before the race, a repeat runner warned me, saying, "If you need rescue, the rescue vehicle will be a horse."

And what did I win for my completion?  Let me show you!

The race wasn't well organized, unfortunately.  The reason being that they expected around 30 to 40 people and had to turn people away after 80 showed up!  There were no emergency services, and they would have been used today.  There were fewer aid stations than advertised, even though they were said to be unmanned.  And, the description of the race was, "This is a challenging route."

Challenging:  The first mile was a fairly smooth incline, but the next three climbed 1200 feet total ... 1200 feet of rock.  The next two dropped just shy of 600 feet.  The next three each climbed and dropped about 300 feet, each.  That is, mile eight, for example, climbed 375 feet and dropped 313 feet.  Down again, up again.  You'd run two feet one direction, the next two feet in another, none of it remotely smooth.

And you know what ... I loved it.  It really felt like a sense of accomplishment.  But, this would not be a "B" type race, as I'd approached it.  Would I run it again?  Maybe, but it would have to be the focus of my training, not something to do to get a break from the bike!

And now for a few pics.  First up is the race support vehicle:
Did I mention it was rocky? 
Sahuaro Cactus:
Some of the wild flowers:
I approach the finish as a pair of hikers leaving in the background:
Done and Done!
The spoils of victory:
I guess by the look on my face, I wasn't happy:
Dear Food:  Get in My Belly!
All said, this was more than I was ready for.  I need to shed some pounds, get into better running shape before trying something like this again.  But, all in good time. 

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