(Originally posted late 2010. Minor edits to bring it current)
I made an appearance at my hometown’s annual Pumpkin-Fest the first weekend in October. It’s one of those festivals with 1⁄2 ton pumpkins that are less round and more simply massive, multi-dimensional squash. Family was the driver for going but the opportunity to clean up at the affiliated 5k sealed the trip. This was to serve as my final tune-up before Chicago 10/10/10. Unfortunately a (standard) bit of tardiness and disorganization resulted in my running bandit, lining up at the end, well behind the strollers and guy with the dog. Gone was the opportunity to shine in front of my former football and track coach who, along with his wife, were serving as bike marshals for the event. My (unofficial) top 5 place slipped away as I ducked into the hardy, but sparse group of spectators lined up several deep about 100 feet in front of finish. Their confusion at my move topped only by my embarrassment at what landed me there. It bothered me enough to over-donate on raffle tickets later at the festival. I stood with my younger brother later that afternoon as the winning numbers were read; fingers crossed that I wouldn’t win a membership to the local Ducks Unlimited club or local video store. All that became a memory when my mom told me early the next morning she received the call we’d been waiting for; my grandma passed away in the night, a few tense days after grandpa gave the ok to remove life sustaining systems.
2010 will be the first year I’ve completed more events in Arizona than Iowa. I like the variety of events in AZ; from the expected quirky holiday runs http://www.azroadrunners.org/races/detail/saguaro and trail run through a local tourist trap http://www.azroadrunners.org/races/detail/sunrise to the highly competitive, pancake flatdestination marathon http://arizona.competitor.com/ or late fall social/competitive road bike ride.http://www.pbaa.com/!ETT/ETThome.html Plenty of options exist to grab a friend and get out every weekend of the year.
I’ve bumped into the organizers of the Mt. Lemmon event http://www.mountlemmonmarathon.com/ a few times; awareness of this group led to my signing up for this mid-October, non-publicized inaugural marathon- distance run. I had completed one other first-time marathon, ING-Miami in 2003; a favorable experience to be part of a brand new event. I also figured it’d be a solid training addition for my target event coming up mid-December. For the unfamiliar; Mt. Lemmon boasts the southern-most ski destination in the U.S. and is home to several university and professional astronomical research organizations. It tops out a little more than 9100 feet above sea level (Des Moines is in the 750-850’ range) laying claim to five of the seven recognized life zones in North America. It’s a pretty neat hill and we’re about to run it from near bottom to near top.
Small numbers meant packet pick-up was manageable in a small parking area outside an REI store. Fifteen minutes and out; it would have been quicker had the supplement drink booth not required me to run into the mall to hit a cash machine. I had little interest that evening in a special pre-event meal; opting instead to simply get to sleep since I anticipated a long day ahead.
Reaching the line for a 6:00 a.m. start required multiple steps, none of which included falling out of a hotel room 100 meters from the start. Not this time. I was up at 3:30 for a 40 minute drive to catch a shuttle in a small school lot. By the time we late arrivers pulled in the lot was full; prompting the organizers to call an audible, sending us down the road a bit to the Basha’s grocery http://www.bashas.com/Locations.aspx?city=Tucsonon Sunrise and trusting that a bus would be sent to get us. Creativity like that will spread positively; breathing life into a hopeful inaugural event. The bus ride was like any other; bouncy, cold then hot, and loud. The rattling pierced only by the steady stream of stories, part truth, part stretched, told only as complete strangers can. A quick nap was out of the question.
Only one two-lane paved road leads up the mountain and at this pre-dawn hour it was bumper to bumper with buses, event-related staff, early rising industrial-types and a line of spectators waiting their turn to head up the single open lane. We turned down an unpaved desert road, the lights came one, the door popped open and as we worked our way back to the paved road the reflection of Mile Marker 0 could be seen from the glare of headlights. Marker 0; a perfect place to start.
From Mile Marker 0 through the rest of the day an attitude of flexibility and adventure would keep things looking up and in perspective. From a base of around 2500 feet we began our climb right away as we walked toward the lights of the official start at the 3100 foot mark. We marched mostly in silence, not
knowing. Forced to breathe the exhaust of a line-up of buses and service vehicles each waiting their turn to head up the road we hiked up about 1⁄2 mile to join the others camped out around the only row of starting line restrooms. A sheriff’s deputy controlled traffic as the lines of participants covered the blocked/closed traffic lane and trickled into the single open lane. The deputy recalled two multi-sport events he completed in Hawaii in the mid-80s, tipping his hat to anyone choosing to race up this hill.
Around 5:45 we loaded our bags into the open bed of two pick-ups several feet up the road; pestering the drivers with the obvious….:”are you sure the bags won’t fly out the back on the long drive up?” Once loaded we continued walking up the hill, passing Mile-Marker 1 still with a few hundred meters before arriving at the Musco-lighting supplied start. Judging by the lack of people doing much more than simple stretching; climbing up the one-mile+ switchback served as warm up enough for nearly everyone.
I borrowed a heart-rate monitor; my plan to utilize this as training for my target event eight weeks after this run. Bonus: it was one of those fancy Garmin devices measuring all sorts of additional technical information that’s of little use other than to serve as a great time-suck. If I knew how the thing functioned I would have copied in some of the detail. Maybe someone could walk me through this sometime. What I do know is that my HR was steadily climbing simply from the 1+ mile uphill walk to the starting line. At the start guest Bart Yasso attempted to mix a bit of humor into his inspirational kick-off; it fell mostly flat. He was quoted later as saying he didn’t know what to tell folks who asked him how to adjust pace for this type of course.
As previously stated; I had no plan, no goal or target pace. An immediate HR spike to the high 170s, with a 177 max early on, tells me I sure put a lot of effort into something without a goal. The easy on the eyes gal lined up just in front of me likely aided in my sustaining a higher than expected HR from the start. From the gun it was clear this was a little different crowd from the typical marathon. Out were costumes, walkers, tribute, cause or fundraising jerseys or much of anything intended to draw attention or make a statement. In were nutrition and liquid carriers of varying styles and a disproportionate number of ultra- types. The smallish crowd grew increasingly quiet as the National Anthem was about to begin. I was standing in an oasis of artificial light, surrounded by quiet darkness of the desert foothills, ready to add to a morning already full of new experiences.
Three weeks earlier my Grandpa stood next to his life-time partner and spouse; 76+ years together, as she lay unaware in a hospital recovery room. He said to her, “Myra, we had a good long life together. I love you; I always have and always will.” With that he consented to removal of life-support and somehow Grandma managed to hang on a few more days. My mom choked up as she relayed the story several days prior. I didn’t make Chicago on 10/10, instead I spent that weekend at my Grandmother’s funeral in Arkansas. I spent a few days running, actually more jogging, the familiar, unmarked, twisting, hilly roads around their rural home. Twice turned back by large off-leash dogs determined to keep strangers away from their land. During the funeral services the minister delivered story after story of personal involvement with my grandma; each one ending with the positive impact she had on their church and community; reaching even to an African village she and her quilting partners had been supplying with hand-made quilts for years. Clearly she had countless experiences in their community most of our sizable family missed given the geographical distance between us. The minister struggled to maintain composure each time he glanced over at our family.
Somewhere in the first 2-3 miles I was reminded of Heidesch’s run-the-tangents mandate. This course snakes the entire time, weaving jagged circles around the mountain to the top. In spite of the one open traffic lane it was possible and reasonably safe to cut out many of the weaves. Surely minutes could be saved by deploying that strategy for the duration. Also of note in this first set of miles was disappearance of the saguaro http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saguaro which dot the valley landscape throughout the city and outlying desert. I opted against carrying a pack; instead wearing shorts with 4-5 rear pockets and stuffing them beyond capacity. A pack of Jelly Belly’s flopped out early on. A guy ran up behind me yelling….Hey, hey, these fell out of your pocket….. as he gave me a baton hand-off to which I could only come up with a lame, Oh, thanks man”. I didn’t even think to offer him any. My first recollection of an elevation sign came at 5000 feet; at which point it was still uncomfortably warm for my preferences. By this time we had hit the high temperature of 75 for the day. Cool pockets and temperature inversions started sometime after 5500 feet and continued thereafter. Through the first few miles I consistently, albeit slowly, reeled in others while rarely being overtaken. Overanxious I’d later learn.
Around mile 8 we had a refreshing, if not brief, leveling of grade. Somewhere in the 7-9 range we hit a significant temperature inversion as my fingers chilled to uncomfortable and I’m sure I could see my breath. Regardless, the short-lived loss of grade was a great break and provided a mental lift. As good as it felt, we still had more than 3000’ to climb so it was quickly time to refocus. By the 5th mile I settled into a decent rhythm according to my borrowed wrist-piece. As poor planning would have it I didn’t fully charge the unit and immediately after we clicked past mile 10 it started flashing, beeping and went dead. Not before beeping for a mile or so, resulting in plenty of stares from others. In response I simply forced an acknowledging smirk accompanied by brow furrowing and wrist shaking as if it were the fault of the watch. Just as mysteriously about 1⁄2 mile later my wrist started chirping again, I slowed (relative) to check it out and sure enough we were back online. I’d later learn I lost somewhere around 1.5~~ miles of information. I was pleased to see that I was maintaining a manageable heart rate-average of 165— and given the sparse population of spectators or fellow climbers, the temporary beeping distraction was welcome. I may be in the market.
Miles continued to click away surprisingly uneventfully. We had a few tight turns between miles 12-15 including some spectacular views of the desert valley between miles 13-15 corresponding with a few more vehicle pull-outs/overlooks. Switchbacks made it possible for the handful of spectators to move ahead of us lending to a few more rounds of cheers. A lead, marked vehicle made up and down trips via the single available lane, each time dragging a string of spectators and typical mountain tourists as well as others behind him. We were able to see some of the same folks several times at these outlooks. A familiar chirping sound started again at mile 17 and after a few last-gasp seconds I lost the watch for good. On my own for the tough part of the run. A quick summary of the measured part of the event showed the following: Total distance: 15.81 miles; Elevation gain of 4602, loss of 244
Ave HR of 165, max of 177; Ave pace of 10:34/min miles; Calorie burn of 1649
By mile 18 I start to choke. Literally and figuratively. I was at the end of the first week of a cold and by now apparently the dry air at elevation had left me dehydrated. My first pit-stop occurred at the ever- helpful volunteer station just after 18. Stepping out of the kybo I recall being unsteady, refusing a hand from a volunteer figuring I could walk it out. My breathing was noticeably labored and despite the probable continued temperature drop I felt warm. I missed a few training days as I tapered for Chicago, then realized I wouldn’t make it. A few more when I traveled to Arkansas then down to Tucson. Calling it a day never occurred to me; but I did wonder a few times why—for what, for whom. Sometimes it seems so pointless and even selfish; this was one such time. Onward I continued; walking.
Somewhere along Mile 19 a sizable group of spectators lined the left side of the road; high-school age youth tossing Frisbees and footballs, loud music breaking the incessant silence. By now my lack of both elevation and hill-training was evident and it became a struggle to maintain any sort of running pace even through this much welcomed downhill stretch. I was down to more of a trot. I thought often how insignificant this was relative to how I could be spending my day. By now a steady stream of runners was creeping around me beginning with my stop back at 18. I didn’t have anything to prove; I wasn’t going to win anything; I held the one-person conversation of what’s-the-point multiple times.
I didn’t bring gloves or long sleeves and my fingers continued to stiffen from the continual temperature drop. Or perhaps I was becoming light-headed from the continued rise in altitude and I was imagining it. I was out of my own fuel by now and forced to eat off the volunteer tables, which I gladly did at every station from 18 to the finish. I didn’t have a working watch and there were no time markers; I had lost track of earth time when the GPS first blanked out around mile 10 and lost track of net/elapsed time when it blanked for good around 17. I only knew I now had about five more uphill miles and around 1.5 downhill. By now I was walking a fair amount; ok, a lot.
Miles 20-24 passed by as if they were one; walk a bit, shuffle a bit, jog a bit. It’s rare for me to be passed by so many so late in an event. The one bright spot was the occasional bus of 1⁄2 marathoners being shuttled back down the hill; windows open, enthusiastically cheering for us as we continued our ascent. Around mile 23 cars and people started lining both sides of the road for the first time since the 1⁄2. A loudspeaker could be heard echoing ahead. Then cheers, horns and applause. Eventually the voice was audible and it was clear the finish line was ahead; which didn’t make sense. How could a voice, even at 8400 feet, carry 2+ miles? A slight grade down started, yet another corner and it became clear: we were
to turn right and complete a 1+ mile steep grade, perform a cone turn-around pivot, roll down the same hill, turn right for .2 for a downhill finish into Summerhaven http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Lemmon,_Arizona.
I was unable to run a single step of that last uphill. Every part of me conflicted and refused to cooperate. The final hill commenced and the walk-up didn’t end until the orange turnaround cone. The subsequent downhill mile was steep enough it was impossible not to run through the finish line. The expressions of all those leaning uphill as we now faced them headed downhill ranged from jubilation to hollowness and disgust. I wish I had a watch on that last downhill mile; it felt close to typical race-pace. No matter, the loudspeaker was back in force, the crowd grew and a finish secured: a new (high) PR in a certified marathon distance, 5:01 which barely cracked the age group upper 40%. This was a well trained group.
I grabbed all the consumables my body could manage, changed into warm clothes and spent a few minutes watching other finishers before a chill set in. I had no phone reception so couldn’t call anyone. I then took my place in line for a spot on a bus headed down the same hill we just ran up. I sat in the back; good fortune struck awarding me a solo seat which I used to the fullest. Similar to the small number of ultra’s I’ve completed recovery from this was quite different from a typical marathon. I went for short jogs on the forgiving neighborhood desert trails the next couple of days to keep myself moving and felt I’d accomplished a net positive toward my fall training and ultimate goal. Insignificance be damned for now, on to the next experience.
Halloween weekend was open save for the need to get in a long run according to the plan. It would be two weeks post Mt. Lemmon and while I still lacked a little snap I felt ready to slog through a couple+ hours on a Saturday morning. As it turns out opportunity presented itself and I made an 11th hour call to enter an organized Halloween weekend run, a great way to end the month.
I missed The Ragnar Relay http://www.ragnarrelay.com/race/greatriver this year. I missed the event but more importantly I missed the group. I made the right choice in not going; it doesn’t, however, change how I feel about it. My schedule of late has necessitated such choices and I’m still working through the right balance of various responsibilities. Time with good friends has been a difficult, albeit necessary, sacrifice. This event had some similarities, mostly that it was a 24 hour deal. Maybe that’s the only similarity. Either way it reminded me of the team.
A couple years ago I had a conversation w/Kirk about level of interest (ever) in completing a century run. At the time it didn’t rate very high; after all we were in the process of recovering from the challenging Ice Age Trail Run (yea–an unexpected podium for me!) and our judgment may have been impaired. Over time my interest has evolved ever so slightly; a bit in tandem with the devolution of my race times. I don’t really hang out with many (any?) folks who spend much time on that side of the running community so nothing’s been thrown out as a carrot or even point of discussion. I knew of the local Equalizer Run http://www.crankygnomeathleticclub.com/equalizer/ but hadn’t paid much attention to it the last couple of years. Friday night before Halloween I found myself sitting at dinner with a large table of people I’d never met before; all fueling up before the assault on Gray’s Lake the next day. I should mention the race director is a welcoming and accommodating fella; I sat next to his parents at dinner. They run a hunting lodge up in South Dakota and were there to see the grandkids. And help out. I also met a nice couple who transplanted from Tucson a couple of years ago. I touch of irony I thought.
Showing up at the event Saturday a.m. it was clear I have a lot to learn –just to fit in. With about 30 minutes before start everyone else was set up and most of these folks clearly had been there before. Tents, tables, full meals, chairs, blankets, family, even a massage table. To my credit I brought a yoga mat to put on my tarp as a place to sit when changing shoes, etc. I sheepishly kept my borrowed (thanks Piper) green tarp off to a side corner—mostly out of sheer embarrassment. I pulled out a couple pair of shoes, a few diet cokes, some packs of Jelly Belly Sport Beans, some mini-candy bars, a couple cans of Ensure and some V8 juice. I forgot to make a deli sandwich in my a.m. nervous rush. Somehow I thought this stash would be sufficient for the next 24 hours of shuffling around the lake. I had done a bit of research mid-week on ways to train for this type of event but I neglected to look into food consumption. We lined up for the Whitney Houston version of the National Anthem, me taking my place back of the
pack. Midway through I realized I was still wearing my flip-flops so quickly snuck away back to my spot immediately at the conclusion to change.
My plan was roughly to run then walk in a relatively consistent manner, alternating a brief stop with a slightly longer stop at my staked out corner each lap around the lake. Every other lap I would jot a few words down in a notebook/journal; in part to make sure I remained alert—using myself as a judge of my own handwriting. I’d also drop Amy a quick line every few laps—again; largely to judge my alertness. If I can write and type a few words I must be coherent = I keep plugging away. I’d also use the longer break to drink some diet coke and grab a bite from my stash or from the overflowing volunteer table.
Initial journal entry: 7:40a.m., a different kind of nervous. Oddly aware of everyone and everything around. Beautiful a.m.; Halloween Eve.
I brought three listening devices with me: An AM tuner, an FM tuner and an ipod. I figured I’d alternate them along with my 3-4 pairs of shoes. That worked well.
From the journal: Two laps down, feel ok; Nice sunrise. It was a beautiful, nearly perfect morning. A little breezy out of the southwest; enough to be a slight distraction at the same time refreshing. The locals started filtering in; walkers, runners, old and young alike were beginning to share our space. Journal entry: Four laps down, 9:20a.m. Annoying, chilly breeze. Freezing hands, good pace. Journal entry: Six laps, two hours. Warming up. Doing good!
I ran into Patrick Riley a couple of times. I stopped once as he was off to the side stretching and he motioned to Jonathan, a friend of his he was there to support. Jonathan has a storied running career involving both the University of Iowa and Iowa State. Today, however, he was in a bit of distress and I believe he may have fallen short of his targets. I don’t know Patrick very well; but I learned he’s the kind of person who will go out of his way to offer an extended hand and a few sincere words. That’s good enough for me.
Journal entries: Eight laps – 2:40. Warming, a little tightening. 10 laps – 3:25. Warm with lots of people on the trails.Decide I’ll change clothes after lap 12, changing my hat now. Feel ok. Twelve laps – Change of shoes and clothes. Really warm. Fourteen laps – finished the marathon in less than 5 hours (beat my Lemmon time of two weeks ago!). I started to carry a drink with this lap; mostly as a distraction as all fountains/faucets/bathrooms were still open. By now I realized I would be completing this mostly solo. My pace and walk/rest times were a little off from everyone else; plus some folks had friends or family running occasionally with them. Any distraction I could create each lap would help click off another one. I considered counting lights on the bridge or around the path but decided to wait until college football was off the radio. . Sixteen laps – A little tense, pasty mouth and sweaty. Eighteen laps – Legs getting tired; probably need to ramp up the walking stretches. Good news is my corner is now 100% shaded. Wind feels good. 19 laps – An unplanned stop; changed shoes. 21 – Not bad for the last two laps. Formula = a bit more walking. 8:25 elapsed time. Saw three rent-a-bikes make a couple passes around. Lake is nearly all glass; fewer people on the path. Doing good. 23 laps – Now just a little tight all around. A little fatigued.9:15 elapsed time. N/NW wind feels great. We’ve lost the glassy lake. 25 laps: 10:15 elapsed time. We lost the sun around the last couple of laps. A beautiful cloud streaked sunset; stunning in fact. .Ditching the sunglasses. Doing good. A lap or two earlier as I was grabbing chips from the volunteer tent I’d mentioned I would shortly set new PRs in both time on my feet ( 8.5+ hours—need to check with Kintzle on the official Run For the Robe ’05 time) and miles in an event (50). Chris the director pointed me down the trail to exactly where that would occur, told me to give a holler and wave back when I hit it and he’d set off a horn. The good natured humor every lap was welcome. I noticed a couple amateur photographers positioned to grab some photos of the moon-filled evening as I made my way around the next laps.
27 laps: 11:20 elapsed. Almost a second wind for the body. Now getting a little sleepy but body feels great. Dark. Change of clothes—a bit cold. By now I was starting to think about how long I wanted to stay out here. The six hour group was gone and the 12 hour group would be gone shortly along with the others not part of the event. I still wasn’t ready to adjust my pace or lap rate to pair up with anyone, it was clear nearly, if not everyone, else was experienced and had a lap rate rhythm that was working for them based on experience. If I was to make it at least past midnight I needed to focus on getting myself around.
29 laps: 12:19 elapsed time. Grabbing some soup from the volunteer table, it’s chicken noodle and yummy. We’re past 1⁄2 time so we’re down to the 24 hour folks. Still unsure about a nap; we’ll see. Body feels ok. 31 laps: 13:22 elapsed. Moved my stuff as my neighbors said some of the natives were scoping out it. Chilly so putting on some ear covers and a vest. 33 laps: 14:22 elapsed. Actually feel ok, just sleepy. Wind calmed down a bit-yeah! 35 laps. I did some math; race in three weeks then again three more weeks. I need another shirt. Tiring of listening to the BBC on my low-grade AM tuner. Finally time to set a goal: 80 miles. I liked the sound of that and figured I could easily remember it. One of the volunteers piped in that he’d completed 85 miles a couple years ago and that if I knocked out a couple more laps I may move up on the placement chart. This provided something as a target and reinforced a degree of satisfaction with my decision to call it a day.
37 laps. 16:30 elapsed. Tired. Feet sore; not hot spots just sore. Higher mix of walking. 39 laps. 17:30 elapsed. 41 – 1 more lap to go. Beautiful moon. Turns out the moon was a waning crescent phase—it was stunning as it climbed out of the east at an angle and reflected on the glassy lake. An uninterrupted reflection on the still lake; broken only by one of the 4-5 lake fowl as we’d roust them from their attempts to doze off between runners passing by.
Remarkably I wasn’t losing more than a couple minutes per 3-4 lap set over the last several laps. In fact my final three laps were quicker than the prior 3-4. Just about 19 1⁄2 hours flashed; I walked over to Chris the director and announced I was finished. Simple as that. I thanked them for everything and in fewer than two minutes I had reloaded my things and was on the road; landing in bed before 4:00a.m.; up again before 8. Actually I was up in time to drive back to the lake for the finish. I didn’t; I felt a little incomplete by leaving early—effectively a DNF—and I didn’t feel completely right about heading back down, showered and in street clothes as the truly driven who stuck with it would be grabbing at the last few meters in a game of beat the clock. As such it’s almost as if I ran bandit. No shirt, no award, no finisher’s photo—fitting for my neglect of the simple request organizers make of pre-registering, showing up on time and sticking with something through the finish.
I’ve heard events such as these are times one learns things about oneself. Here are a few things I learned about me and in general after more than 40 consecutive circles around the lake:
A loop event such as this is built for spectators, fans and volunteers. Bring a few if you ever decide to complete one; they’ll help pass the time and give purpose. Doing this alone lacked purpose for me.
Count on these types of events to have hot water; bring something to capitalize on it. Rice, coffee, tea, powered soup, etc. If you want to be involved but unsure about competing; volunteer or donate. Events are always in need of both.
I need to buy a better micro-a.m. radio
I need to spend more than $9 for a set of headphones
People are good; they help the time go by
Borderline ADD people need stuff to do
I can walk away from incomplete business when I feel I have something left to offer
I’m reminded it’s more important to share such things with those who matter—to make a shared memory
The day of my grandmothers funeral I called one my sisters; she had been ordered bedridden with a difficult pregnancy for a couple of weeks and still had several more to go. I asked what was on her plate for the weekend. She said their two girls were away and her husband was golfing at a charity event so she was just bored. At 3:30 a.m. the next day, a series of messages from my brother-in-law stated my sister was admitted to the hospital with preterm labor—nearly seven weeks early. By 9:00a.m on 10/10/10 as thousands of athletes (including a large SCRC contingency) were well into their Chicago experience and a day after we lay to rest one member of my family I had a new niece.
Trite, yes, but another circle completed. Life as we know it is short; grab your meaningful someone/s, get up and go do something that matters to you. By the way, my Boston 2011 registration was confirmed. Let me know if you’re planning to be there and if you might have space in your room for me.