Monday, March 19, 2012

Battle at The Canyon

This battle was not meant to happen. Someone fired the first shot, the other retaliated, and before anyone could blink there was a full on war going down in Sabino Canyon in front of joggers with strollers, tourists, and hikers.

The weekend before I had just done Tough Mudder and the PF Chang's 1/2 marathon (race reports are forthcoming). I invited The Dark Warrior and The Boulder to the canyon for an easy paced run. I told The Boulder that I'd be going slow because my legs were still fried from the previous weekend. This was the intent until someone decided to throw the glove down.

We started the run like any other with a 5 minute walk, and then started the run up the first hill. We got into the canyon and the 3 of us chatted as we ran. Nothing is cheery with The DW, so he of course had to start in with the insults, which caused me to shove him at one of the bridge crossings, since he can't swim. He claimed I re-dislocated his shoulder. He then shoves back, but the laws of physics were in his favor and I went flying. I recovered, thanks to my awesome balancing skills. We then hit the climb just past Mile 3. I said, "I'm going to be taking it easy on this climb...I'm feeling Chang's."

All joking fell to the wayside. My opponent knew of the weakness in my legs and took the advantage. We started the climb and he started to pull a half step ahead. Oh no this was NOT happening! I had no choice but keep up. The pace then drops as we head up the hill shoulder to shoulder. Neither of us is speaking but we both knew what was going down. It was a test before the Surprise 1/2 marathon qualifying race coming up. We climbed up the hill, gasping for air to the point the hikers in front of us turned around and moved out of the way so that they wouldn't get spit on. At this point it was just me and The DW. We had left The Boulder behind for dead. Actually, he was the smarter one out of the 3 of us, opting to run at a reasonable pace. This was MY canyon and I wasn't about to let The DW leave me in the dust on it. He started to drop back. There's a minimum distance to be maintained between runners, and if one slips back out of that range they are officially "dusted." The DW was getting dangerously close to that distance. I wondered if he was cooked before the end of the climb. Turns out he was just drafting and surged forward. "We are idiots" was all I could manage to say in between gasps of breath. After all, we had a race coming up the next weekend.

We reached the top and looped around waiting for The Boulder to finish the climb up. We apologized to him for our stupidity and headed back down. The return trip was not without more challenges. A few of the bridges were flooded over with water. After the battle up the climb, The DW and I spotted the water and apparently had the same idea and sprinted towards the water. We were both timing the stride so that our outside foot would hit with force and splash the other person. The Boulder was laughing at this scene. All this accomplished was getting one foot more wet than the other.

As we approached the last climb out of the canyon, The Boulder announced "I'm walking this hill." The DW replied, "Yeah, I'm with you, Ryan." I thought to myself, "I've never walked this hill and I'm not going to start now." We got to the climb and The Boulder dropped back while The DW jumped on my carnival ride and matched my stride up the hill. We sounded like we were hacking up a lung as we ran up the climb at a ridiculous pace, leaving The Boulder for dead again (I will be surprised if he ever agrees to run with us again). The Boulder caught up to us on the downhill, but the shenanigans weren't over. We usually start the cooldown walk at the road crossing. At this point The DW and I sprint to the end, running an 8 minute mile pace. I started overheating even though it was winter, and removed my long sleeved shirt. The Boulder finished his run and we got our Gatorade. I found The DW under the visitor center ramada, carrying his sweatshirt and wandering in circles like a caged animal. Parents taking their kids to the tram ride were avoiding that ramada and keeping the tram between them and him. I had to laugh at the entire scene.

So that's how running partners turn an innocent recovery run into a battle right before a key race. I must admit I didn't read The DW's point of view before writing this so that I could recount the facts before posting his thoughts on how the battle went down. Just remember, he was probably delirious from lack of oxygen. ;-)

Sabino Canyon – "Third Times a Charm ?" or "Thrice Bitten" by The Dark Warrior

Someone said that "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again; expecting a different result." So why would I go running the canyon with Pirate Girl, again, after the last two horrific episodes ? She said it herself: all her running partners are crazy. That’s the only reason that I can think of that would have the three of us back running the same paths at the same time (yes, even our partner of the infamous Phone Line Trail was back – showing that insanity is contagious). Either it was insanity, we were easily duped. It happened on the heels of Pirate Girl having the lack of grace to have qualified for the ascent before I did. I’m sure that she has bragged about it elsewhere, but she and the other poor dupe had run "Tough Mudder" on Saturday and she then went out and ran PF Chang’s the next day; and qualified, before me. Now the pressure was on. Not that she tried to up the pressure by comments like "guess I’m on the other side of the fence ?" So when she said "I’d like to go on a nice, slow, recovery run up the canyon", I was caught (subtext "nice and slow so that even an old guy can keep up"). I agreed to go, even though I no longer think of those particular paths as part of a canyon; "lair" is the first thing that comes to mind (like the giant spider in "Return of The King"). I expect that someday, they’ll find my and the other guy’s dessicated bodies at the side of the road. "I wonder what killed them ? It looks like a giant Black Widow did this !".

The day started out ominously; it was bright and sunny. To my recollection, the worst things happen on days when it is bright and sunny and you run with overly cheerful people – who have just qualified for the race over which you have a challenge going. The first words were a lie "My legs are sore; so let’s go nice and slow " ( like cheetas pursuing their prey). It was cold so I had on what my partner calls my "homeless" attire : this consists of nylon pants, nylon shirt, slightly used sweatshirt (okay, so Salvation Army wouldn’t take it – it’s warm), and jersey gardener’s gloves (contrary to some, the tips of the fingers are not cut out).

We started running and the pace was o.k. Until we got to the first place where the stream crosses the road. In the back of my head, there was a little voice shouting "Danger!". Having read pirate girl’s blogs, I remember that, during a Thanksgiving run, she likes to hit the water in order to drench the people around her. And time slowed down. I noticed where her left foot was (being the one closest to me, it would "accidentally" hit in the deepest part of the stream). I lookded to where the stream was (where was the deepest part of the stream ?). I determined how I was going to have to adjust my stride so that my right foot would "accidentally" hit the deepest point. And we were off. Suddenly it was a sprint (like the opening of Best Buy on Black Friday). Obviously the other guy hadn’t read the blogs, or was wearing waterproof clothes; because he continued at a normal pace. It was a tie. In fact, it is a wonder that we didn’t step on each other’s feet. I’d say that she got more wet than I did, but I don’t thing that it is true,. She’s very skinny – have you ever thrown water at the edge of a piece of paper ?

So, after the water hazard, we changed positions. I was on the extreme right. I should have wondered about this. As it was I didn’t have time, or the concentration. I was too busy trying to stay on the road after a dastardly push on the shoulder (I think that, in hockey, the term is "chucking"). I have a messed up left shoulder (old war injury from tossing a teen ager into a wall during practice) so I innocently tried to step out in front so that she couldn’t hit it again. This was at the base of the long hill that ends the normal trail in the canyon. So, pirate girl decides to catch up (so she can throw another cheap shot). I decide to speed it up to stay out of the line of fire. You see where this is going ? Pretty soon we are screaming up the canyon (ok rasping and choking). We’re so loud people are moving out of the way and staring. She’s starting to gain on me; two thirds of the way up, she passes. Decision time ; slow down and wait for the other guy (and take a load of BS) or keep up the pace. I know that we are approaching the circle at the top and if she gets too far ahead she’ll get an insurmountable lead. I opt for pushing it and staying just behind. At the top, she shows a little mercy (not for me, I assure you0 and begins running circles as we wait for our "third".

Running back is mostly uneventful. Except where we encounter the stream; I guess it wasn’t an "accident". And the place where we encountered the dreaded "walkers". Why is it that, when out in groups of four or more, walkers will line up abreast and take up the entire width of the road ? In this case, it was just as we were coming to a bridge. We were still running at a hellish pace, and I wasn’t prepared to stop and walk behind the idiots. So, I sprinted up and stepped between the last person and the edge of the bridge. There was plenty of room (at least 6 inches), but I may have brushed them a I went by. Apparently, the rest of the group decided to shoot the gap with me.

By the time we came to the last hill, two of the three of us were dying. The other guy says "I’m not running up the last hill’ . I say "I’m with you". Pirate girl just nods and smiles sweetly (like a pirhanna). We get to the foot of the hill and as two of us start to slow down, she takes off. I’m not falling for it; and I half expected it so I take off also. I later hear from our third member that a park ranger took a picture of us (must have thought I was trying to mug Pirate Girl). We made it to the end. By the time we did, both of us were dying. As we came up to the ramada, the third person caught up to us (in his defense, he was never very far behind). The two of them went to their vehicles to get water, I stayed behind and took off my sweatshirt and gloves and started walking around so I didn’t "set up". I must have looked pretty bad because people were avoiding me and mothers were staying between me and their children. Another fine run in the canyon (lair ?)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Secret Training

When running partners are apart, they keep up the training so that they aren't "left behind" when the break is over and the run together again. Over the holidays, The Dark Warrior and I would text each day how far we had run. Weekly mileage was very similar even though we were on opposite ends of the US. While I was running Sabino Canyon to Prison Camp, he was running the white sandy beaches of Florida (I have no sympathy for him, and neither should you). Below is his story.

"Christmas Running - keeping up with a 'cheating' running partner" by The Dark Warrior

So, here it is February, and I'm about to write about training that occurred over Christmas. This shouldn't surprise you. My speed in writing just about matches my speed on the half marathon. Not exactly fast. However, I keep being reminded of this challenge I made with a trail runner. A young, fast, vindictive, sneaky trail runner. I don't remember exactly how this bet came about; of course, I don't remember much of the seventies either (thankfully). Be that as it may, I promised to document every mile leading up to the Ascent. Elsewhere I mentioned the peculiar relationship between running partners (best friend, worst enemy). There is nothing that illustrates this like enforced time away from each other. In this case, over Christmas, we had almost 4 weeks apart. She stayed in Tucson, I had to go to South Alabama where we have part ownership in a beach house. Ok, it's in Florida but it's only 20 miles from Alabama. Trust me, it's close enough. The locals refer to it as “the Redneck Riviera”. Joy.

Time away from your running partner is traumatic. For one thing, you know that they are sneaking in extra miles to shave time off their averages. For the second, she has the high tech gizmo that tells you the distance and the speed. Without her, I have no idea how far I've run. The closest I can come is a ball of kite string and a stop watch (even using a tape measure, it takes a while to measure your total distance). Finally, without your partner, there is no one to motivate you by suggesting "want to take a nice, easy recovery run up the canyon?". In other words, no one to lie to you in a little disguised attempt to take you out and kill you - what doesn't kill you, makes you strong...or fast...or paranoid (ok, so my definition of motivation is a bit warped).

The Florida Pan Handle is an interesting place to visit (sort of like Hell: nice and warm for a while, but you wouldn't want to live there). The area that we have the house is the same place frequented by Brittany Spears, Cheryl Crow, Miley Cyrus and Paris Hilton (I did give the Hell analogy, didn't I ?). It does have a few redeeming features. At Christmas, there are miles of beach frequented by only two or three people. In addition, there are around 70 miles of relatively flat bike path. And, finally, there is a National Forest with miles of Biking/Running trails. So, I arrived in Florida sans running partner. The first thing that I did was to run 4 miles along the beach. Sounds relaxing, right? Wrong! The beach is about the worst place that there is to run if you're training. First, beach sand is like quicksand, only dry. Running in it is horrible due to the effort required and because it has a tendency to find its’ way into your shoes and immediately start rubbing sensitive areas. The remedy for this is to run where the sand is hard. The only place where there is hard sand is next to the surf. The ocean is sneaky. You'll be running along on wet, hard , sand with the ocean thirty feet to your right; next thing you know, you're sharing your running shoes with five hundred gallons of water, thirty pounds of sand and a pissed off jelly fish or two. Second, the beach slopes at a noticeable angle. If you run 3 miles in one direction, you have to run back in the opposite direction so that you can tweak both knees equally. Next, the ocean and the wind are in cahoots. The wind scallops the beach so that it is in huge "sawtooth" dunes. You feel like a scene out of Lawrence Of Arabia. No matter how you try to gauge your stride, the toe of one shoe or the other is digging in to the top of the next dune (SM - sucketh mightily). Finally there are fishermen and the owners of small dogs. Have you ever noticed that people that own Yorkies and other small dogs almost without exception have them on "reel in" leashes that are at least 40 feet in length. Why, on earth, would you have a small dog on the end of a leash that long? By the time that the dog hits the end of the leash, it is too tired to return on its’ own power. The only thing that makes sense is that owner intends to use the leash, reel and dog to spin cast for sharks. The fishermen are almost as bad as the dog owners. They pound a pipe into the sand, cast their lures out into the ocean, place the handle of the pole into the pipe, and sit down in a beach chair to take a nap. The only way to avoid the line strung at neck height is to note where the ends of the pole are and draw a theoretical straight line to the edge of the surf (if you aren’t busy dodging an ankle-biting Yorkie at the time. So there you have it, the beach is the worst place to train.

With running on the beach so much fun, I decided on running the bike path. It was a fairly uneventful run for the six miles out (minus the point where some tourist leading a gaggle of family members on bikes going the opposite direction shouts out “You make it look too easy, Old Timer!”

Fortunately, he was well past before I could throw the appropriate elbow and play Dominoes with his family. Note to self: consider a bottle or three of “Just For Men” hair color. Running back illustrates how fast the weather can change on the coast: warm and sunny until you’ve gotten as far from home as you intend and then raining and lightening all the way home. Knowing that lightening tends to strike the tallest object quickly makes you realize that, on the coast, YOU are frequently the tallest object. It was this run that forced me partially into the modern age of running. I realized that I could not use my usual methods of determining the distance that I had run (for the record, in order of preference the were : get it from my running partner, get if from the odometer of my car after driving the trail, get it off the Treadmill(shudder)). My car couldn’t drive on the path, so I called up Ms. Perky for advice. She suggested a program available on the internet. After many tries, I was able to determine the distance. I realized, however, that for running the National forest, this wouldn’t work well (sort of like using a pre-Columbian map to find the New World). No, I didn’t run out and buy a run logger. Instead, I downloaded an app for my trusty Droid. I now use this app frequently and I usually get acceptable results. I did say usually; this could be because I’ve tinkered with my Droid’s software (maybe tinker isn’t strong enough – I did a Frankenstienian transplant. Now I have to be extremely care of what commands I give it lest I inadvertently command it to move a satellite or some such). And now comes the great irony of the week of training away from my partner. “How far did you run?” Turns out, without coordinating, that she ran 34.7 miles; I ran 34.5. I knew she was running more in order to improve her times! She Cheats!

Let me interject a progress report. By this time, I had lost 18 lbs. Part of this was weight lost due to training, the other was weight scared off by running trails with Ms. Perky. I went to a party held by local friends that I only see at Christmas. One of the friends notes that I have lost weight and asks me how much I lost. I tell him. He responds by saying that he was able to lose that much when his jaw was wired shut. No explanation, no story, just that statement. I didn’t ask. I did tell you that this was South Alabama.

My final adventure was running in the Washington National Forest. You can get away with this in the Winter. In the Summer, it is a Cypress Swamp populated by alligators, wild pigs, black bear, deer, mosquitoes, water moccasins and idiots (deer hunters). You can’t go anywhere in the Summer without a machete and an industrial can of insect repellant. In the winter, you don’t have the reptiles or the mosquitoes. My intent was to take a moderate trail (8 miles or so). Last time I tried this I was gone for four hours. This time, I had a map, my cell phone and a determination to follow the markers. I didn’t carry a gun because it weighs me down (like water) and I’ve always felt that fear makes you run faster. I started out through the forest and had gone a few miles when a herd of swamp deer jumped across the road. They may be called “deer”, but I swear they were the size of ponies. And they jumped a long way. It was like a herd of flying ponies jumping out of the palmettos. I was glad that I was wearing black. Palmettos are nasty plants. They’re like short palm trees that grow in large clumps. I ran past one clump and noted that the wind had come up and was rustling the leaves. Then I noted that the leaves across the path were still. Point of survey – when confronted with evidence of wild animal, do you a) stop, b) run faster, C) go at the same pace and hope they don’t notice? I noticed evidence of the idiot population – the trail markers had often been used for targets. The worst problem was the area that had been the recent recipient of a brush fire. Try finding a burned trail marker on a burned tree trunk sometime. At the end of it, I made it out alive and had only added 2 miles more than I had planned. End of the week mileage – Ms. Perky had 36, I had 35. Like I said, she cheats. So by the end of vacation, I had been able to run six days a week for four weeks. I was ready for almost anything my partner could throw at me. Almost.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who hates the treadmill more?

Now that I invited The Dark Warrior to write and share his side of our running partnership on my blog, I can't shut the guy up. He has sent me 3 journal entries, which now means I'm behind and must catch up. Our running relationship has transferred to this blog, and I can't be the one behind. Especially because it's my blog!

On the weekends, DW and I head outside for training, running on Saturdays and Sundays, training for the evil Pikes Peak Ascent, which was all his idea. During the week we go our separate training ways, with me continuing my outdoor runs and him heading to the health club to run the treadmill. Now, I detest treadmills. I will run in the most heinous of weather to avoid them. It's been years since I touched one. On a recent trip to DC, as the plane landed we looked out the window and it was snowing. We got to the hotel, changed into our running clothes, and checked out the treadmills on the 3rd floor. I just couldn't do it. I got my running jacket and gloves, he donned his homeless man's sweatshirt, and we headed outdoors to run in the snow because I refused to step foot on the treadmill. And it actually turned out to be a great run.

Since the DW spends so much time on treadmills on a weekly basis, below is his description of his loving relationship with them.

"Treadmills - Mobius Strips of Death" by The Dark Warrior

The last time that I updated this journal, I described how my running partner tried to kill another innocent and I on the same trail run. Some might ask "Why run with someone that tries to kill you ?" A reasonable question. Pity that long distance runners are as far from reasonable as the Earth is to the Moon. You run with your running partner due to a horrible mixture of friendship and hatred. You're best friends with the person because you spend a frigging lot of time in places where there is nothing resembling civilization with them. You hate them because you're afraid that they may be shaving a second per mile off their time when they're running alone without you.

Which gets me to the point of this entry. During the week, my partner is free to run everyday due to an extremely understanding spouse and an equally understanding co-worker. She can modify her hours to match the available daylight (I did say I hated her, didn't I ?). I on the other hand must rely on the evils of indoor training equipment. This is because I go to work before daylight in the Winter and leave after dark. There is no more odious task in the world than going to the local meat emporium (fitness center) after work and spending time on aerobic training equipment.

In the fitness center, you can elect to receive your punishment in a number of ways. There are those that swear by the exercycle. Typically, these people are reading a magazine and listening to an IPOD or some such. My view is that the only time a magazine should be employed in indoor training is to cover the still warm pile of vomit you left on the floor while you run for the paper towels. Still others swear by the elliptical - "It gives you a total body workout, not just your legs" - news flash : I don't run on my arms. My belief is that people use the elliptical because it has convenient handholds so you don't slip off at level one while discussing the loser you were with on last night's date. Finally, there is the treadmill. I have a special relationship with treadmills; I hate them. If you're a history buff, find a history of the middle ages. Look up forms of torture. I guarantee that in every book you will find an illustration of a device called "The Rack". The Rack was a platform that had rollers on each end with a hand crank. You tied the victims arms to one set of rollers and their feet to the other set and slowly took up the slack with the hand crank. Not only could you slowly increase the reach of the victim but you could easily pop the arms and legs out of the sockets. Now, getting back to the treadmill, if you put a continuous belt around the rollers, replaced the hand crank with a motor, put in a vertical riser and crossbar with a display and a tilt adjustment, you'd have the modern treadmill. I don't think that this is an accident. All of those Royal Torturers had to go somewhere after torture fell on disfavor ("Psst,hey, Princess. Your ass is looking flabby. I've got something that can fix that").

So, in the Winter months, when daylight is short and I'm not clinging to high trails for my life while running with my partner, I run on the treadmill. I've said that I hate them; let me try to describe why. First, there are the people that habitually use them. These come in several types. Type 1 is the Spandex Queen - Typified by brightly colored excercise clothing that has never seen a drop of perspiration. The top of which has a strategically low cut to reveal the after market breasts. These users will inevitably be walking at an incline while talking to another Spandex Queen on the next treadmill. If the mindless chatter isn't enough to make you hurl, the overwhelming stench of perfume will shut down your airways almost immediately. Type 2 is the Super Runner - Typically male, age 20 to 35. These icons of ultimate maleness can be seen running on a teadmill that is set to 8 mph. Their pattern of running is to sprint for five minutes then hop up on the edges of the machine while the belt runs underneath them as they adjust IPOD, dringk sports drink, answer cell ("dude" - it's a male friend on the other end. "Hi. Oh nothing. Just doing my daily tuneup" - female, potential date). I could go on. Needless to say, at typical meat market hours, finding a treadmill upon which to run is an excercise in strategy and diplomacy ("Excuse me miss, do you mind if I move your workout bag, towel, sports drink, and spare magazine off this machine you are not using ?").

Next, there is the machine itself. The belt is too narrow. Just wide enough to let you get up to a decent pace; but narrow enough to allow you to accidentally step onto the non-moving part if your attention should lapse for a nano-second. Imagine the scene if one half your body suddenly goes to zero mile per hour while the second half continues at 8 miles per hour. In aircraft parlance this would be called a "snap roll" and would result in one wing being ripped off the plane. In running parlance this is called wiping out and results in one arm being dislocated at the shoulder. Not only is the belt too narrow, but the machine is too short. Let yourself be luuled asleep and you step off the back of the belt. Step too far and your knee jams under the crossbar. Then there is the readout. It counts off every f'ing second. If you are running fast, you have no choice but to watch the readout. Take your eyes off the display and you will step off the belt into oblivion. Me, I count the second by tens, downward from 600. This means that I am counting down each ten minute segment. Do this out loud and people stare at you. Do it out loud for an hour and they walk to the other side of the club to pass you. If you do manage to keep in the middle and on pace, the machine is relentless. There is no varying your stride. You must match the pace of the belt. Which gets me to the final irritation. In most clubs the machines are set to a fixed maximum duration. If you are trying to set a milage mark, nothing is more furiating than approaching your distance (say 7 miles) only to have the freaking machine time out at 6.3 miles or 60 minutes. Like I say, I hate them.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Running from Sabino Canyon to Prison Camp

I got this crazy idea in my head to do a point-to-point trail run as my long run over the weekend. Looking at my maps, it was possible to run from Sabino Canyon to Prison Camp (Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site) on Mt. Lemmon, just past milepost 7 on Catalina Highway. So I filled my hydration pack with water and snacks, and coordinated some shuttling with Zac. He would drop me off at Sabino Canyon and drive my Jeep up to Prison Camp and leave it at the trailhead. He would then ride his mountain bike down, enjoying the Prison Camp to Molino Basin portion of the AZ Trail and the road down. I've realized, endurance runners and downhill mountain bikers should partner up more often. Endurance runners want to go up the mountains and have cars waiting for them, and downhill mountain bikers want to start at the top and head down.

At 10:30 AM I started my run at the bottom of the road in Sabino Canyon. It was a good thing Zac was dropping me off because the parking lot was packed with snowbirds and holiday visitors. And since it was past 9 AM, the evil trams were running.

(Click photos to enlarge).

I've been running Sabino Canyon on a weekly basis, but this time I had my camera with me. Thimble Peak is a common sight in the canyon, but would be an important landmark for my crazy run in the mountains today.

The warm December temperatures have led to lower elevation snowmelt and lots of water flowing in Sabino Creek. The last bridge was overflowing with water, and kids were squealing and people were trying to avoid getting their shoes wet. I ran right through the middle of the water. I figured my trail shoes were going to be in and out of water throughout the day anyways. Besides, a good trail run always involves the 5 elements: earth, air, fire, water, and blood.

I reached the last hill on the paved road of the canyon and was caught by the evil trams.

This was truly unfortunate timing. By the time I reached the turnaround of the paved road, two tramloads of people had been let out. There were people everywhere, including on the switchbacks leading up to the Sabino Canyon and Phoneline trails. I had to do a lot of hiking to pass all of the tourists that would stop in the middle of the trail without warning.

Road, switchbacks, and Phoneline Trail.

Finally I reached the trail intersection. Today's destination, the East Fork Trail (#24A), which is also part of the Arizona Trail.

This is the climb up the Sabino Canyon trail. I took this picture knowing The Dark Warrior would appreciate it. That would be the trail skirting along the cliff.

Looking back at Sabino Canyon and the paved road I had climbed earlier.

A view of "what's around the corner." Sabino Creek in the middle of the picture, and the trail would wander through the hills.

Running the trail, with Sabino Canyon down below.

Had to get a shot with the saguaro in the background.

My final parting view of Sabino Canyon before disappearing into the hills.

At this point, the trail is descending down to the creek below. Sometimes this isn't a good sign, because that means climbing back UP from the creek.

I reached the intersection of the East Fork and West Fork trails, which are designated as part of the AZ Trail. I had never done this section of trail before, and because it's within the wilderness boundary, I can only trail run it (no mountain bikes in wilderness). I would continue on and take the East Fork.

Box Camp Trail is a future training trail run goal of mine. This will have to happen much later in the year after a lot more training. This trail comes out on Catalina Highway by Spencer Peak, around milepost 22ish.

Starting the climb on the AZT out of the creek bed.

Palisades Trail is another future training run option, with this trail ending at the Palisades visitor center.

More climbing on long, winding switchbacks on the East Fork Trail.

At the top of the switchbacks, the trail became a bit of a catwalk on the side of the cliff.

Still running, with the Palisades Trail on the hillside in the background.

I had just run around the rocky crag in the shadows, which became a landmark later on.

This was the intersection with the Bear Canyon Trail. This can be taken back to Sabino Canyon to make one large loop. At this point the trail changed names to the Sycamore Reservoir Trail.

I had run part of the Sycamore Reservoir Trail before, and at this point the memories were getting jumbled and I got my trail saddles confused. Turns out the saddles look very familiar, except there's an additional 2 miles to go! I hit a few unmarked trail splinters, so had to rely on trail sense to figure out which way to go. When in doubt, I followed horse tracks. Prison Camp has a huge horse trailer parking section, so that's the only direction they could have come to get on the trail. Since my Jeep was at Prison Camp, I followed the horse tracks.

This would be the widest creek crossing that I'd have to make all day. I wandered downstream until I found a shallower section.

Crazy fungus. I swear I didn't sample these on the trail!

This was the Sycamore Creek area of the trail. The brush was too overgrown and dead to make it to the reservoir itself, so instead I stayed on the trail.

Ugh! 2 additional miles! These were by far the hardest miles because of the amount of climbing, and it was at the end of my long route.

As I climbed out of Sycamore Creek, I caught this view of Thimble Peak. I was now viewing it from the other side from where I started that morning.

As a reference point, this is the Thimble Peak vista point on Catalina Highway.

I climbed, and climbed, and climbed some more. The climbing up to the next saddle was relentless. In the shade, old snow and ice was still present but starting to melt.

Finally I reached the top of the saddle and the AZT marker!

This was the view from the AZT marker of the area I had traveled. The rocky crag that I had gone around is the shady spot in the middle in the distance. I had gone around that and through the hills to the left.

And looking over the other side of the saddle, this was the distance I had left to go. The trail continues down through the valley and in between the grassy hill and rocky mountain.

I crossed the creek about 20 times on my way to the parking area. I emerged at the trailhead, happy to find my Jeep left by Zac waiting for me. One last check of the hydration pack, and I had about 2 sips of water left. 3 hours 43 minutes moving time (4.5 hrs total elapsed time), 11.8 miles, and 6000 feet of climbing.

My GPS track overlayed on the topo map via TopoFusion. Green is flatter compared to red as far as climbing goes. The climb at the end (in red) was so much that it made the Sabino Canyon road (in green) appear flat!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Choose your running partners wisely

The week after the Kauai trail run we were back in Tucson, which meant another Sabino Canyon run. I had always wanted to run up the Phoneline Trail and back down the road as a loop. The Dark Warrior had agreed to this idea a few weeks prior. So I also invited The Boulder along, and at the last minute, he showed up. So there the 3 of us were in the parking lot, ready to go. This was the first run of the 3 of us running together. I would soon find out I was outnumbered.

You have to choose wisely which running partner you bring on certain trails. Only after I judge the skills of a runner do I allow them to go on my exploratory runs with me, where I don't really know the trail or the distance. So we set out and started up the Phoneline trail. The Boulder had already experienced this part of the trail with me, and now knew it went straight up in the first mile. The DW did not, but he'd figure it out from looking up at the mountain from the flat part of the trail down below.

We hit the steep part, and after awhile it got quiet behind me. Too quiet. I turned around. "Who's hiking back there?!?" I yelled. Busted. The Boulder was walking. He knows he has longer legs and can pull off a longer stride at a walk in what takes 2 of my running strides up a trail. No matter, at least move the arms or keep some sort of cadence of "running" while we're on the trail! We climb and climb and start skirting along the side of the mountain, following the trail. The DW doesn't like heights but knew he couldn't stop and turn back. Now I'm wondering, why did the guy that has issues with heights challenge me to the Pike's Peak Ascent, which climbs to 14,000 feet up A MOUNTAIN with steep drop offs? The only answer is that he's not right in the head, like all of my running partners. No sane people can really run with me. The sane ones are out on the Rillito River path where it's safe, and not climbing a mountain.

At this point, The DW and The Boulder team up and start scheming on how they could pick me up and toss me over the side because the ghastly run we were doing was my idea. I'm outnumbered, so all I can do is stay ahead of them, just out of reach. Both of them are wondering why they showed up to The Canyon that morning. We start to get closer to the end of the trail, and other trail users approach from the opposite direction. We get odd looks. Later I jokingly tell The Boulder and The DW, "They were probably thinking, 'Look at that woman dragging her husband and father along the trail like that.'" Why else would people like us be out there? Oh yeah, because we are crazy. Most wouldn't guess we are running partners.

Because this is a route I've never done before, I can never be too sure of the total mileage. At one point I mention being "about 1 mile" from the intersection, which The Boulder and The DW both exclaim is an evil trick, because they passed a sign that said 2.7 miles (I failed to see such a sign). So for the next 20 minutes I heard nothing but how long my 1 mile was. "I told you it was ABOUT 1 mile, not EXACTLY 1 mile!" I may need to divorce The Boulder and disown The DW. Forget that we're not married or related to each other. I can make it happen. I once divorced Liane's husband, Nate, 8 times for a lack of firewood at the 24 hour race.

We made it to the switchback section, which The DW and I had run a few weeks before. This time it wasn't slippery, and he started pushing the pace, which caused him to catch up closer to me. Too close. Hmm...given the past comments about tossing me over the side I wasn't going to give him the opportunity, so I had to speed up. I was running at Mach Stupid down the trail until I safely hit the pavement. The 3 of us gathered up in formation and finished out the 3.7 miles of road back to the parking lot, for a total of a 9 mile loop. All of us survived. However, I may need to split those two up for future runs or else they'll come after me for revenge. Nevermind that we all work in the same office area. Hmm...perhaps I should guard my coffee mug carefully lest they get ideas.

And now The DW's point of view on this run:

The first rule – never play in another runner’s universe; they’re God there - return to the canyon
And so it goes. I recovered from my harrowing run in Hawaii with only a limp. Blame that on a dime sized blister. I was only occasionally plagued by nightmares of falling off of slime covered cliffs into the raging torrents below (wait a moment…those are memories). Almost a week had passed, time for the truly gullible to be ripe for another offer. "You know how we ran up Sabino Canyon and then onto the switchbacks? Well I’ve always wanted to run back along the pipeline trail and complete the loop."

Ok. Think about this for a moment. She runs Triathalons. And she’s never run this trail. In her back yard. Only the village idiot would take her up on it. And then, betrayed by my own vocal cords, I hear "when would you like to run it?" She pounces like a black widow on a particularly juicy fly. "This weekend would be nice."

And there you have it; trapped into another flirtation with Death. At least this time she invites another running partner to run with us. Someone young and in good enough shape to carry the head-end of the body out along the trail. My body.

We meet at the Canyon at the assigned time. This time I bring disposable gloves (the cheap jersey gardener’s gloves that they sell at Walmart). Mostly, I’m trying to save the Coroner the trouble of having to peel them off my cold dead fingers. We all pull into the parking lot at the same time. No mean feat since we are coming from the ends of the Earth. We park beside each other like some scene on the flight line from American Dawn Patrol (sorry kiddies, you probably don’t get the reference – tough).

We get out of our cars into the frigid morning air. The desert shouldn’t ever be this frickin cold. The other poor dumb male points to a a faint line in the hills; "that’s where we’re running, right ?" "You can see it for miles, looks like a long way up." Perfect, like being able to see the plank you’re going to walk from the next ship over.

So, now it’s time to start running. My running partner (the overly perky, very young one) leads the way. First thing I know, she takes off into the desert. No trail markings, just a deer trail leading off into the wilderness. Perky is in the front; our friend is in the back. Now I get an inkling what she is up to. He is back there to keep me from turning back…sort of like Cortez burning his ships. We soon reach the part of the trail that begins to climb. Lovely, I’m sure that mountain goats use this as a training ground. Then we get to a rocky part of the trail. Perky hits it like a squirrel going up a tree after a walnut; me, all I can think about is that I hope my knees don’t give out. I have visions of tearing sounds followed by a long, long drop.

Eventually, a very steep climb along slick granite rocks becomes merely an interminable climb along slick granite rocks. Suddenly, our leader shouts back "It’s too quite back there, one of you is walking." From behind I hear a muted "shit". And on we go, along a narrow path that would give a Tibetan sherpa the willies. Did I mention my fear of heights? It is only surpassed by my fear of sudden landings. I notice that the trail is "missing" one side. Of course, our ever pleasant leader chooses that time to say "you can see the road down there". I know better than to look. If I do, I become a permanent trail marker. "look dad, that rock looks just like a terrified runner; clinging to the rocks".

I won’t bore you with too many other details. At one point I observed that "If we throw her off the trail from here, she’ll probably bounce off the road below" She sped up. Lack of trust. I will point out that about 6 miles into our Baton Death run, she slowed down to point out a mileage marker. "we’ve been this far coming up from the other end. It’s only about another mile" I turn back to he other poor dumb bastard behind me "you did note that it said 2.7 miles to go, didn’t you ?". He shouts up ahead "you did say that you’ve run this trail before?". Silence. Never ask a question to which you can’t stand the answer.

Needless to say, we survived. Barely. And I’m a richer man for it. Nothing like several near death experiences to make you appreciate level ground. But part of me has come to the nagging realization "this is what the ascent will be like". What to do? How do I prepare so that I don’t die on the mountain?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's On: The Age vs. Beauty Grudge Match

I tend to do my insane endurance training and races every other year. I'll do one crazy year of training and racing, followed by a year off lollygagging and posie sniffing with the occasional bike ride or run mixed in. Look at how the past couple of years have gone: 2008 = Ironman Arizona, 2009 = off, 2010 = 5 XTERRAs and the XTERRA World Championships, 2011 = off. So now that 2011 is drawing to a close, I find my brain has recovered from the burnout stage and is once again finding races and events to sign up for. I figured I'd return back to endurance mountain biking, but I've found the pendulum has swung the other direction and I've turned to endurance running. Somewhere in the October timeframe I started running regularly again. I also started traveling a lot for work, and running is the easiest sport to fit in, as well as an outlet for stress.

I also picked up another running partner. For quite awhile, I was running with The Boulder on a regular basis, but he had another woman enter his life of the short, bald, toothless variety (ok, he had a baby). But we still meet up about once a week at The Canyon (Sabino Canyon) for a torture fest. He also roped me in to doing the Tough Mudder race on January 14th. This may have been payback for previous races I roped him into...I'm not sure the tally at this point. So to be truly crazy, I decided to sign up for the PF Chang's 1/2 marathon for Sunday, January 15th, thinking it would be cool to run Chang's wearing my Tough Mudder shirt. The Boulder has hedged on Chang's, but he could pull a last-minute sign up at the expo race weekend on me. My running partners are always suspect for such actions.

My new running partner shall be referred to as The Dark Warrior (DW), for several reasons. First, he's a martial arts expert which means this has opened up a whole new world of night running in sketchy cities while on business travel. Some women run with a big dog, a can of mace, or a gun. I have a trained killer. Second, it matches his sense of humor, which is why we get along quite well. Third, it's actually the meaning of his name. So there you go.

The DW and I have actually worked together for a few years, but only recently started running together. He has a cabin in Colorado and about a year ago mentioned the Pike's Peak Ascent. I checked the website and it looked like a truly insane race, but wasn't on my radar as I was still in the midst of my XTERRA madness. However, this year we had several business trips together, and started running together while on travel. After our first trip he came by my office and mentioned Pike's Peak again. Well, he will learn that he caught me at a bad time of year, when I'm over my recovery and looking for truly insane and challenging races. So this time I said sure, I'd run it with him. Never mind that I've never seen Pike's Peak in person, or experienced that type of elevation in my life. Nope, when I say I'm going to do something, I do it. "I'm going to finish the Ironman." Did it. "I'm going to build a car." Doing it. I'm going to run Pike's Peak with The DW.

He then coined this as the "Age vs. Beauty Grudge Match." Being in his mid-50's he claims to be "an old man." Having experienced many triathlon courses where men of that age group and beyond have passed me on the course (I know because their age is sharpied onto the back of their calf), I know not to trust such claims. Besides, he's a martial arts expert. How many mid-50 year olds beat the shit out of teenagers on a weekly basis? This one does. For fun. So I'm going along with the grudge match. Neither of us is the type to back down once the gauntlet has been thrown. And, of course, we both immediately began our secret training runs during the week. My strategy was to run hills of every kind. His was to hit the treadmill. I'd rather poke my eyes out than run the treadmill. So we'll see how this turns out. My other friends have immediately taken advantage of the situation. Liane asked what I was training for, and I mentioned Tough Mudder, PF Chang's and The Ascent. "Oh so you're doing a lot of running then," she exclaimed (I'm suspicious at this point). When I answered yes, she said "So you'd be up for running the Grand Canyon rim to rim with me this year in May." Normally I'd think this was insane, but since I was roped into Pike's Peak and threw my brain out the window I now thought of Liane's idea as a great training run, and agreed. Liane, was of course, happy with the agreement and happy I had lost my brain.

The DW is also a writer, and I finally got up the courage to ask if I could share his writing on my blog as the counterpoint to my writing about training. He agreed, so I will share with you the first few entries of his to get caught up (his writing will be in blue).

Fools Run In (with apologies to Mercer/Blo​om)
And so it begins. I'm not sure who the muse of over aged runners is probably some nymph with a name like Velocepidia or some such. But here I am, committed to attempting the Ascent on Pike's Peak. How does an over fifty near retiree end up on such a quest ?

Good question, if I figure out the answer, I'll tell my therapist. It started innocently, like the Trojan War, or the Black Death; I was discussing running with my new Program Manager: a nice young thing who likes to run.....a lot. We got around to the stupid things that long distance runners do; like run accross the desert on utility trails without water at noon on the 4th of July, or running through a national forest without a map, or phone, or gun. One day I mentioned the Pike's Peak Ascent. Who knew that she'd google it, or be lying in wait. I walked to her desk one day after a moderate run and said "we should run the Pike's Peak Ascent", she said "Ok, let's do it this summer". Crap. And so we start. She informed me that there is a qualification ; a half marathon. Double crap. I meant what I said, and I said what I Idiot's truthful one hundered per cent.

So, here it goes; I'm writing this because this is one that should be documented, for surviving generations of middle aged men as a guide to what not to do. I'll try to keep this up every weekend until the event. Maybe someone will finish it for me posthumously.

Saturday Oct 22, 2011 - After diligently hitting the treadmill for two weeks, I attempted to break 8:30 miles over a 4 mile run. Did it : 8:22s. Never want to run that fast on a treadmill again. F'ing thing is too short. You're either against the panic bar or back to where you are about to step off into oblivion. The only thing you can do is stare at the digits. It's like Chinese water torture. However, I have faced a mental hurdle and know that it is at least theoretically possible to qualify; and heck, that young thing in the running tights that I accidentally coughed phlegm on was way too young for me, anyway.

From here on out, it is run and always press the time. The tendency for someone my age is to jog (don't want to outrun your walker). I'll always have to overstride in order to make the time.

Next weekend, it's the desert by Hoover Dam.
At this point I was running a few times during the week, at 5 miles each, then Sabino Canyon with The Boulder on the weekends. At the office, The DW and I started throwing back and forth how we were planning on cheating on our training to beat the other.
Me: "I have Mt. Lemmon in my back yard."
Him: "I have a cabin at elevation in Colorado."
Me: "You don't swim. I can swim to strengthen my lungs."
Him: "I go to Colorado every summer. I can train on the course."
Anyways, the subject of cheating came up in his next journal entry.
She Cheats
Of course she cheats; she's young, agile, and runs like the wind. She has all of the high tech gear, heart rate monitor, GPS, elapsed time, Hell for all I know the computer tells her when to step sideways to compensate for Coriolis effect. Myself, on the other hand, I'm old fashioned. I tell my time splits by the number of fingers of shadow on the lee side of parking cones as I pass them. I time my pulse by blinking with each red flash after a run and counting them off on a second hand.

But, no matter the age, running distance is running distance. You make deals with yourself (I'll turn around at the next hill, honest) and then breaking those cheat.

Eventually, you get to the end, and you promise yourself "That's good enough to qualify". The next week, your out there again saying "I can cut ten seconds off last week..I slowed to look at my watch, I won't do that this time". And so, you lie again.

This weekend was an opportunity to run an out and back that I always liked. I was in Las Vegas, staying at the Hacienda for one night before going out for yet another age innapropriate activity the next day. Behind the Hacienda there is a trail that leads down to a bicycle trail that runs along the deserted track of the gravel train used to build Hoover Dam. The trail takes off across the waste on a nicely paved bike trail; not one intended for runners. In the summer, it gets to 117 on a cool day. But today, it will only be a balmy 88.

No need to carry water and be slowed by it. I carry a cell phone so that the Coroner can find me by the GPS.

I'm up at 5:30, but I must wait until dawn before I can set out. The initial path leads down a sheep trail and has a steep drop and no lights. One would not want to step in the still steaming evidence of sheep only to fall a hundred feet to one's death. It would be useemly to be laughed out of Hell.

I start running and converge with the bike path. Soon I come across the first mileage marker. I'm struck by how much it looks like a small tombstone. It's a desert and most of these people are must make for a dry sense of humor. I use the mileage marker and the clock on my cell phone to clock the pace. Shit ! I'm only doing 12 minute miles. I try to pick up the speed. I run through a cut in the mountain, only to see more mountains and valleys. I think to myself "One of these valleys is wear the other dinosaurs went to die." But not for me, not today. Pretty soon I see a sign that says "steep grades". Only then do I realize that I have been running up a grade. Optical illusions in the desert are great practical jokes.

Soon, I realize that I am being followed by a large crow. I figure I can expect buzzards or vultures, but a crow ? It's a Labor state, maybe they have a trade agreement. The crow follows me out to the near summit of the path, maybe 4 miles out. I look back at the casino across the desert. It looks like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz; only much, much smaller. I turn back and the crow turns with me...I'm maybe half way back and I'm passed by a cyclist. He has flashes through my mind that I can mug him and take his water. At the speed he's going, if I stick a foot out, they'll find him a half mile from the path....with no water.

Eventually, I make it back to the path to the casino. There are people running it. Old people, maybe 45. I run past them, one must keep appearances. In the end, I make it in almost exactly 88 min. Eleven minute miles. It will do.
Weeks of travel for work return and we are up at 5:30 AM and meet in the hotel lobby each morning to run. One doesn't want to be the one that slept in while the other was out running. Even when my body was wrecked and rebelling from travel, I still met The DW in the hotel lobby. Co-workers on the trips figured we were insane when we mentioned we had run 6 miles starting at 5:30 AM. Nope, just not willing to back down on a grudge match. The women would then ask how I could run in the dark and not be afraid of getting mugged. I replied that I brought my trained killer with me.
Thanksgiving rolled around and The Boulder was out of town, so I invited The DW on my weekend Sabino Canyon run. I was surprised when he agreed to show up, given he lives in Nevada. Ok, he lives on the west side of town. But it may as well be Nevada. My plan for this run was the standard out & back on the road, but to add the half mile of switchback trail at the end. The DW claimed he hadn't been to Sabino Canyon in 30 years, so I narrated the trip as we ran. As we crossed the bridges I think he was getting tired of the hills because he mentioned pushing me over the edge. "I can swim" I replied. "Not with a broken ankle because I stepped on your toe as I pushed you over the edge" he replied. Hmm...perhaps he wasn't enjoying the hills.
She almost killed me
First rule of training if you've challenged someone to run an insane race (like the Pike's Peak Challenge) : never train on your competitor's turf. It's sort of like challenging a gunfighter to a fight and letting him have his choice of weapons, letting him have the sun to his back, and finally, letting him count to three.

In this case change the pronoun to feminine. I'd change it to sneaky if there were such a thing.

The course was on the other side of town. Almost in another time zone. Beware of someone who says "the parking lot fills up early, so let's get there just before sunrise". Like a lot of men, my body has to retrace all of the steps of evolution as it wakes up. This means that, as the alarm rings, I'm a one celled organism. I don't hit primate until after coffee. However, if you're going to run over seven miles, don't drink coffee beforehand. Not unless you plan to have your partner run around the restrooms while you go...multiple times.

When I got there, there was a damn running club getting ready to take off into the pre-dawn twilight. All of them cheery, the bastards. I can only hope they were hit by a tour bus.

It was cold, very very cold. Al Gore can take his global warming and shove it, someplace warm. As we started to run, I noticed that I was running on non-responsive lumps of frozen flesh that used to be feet. It's really nice to try and be graceful when the only feedback you have on your stride is "thunk", "thunk", "thunk".

Of course my partner has the grace of a gazelle, even when frozen. I hate her. We soon crossed a patch where there was a sign stating that Mountain Lions were occasionally present. I was hoping for one, preferably one on a low fat diet; I'd be safe.

After running 2 miles that were suspiciously mostly uphill, I get the statement, this is the last rest before we go uphill. Then I noticed her thighs. Power to weight ratio. I was about to be a dead man. Now I was simultaneously sweating and freezing; great, my body was schizophrenic. I'm halfway up a long, long hill and ,of course , she's way ahead of me. I notice this peculiar sound; much like a tea kettle. I realize that it is me wheezing. As I am dying, it occurs to me that Pike's Peak will be worse, much much worse. I'm a dead man.

I get to the end of the road and she is patiently running loops, waiting. "Shall we add more ?" And we do. Up stairs, up a dirt trail, along wet slick rocks.

I'll cut this short. I almost died. My life didn't just flash before my eyes; it played the full length, uncut version. Needless to say, somehow I survived to make it back to my computer. And I didn't drown her at the first bridge (not that I could've caught her). I must now train hills. Next Time.

Oh yes; I had the time of my life.
Early December we had a business trip to Kauai, and on one of the days had enough time for a trail run (or so I thought). I had always wanted to do the 2 mile section of the Kalalau Trail to the 2 mile offshoot Hanakapi'ai Trail to the falls. Zac and I had hiked the 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail to the beach and back a few years ago, but didn't have time to do the falls. This time I was a much more experienced trail runner.
The reviews of the trail on Yelp were interesting. "The image of the falls was so beautiful I cried," (Really?), "I should have worn sandals rather than my trail running shoes," (Um, ok), and my favorite, "Don't do this trail if it is wet! We had to spend the night out in the jungle with no food or water!" (Idiots. If I'm 8 miles from my car I'm hiking out no matter what, even if I have to crawl).
I had packed my Camelbak and filled it with water, along with my snacks. The DW carried nothing. "Too hard to run with water" he usually exclaims. We found a parking space at the popular trailhead and headed in. Forget that it was mid-afternoon when The DW and I started the run. We were going to get to the falls. Also forget that it was the rainy season on Kauai. The trail that was once dry was now covered with slick mud. Trail builders had tombstoned the trail with rock in the steep sections, which just turned slippery when rained on. A few sections of the trail at the beginning were dry, so we decided to run those. As we passed by people there were several comments, mostly reserved for The DW. People would just say "hi" to me, but have some sort of sympathetic comment for The DW, like I had forced him to be out there.
Certain parts of the trail were covered in wet rock, so we resorted to using our hands and feet to get over those sections. This resulted in us becoming quite muddy. At the first river crossing people were taking off their shoes to cross. I plunged in to use it as a chance to wash some of the mud off. Besides, my trail running shoes had been wet before. Gotta love the people afraid to get their feet wet.
The jungle became darker as we headed inland through bamboo and trees and endless stream crossings. Most of the time there were little orange flags tied to trees to find where to cross. The trail was highly technical, requiring climbing over boulders and hanging onto trees to get up hillsides. At least it was a trail. Once you've been through the jungle of Saipan on an XTERRA with no "trail" to follow your standards of what is a trail become lowered. In fact, I told The DW that I usually pay for such experiences. Add an ocean swim, a mountain bike ride on the first part of the trail, and this part of the trail as the run and you totally have an XTERRA quality course.
The number of people on the trail increased as we got closer to the falls. It required crossing the river several more times. At one point we caught up to an older guy who started to follow us. "I hope it's not that much further" he said. Turns out it was another half mile. We finally made our way to the bottom of the falls. When we got there it was kind of like "Yep, that's a waterfall." It was ok. Not really what we'd describe as "magnificent," and we didn't cry. Most people had planned to swim in the pool below, but with the clouds overhead and the water cooling on the 200 ft descent, the water was too cold for many. We took a brief rest on the boulders below and I offered The DW some of my water, which he finally agreed to take, only after I showed him how to work a Camelbak bite valve. A college kid full of way too much testosterone had climbed half way up the cliff next to the falls, and we were waiting to see if he was going to jump or fall. Nothing happened as he just sat there, so we decided to turn around.
We passed by the older guy sitting on the rocks eating an apple. "You made it" I said. "Yeah, but the trip back out is gonna be tough" he said. He wasn't in very good shape, and I could tell he was going to be going slower on the trip out than the trip in. The DW and I re-traced our steps along the trail and crossed the river endless times. We were racing the sun back.
We hit the beach with 2 miles left to go. I stopped to wash the caked mud off my legs in the river crossing, while a couple asked The DW if the trip to the falls was worth it. This couple would then turn into the most annoying couple on the trail. They wouldn't let us pass, and kept varying their speed. Finally, with a mile left we decided to start running and smoke them, despite the slippery rocks. We got back to the rental car just as the sun was going down. The DW consumed all drinkable liquids in the car and the drinking fountain at the restrooms. We then began our search for food. It took forever to cross the quiant little bridges when all we wanted was food. I started getting quiet, slipping into my "lack of food coma." I literally closed my eyes for part of the trip. At one point I opened them and spotted a Brickoven Pizza. "Turn here!" I yelled. "Park here!" "I've got to call my wife..." The DW said, but I was already out of the car before it reached a stop. I ran inside, grabbed seating for two, and made the path of least resistance to sustenance. I told the waitress 2 iced teas and 2 buffets as I grabbed a buffet plate. The DW walked in to the restaurant. "We're sitting over there and you're eating the buffet and drinking iced tea" I said. Thankfully he was fine with that and understood my mood when exhausted and lacking in calories. We downed caffeine, carbs, and salt, and once we were a bit more cheery as the food hit our systems we joked that the old guy with the apple was still out there on the trail, probably having to spend the night. I should check Yelp to see if he wrote a review.
The runners diary - from Hell (looks Like Eden - it isn't)
Ok. By now you probably have the idea that I am in over my head. This would be an understatement; like saying that the saber tooth tiger sinking into the tar pit was in over his head.

Never, ever go on a run with a trail runner if she describes the run as "technical". "Technical" is a polite euphemism for "Jesus Christ! I'm gonna die!". Technical describes climbing out of Lucifer's pit, on hands and knees, across burning coals. Ok, you've been warned.

We were in Kauai on business. She brings up the fact that there is this four mile trail into a very beautiful waterfall. It starts where the road around the island ends. the end of the world ! Are you reading what I'm writing ? Why does the road end there ? Because it's too difficult to go any further. Also, beware of any conversation where an experienced trail runner nonchalantly says "It's humid, I'm going to bring water". This should cause every alarm bell you possess to go off; expect mummified bodies along the trail. But alas, I am foolish and eagerly agree (like a lamb to the slaughter).

We park the car at the end of the world (oops meant to say road); ready to begin our "technical" run. She has on a backback filled with water (***warning***); I naively have a bottle of vitamin water that I leave in the car because "I'll probably be thirsty when we finish". Much later, it will be the thought of this bottle that will sustain my only hopes of survival.

We start up the path, ready to run the 4 miles to the waterfall, observe it's beauty, and run back.

Soon, all too soon, the grade steepens, and slickens. Imagine the dietrus from hundreds of years of decaying vegetation suddenly getting wet; and adhering to the rocks; like slime.

My running partner points out "these are tombstone rocks covered with mud, it's probably better when they're dry". No shit ? We're talking about black slime with the consistency of 10-40W motor oil. Step wrong and you'll be kissing the rocks. A 15% grade. Slick. 3.95 miles to go. I'm going to die.

We pass a woman headed down with her arm in a sling. A fresh sling. My partner is still cheery. "I'd hate to be her headed down those rocks wit my arm in a sling". Where up ahead does she think that said arm encountered said sling ?

We find dry road and begin to run. People are shouting their encouragement and pity? to me. Looks like she has you on a mission (?). Good luck !

We reach a river crossing. Swift water. She steps into a rather deep part to get around a couple in front of us. I follow; up to mid thigh. "you do realize that I can't swim ?" Answer "Oh I forgot. I hate being behind slow people". Apparently, she hates being in front of people who are still breathing.

As we proceed, there is more mud (lots more); and river crossings (6, but whose counting).

My favorite recollection is being on a 45 degree rock face and losing my footing. When in doubt, sit down. I catch myself with my feet dangling over a precipice; sitting in the mud. I get up to run and catch up (by now she's a hundred yards in front of me). I pass a family ("daddy, that man is all covered in mud"). I catch up to my partner. "Did you fall ?".

We break into the clearing with the falls. It's anticlimactic. Sure, it's beautiful, but the real thrill is getting there, alive, while following one of the best trail runners that you know.

I won't burden you with the tail of how we made it out. Suffice it to say that we did. I will admit to whining : "Can I have some water ?" And the all too gracious reply "sure. I told you so." During the last 2 miles, the only thing that kept me alive was borrowed water and the thought of the vitamin water that I had left in the car.

In retrospect, I made it. But, I wouldn't have tried without my partner; and I certainly wouldn't have finished without her help.

And this is how the Age vs. Beauty Grudge Match has begun. The Pike's Peak Ascent is in August, so we have 8 more months of training to go.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My summit of the Agua Caliente Hill

I've been wanting to summit the Agua Caliente Hill trail for quite some time, ever since we moved to NE Tucson about 4 years ago. For those that aren't familiar with the hill, it is the hill between the Catalina and Rincon mountains. The trailhead is exactly 2 miles from my house, and I often run the first mile or so of the trail in the middle of my usual running route. The summit is 4.5 miles from the trailhead, and I had been as far as 3.5 miles into the trail. Previous attempts to summit failed due to others in my traveling party. My brother petered out around mile 3.5, and on a later trip Zac gave up on me, claiming blisters at mile 3. So, to summit I would have to do it on my own.

Currently, the TTG December Runathon is going on. I have always wanted to summit this trail as part of the Runathon, and this year I decided to do it. Previous years I didn't plan as well. Last year I didn't run much before December and the increased mileage of December caused some pain in my heel. This year I came into the Runathon with a good base of running behind me. The weather was supposed to move in on Sunday, so I chose Saturday, December 17th as my day to run the trail.

The trail alone is 9 miles. I could drive the 2 miles to the trailhead, or leave from my front door to make it 13 miles and a half marathon. Front door it is! I loaded up my hydration pack with water and snacks, tied a windbreaker to it, stashed the cell phone and camera in the pack, ate 4 of Leslie's snickerdoodle cookies as my last meal, and wrote on the fridge whiteboard "Left for ACH at 12:20 PM" as a note to Zac. With that I walked out my front door and started my Garmin.

(All photos can be clicked on to enlarge).

Thankfully, my house is round and with a reflective copper roof it is easy to find from various points on the trail. As I trotted up Ft. Lowell at an easy pace, I took this picture of the mountain, my destination for the entire day.

I kept the first 2 miles on the road nice and easy. There were a few cars in the parking lot of the trailhead as I ran up to the gate. I looked at my Garmin: 2.1 miles at the gate. With that I started the trail. The trail starts out easy for only a few yards, then immediately begins to climb. One has to step over several water bars in the first mile because of the grade. This is my least favorite section of water bars. They are so tall that I have to really step high to get over them.

This is the view from only a quarter mile into the trail. My house is down there somewhere. The horses can't step up the steep water bar section, hence the marker for a side trail which I call "Pony Bypass", which is a short section of a single switchback.

About a mile into the run and a view of the mountains ahead I have yet to climb.

Self shot, proof that I'm out there running.

Looking out over Tucson, about 1.5 miles into the trail.

Agua Caliente hill is known as one of Tucson's best false summits. Everyone thinks that the summit is the grassy knob that appears as the highest point to the left. It's not. The true summit lies behind it, about another mile.

About 2 miles in I reached the pond, "Cat Track Tank." The pond has been bone dry the last few times I've run to this point, so it was nice to see some water. A few springs ago it was nice and full and the ducks had moved in, so hopefully with all of this rain the pond will fill again and the ducks will return. You can see the trail skirts along the right side and leads up to the saddle in the distance.

As I climbed the saddle, the sun came out. Tons of saguaros in this area. 

A hawk was circling overhead, landing on the saguaros.

Once you reach the saddle, it's the first point at which you can look over onto the Catalina side. This is where FR #4445 intersects the trail.

At this point, the summit is still 1.5 miles away. Most start the climb here and think it's the grassy knob, but the summit is the section of dark trees behind it.

This is at the top of the grassy knob, and the section of trail that skirts alongside of it. Nice, easy running here.

Proof that I'm still running at this point. Snow on the Catalinas behind me.

And here's the view on the climb up the summit, looking back at the grassy knob.

I've wandered the trails on this side of the Catalinas.

Finally I reached the summit! 6.62 miles from home, 2 hours and 10 minutes, and 3000 ft total climbed to get to the top at 5300 ft.

Here's the 360 degree view from the top. The Catalinas, where you can see the road winding up.

East side of the Catalinas.

Off in the far distance to the east the Galiuro and Winchester Mountains. Rincons to the far right.

Snow on the Rincon Mountains.

Rincon Mountains and Saguaro National Park. Redington Rd is the ribbon of dirt road down below.

Saguaro National Park and back to Tucson.

At the summit there is a geodetic marker, which I had to take a picture of with my foot.

Proof that I was at the top.

Buried in a pile of rocks is a mason jar with several small notebooks and pencils inside. People that reach the top write notes to mark they were there. With all of the technology of today it's still fun to follow low-tech documentation techniques in remote areas. However, I included today's technology by texting a few people from the summit, and updating my facebook status. I figure the time stamp helps search parties reduce the radius in which to search.

I found the latest entry and wrote mine. No inspiring words. I pretty much stated the obvious.

One last final view of Tucson down below before heading back down. I could still see my house from here, a bright little triangle.

As I headed down the trail, the clouds of the impeding storm front started moving in, causing rays of sunlight to cast down on Tucson like a theatrical spotlight show.

Up on the grassy knob as I headed down, the contrast was such that it was easy to see the sections of singletrack trail through the hills that led back home.

Act 2 of the spotlight show.

 This photo is significant for a few reasons. 1) I was exactly 4 miles from home and at this point ran out of water. 2) This section of trail is rocky, causing one to look down a lot. I glanced up at at this moment right in front of me I found my house. It was perfectly in view in line with the trail. Straight ahead there is a dead saguaro with a curvy arm. Below the curvy arm and just to the right of the straight saguaro is a faint triangle. That's my house! So at this point I wasn't too worried about being out of water.

Looking back at the grassy knob and trail I had traveled as the sun cascaded over the hills. I was now part of the spotlight show.

What a typical rocky climb on the trail looks like. Hence the long travel time.

About a mile from the trailhead the sun started to set. I was racing the sun home.

Lower in elevation, one last look at the sunset before I headed down to the pavement below.

In the last half mile of trail I passed several trail users coming up the trail, obviously out for shorter jaunts. It was nice knowing I had finally covered the entire trail and been to the very top. I hit pavement and enjoyed the last 2 miles home, grateful for flat pavement and easy footing. I walked in the front door at 5:30 PM, just as the sun had almost set. 13.24 miles, 4 hours and 7 minutes of running, 3000 ft of climbing, all from my front door.