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?

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