Saturday, December 31, 2011

How To Make Ten Miles Take 2.5 Hours, Or, I Hate Westside Trails For The Millionth Time

This was supposed to be a nice run to say goodbye to 2011, which has been, all in all, a not-too-bad year. I slept in, got enough sleep for once; it was a new-to-me trail, which meant I was excited to explore it; weather was spectacular -- temps in the 60's, sunny, the smells and sounds of springtime in the air... and yet, somehow, even with all those good things, it still went wrong! Terribly wrong!

The Yetman Trail, on the trail map for Tucson Mountain Park trails, looks easy to follow. If you start from the Camino de Oeste trailhead, for the first few miles, every time you come to a trail junction you bear right. According to the map, there are no other trails leading off to the right. Trusting this map was a mistake, as I have also known this same map to fail to disclose the true number of trails branching off of the 36th Street and Starr Pass trails by my house. But I believed it anyway. I decided to carry my iPhone with me, as in really carry it, in my hand, both so I could listen to music or Savage Love if I got bored, and so I could consult the trail map online if I got lost. 

It was not good, not really, from the start. One of the first things I noticed was that this trail was rocky. I am a baby about stepping on rocks -- they hurt, and I don't like it. Come to think of it, I have been wearing these trail shoes since, oh, May or June, and they are probably just about dead. My feet were complaining from the first quarter-mile or so. Nothing specific hurts, they just feel bruised and aggravated from my unadvisedly steep increase in mileage (from about 25 a week to nearly 50 -- I'm not so good at math; does that violate the 10% rule?).

I was also cranky because I was carrying a bottle in one hand and my iPhone in the other. It was supposed to be a short run of only ten miles, five out and then the same five back, so I figured I didn't need my pack and could stash the bottle three miles in and pick it up on the way out. But both the bottle and the iPhone seemed twice as heavy as they usually were. I was gasping for breath and taking walk breaks by Mile, oh, about 1.5. (Of course, neither the bottle nor the iPhone has miraculously doubled in weight; it is much more likely to be my extra Christmas fat slowing me down.) I decided to stash the bottle at Mile 2 instead. I should be able to run 6 miles without fluids, right? 

The trail was all right up to Mile 2. I didn't really like it; it had many of my pet peeve trail qualities: the aforementioned rocks in the trail; the very annoying little meandering horseshoe curves; the cholla hanging into the trail on so many of those tight little turns; the stretches through washes where sand crept into my shoes -- but it was easy to follow and I was making progress. Then I got to a place where I was confused. It was a Y-intersection where it looked like the main trail went off to the left. I called up the trail map on my iPhone -- nope, trail goes to the right at every trail junction. So I took the right fork. It deteriorated pretty quickly, but was always a real trail. It climbed, climbed, climbed. Running was nearly impossible because of the rocks. Even walking I felt like I could turn an ankle at any moment. And talk about steep! This was, like, Blacketts steep, nothing like the trail description. I was getting a bad feeling but kept going. Then I came to another trail junction. Again, the left fork looked more promising but I took the right fork, still thinking I was following the map. This climbed a little more, got increasingly rocky, and then just stopped. There was a cairn in front of me, but no, absolutely no trail and no walkable path through the jagged rocks and boulders. 

OK, I quit on that part. I slid back down to the trail and went back to the fork and took the other one. This was a real trail. So much for the map, I thought sourly. This trail climbed up to a really beautiful vista of the resort at Starr Pass and Cat Mountain to the south. But then it disappeared again, like it had been a trail just up to this vista point. By scanning the horizon, I spotted another cairn way off across a jumbled boulder field. I picked my way through that and got back on a trail again. This trail ran along the top of this mountain for a while and then started to descend and then hit a sheer drop and stopped. I had simply run out of mountain and there was no way down. Maddeningly, there was another cairn right just before the trail stopped. Who would have put that there and why? I resisted the urge to kick it over. I decided to just go back to that first place where I turned right and the main trail looked to go to the left. Maybe I was still on the Yetman Trail and I was just missing something, but at this point I didn't care. Between rock-hopping and route-finding, this last mile took me 23 minutes. Shame, shame. The trail was just as hard to follow back to that junction, but at least it was downhill. Not that I could run most of it, I was too afraid of falling. 

I was sweating buckets. It was mid-60's but full sun. I was glad to see my Nuun bottle again at Mile 2, now Mile 4. I drank half of it and realized I would have been pretty dehydrated and low on electrolytes if I had really gone 6 miles without drinking. I'll pack extra for Wasson Peak tomorrow for sure. I took that "wrong" left fork and, surprise, surprise, it turned out to be the correct fork. At the bottom of a half-mile hill was a giant sign pointing south. It said "Yetman Trail" with an arrow, and beneath it, "Starr Pass Trail 1.5 miles". I was in that hot, cranky, tired state of mind where I wanted to cry and argue, "But the map said to always turn right at every junction," but there was no one there to listen or care and that wouldn't have made the miles go by any faster. So I just decided to run to Starr Pass, get my miles, turn around, go back to the car.

Again, on the map it looks straightforward but there are dozens of unmarked trails that aren't shown on the map. Lots of mountain bike trails. My strategy was to just go straight at every junction without even trying to guess whether I was still on the Yetman Trail. I'm pretty sure I was not. I had no idea where I was by the time I hit Mile 6 and was ready to turn around -- on skinny mountain bike singletrack with heavy cactus on both sides. My feet were hurting, I was hot and thirsty, I was heaving for breath even on flat land, and I was just done. I was craving salt so badly I wanted to start licking rocks to see if they were salty. I jogged downhills and real flats but walked everything else until I got back up to Mile 8, where my Nuun bottle was. That was the best-tasting drink I have ever had, I swear. I wished I had two more bottles exactly like it, that's how thirsty I was. 

With the help of the Savage Love podcast, I managed to jog most of the remaining two miles back to my car. But I felt awful -- horribly sore feet, hot, nauseous, fat, unable to breathe comfortably. And yes it did take me nearly two and a half hours to "run" that ten miles. Ugh. 

So that was the end of running year 2011 -- I ran 1,214 miles and biked 3,426 miles. I'm proud of finishing Pikes Peak and of doing my two back-to-back marathons, although my times for both of them sucked. Other than that, this was nothing special as far as running years go. I hope 2012 will be better!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Uninspired Triathlete is Hoping For a Little More Inspiration Next Year

It's Christmas Day, and I am sitting here writing this with my laptop balanced on my bloated stomach. I have been eating massive amounts of food for the past four days at my mom's house, and still have two more days of overeating to go. This seems like an appropriate time to admit that I have been uninspired for, oh, at least the past four months since Pikes Peak. Really since before then. Training for Pikes Peak was miserable and I never enjoyed it. Going back before Pikes Peak, Boston was a disappointment too. I've spent hundreds of dollars on swimming lessons and have improved my technique but have somehow actually worsened my times. I don't know how that's possible but that's what happened. I'm riding my bike for fun and for commuting but couldn't possibly stretch that and say I'm training on the bike. I haven't blogged because it gets tiring for me to write (and boring for you to read) the same thing over and over again: "I hate this and I suck at it. I hate this and I suck at it."

Tim and I broke up in November. Following my previous break-up, I lost 20 pounds and worked like a demon to qualify for Boston, and did it! I was hoping for some other spectacular athletic achievement to follow this break-up, as a sort of compensation for the suckiness of any break-up, even a clean one, but nothing of the kind happened. Maybe we were just too civil to each other, or there just wasn't enough drama, or something, but for whatever reason, I didn't find myself with an excess of emotion that needed to be dumped into training or would otherwise manifest in a nervous breakdown. Instead I got another puppy and rediscovered my love of writing (which, like dog training and triathlon training, is permanent but goes in cycles). It's hard to be a writer, dog trainer, and good triathlete all at the same time. I find that I can manage two out of the three pretty well but never all three, and lately triathlon has been the one that has gotten cut out.

I'm really hoping I'm better in the new year. I have my first 50-mile race ever in March, which means I'll be spending a lot of time with TTR out on the (cold, maybe snowy) trails this winter. I am lucky enough to live very close to the Starr Pass trail network, so I really have no excuse for not running out there between TTR runs. And then, too, I absolutely have to lose weight. I know I am too fat for running -- well, for one thing because I can feel it while I'm out there feeling like 9:00 pace is killing me, but also because when I came home my mom said I look great. She normally says I look scrawny. Her "great" is my "fat"; her "scrawny" is my "fit". I don't have to be Boston-skinny (though it would be really, really nice to requalify at Grandma's Marathon in June... what do you say, Jolene?), but really, 10 pounds is not too much to lose and is totally doable once I get back to Tucson and out of Mom's house.

Part of my plan is to train less for triathlon and do more running. I want to be somewhere between 50 and 60 miles a week, along with bike commuting four out of five days a week (now that the puppy can go all day without being let out), one long ride per week (60 miles or more), and swimming two or three nights a week. For some reason I abruptly began dreading the pool last month -- I don't know why, but suspect it was a combination of the arrival of winter and the knowledge that if I kept taking lessons my intervals were going to get harder and harder and more and more uncomfortable. I haven't been in the pool for at least two months. I promise to change that when 2012 arrives!

On that note, I plan to enjoy the next two days of endless food here at Mom's house. I've actually been running more miles here than I have at any time in the recent past -- 11 on Thursday, 13 on Friday, 8 today (but a tough 8). I feel pretty good aside from being fat and slow. Next year will be a better year, I hope...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

El Tour: It Was Awesome. No, It Sucked. Anyway, I Finished It.

Century ride: a bike ride of a hundred miles. Never done one and it was time. Every year since I moved to Tucson I have said that this will be the year that I do El Tour de Tucson. It's such a classic Tucson event that I can't believe I have never participated. Well, this year was the year for real.

El Tour is an all-day event that includes four separate bike races (111, 85, 60 or 42 miles) plus a fun ride and huge downtown festival. I was doing the 111 miles, naturally. I don't know the name for a ride of more than a hundred miles: century-plus? Ultra-century? Maybe someone more knowledgeable about bikes than me knows what it is. Anyway, my training for this one was pretty mediocre. I did my commuting miles of about 100 per week, and then sometimes did a long ride on the weekends if I wasn't too busy running, swimming, going to dog shows, or (in the past two weeks) packing for moving out of Tim's house and back into mine. My longest ride was 83 miles but not counting that one I don't think I rode anything longer than 50. That's one thing I would do differently next time for sure. Also I might, you know, get a bike tune-up. I hadn't even cleaned my chain and I knew going in that I was having problems shifting into some of the gears.

Race morning weather was perfect! I was in shorts, short-sleeve jersey, and arm warmers. I bought the most awesome jersey ever at the Expo:

Now all I need is a U of A jersey and my bike wardrobe will be complete. (Actually, the other thing I need is to ride faster in order to represent Tucson and the U better... but we'll get to that later.)

I decided to ride from my house to the downtown start line. I figured it would be easier to do that than to mess around with parking. There are over 9000 cyclists that ride in El Tour and I know from experience that getting around town is a mess on Tour days. It was a beautiful morning. I cannot remember ever being at a race start line in November and not being cold, but there's a first time for everything. It was interesting to be in a setting that was at once so familiar (corrals, announcers, music) and so unfamiliar (everything to do with bikes in a race). I finally did get myself and my bike to the right place and then for the first couple miles concentrated mostly on not running into other cyclists. I never ride in groups, hardly ever even with one other person, so this was all new.

The course first went west out to Mission Road, which sent me right back by my house again. It then turned south and went all the way down to I think Drexel Road (correct me if I'm wrong) where it turned east again. Drexel Road stops at the Santa Cruz River and everyone had to dismount and carry or walk their bikes across the river, which was about 1/4 mile wide. Good thing this race didn't happen last weekend, when it was pouring rain. As it was it was bone dry. From there we kept going east, then turned south on Old Nogales Highway, past the Desert Diamond casino and to some road whose name I don't remember, where we finally turned east again. We hit Alvernon at some point further south than I had ever been before and took that to Los Reales and then out to the frontage road. We took the frontage road to Kolb and Kolb all the way to Irvington. Finally we were back in a part of Tucson I actually recognized.

I was having a great time for the first 30 miles, averaging 19 mph and honestly feeling great. I wasn't breathing hard at all and felt like I was barely breaking a sweat. 111 miles, piece of cake, I was thinking. There are lots of aid stations on this course and they put marathon aid stations to shame. Every one has cut up bananas and oranges and pretzels, not to mention water and legions of volunteers ready to hand you a cup, fill your bottle, or hold your bike while you use a Porta-Pottie. I cannot imagine how they get so many volunteers to stand out there all day, but it's pretty impressive. Some of the aid stations also had raisins, PB&J sandwiches, and even help-yourself GU. (I wish I'd helped myself to more.) The only downside of the aid stations was that the mood was so social I felt like just hanging out at each one for a while, rather than getting on with my ride.

Back to the course. From Irvington out to Escalante and Old Spanish, this was familiar eastside running territory. And hilly. The first part was extremely flat, not any more. But I like these hills and they weren't too bad. The best part of all was when we turned north on Freeman -- about 4 miles of screaming downhill with a tailwind. I was passing lots of people on every climb but was dropped on every downhill like I was standing still. I am the worst downhill rider ever! That's another thing that has to change before I do one of these again. I am open to suggestions, bike people.

From there, we headed west on Speedway to Houghton, and then took Houghton up across Catalina Highway to another part of Tucson I'd never been. This was where the second dismount-and-walk-your-bike-across-a-1/4-mile-long-wash happened. This one had more moisture and my cleats filled up with mud, which I then had to pick out with a sharp rock before I could clip in again.

Coming out of the wash, we rode out of this fancy-schmancy Sabino foothills neighborhood and up the steepest f-ing hill I have ever had the displeasure of climbing. I exaggerate not. It was short but terrifying. Terrifying because I was afraid I literally would not be able to ride up it. There were other people walking their bikes up and I knew if my legs couldn't do it I would fall over because I didn't have the energy to unclip. Somehow I heaved myself up and over the hill without falling, but I was heaving for breath at the top and felt like I didn't get my breath back for five minutes.

We were back onto familiar ground now -- Sunrise, my favorite road to ride... at the start of a long ride, not 50 miles into one. It's got some good climbs in it which I enjoy on fresh legs. My legs were starting to feel tired but I was still doing okay. We took Sunrise west to Oracle and then headed north on Oracle for a long time, all the way to Rancho Vistoso. For some reason I thought we were turning west on Tangerine, so when we passed it and kept going north it was a huge buzzkill and I lost lots of enthusiasm right there. But I was still doing okay and on pace to finish under 7 hours if nothing went wrong.

Then... something went wrong, and what went wrong was that I just plain ran out of energy and enthusiasm. This whole way I had been thinking, wow, Tucson is a beautiful city and the people are so friendly and what a beautiful day and century rides are awesome and how could anyone think they're hard... well, suddenly it wasn't fun anymore. We were doing a seemingly interminable climb up Rancho Vistoso, which I know well because it's a Come Run run, and it was windy and clouding up and I was tired of climbing and, in fact, I was tired of riding. My crotch was sore, my legs were sore, my feet were hurting from being in the clips for so long, and I was hungry. I knew I should stop and eat a GU but it seemed like too much trouble. (And that's ALWAYS a bad sign -- any time you catch yourself vaguely thinking it's too much trouble to stop and eat something that means low blood sugar is probably already affecting your brain and your judgment. How many times do I have to have this experience in an endurance event before I get it?) Anyway, we turned onto Moore Road and that was my low point of the trip. Everything between miles 70 and 80 just plain sucked. I was creeping along at about 10 mph -- maybe -- being passed by everybody, sunscreen melting into my eyes and stinging them... finally I pulled over and had the last of my Nuun sports drink and a GU and then just sat there for a minute or so before continuing. This was the part of the race where you are just grimly hanging on and know you just have to keep moving even if it's not fast. Also, my favorite mantra came to mind: "In endurance sports, no matter how good or how bad you feel, it's not going to last." Point being, take advantage of the highs and gut it out through the lows.

Finally I made it to an aid station on Thornydale, hung out in there for a while stuffing my face with fruit, PB&J, pretzels, raisins, and a hard-boiled egg, and when I felt my energy come back got back on course. Next came an awesome stretch of downhill down Tangerine. Many, many miles of no effort at all. At Tangerine and the freeway we had to stop for a train. I would love to blame this for not achieving my 7-hour goal but truthfully we only sat there for about 5 minutes at the most. Then we crossed under the freeway and most of the rest of the course was south heading back to town, although with a little detour to the west. Naturally we had a headwind the whole way back to town. This was also a familiar ride, down Silverbell. Somehow Silverbell is always part of my long rides. It has crappy pavement in addition to the headwind. My chance at finishing under 7 hours had disappeared on Moore Road, my chance at being barely over 7 hours (i.e., just enough over that I could blame the train) disappeared on Silverbell. Oh well.

The last 4 miles were the worst. My quads were screaming in pain and the bottoms of my feet felt like they each had stress fractures from so much time in the clips. I could really see how I should have gone on more long training rides. That was a big oops. I predicted finishing between 7 and 8 hours and ended up being exactly 7:30. I hoped for faster but was still okay with that time since it was my first really long ride and I hadn't been trying for any particular time, just riding comfortably. The finish area was packed and it was a lot of work to find the place where they were handing out medals. I couldn't find any free food at all so ended up just eating my extra GU,  not very satisfying. Then I still had to face the 4-mile ride home. Oh, that was not fun at all. Next year I will drive and park.

Overall, though, I have definitely been bit by the century bug (actually for me it was 120 miles: 111 in the race plus 4.3 each way between my house and town plus an extra .4 riding around the block to get exactly 120 on my Garmin). I want to do another long ride ASAP, and there will be no more excuses for not doing long, hard rides every weekend. Only problem is, I STILL don't know how to fix a flat. Yes, I have been to a class, been to BIKAS and had them teach me, had friends show me and coach me through it, and still when it is just me and a flat I become completely helpless. What do I do about that? Any ideas?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"I Need A Break From This Running Crap" and Other Thoughts After Today's Trail Run

I just spent half an hour picking stickers out of my shoes, socks, and toes; my limbs look like I got in a serious fight with my two cats, and when I took off my shoes, I dumped a small mountain of dirt out of each one. Clearly I have just returned from a TTR run.

I have had no enthusiasm for any running at all since I returned from my two-marathon weekend, but the thought of today's run was especially unappealing. It's unseasonably hot here -- high of 97 today -- and there were many pre-run warnings making it obvious that today was a run where Things Would Go Wrong. Some of those warning signs included the following:

*a mysterious change of the distance of the run from 15 miles in the first email sent out about it to "more like 17 miles" in the most recent email.

*an endless set of extremely complicated directions (example: "When you get to the place where the trail disappears, there are three granite outcroppings, and if you cross over the first two of them and then kind of look to the left, there's a cairn there -- but don't mistake the first set of two granite outcroppings for the second set of three, or you can really go off course because there's a cairn there too but it leads to a cow path that goes a long way in the wrong direction", with about a hundred more warnings exactly that specific but impossible to A) remember or B) visualize when the trail is totally unfamiliar).

*an admission by the run director that he himself had gotten lost a few times when running/marking this trail yesterday

*warnings that the Baby Jesus trail was "overgrown" and "sparsely marked" (TTR trails usually are both of these things, but it's not usually considered newsworthy, which immediately raised suspicion)

*the absence of my Garmin due to the fact that it has a dead battery and I left the charger plugged in an outlet in my New Hampshire hotel

But I showed up for this run anyway for a few reasons: I wanted to burn large numbers of calories in order to properly enjoy the last day of Tucson Meet Yourself; I wasn't actually injured and felt obligated to do a long run this weekend (and felt like a long, leisurely trail run with no pavement was just what I need -- remember the "no pavement" clause later on in this report, hahahahaha), and I was curious to see just how badly people would get lost -- how many extra miles would be run; who would come staggering into the parking lot an hour late and out of water; that kind of thing. You know it's going to be somebody on a run like this and wonder if it will be you. That provides a sick kind of excitement -- enough to get me up there to the trailhead this morning even though the sound of the alarm clock at 4:30 a.m. made me want to cry from a sense of unfairness and I managed to drive all the way to Oro Valley before I fully woke up.

The start of the run was easy. The terrain was very gently rolling; whoever was in front of the group was sure of where they were going and did not get sidetracked on any of the numerous horse/cow paths that meandered off from the main trail; the fast people were going unusually slow which allowed everyone to mostly stay together; and the temperatures were perfect. I was still securely in the middle of the pack when we turned onto the Baby Jesus Trail. I was happy in the middle and was determined not to let myself slow down and get spit out the back, because I knew I would then get lost. As we had been warned, the trail was overgrown and my socks and shoes quickly filled up with annoying, itchy stickers. The trail also climbed, a lot. I had been deceived by the thought of this being a "foothills" trail as opposed to a "mountain" trail. Trails with lots of small but steep up- and downhills can be just as tiring as a steady slog up. Fortunately everyone, even the fast people, seemed content to walk the steep uphills.

Things began to go wrong at about Mile Five. I got a sharp, stabbing pain in my toe which could only mean that some kind of needle or thorn or something had gone straight in. I had to stop and take my shoe and sock off. Everyone else ran by happily while I looked for the culprit. This was the toe that blistered so badly in the double marathons, and then blistered again in the half-marathon, and now looks like a mutation of a toe, with all different colors and thicknesses of skin. There was nothing in my shoe or sock or toe, no thorn, no sticker. I had a drink and put the shoe and sock back on and started running again, only to be stopped by the same stabbing pain again immediately. I had no choice but to stop again and take the shoe and sock off again. I checked them thoroughly this time -- nothing. When I pressed on my toe it elicited the same pain, but there was absolutely nothing there. I put the shoe and sock back on and started running again only to have the pain start again right away. I took another drink and contemplated my options. At that point the run director, Doug, who was sweeping the course, came up behind me. I explained my situation and told him I would most likely just take the shortcut option, which cut off about 7 miles from the route. This seemed like a good plan and I figured I would just walk most of it because my toe hurt so much. I told Doug I was fine and he took off.

After he disappeared, I stopped one more time, and took the sock and shoe off again. I found it unbelievable that I could so clearly feel something in there but could not see or feel it to get it out. Finally I found it! It was a long thorn about the width of a strand of hair. Sure enough, it was jammed right under my toenail. I pulled it out and instantly had no more pain at all. My legs were feeling pretty good and there was no longer any reason to opt for the shortcut, except, of course, for the fact that I was now alone on an extremely confusing trail AND the run director was expecting me to take the shortcut back.

I got out my trail directions again and figured I could at least get through the next 3 or 4 miles before running into another problem. Maybe I could catch the group again? I ran those miles as fast as I could but never did catch the group. The trail spit me out in Catalina State Park. I drank about a gallon of water and went to the bathroom and thought about what to do. There were still 7 miles of trail left. I remembered the verbal instructions for this part of trail as being exceedingly complicated during the pre-run briefing, and I had ignored them, both because the end of my attention span had been reached a long time ago and because I had figured I would be with the group. I did have a map but couldn't make any sense out of it at all. So I decided the safest option would be to take the paved road out to Oracle Road and run the 5 or so miles back on Oracle Road to the parking area.

I had been to Catalina State Park before and remembered the restrooms and parking area, where I was now, as being right off of Oracle Road. But when I had been running for fifteen minutes I was still nowhere near Oracle Road. I got out my iPhone and used the Maps function to see that I still had about another mile to go before I reached Oracle Road, and, even worse, the road out to Oracle Road curved sharply to the south when I needed to go north on Oracle. Fortunately, Maps showed an unnamed road hooking off to the north and rejoining Oracle Road far north of where the paved road would spit me out. The unnamed road was just over a mile and was right there where I was, so I took it, ignoring the "No Unauthorized Individuals" and "No Trespassing" signs and the gate across the road.

I could actually hear the traffic on Oracle Road when I ran into the heavy-duty industrial fence stretched straight across "my" dirt road and running off into the distance on either side of the road. Obviously it would be unacceptable to take the dirt road back to the paved road and go the extra mile south on the paved road. There was only one thing to do -- climb the fence. It was about seven feet tall and had plenty of handholds, so I got over it easily enough and ran through the backyard of a big ranch house to get to Oracle Road. A pack of heelers, fortunately behind a fence, barked hysterically and ran the fence while I sprinted past. I hoped the owner of the house wasn't one of those cranky hermit types with a gun. Luckily I never saw the owner and made it out to Oracle Road safely.

Now I had 3 and a half miles on Oracle Road. It brought back dismal memories of the Tucson Marathon -- same road, only about 40 degrees hotter than it was during the marathon, and I was now running uphill instead of downhill. To be fair, there was a tailwind. So it wasn't all bad. There was still plenty to hate about it, though. Full sun, heavy traffic, endless climb. I consoled myself that at least I was not scrambling over rocks and forcing my way through the mesquite and cactus on the trail. But this didn't really help. My legs had no energy, nothing, despite plenty of GU and salt and fluids and everything else. I envisioned everyone else standing back at the cars, eating and drinking and wanting to leave but unable to because I wasn't back yet. I had texted Tom to let him know I was taking Oracle back but didn't know whether he had his phone or whether he was even back yet or was lost somewhere on the trail. Even the thought of everyone being inconvenienced by my absence wasn't enough to speed me up. I admit that I jog-walked the whole way on Oracle, while thinking how much I hate running (I do) and how much my feet hated this pavement (they did).

I still had a couple of miles to go once I got off Oracle. I still didn't manage to run hardly at all. It wasn't really physical, if I'm being honest. I wasn't injured and my legs weren't really dead. I just didn't want to run. Most people beat me back but a few people had gotten lost, so I wasn't the last one back. I refueled on healthy stuff like ice cream and chocolate and listened to everyone's stories. I was actually in pretty good shape, since the only thing on my clothes was melted chocolate ice cream as opposed to the blood that was on other people's clothes from falling.

So I finished today's run, but I hated it so much I feel like I should probably take a couple of weeks off of running. If I put that time into biking instead, I might actually be able to do El Tour de Tucson in a month. It's 109 miles and the longest ride I've done in two months is 50 miles, but it's doable... right?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Really Dumb Idea -- Get Moving Tucson 1/2 Marathon Report

Reopen barely healed blisters from last weekend? Check.

Re-experience the 20-Mile-Legs-At-Mile-One feeling from the Maine Marathon? Check.

Achieve personal worst half-marathon time of 1:59-something? Check.

Elevate long-lasting cold and low-grade cough to bronchitis? Check Check!

My work here is done.

Just kidding, because I still have to write a race report. But at least I have the whistling sounds in my chest to keep me from getting bored while I write it!

This is one of the few running-related things I've done that I actually think was stupid. Lots of OTHER people think I do stupid running things, but I can usually justify them somehow or other. For this half-marathon, I have no justification except that I was already registered and it was the third in a series of three -- the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown -- and I wasn't actually injured. (Blisters are not injuries.) Therefore, obviously, if you were me, you would have to do the half-marathon. But it was stupid because 1) it was a hard course because of the "A" Mountain climb, 2) that amazingly-like-a-stress-fracture-but-obviously-not-a-stress-fracture-because-no-one-could-run-53-miles-on-a-stress-fracture pain hasn't really gone away, 3) I had nothing really invested in this race other than the registration fee, which I already got my money's worth out of with the first two races in the series (not like it's an out-of-state marathon that cost me several hundred nonrefundable dollars), and 4) I have been sick with this stupid cold/allergies/flu/whatever it is for several weeks now, and it will not go away, so obviously the last thing I should be doing is administering another punishment to my already weakened immune system. To run a half-marathon the weekend after running back-to-back marathons is pointless. To risk injury, illness, and getting your worst half-marathon time ever is retarded. Now that that is established...

It was cold this morning, in the 40's. I stayed in my hoodie till the last possible minute. When I finally had to take the hoodie off and felt the cold wind blow straight through my tech shirt from the Maine Marathon, I knew this was going to be 13.1 miles of misery. My shirt sleeves were already soaked from being used as Kleenex for my incessantly running nose. My friends from WOG were lined up on the start line, all of them looking skinny, fast, and, most of all, ready to run this thing, in direct contrast to me. I saw them in the start line and then did not see most of them again until I finished. I know a lot of people ran really good times today, so congratulations to them!

I ran my first mile at 8:00 pace. This was a great idea considering that I can count the number of 8:00 miles I've run since April on the fingers of one hand and have fingers left over. My second mile was 8:35 and it went downhill from there. By Mile Two I was already feeling pretty bad. My feet didn't hurt, but my legs were both numb from the cold and dead tired. You wouldn't think legs could be that tired after a week of doing basically nothing, but they were. They felt just like they did at the beginning of the Maine Marathon and I knew that I was going to enjoy this half-marathon approximately as much as I enjoyed the Maine Marathon.

The long, grueling slog up "A" Mountain took whatever remaining energy I had right out of me. I have run "A" Mountain dozens of times but today, with the cold wind, was one of the hardest ones ever. I was passed by what felt like hundreds of people on the way up, and even more on the way down. I am pretty sure I'm the worst downhill runner in Tucson, at least today I was. I reached Mile 5, the bottom of the hill, exhausted and tapped out on energy, but with 8 miles yet to go.

The rest of the race was divided into lots of equally boring, difficult stretches that shouldn't have been difficult at all (Mission Road, many miles of the Santa Cruz path, Fourth Avenue, Congress Street). They aren't difficult when I run them on training runs. And I have run all of them on so many training runs it's no wonder I think they're boring. This race confirmed my long-held belief that, for me anyway, it is a waste of money to run local races. I just can't see spending my money to run places I can run for free any time I want. It would be easier just to donate money to SAR without needing to do a race, too. This three-race series was an exception but I am pretty sure this was my last in-town road race.

Even though I had said going into this race that I was going to treat it as a recovery run, naturally that was impossible once I saw everyone running fast. Even though I knew I would not run it fast, I also thought I really should be able to get under two hours. (Says the person with a half-marathon P.R. of 1:41:00.) I assumed that would be pretty easy to do. Then I realized around Mile Ten that it was going to be closer than I had thought. My time at Mile Ten was 1:30 exactly. Surely I could manage 10-minute miles no matter how bad I felt, right?

Just...barely. I did finish under 2 hours -- 1:59-something. That was a little too close for comfort. I did appreciate the Hot Nerd Tim Bentley announcing my finish and also announcing that I ran two marathons last weekend. It took a tiny bit of sting out of my personal worst half-marathon time ever since I got to bask in a trace of the glory from the past weekend on what was really a pretty crappy day in my running "career".

But now it's over and I have no firm running commitments until Ragnar in February. And I have this awesome candle for completing all three races in the series:

(Although I could have gotten this anyway without running the half-marathon, because it was pre-made. But I am not even going to think about that.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Let's Do Back-to-Back Marathons" -- Great Idea, Thomas!

Yup, this was my brother's idea. I was worried about not being ready for the HALF-marathon next weekend, and then Thomas came up with the idea of doing the New Hampshire Marathon on Saturday and the Maine Marathon on Sunday. While of course I knew this was not strictly a good idea, from a physical well-being point-of-view, I also thought it was probably possible. Even though I haven't run much since Pikes Peak, I WAS in marathon shape then, 5 weeks ago, and I HAVE been biking and/or swimming every day, even if I've barely been running. I couldn't resist the thought of knocking off 2 states for the cost of one plane fare, and also splitting costs with Thomas for hotel and car. (Completing marathons in 50 states is not an inexpensive goal.) What the heck! I was kind of curious anyway to see what would happen if... I mean, seriously! The way I feel after a regular marathon, when I feel like I've been hit by a truck for a couple of days afterwards, running a second marathon immediately would be unthinkable! So I had to see how much of that was in my head and how much was real.

For two weeks coming up to the marathons, the bottoms of both my feet were hurting right around the metatarsals, in a way that made me think I was on the verge of stress fractures in both of them. This is my most-familiar injury and it's always October when I get them, so I was due. But then again, I already had plane tickets and non-refundable race fees, so I figured I should at least be able to hobble through the first marathon and score one medal and one more state. If I couldn't do the second one, oh well. This would be a good time to get a stress fracture; I need time to clean up the yard and get Sunny ready for a November with obedience trials every weekend anyway. I was gimping around from the time I got on the plane in Tucson till I hobbled to the start line in the tiny town of Bristol, New Hampshire on Saturday.

The New Hampshire Marathon is a small, small-town marathon with a few hundred runners. About a third of these runners were also doing Maine the next day. There were huge numbers of Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters. The race course went out from Bristol and looped around Newfound Lake. I knew nothing at all about the course other than that it went around a lake. I never even looked at the website and actually thought the race was in Manchester, where we flew in, and didn't find out it was in Bristol till I met Thomas in the Chicago airport. I also forgot both GU and my waist pack at home. Luckily I got some GU from Thomas, who, unlike me, prepared for this trip. I stuffed the GU in my sports bra since I had no waist pack.

I had been looking forward to fall foliage, but the leaves are still a couple weeks off-peak. Nevertheless, this was definitely a scenic course. I was not happy with the weather, though. Rain was predicted and, sure enough, the rain started at the start line. It didn't let up for the entire race, not once. This wasn't the worst kind of rain, though. It was a gentle drizzle and actually complemented the fog hanging over the lake and the orangey-red trees quite nicely. With temps in the low 60's and no wind, it was actually pretty perfect. I knew from my first step that my feet were going to be okay and I was, for sure, at least going to get through this first marathon. So I implemented my Plan B (Plan A, limp through the course at 6-hour pace, having been rendered unnecessary by my absence of foot pain) -- I wanted to run it slow, somewhere between 10:30 and 11:00 pace, so that I would have some left for the following day. I remember how I felt at the end of the 5-hour New Orleans Marathon I ran with Kris -- like I could have turned around at the finish and run the whole course again, or, the following day, like I hadn't run a marathon at all.

That wasn't quite what happened; I ran a little faster (9:50 pace) because my feet didn't hurt and it was pretty and most of the way I could run on a soft cushion of pine needles on the dirt shoulder. This really is a beautiful course if you like small-town New England, which I don't. There were a fair number of hills but nothing too difficult, just enough that I would describe the course as "hilly". I talked to a lot of people along the way and all of them were on their 30th marathon or more. Some of them were also planning on doing Maine the following day. They talked about back-to-back marathons like they were no big deal. Maybe they weren't. I finished in 4:22 and the rain was really coming down hard by then. Also, the wind had picked up, making it cold. Thomas was standing at the finish, having finished in 3:37. He was freezing but otherwise feeling good. I was moderately sore, which meant I should have gone easier. There was none of that "Whee, I could do this again!" feeling I had had in New Orleans.

We had a 3-hour drive to Portland, which gave me plenty of time to stiffen up nicely in the car. We found a running shop in Portland and replaced the GU I borrowed from Thomas. I thought about buying a waste pack but decided no since I have like four of them at home. Stuffing GU in my bra had worked okay; it just chafed a tiny bit, no big deal. We picked up our numbers at the Expo and then went to dinner. While we were at dinner, Thomas got an email from the Maine Marathon saying we had to wear our race numbers turned sideways because of some problem with reading the fancy new chips on the back of the bib. I never got that email; still haven't. At first I thought it might be a joke, but then later on that information went up on the website so I decided it wasn't.

Back in the hotel, I put K-tape on both my feet. The tops of my feet were actually swollen and worse-off than the previously painful metatarsals. Once I had the K-tape on, I tried to put on compression socks but couldn't get them on without pulling the K-tape off. I gave up on compression socks and just put regular socks on instead. Once I had the regular socks on, I remembered I was going to put a Band-Aid on that little, tiny blister on my fourth toe. But it seemed too hard to fight with the socks and K-tape again, so I decided I didn't need the Band-Aid. I went to sleep by 9:00 after enough Vitamin I to kill a horse. I woke up at 2:30, wide-awake and listening to rain pound on the roof. I mentally went over every sore spot on my body. There were lots of them. Not really sore, no; not Pikes Peak or Seattle or Missoula sore, or sore like I had been hit by a truck or beaten with hammers, but sore enough that I really didn't want to do another marathon in a few hours.

We were up at 6:00. On the news, the weatherman said cheerfully, "It's going to be wet ALL DAY, folks! Better save your outside activities for tomorrow! Unless you're running the Maine Marathon, of course!" Then the news cut to a shot of a reporter standing at the Maine Marathon start line in pouring rain. Behind him you could see the flags blowing straight out on their poles. "Windy, too!" the reporter said. "It's going to be a chilly day for these folks!" Then they interviewed some runner dude who said how much he loved running in the rain and how at least it wouldn't be too hot. Shut up, Mr. Sunshine, I thought, and stopped watching after they showed a radar map with the Portland area dark green and staying that way all day long.

At least we got to wait in a gymnasium in the University of Southern Maine till the very last minute. I walked to the start line shivering on legs that felt like they already had 20 miles in them. That feeling is fine when it comes at Mile 20, not so much when it comes at Mile 1. The cannon went off and the 20-mile feeling in my legs did not go away at Mile 1, or Mile 2. Or ever, really. I ran that entire marathon on legs that were so dead I couldn't feel them. Though I could also blame that on the cold. It was 48, windy, and pouring at the start. It was 55, windy, and pouring at the finish. It didn't rain from Mile 15 to Mile 17. That was nice. But then the rain came back again, harder, like it was trying to make up for its brief absence.

This course goes, I think, along the coast. It's an out-and-back. They say it is pretty and scenic but I could tell you only that the road was black asphalt with a white line. I grimly ticked off miles and idly entertained thoughts of quitting even though I knew I wouldn't. I'm too cheap to pay for another flight out to Maine and plus, I don't ever want to come back anyway. Who needs a cold, rainy state like Maine? Not me! I can't wait to be done with New England, forever! Make that the whole East Coast!

The course was pretty flat, only a few hills. We never got above 100 feet of elevation. The aid stations were numerous and very good. I kept running on my dead legs and told myself that when I got to the half, I could walk. That was a lie, but there are lots of lies I told myself to get through this marathon -- "You love running in the rain," "You didn't run a marathon yesterday," "The white line gives you magical powers of speed and endurance if you run on it," "That tiny blister and tiny chafe from yesterday are not turning into a huge, painful blister and huge, painful chafe," "It wasn't a mistake to forego bandaging the blister," "That is not your K-tape loosened by the rain and formed into a big, uncomfortable ball stuck between your first and second toes and causing another huge, painful blister." Et cetera.  They were lies but they worked. I got to the half in 2:07, believe it or not, my exact same half-time from the previous marathon. "Great," I thought, and prepared to fall apart in the second half. You can't possibly feel this bad and keep running.

Except that I did! Somehow, I did. I actually would have beat my time from the previous marathon by many minutes instead of one minute except that I bonked at Mile 23. One second I had energy, the next I had none. I mean NONE. So little that I had to stop walking to dig out my last GU and open it. It took too much energy to move and get my GU at the same time. Once I took it, after 5 minutes of shuffling I was able to jog again, and then run, sort of. When I saw the finishers chute I saw the time was 4:20:40, so hauled ass to get under 4:21 and beat my 4:22 from yesterday. I did it. I am pretty pleased with myself for that. I mean, true, those are pretty crappy times, but these two marathons were all about quantity, not quality. I actually think it's pretty cool to get almost the exact same times. I couldn't have done that if I tried! (Thomas finished with a 3:33, 4 minutes better than yesterday.)

So I got my two medals, but boy did it hurt. Time will tell whether I have any permanent injury. I am still mystified as to what happened to that metatarsal pain that has been dogging me for two weeks. I am seriously entertaining the theory that it is a mechanism of my subconscious brain, trying to convince me not to do stupid athletic things. This has happened before, too many times for it to be a coincidence. I can tell you, though, that I am in twice as much pain today as ever before. That feeling I said was absent last night -- the feeling of being hit by a truck/beaten with hammers over every inch of my body -- is here in full force now. Stepping off a down curb makes me scream. Turning over in bed is agony. Let's not even talk about stairs. Deep breaths hurt! I also have an oozing, raw open sore where I had the GU's stashed, where my cleavage would be if I had any. Bad idea. And my blistered toe is so disgusting it is barely recognizable as a toe. It looks more like a piece of sushi or something. And I have never seen a blister as big or purple/red as the one left behind when I finally extracted the wet, wrinkled ball of K-tape from my other sock. But it's worth it! Right? I guess so. I checked off 2 more states -- # 15 and 16 -- and got my medals, and now have 2 days of being a tourist to look forward to. Well, I would be looking forward to it if I liked New England, but I already told you I don't. Nevertheless, 2 days off work is ALWAYS a good thing.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I Can't Take This Swimming Suckiness Anymore... I finally hired a coach.

I've read all kinds of books on swimming, but it appears that swimming, like sex, dog training, and lots of other things, is something that you just can't learn from a book. You have to just jump in and do it. And if you suck enough, you have to pay someone to help you get better. (Here's where the sex analogy sort of falls apart, although the dog training one is still valid.) I've been swimming for almost 3 years and my 800-meter time has stubbornly stayed right around the 17:00-18:00 mark. That is embarrassingly bad, if I want to call myself a triathlete. My bike time is mediocre, which I can live with. My run time is usually good. But my swim time is lousy and will reliably put me at the bottom of my age group every time. So there was nothing left to do but get a coach and start taking lessons.

This is one of the best sport-related decisions I ever made, although it is pretty darn expensive. Sometimes, to amuse myself, I think about what else I could buy with money spent on a half-hour swim lesson: eight weeks worth of dog obedience classes; not one but TWO chicken-and-waffles date nights (for both me and Tim!); four movie tickets, a stack of books at Bookman's... or else I think what this half-hourly rate equates to in hourly, and then in yearly, income, and I compare it to my income and wonder why I bothered getting a master's degree. But I have looked around and this is, in fact, the going rate in Tucson for good coaches. (I've had a cheaper, less-than-good coach in the past who was essentially worthless, so at least here I'm getting something for my money.)

The best thing I get from this coach is structure. Being a good teacher myself, I can recognize another good teacher no matter what he's teaching, and he is a good teacher. He has broken down the stroke into lots of separate elements, and each week we work on a new one and he gives me homework emphasizing that new element. When I feel like I have mastered that element, I schedule another swim lesson and get a new element. For example, the first week my assignment was to work on my breathing. He wanted me to breathe only at a certain time. He assigned me a drill that is kind of like the catch-up drill I learned (and hated, and didn't practice) in my Swimming for Triathletes class. The first few times I practiced I was sure I would never be able to do it, ever. But in reality I was doing it automatically within  a week. So I came back and got my next assignment, which was to bring my arm all the way back when I finished a stroke. Then the third week my assignment was to roll more with each stroke. It's really neat the way it works because each element adds on to the previous one. That's more or less exactly the way I teach the mechanics of using a cane and crossing a street to my blind students, and their success rate says it works!

Let me also mention here, apropos of nothing, that the coach is also very hot. Almost hot enough to be a distraction, but not quite, because usually during the lessons I am too worried about getting enough air to be distracted by his hotness. Nevertheless, it is there and by itself practically justifies half of the cost of each lesson. It's a good thing he can't read my mind (or my blog) because sometimes, honestly, while he is talking about the catch-this and recovery-that, my mind is saying, "Mmmmm-hmmmm, and if you're not getting laid every night, I'm sure it's not for lack of opportunity."

I am still not a good swimmer. I have a long way to go and can only speculate on how much it's going to cost by the time I have a decent swim (and on how many hours I will have to spend in the cruddy YMCA pools), but it's worth it! I always have to remind myself that I want to be able to say, "I am an Ironman" some day, and if I want to say that, I have to put in the work to make it happen. It's just like when I hated trail running (oh, wait, I still hate trail running) but decided that completing the Pikes Peak Marathon was worth suffering through a summer on the hot, rocky trails.

Now I just can't wait for the weather to cool off a little so that the entire population of Tucson isn't in the pool when I'm trying to do laps, and I will be SO much happier.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Oxygen Is So Overrated, AKA Pikes Peak Marathon Report

Confession: I freely admit that I was not sure if I would finish this race or not. That had nothing to do with the average 11% grade or the weather or anything else; it was more that I really didn't know how my body would do at elevation. The highest I can get in Tucson is 9300', and once in New Mexico when I drove up to the top of a 12,000' peak I had major trouble (dizziness, trouble breathing, etc). I had this fear going into the race that my heart would explode as I got up to 14,000'. Oxygen is available on the trail if you need it, but you're disqualified if you use it. I was determined to keep moving unless I was physically incapable of putting one foot in front of the other. Now, without further delay, the report:

Saturday morning. According to the wisdom of the message board for the Pikes Peak Marathon, there are only two ways to deal with the altitude of the race if you are a flatlander: either arrive three weeks early and give your body time to adjust, or arrive as close to the race start as possible and just do the race before your body has time to realize what happened to it. I picked the second one.

Saturday evening: packet pickup in Manitou Springs. At this marathon you don't get the shirt unless you finish the race, i.e., no shirts were being handed out with the packets. I like this! You should have to EARN that finisher's shirt. This marathon has a time limit of ten hours, with various cutoff times throughout the race. I am a crappy trail runner but surely I can make 26.2 miles in 10 hours, right? RIGHT? The Ascent race was today and all the returned runners are milling around Memorial Park talking about how much fun they had. Everyone looks to be in good shape so maybe I am scaring myself unnecessarily about the difficulty of this event. (I don't really consider it a race so much as an endurance event, since I will be mainly trying to survive as opposed to racing.) Then I look up -- and up, and UP -- at Pikes Peak, all rocky and bare of trees and impossibly high above the town, and it is incomprehensible that I will be getting up there on foot tomorrow.

Saturday night: Dinner is the pre-race pasta feed in Memorial Park, all-you-can-eat watery spaghetti, baked potatoes, and carrot cake. Tim and I stuff ourselves and listen to Marshall Ulrich speak. He is one of those crazy ultrarunners who did all the prerequisite "normal" crazy stuff like Badwater, all the 100-milers, etc, a long time ago and has now moved on to the super crazy stuff like running across America and running the Leadville 100 one day and then the Pikes Peak Marathon the following day. I'm a sucker so I buy his book, since his theme is: "You can do more than you think you can." I look up at the Peak, now all covered in dark, scary clouds, and hope that is true.

Sunday morning: Race day! I've had my McDonalds Egg McMuffin meal and I'm ready. (Don't laugh. All my best races start out with McD's.) Last night was a violent storm with torrential rain and thunder and lightning. It was nice to listen to while lying in the comfortable bed in the Victorian B&B we stayed at, but I couldn't stop wondering what was going on up there at 14,000 feet.

Start Line: There is no line for the Porta-Potties, something I have never experienced at any marathon. The Ascent had double the number of runners that the marathon has; that probably explains the abundance of Porta-Potties. It is a bright, sunny, warm morning and race officials report that the temperature at the top is 44. That's not bad at all. I take deep breaths of the wonderful, cool, dry mountain air and listen to local runners complain about the heat. That makes me want to laugh. The high temperature for today will be upper-80's to low-90's but that is the coolest weather I've experienced for months. Lots of other things may be problematic for me today, but I am willing to bet heat won't be one of them.

Race Start: I wave at Tim, who is holding the video camera, as we head out of Manitou Springs. The road goes up but not steep. It is easily runnable, even for me who stinks at hill running. Then we hit the little road that leads to Barr Trail and everyone en masse stops running and starts walking. My God, this is steep. I didn't even know roads could be this steep. I don't know what the grade is but I'm sure it's at least 15 or 16%, maybe even more.

Onto the Trail: Mercifully, that steep road ends and we get to the trail part. It switchbacks up the mountain and is slightly less steep than the road was but is so narrow that passing is difficult. The grade there is probably close to the one on the Aspen Trail going up to Radio Ridge. The trail itself is practically pristine compared to gnarly Tucson trails like Phoneline and Blacketts. Hardly any rocks to speak of although there are plenty of roots. Most people are still walking. Every so often someone squeezes by and passes. I do pass a couple people but not many. Most people seem content to just walk, and that was the advice given for people who just want to make sure they finish and are not racing for time.

Mile 3(ish): We finish the switchbacks and can look down on Manitou Springs. My God, it is tiny! Hard to believe we've come so far up in just a few miles. Pikes Peak, on the other hand, looks just as far away as before. I look at my watch and we're at just about 8000'. I decide not to look again in case the sight of the elevation numbers triggers anxiety. The trail gets really nice here. Still climbing, but lots of room to pass and not quite such a horrendous grade.

Aid Stations: They rock. I cannot imagine the logistic difficulty of getting all this water, Gatorade, food, garbage cans, etc out onto this trail. The organization is as good as at any big-city marathon, better than many. And these people know what runners want. Every aid station we pass through has all of the following: water, Gatorade, pretzels, Goldfish crackers, M&M's, grapes, oranges, and bananas. I have never seen a more impressive buffet line at an aid station. I am especially glad that they have plenty of salty foods, although eating them proves to be a little hard. I grab a handful of Goldfish because they look delicious but then discover that chewing them takes a lot of energy, energy that is better used putting one foot in front of the other. So instead I just hold them in my mouth in a gummy lump and wait for them to dissolve. I stick to my salt tablets after that.

The Middle Miles: It is actually possible to do some running in the middle. There is even some downhill! The trail is wide and beautiful here. It meanders through pine forests. There is plenty of shade and it's not hot at all. Who needs oxygen when the trail is this pretty?

10,000': The trail turns narrow, and almost technical for the first time. The grade gets steep again. I still don't have a headache, and am not nauseous or having any more trouble breathing than I do on any steep trail at 4000' or 5000' back at home. I'm in better shape than a lot of people and pass them pretty easily. No one is running now though. If you have energy to talk, you're doing pretty well. Somewhere in here we hear loud cheers and screams coming from above us. It is Matt Carpenter, the King of Pikes Peak, cruising downhill to his umpteenth victory. This provides a much-needed boost to all of our spirits as we start looking forward to seeing more downhill runners. Matt is so far ahead that we don't see another runner for about 20 minutes after he passes.

Timberline: One second there are trees all around me, and five steps later I am out on the rocks looking down at the trees below me. Suddenly I am at the bottom of Pikes Peak looking up at the top of it. Just 2.5 miles to go; I might actually make it!

To the Top: The trail switchbacks through a boulder field with about 1800' to gain in 2.5 miles. Here is where the notorious "zombie line" starts -- a long line of "runners" now just shuffling along, gasping for air, staring at the ground. If you look up you can see an impossibly long zigzag line of brightly-colored running clothes disappearing towards the top. I only look up once and do not do that again. I'm still in pretty good shape compared to most people. I'm not running, but I don't feel like I can't breathe. I pass a lot of people in the zombie line. Nevertheless, it takes me 35 minutes to do the last mile. This is partly because I'm slow but also because the trail is narrow and every time a downhill runner comes by the uphill runners have to pull over and let them pass. This is an argument for going out a little faster next time. There are hundreds of downhill runners passing so even though I am grateful for every tiny rest break, it really slows me down.

Summit! 14110'. Tim is out there with the video camera, having driven up to the summit after dropping me off. It is so good to see him. I get to the top and the volunteers are yelling, "Turnaround here, rest behind us." Rest sounds pretty good so I go and hang out by the aid station, eating grapes and pretzels. I am not in a hurry. I take a picture of my Garmin showing the elevation, and even try to upload it to Facebook (but can't because of no Internet). Finally after about 5 minutes I decide it's time to go.

Racing Back to Timberline: The clouds at the top, which had been brilliantly white and puffy earlier, are now dark and there isn't much sun left at all. I wave goodbye to Tim and head down. It is nice to have all the uphill runners yielding to me. The trail is so crowded (and slightly technical at this point, really calling for some rock-hopping skills) that I still can't settle into a good pace. This is too bad because we're starting to hear thunder, and soon after that it starts to sprinkle. I know they have called off this race because of lightning in the past and don't want to be caught up here if they do it again, so I run as fast as I can. It seems to take forever to get to timberline. I pass quite a few walking wounded, and some not walking. There are a lot of people just sitting on boulders with their heads in their hands, some being tended to by Search and Rescue. I don't know why some people get altitude sickness and some don't, but I just feel lucky that I feel basically fine. My only problem is that I really have to pee. I have had to since the start, actually, and somehow forgot to during my leisurely rest at the summit 100 yards from a bathroom. I remembered within two switchbacks after starting the descent that I had to pee, but there was no way I was going back up for that and nowhere to discreetly duck out of sight in a boulder field with no trees. Guess it will just have to wait.

Back in the Trees: It is now raining hard. I have to stop and rearrange the contents of my pack so that my iPhone is stuffed inside my hat and gloves. (Fortunately the rain is not cold enough for me to need hat and gloves.) You all know how I feel about rain but it's not like I had much of a choice but to keep going. A bit further down the trail some guy takes a header onto a rock. He has a wound on his head and there is blood. Everyone stops running and a bunch of people stop to help the guy back up onto his feet. He decides he can keep going so they help him on down to the next aid station. I'm not sure whether he made it out on foot or not. I do pass a guy from the mounted SAR division, riding one horse and leading another, heading up the trail towards the aid station I just passed, so I don't know whether that guy got a ride out or someone else did.

The Next 10 miles: Downhill, wet. Pretty much sums it up. I am running by myself so much of the time that I almost think I took a wrong turn somewhere. I finally have to stop and pee in the woods. I hate doing that; I will never be one of those outdoorsy girls who just pees anywhere without giving it a second thought. I like toilets, thank you very much. But I do feel much better afterwards.

Best Aid Station Volunteer Ever: As I stumble into the Mile 22 aid station, a crew of cheerful volunteers in rain slickers offers me all the usual good stuff. "Something salty? Or a banana?" one girl asks. "Oh, banana, I guess..." I mumble. Then the girl says, "How about some salt ON the banana?" Oh my God! Yes! That's EXACTLY what I want and no one but a runner would understand that. She peels my banana and sprinkles salt on it and that salty banana tastes awesome. Thank you, anonymous volunteer!

The Finish: It stops raining and the last couple miles of trail are beautiful and easy. Then the course hits pavement for the last mile and that is a brutal shock to the body after all those miles of soft dirt. I really want to slow down or maybe even walk but it is impossible; there are too many cheering spectators. So instead of walking I go faster. The announcer reads off the name of every single finisher, which is awesome. Then it's all over and into the usual routine of trying not to throw up on the person hanging the medal over my neck. Finish time is 7:12. I predicted seven hours but was totally okay with 7:12. At least it wasn't ten hours!

*Altitude not only did not kill me, it barely even affected me. (Although, interestingly enough, we drove to the summit the day after and I was very short of breath then. So I guess I can run up to 14000' but driving there is a bad idea.)
*Tucson trails are steep enough to provide plenty of good training for this marathon.
*Long-sleeved shirt and shorts with gloves and hat in my pack was absolutely the right choice for this marathon.
*I could've done better. I trained lazy (walking whenever I felt like it) so, as usual, my performance on race day reflected my training. Funny how that works. When I get home I am going to dig that heart rate monitor out of the drawer where it's lived for the past three years and use it, so I don't lie to myself anymore about how hard I'm working or not working. With the heart rate monitor I will know.
*I am definitely hooked on trail running, even though I still hate it, too. I said before this marathon that my feelings about it would determine whether I signed up for the OP 50 next year. Needless to say, I'm going to.
*Everyone should step out of their comfort zone once in a while and do something like this. After having "run" up Pikes Peak and run down it, I really feel like anything is possible.
*Colorado is a fantastically beautiful place. It's hard to leave.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Last Long Trail Run Done

Mt. Wrightson seemed like a good trail to end my Pikes Peak training with. It's short, by marathon-training standards, only just a little over ten miles out and back, so it fits into the taper plan, but it gains 4000 feet in elevation in those five miles up, so it is hardly easy. I thought that would be good for one week before the Pikes Peak Marathon, just so my body doesn't get too used to being comfortable and having enough oxygen.

I told myself I was going to run the whole way up, but, of course, I did not. I don't know why I even bothered telling myself I would. It's not like I ever have in the past, or have ever even come close. I managed to run most of the first mile (albeit at 12:00 pace) but after that switched to my trail running specialty of jog till I can't breathe, or until I get to some big rocks or a downed tree that I have to climb over, and then walk until I can breathe again, at which point I can break into a shuffling jog, which starts the cycle over again. I did this until well into Mile 3. At this point I was at about 8200 feet.

My biggest problem with Mt. Wrightson today is that it was wet. It wasn't raining, although there was some light cloud cover that kept it from being too hot, but it apparently has rained there A LOT lately, because everything is green. I hate green plants. Really, I do. I wish everything in the desert was dry and brown all the time. I am allergic to everything green except cactus and paloverdes. On both sides of the trail were tall, leafy plants and grasses that hung into the trail and went "swish, swish" against my legs. Just like in Bear Canyon last week, my legs started itching and my eyes started watering, and my nose ran like a faucet accidentally left on. When I got to Bellows Spring at Mile 4, the spring was running with more water than I've ever seen there. All of the numerous rocks on the trail were covered with a thin sheen of moisture that made them very slippery. And every one of the thousands of plants that overhung the trail had its own little load of water on the leaves, which it was more than happy to dump on me. Going up through the switchbacks to Baldy Saddle, I got more and more wet and more and more cranky. Did I mention bugs? They were there too, in force. Mosquitos flew into my eyes and mouth. Have I mentioned I hate moisture in the desert? I can't wait till everything is dry and sunbaked again. I passed one hiker coming down, and he said, "Your feet are going to get wet!" Well, duh. Going to? They were already soaked and I couldn't imagine getting wetter.

On the last climb up to the peak, the rocky part of the trail was running with water like a small creek. I remember getting up to this point once in March or April and finding it still covered with a frozen blanket of snow. Even though I was less than a quarter-mile from the peak, I turned back that time, not wanting to end up like a victim in a SAR scenario. This time I kept going, but through the wettest part I would not take a step without four points of contact -- both hands, and both feet. I made it up to the top in one piece. I hung out there and ate an orange and decided not to linger because it was too cold.

I envy people who can actually run down that first quarter-mile descent off the peak. I can't. I'm too afraid of heights and shifting rock under my feet. So I picked my way down slowly until I got past the wettest part and onto the lovely, soft pine needles. My feet were wet but no wetter than they had been on the switchbacks by Bellows Spring. This was the first time I have actually run down Old Baldy Trail. Usually I run down the Super Trail, both to get the extra mileage and because it's an easier grade. But today I was in a hurry and just wanted to get back to town (okay, back to my bed if we're being honest). The descent was so much happier than the ascent. I was still wet, and still itchy, and my feet were starting to hurt from stepping on rocks (again with the princess and the pea feeling), but I was actually able to run fast-ish, for me running down a mountain, that is.

I never cease to be amazed at the high number of almost-falls I have running down mountains and the low number of actual falls I have (zero, knock on wood). I hate those moments when my toe catches a rock or root and I stumble and almost go down and then somehow, miraculously, manage to stay upright and get my balance again. When that happens I usually make some inadvertent, unappealing noise kind of like the dog makes when you accidentally step on it, a sort of human "Yipe!", complete with pinwheeling arms to add to the spectacle.  Luckily there were only other hikers present once when this happened, so the embarrassment factor was low.

I got to the bottom almost exactly three hours after I started. I was hoping for faster but will go ahead and blame my slowness on the wetness of the trail. Can't possibly be my own fitness level that's responsible, no, of course not. Once at the bottom I had a long drive home to think about whether I love trail running or hate it. I definitely have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, there are so many things to hate. Rocks. Dirt. Mud. Allergies. Snakes. Mountain lions. Falling. Slow speed. Longer drive times to trailheads. But on the other hand, nothing makes me feel like such a badass as running up and down a mountain. There is something primal and exciting about feeling your heart exploding in your chest. and gasping for every breath, and drooling, and letting your nose run and not caring, and pushing through bushes and over rocks and knowing that even if you do see a snake, you are going to keep going, and finally getting to the top of the mountain and then turning around and running back down and watching hikers step aside to let you pass because obviously the rule of "downhill yields to uphill" does not apply when the downhill is a runner. I don't know. It's miserable yet addictive. I guess we'll see how Pikes Peak goes. In the meantime, I just have the feeling that there is still a 50-miler out there somewhere with my name on it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Losing my Triathlon Virginity: The Firecracker Triathlon

Even though I have been training for triathlon for 2 1/2 years, and have shelves full of books on triathlon, and belong to Tucson Tri Girls, and write a blog in the title of which I refer to myself as a triathlete, until today, I had never done an actual triathlon. There were many reasons: a short distance one seemed like too much of a pain logistics-wise and not worth the reward but a long one was too scary; I thought the local triathlons were in boring places and the far-away more interesting ones cost too much to travel to; and then of course there is the fact that I hate the swim and still suck at it. But I decided that enough was enough and that a necessary first step in doing a longer-distance race on the way to my long-term goal of doing Ironman Arizona was to do a short race first. So I signed up for the Firecracker Triathlon. It turned out to be a perfect first triathlon. Originally I didn't want to do it because I was so familiar with the course that I was afraid it would be boring, but actually the familiarity of the course made it nearly impossible to get nervous about it.

I was there at 4:45 a.m. and bike racks were already crowded. I got my bike racked and then went and got body marked, my favorite part of triathlon. Don't ask me why; I just love having a number on my body. After that, I went back to my bike and spread out all my stuff on the towel next to my bike. I figured that I probably forgot something because it seems like most people have a story about how they forgot something crucial for their transition area on their first triathlon. One big surprise was that I didn't forget anything. Everything I needed was there. I guess having read so many triathlon books and volunteered in lots of transition areas was a good thing! 

I really wasn't ever nervous, not even about the swim which is always my worst sport by far. I predicted a swim time of 19:00 but thought I would be faster since my time in aquathlons last year was just over 17:00 on average. That made me #84 for the swim, which meant I got to start pretty early. (For those of you who don't do triathlon, in this race they started swimmers with the slowest prediction times first, beginning at 6:00 a.m. This is one time when I was glad to be a slow swimmer. Some of the fast swimmers didn't get in the pool until almost 8:00, maybe even later, which meant a much hotter bike and run.)  I hung out in the swim line waiting my turn and talking to #85, who was next to me. He asked if I was going to pull him through the swim. I laughed and said, "Ha ha, you're probably going to pass me on the first lap." I didn't actually think that would happen, but it did happen... he passed me during the first lap! All in all I was passed by about 5 or 6 people, and I passed about 3 or 4. I don't know what my swim time was but I am pretty sure I was almost exactly what I predicted, 19:00. Even for me that was pretty bad. I can only guess that I was slower because it was a 50-meter pool instead of the 25 yards I'm used to, so I had to swim for twice as long at a time and only got to push off the wall half as many times as usual. The pool was beautiful and clean, though, not like the Y pool which is always full of garbage from a day full of heavy use by kids, and where it is often not possible to see your hand in front of your face underwater. 

I felt great getting out of the pool and running barefoot through transition to my bike. When I first got out my arms were so sore I could barely lift them,  but that went away between exiting the pool and finding my bike. Off with cap and goggles, on with shorts, helmet, and bike shoes. I had brought my gloves but last-minute decided I did not need them for just a 12-mile ride. That was a good decision. I had also brought both bike shorts and running shorts, and wasn't sure right up till the time I got to transition which one I was going to use for the bike. I ended up just putting on my running shorts and figured I did not need the extra padding, again because it was just 12 miles. That also was a good decision. 

The bike course was 3 laps of a big square -- Campbell to Broadway, Broadway to Euclid, Euclid to Speedway, Speedway to Campbell. It is almost completely flat. There was a tiny little wind coming from the south but not enough to make any difference, I thought. For years I have been hearing horror stories about the road surface on Euclid and how bad it is to ride on. (I have never ridden on Euclid because of the absence of a bike lane.) All I have to say is, to someone who lives and rides on west side roads, Euclid seemed totally fine. I was expecting potholes the size of my bike from the way people talk about that road. It was a little bumpy, but not bad. I did have brief moments of wishing I had the bike shorts, but when those moments came I silently invoked Rule 5:

...and kept going. Apparently my daily 25-mile commute performed in either running shorts or work clothes has toughened up my crotch, because I remember when even riding 5 miles without bike shorts would have been excruciating. Not anymore!

The bike course felt pretty good the whole time. I passed a lot of people and was also passed by a lot of people. I actually felt better the longer I rode, and got faster too. It was almost disappointing to come to the end of the bike course and realize that now I had to run. I made it back to my spot on the bike rack (note to self: it's nice to count bike racks and know that yours is #7 from the west side of the parking lot; however, that does not help when you ride in from the east side of the parking lot). Off with the helmet and bike shoes, on with the tank top, cap, and running shoes. I also took my first drink of the whole race before taking off on the run. I had frozen two water bottles the night before and carried both of them on my bike just in case, but due to my extreme lack of coordination on the bike I can't drink and ride at the same time without slowing down excessively, so I just didn't drink at all even though by the end of the ride it was pretty warm and my mouth was pretty dry. Turned out the bottles were still frozen almost completely. That was OK because there was a water stop about 1/4 mile into the run course.

Let me say here that I have never once in training gone straight from bike to run (or from swim to bike, either). I was expecting horrible things to happen with my legs, but actually nothing happened at all. I slowed and walked through the water stop, drank one cup of water and dumped another on my head, and found my pace and kept it the whole time. The run course was 2 laps of the U of A mall, where I have run probably more than 100 times. It was a little tough running east straight into the by now very warm sun, but I just kept telling myself it's only 3 miles so go for it. One nice thing about being better at the run than the swim is that during the run I can usually pass a lot of people who passed me during the swim. That feels very good at the end of a race.

I finished in, I think, somewhere between 1:25 and 1:30. I have no idea whether that's a good time or not, but I was happy with it. Overall I can say I loved my first triathlon experience and can't wait for the next one. I also have a few observations:

* I really need to get better in the pool. I haven't improved in over 2 years, and that is my fault for just doing the same workouts over and over and not even attempting to improve my technique in any way. I doubt I'll make it all the way over to the Northwest Y for Tri Girls swim practice, but maybe Master's or lessons or something. Otherwise my slow swim will just continue to drag down my time.
*I also could stand to get a lot better on the bike as far as things like cornering, passing, using my gears wisely, etc. It might also be a good idea to actually train on the bike instead of just relying on my commute for most of my bike mileage. All those commuting miles give me strong legs and stamina, but no real speed.
*I need to learn how to change a flat. Words cannot describe how much I loathe getting my hands dirty -- it's seriously on the order of OCD how much I hate dirt, especially greasy bike dirt -- but if I had gotten a flat, I would have dropped out rather than fix it. And triathlons are simply too much fun to drop out of for something stupid like a flat tire.
*It would be nice to know how to use my watch properly too. I spent all this money on the Garmin 310 and use only the most basic functions. I know there's a way to set it up to do a better job of timing each leg of the race, and it's not like that is secret information; it's all right there in the manual which I have been too lazy to read. My times from today's race really don't even make sense to me since all I did was set it to "Other" mode and then try to remember to hit the Lap button every time I entered and exited transition. (I didn't seem to be able to remember to even do that.)

All that having been said, I feel awesome for having completed a triathlon and felt good the whole time while doing it. I have always said that if I liked my first short triathlon, the next step would be to register for the Soma half-Ironman in October, so that's what I'm going to do right now!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Because It Was There

Why do the Kitt Peak Ascent? Because it was there, of course.

Actually there were other reasons, including the following: it looked like a somewhat useful training run for Pikes Peak; I'd never done it before and probably would never do it again; my friends were doing it; and, most of all, I wanted to be able, when coworkers asked me on Monday what I did this weekend, to casually say, "I ran up Kitt Peak; what did YOU do?" and then add even more casually, "Yup, the race started at 6 p.m." To which they would then gasp, "Wasn't it HOT?" and I would be able to nod nonchalantly and say, "Yup," like it was totally NBD. Actually all of those were good reasons and I was very excited about this 10-mile race. Other than Boston, I don't remember the last time I was excited about a race of any distance, let alone something shorter than marathon distance.

Kitt Peak is a good hour from our house. By the time we got there, it was, yes, very hot (though not ridiculously hot like it's supposed to be on Wednesday -- 109? Really, Tucson?) and windy. It is the kind of hot where it's best to keep moving, because if you stand in one spot too long you start to feel like an ant under a magnifying glass. It was actually a relief when the race started because from then on, there was a breeze the whole way (truthfully, felt more like a gale-force headwind much of the way, but at least it kept it from getting too hot).

I didn't really have any grand plans for this race. I thought of it mostly as a training run. Still, I was curious to see whether I would beat Tim or he would beat me. 10 miles is the distance at which pretty much anything can happen between me and him. Anything under 10, he'll win; anything over 10, I probably will. He did beat me on our 10-mile run up Mt. Lemmon, though he was in pretty bad shape at the end while I felt like I had just finished warming up. Anyway, I was feeling great at the start and pretty much took off.

The wind was brutal, although we did get it at our backs for some of the switchbacks. The tailwinds were nice, but the headwinds were quite demoralizing. I just can't stand wind when running. It sucks the life out of me and makes me cranky. The views, however, almost made up for the winds. From the very start, pretty much every time I looked over the edge I wanted to swoon out of appreciation for the beauty of the desert below. Every time I wanted to quit, the views gave me a boost and I was able to keep on going.

The total climb was 3250 feet, supposedly (I got a different number on my Garmin). Unlike Mt. Lemmon, the grade was relentless. There was not even a single inch of flat or downhill for recovery. By the time I got to Mile 9, I was doing a walk-run-walk-run sort of thing, with lots of looking back over my shoulder to see whether anyone from WOG was gaining on me or not. Even though I hadn't set out to race this, by the time I got that far I knew I hadn't been passed by any women (though I also knew there were several women who had started in front of me and stayed there), so I did want to push as hard as I could in case an age group placement was a possibility.

I finished just as it was getting dark, in 1:55. Tim was 5 minutes behind me. In fact, all of the WOGgers (with the exception of the really fast ones, like Sion, who won, and Jamie, who was the 3rd place woman) finished within 5 minutes of each other, and most of us got an age group award. It seems funny to get an age group award in a race where my average pace was 11:33, but I guess that just shows how tough the course was. Guess all those training runs up Mt. Lemmon paid off! (And thank you, fast ladies in 35-39, for mostly staying home.)

We hung around at the finish line as it got darker and colder. We wanted to stay for the awards ceremony, but it just kept getting later and later, and, with no sign of the awards ceremony starting anywhere near the promised time, we finally got on a shuttle to ride down. I really did want to stay, but it was looking a little too chaotic with the shuttles, and I was envisioning being stuck on top of Kitt Peak till midnight (anyone else remember the Mt. Lemmon Marathon shuttle debacle?).

I have to say this was one of my favorite events ever, because of the combination of extreme beauty and extreme challenge. I will definitely do this one again!

Monday, May 23, 2011

What I Learned While Bodymarking

As most people know, the thing that first piqued my interest about triathlon was body marking. Something about being in a sport extreme enough that your race number had to written in big, black numerals on your arms and legs (and your age on your calf so you can scope out your age group competition on the run) was just compelling. Even the words "body marking" send a shiver down my spine. So, this Sunday at the Tucson Triathlon, I actually got to wield the pen myself for the first time, and mark up some bodies. This experience taught me a number of things...

#1 being: If I were single and looking (or if you are), I think body marking is an excellent way to go shopping. First of all, I'll state the obvious, which is that not only are most triathletes in pretty good shape, but also, you get to get up close and personal without it really being personal. At this triathlon, we had to write the race number on both upper arms and just above both knees, and also the person's age on the back calf. Triathletes, for the most part, seem to be pretty cool with having total strangers manhandle their bodies. Not only that, but most people are either nervous or excited about the race, so they are really pleased to see someone smiling at them and being friendly, especially if that person expresses an interest in whatever pre-race thoughts or anxieties are flitting through the triathlete's head. I would think it would be perfectly possible and possibly even acceptable to engage in some light flirting. Not that I did this, but you could!

#2: It's equally hard to write on extremely flabby untoned limbs and extremely cut limbs. 70-year-old skin is so yielding that it's hard to make straight lines with the pen. But on the other hand, those huge guys who spend too much time in the gym and have softball-sized arm muscles make it just as difficult. YOU try writing a big 3-digit number on the upper arm of a body-builder and have it come out straight!

#3: People with too much ink -- also hard to write on. I love tattoos, but from now on I have to remember that very big forearm tattoos are probably not a good idea if I want to stick with triathlon.

#4: The hardest people of all to write on: those who have just put on sunscreen and/or lotion. I feel bad for that one girl who had just slathered herself with so much sunscreen I could still see it, all white and goopy, all over her arms and legs. It took me several minutes and two different pens to get a (barely) legible number on her. If you're going to put it on -- and of course you should -- let it dry before coming to body marking!

#5: I don't feel so old anymore. I have no idea what the average age of triathletes is, but I do know that I only marked a handful of people younger than me. There were so many people in their 40's, 50's, and even older that it made me feel young at 35. (Much like being a patient at the Southwest Blind Rehab Center can make a 70-year-old feel young.)

#6: I never want to do what this one woman did: she said, "Sorry about my cellulite" as I was marking her. Didn't she realize that that would make me feel awkward? I can't very well say, "Oh, you don't have any cellulite," when she very obviously did. I said something along the lines of, "Oh no, ha ha," while wishing she had professionally not mentioned it and I would have professionally pretended not to see it.

#7: The whole experience made me wish that I was participating in the triathlon instead of just body marking people. I can't wait for the Firecracker Triathlon in July!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"I HATE TRAIL RUNNING!" Says the Person Who is Running the Pikes Peak Marathon in 3 Short Months

I just returned from a running of the Phoneline Trail, and cannot stop thinking about 1) how much I hate trail runs, and 2) how badly I suck at them.

1) I hate them. Oh, there are so many reasons why I hate them! Here are a few:

*Having to worry about finishing before the sun sets. (I know I could get a head lamp, but I also hate wearing those.)
*Rocks in the trail. Especially when running at sunset or sunrise, the rocks throw all kinds of crazy shadows that make it hard to tell where the actual rocks are. The one way to know for sure is to find them with your toe. That happened probably 10 times on my way down Phoneline. Amazingly, it never resulted in a fall. Not yet, anyway.
*On the same topic, rocks in the trail -- I am like the princess in the story of the princess and the pea. If I land even slightly on a pointy rock, even a pebble, I feel it in the bottom of my foot. I have a secret belief that every rock I step on is going to cause a stress fracture.
*Desert wildlife. I didn't see any snakes today, but it is a matter of time if I continue to run on desert trails in the summer. And snakes are not my only concern. I'm also afraid of mountain lions. There have been quite a few sightings of them recently, especially on Douglas Springs where that girl has seen one THREE TIMES in the same place -- Mile 2.5, you know, about exactly the same place I was running ALONE last week before I knew about the mountain lions.
*Carrying my own fuel. That really stinks! Not that I am doing that right now -- I don't have my new Camelbak yet. (Trail runners -- any suggestions on choosing one? I have no idea what I'm doing.) This means I can't carry any fuel, which also sucks. Not like I can't do 10 miles without water -- I did today, and it wasn't unbearable -- but I sure could have used a nice cold drink at the turnaround.

2) I suck at them. I mean, really. I am not a super-fast runner, but I did manage to qualify for Boston. I should really be able to manage better than 10:00 miles. Actually I don't think I even ran a single mile under 10:00 pace. (And we won't mention the one mile I "ran" that was 15:something. Oh wait, I guess I did just mention it.) I think Tom G. could beat me on that trail WHILE CARRYING LOGAN! I know you are supposed to go slower on trails. But like 3:00 or more slower per mile? I don't think so. It's not like I was going easy, either. I was gasping for breath the whole time -- uphill and down. Avoiding those rocks takes so much energy. I will walk any section that has too many rocks so that I don't trip. I am deathly afraid of tripping, especially on trails like this one where if I tripped the right (really, the wrong) way I would just go tumbling off the edge and down into Sabino Canyon far, far below.
Also, when I run trails, my already awkward gait gets worse. I have sort of an egg-beater run, where I start kicking my ankles with the opposite feet when I get tired. Well, on the trail I managed to kick my KNEES with the opposite feet, not just once but many times. I mean, I would not have thought that that was even possible, anatomically! But I guess it is, because I did it! Thank God no one was watching -- it was just me up there by myself, just hanging out there like mountain lion bait.

I did run into Tom, Dallas, and Mike at the bottom, in the parking lot at 7:00. They were just heading up Phoneline. God, I am so glad they saw me in the parking lot, when I was legitimately finished, and not a mile up the trail where I had been walking -- yes, walking -- dispiritedly back towards the car.

I am really kicking myself for registering for this marathon and sentencing myself to a summer of trail running. What was I thinking?