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?