Thursday, November 22, 2012

I Really Should Change The Name Of This Blog...

... to "The Uninspired Trail Runner", since I don't do anything resembling triathlon anymore and haven't touched water in a swimming pool since... I don't know... maybe November? LAST November, that is. I have pretty much gone over to the dark side of trail running. Even though I claim to hate it, I am out there every weekend with TTR even when there is no race on my agenda till April at the earliest.

Anyway, shame on me for neglecting this blog. "The Uninspired Trail Runner" doesn't have the same ring to it as "The Uninspired Triathlete" so I guess I will just keep the name for now. I am really uninspired as far as writing goes because this blank blog entry has just been sitting here open on my computer since last Sunday, when I ran from Sabino Canyon to the tippy-top of Mt. Lemmon on trails. Well, okay, I did not actually RUN. I ran most of the first 10 miles and not much after that in a total of 18 miles. Hey! 10 miles of running out of 18 is good for me in a TTR run.

This one was one I did not want to miss. There's just something about running to the top of Mt. Lemmon on trails that is so badass-sounding I could not resist it. I mean, who does that? Outside of TTR runners, of course, most of whom do it faster than I do, but I mean of real world people. That's just a crazy thing to do, all right, maybe not as crazy as running to the top of Pikes Peak, but right up there. So of course I had to do it. I don't really worry anymore about whether I'm in shape to do these runs. I just fuel up and go for it and figure I'll be out there as long as it takes and finish when I finish. I guess my body is finally used to the fact that it just has to keep vertical and keep moving for long periods of time.

This run required some logistics. It is point-to-point, not a loop, and Sabino Canyon to the top of Mt. Lemmon by road is something like 35 miles. Luckily Tim, the best ex-boyfriend in the world, nicely volunteered to drive my car to the top of Mt. Lemmon (with his bike in the back) and then ride down, leaving my car up there for me to drive down. So I picked him up early Sunday morning and we drove to Sabino Canyon together and then he left me there.

The first six miles of this run were familiar to me -- 3.7 up the paved tram road, then a couple more on trail to Sabino Basin. After that the run followed the West Fork Trail, which was completely new to me. That trail goes to Hutch's Pool. Hutch's Pool is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Tucson, and I had never been there. It is a deep natural pool in the canyon. I was excited to see it for the first time but should've listened a little more carefully to the instructions about what to do when I got there. I did listen carefully to the instructions for the climb up to Romero Pass, which were: Don't Turn Left. Take the Right Trail. Somehow "turn right, not left" stuck in my mind. This was unfortunate. I was making pretty good time (for me) on the West Fork Trail as I got up to Hutch's Pool. But I must have either missed the trail turnoff to the left, or else just subconsciously followed the right fork of the trail. There are lots of well-used trails that lead down to the pool so it's easy to figure out what happened.

I was running by myself at that point, not too far behind one group and not too far ahead of another one. I still thought I was on trail as I ran past some guys camping by the pool. "Your friends just went that way," one of them said helpfully, pointing to the trail that ran to the right along the edge of the pool. "Thanks!" I said cheerfully, and kept going for another five minutes or so until the trail ended, or got so faint among the weeds and boulders that it might as well have ended. I poked around for a while but decided that could not possibly be right so went back to the campers. I was wondering why the group of runners behind me hadn't caught up to me yet since I knew they weren't that far behind me.

The camping guy said yup, the trail did go that way for sure. I decided forget it, I would just hike back the way I came until I ran into the group behind me. But then I couldn't find the trail out of there, either. I did stumble upon the other camping guy heading back to his campsite with a camp shovel in his hand.  I asked him about the trail too, and he confirmed it went along the side of the pool. But just then I saw a red-shirted runner flash by up above me on the side of the canyon. "That's the trail I want!" I said. "Oh no," the guy said, "that's the West Fork Trail up there." Yup, West Fork was the one I wanted all right. But I could not for the life of me find a clear path up there, so I bushwhacked up the side of the canyon, which involved wading through waist-deep weeds and hoping desperately that it was too cold for snakes to be out.

Okay! Now I was back on trail but way behind everyone. What a buzzkill. I still had not solved the mystery of what happened to the other runners that had gone down the trail alongside the pool but decided to forget about it. I knew this was the right trail and that I had about three more miles before the trail junction where I had to turn right and climb up Romero Pass. This part of West Fork was a nice, smooth, totally runnable trail. It was climbing, but very gradually. Every so often I would catch glimpses of other runners way ahead of me. It was very sunny out. I had worn tights and a long-sleeved shirt thinking about temps on top of Mt. Lemmon, but it was a lot warmer than I had anticipated down here.

A group of runners came up behind me. It was a bunch of faster people who had been in the group that had taken the detour at Hutch's Pool. They had gone farther down the wrong trail than I had, and they said some other people had kept going, not turned back when they did. I was glad I was not in that group. This really is not the kind of run you want to do any extra miles on. That group passed me but we stayed pretty close together till we got to the trail junction. A left turn would have taken us to Cathedral Rock and the right turn went up Romero Pass. The group that was ahead of my group had stopped there to refuel so it was like a giant TTR party. I had stripped off my long-sleeved shirt so I was in just a sports bra. The cool breeze felt amazingly good on my skin. I couldn't believe how warm it was. I contemplated taking off my tights too and running in sports bra and thong, but decided that was a little much. (NOTE: I have hiked on Mt. Lemmon in a thong before, but that was with Krissy when ordinary rules did not apply.)

By this point, ten miles in, I had really had quite enough of running. Blacketts was waiting with the group at the trail junction. I asked him how he was getting down and he said he didn't know. I suggested he take my keys and drive my car down and I would meet him at Sabino. I was having vague thoughts of taking the Cathedral Rock Trail and having that somehow be a shorter return to Sabino but he informed me that was not true and we were now past the point of no return. Sigh, okay. I headed up with everyone else.

The climb up Romero Pass was not bad but once we got to the junction with another trail (the Mt. Lemmon Trail? Never did get the name) it became terrible. Straight up, boulder-scrambling required, practically hand-over-hand in some places. Amazing views across the Catalinas in all directions. I had been scrambling along talking to Craig and Sarah but suddenly was slammed with nausea that practically knocked me to the ground. I had no idea where that had come from but I had to stop and lean against a tree until it went away as suddenly as it had come, leaving me weak-kneed and clammy with sweat but able to keep going.

This climb went up to the top of a 7500' knob (as described on the map) and continued to torture me the whole way up. Nausea came and went. I wondered if it was the altitude but doubted it since Pikes Peak was twice this high and I never got nauseous there. This was a different kind of nausea, not the kind I usually get from swallowing too much air. I wondered if maybe I was coming down with a stomach virus and thought this would be a very crappy place to have it hit.

At the top of the knob the trail dropped down to the junction with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail. I had always hit this trail junction coming the other way on the Lemmon Trail and had always turned on WOR and wondered what would happen if I just kept going straight. Well, now I knew! From here to the end I was familiar with the trail, no surprises.

I was plain out of energy here. I managed to do some running but not much. With about three miles left to go I was feeling sick again and had to lie down on a rock. It was much cooler up here but that cold rock still felt so good against my bare skin! I stayed there until I started to feel cold and then ordered myself to get up and get moving for the last haul to the top.

The last part of the trail switchbacked up the mountainside to an old jeep road. When we hit the jeep road we still had a mile and a half to go, nearly all of it still uphill. I got my second wind when I hit the road and managed to run nearly all of it to where it spit us out up near Radio Ridge (9300'? 9100'? I didn't have my GPS but think it was one of those two). I wanted to take a nap up there but couldn't since I had someone coming over later and really had to get down off the mountain. Somehow I neglected to eat anything besides a Mountain Dew, even though there was lots of awesome food. The Mountain Dew finally settled my stomach and I felt fine again.

This was a good day's run and I finished in 5:47, which I think isn't horrible time for this run, but I haven't seen the other times so have no idea what they were like. It was awesome to explore a new trail and to get to the top of Mt. Lemmon on foot. Also, the one nice thing about lots of uphill? No new black toenails.

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