Sunday, January 24, 2010

McDowell Mountain Trail Run Race Report

Trail running is to road running like mountain biking is to road riding. Riding or running on the road can be hard, but riding or running on a trail is harder and slower. And sometimes much more fun. Instead of running in a straight line on an even surface, you have to dance around the rocks, the ruts and sometimes the puddles and constantly climb and descend hills.

The weather was the usual January early morning cold. It was about 44 degrees. It had rained the night before, so some of the ground was muddy. The organizers had thoughtfully provided heaters, of which people stood around and huddled near. There wasn't a huge crowd, so it was pretty low-key. There was also a 10 mile and 25k race option. You got your race number and hung around the heater or stayed in your car. I warmed up by jogging for 20 minutes with a few intervals thrown in in the hopes of being ready for strenuous running. I had run this trail at a moderate pace the week before and it had been an intense workout.

This trail ascends for a little bit. I dodged my first mud puddle and thought my lungs were collapsing. Kids were passing me, but I knew I would pass by them near the end. Kids have a lot of speed, but not much endurance. The trail gradually ascends the first half, but it's an up and down ascent. Then you hit a steep hill to descend. The first time I tried to do this on a mountain bike, I freaked and walked my bike. Now it's a matter of getting down a wet, muddy hill without breaking your neck. It required a lot of side stepping. Then you have to ascend again. At least my lungs were getting used to not having enough air at this point.

There were no mile markers, so I didn't know how fast I was going. I don't have a fancy GPS watch to tell me how fast I am going and I think the terrain would have confused the watch anyway. I knew there was an aid station at mile 1.7. More ups and downs through the watches. There was very little flat trail. I hit the aid station at over 17 minutes. Crap! Over 10 minute miles. Not exactly stellar for a 5k, but this terrain was a bitch. I hadn't done a race of this intensity in quite a while.

At this point the terrain supposedly went downhill, but it was hard to tell. You still had to go up and down hills. It helped to have a quick cadence. Now I was finally passing the kids.

About a mile from the end was the area called the "Clay Pits". The race organizers had warned us that there was mud there. I tried to avoid the mud, but when I hit a large mud patch that I couldn't go around, I missed the dry ground. The clumps of mud made friends with my shoes. I guess they didn't call it "Clay Pit" for nothing. It was like running with weights on my feet.

Getting to the finish line required running up a hill. By this time I had nothing in my legs. Especially with all that mud on my shoes. Usually I have the energy at the finish line to at least pretend that I had been running fast. The people that I had managed to stay ahead of for the last quarter mile passed me and I couldn't respond with any speed.

My final time was 31:58, which wasn't as fast as I wanted to be. I was still 28/57 overall and 9/32 female. The winner ran the course in about 22 minutes, which was amazing considering that he didn't break his neck doing it. Trail running is more about the physical challenge and the scenery, rather than the time anyway. I can run much faster on pavement, but sometimes it's fun to "dance" on the dirt. I stayed upright and maybe the mud on my shoes will eventually come off with a blowtorch.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Where I Came From, Where I Live

Like many people born in the midwest, I have been attracted to places that are most unlike the midwest. I grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana, went to school in Bloomington, Indiana and resided in Illinois. The midwest has it charms if you look hard enough, I suppose, but I love mountains, scenic landscapes and sunny weather. Whenever I had the chance while living in the midwest, I would take long driving vacations with my now ex-husband. We would travel hundreds of miles to Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Montana to various national parks. The cornfields and flatlands would turn to the wheatfields of Kansas, then to the mountains of the Rockies. The midwest always seemed monotonously flat, green and closed in. The west looked wide-open with undulating land with a horizon that seemed to go on forever. I felt free and unfettered.

This attraction to the west and Arizona particularly started at an early age for me. My grandparents retired to Mesa, Arizona, like a lot of older folks and lived in a silver Airstream trailer. My uncle bought a lot in what was then the middle of nowhere around Scottsdale Road and Jomax Road and built his house himself brick by brick. My mother and visited him in 1968

in April when it was sunny and warm unlike the deary gray cold of spring of Indiana. We loved the unique plants and animals of Arizona in the desert-the quail, coyotes, roadrunner and javelinas that would come by his place. The turquoise in the ring that I got seemed like the sparkling blue skies of Arizona.

So when my then-husband and I got the chance to move to Arizona, we jumped on it. It meant dragging our three month baby across the country on a road trip and moving away from family, but it seemed worth it. At the time the local economy was booming, housing was cheap and the cost of living was a little less than in Illinois.

There were downsides. The summertime sucked. It was dreadfully hot and it didn't cool down at night in July and August. You get giant dust storms and violent storms in the summer. You have to drive everywhere because the city area is so spread out. More and more people moved here and the traffic got worse. Eventually the economy tanked and housing prices dropped drastically.

However, I developed an interest in astronomy and the skies are very clear if you drive 70 miles away from Phoenix. Being out in the desert at night looking at stars with the coyotes howling and occasional owls hooting is unbeatable. You can be outdoors most days or night of the year, though it may be uncomfortable in the summer. I can bike, swim or run outdoors almost any day. I have desert preserves to bike, hike and run in.

The winter to early spring days are superb. The days are warm without being too warm, it cools down at night and the sun doesn't burn your skin like it does the rest of the year. The humidity is low and it makes the sunlight seem crystal clear. Sometimes the smog clears and the mountains seem like they could be touched even though they are far away. Distant peaks sometimes have a covering of snow, a contrast to the blue grays of their rocky sides. When the sun is low, the mountains turn brilliant shades of purple and pink.

You get a weird assortment of creatures and plants. I have lizards and an occasional toad in my yard. Sometimes I nearly run over snakes on my bike. Quail run around my neighborhood and roost in my orange tree. Hawks are everywhere and hummingbirds come to my feeders. Sometimes I see coyotes and roadrunners. The cacti come in numerous and novel forms. The Saguaros seem like they have spirits with their giant size and their twisting arm shapes.

You learn to live with the searing summers. You always carry water, you seek shade wherever it is and if you exercise outdoors, you do it at ungodly early hours of the morning. You get so you can't tolerate cold and you don a sweater when it's under 80 degrees. You learn to be careful opening car doors and touching steering wheels when your car has been sitting in the sun. You only buy white cars because black cars get hotter in the sun. You sweat A LOT. If you exercise in the heat you learn how far you can push yourself before succumbing to heat exhaustion.

I guess you like whatever is different from where you grew up. Arizona seems very different from Indiana in some ways, the same in others. Indiana has cows and pigs. Arizona has dairy cows and cattle roaming on public lands, and pigs in the wild. Indiana has mostly conservative politicians, Arizona has mostly conservative politicians. People in Arizona like trucks(white of course) and guns. They also hate government and taxes. I don't remember hoosiers owning as many trucks, but then again maybe they don't have as many dirt roads to go down and animals to shoot. People in Indiana own horses, but I don't remember seeing them riding in the city streets.The big difference of course between Arizona and Indiana is that Indiana is flat and Arizona has mountains, desert and a big canyon.

I don't know if I will ever live anywhere else. Sometimes I miss bearable summers and having tall trees. But I am so dependent on sunshine that I go into a funk if I don't have it. I can't stand cold and I don't know how to drive on ice and snow anymore. The desert dirt has sunk its tentacles in me and I am stuck here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009: Hellos and Goodbyes

As I thankfully put the Christmas decorations away that I don't want to see for another year, and ignore another New Year's Eve by being alone, 2009 draws to a close and I say hellos and goodbyes to the things that have happened in the past year.

Goodbye to legally being married as of June 6th after 32+ years of marriage. Maybe this year I will actually adjust to being single again.

Goodbye to divorce legal proceedings. It was an enormous waste of time and money and I am glad I don't have to worry about it anymore.

Goodbye to my cat. After 19 years he had too many painful ailments and I had to put him to sleep. He was cranky as hell and made both of us miserable.

Goodbye to some of the things I have been accumulating for the last 32 years. It's time to start fresh. I have trashed wedding stuff, gotten rid of my ex's stuff and general garbage that I should have thrown out years ago that didn't seem to have any actual purpose for existing, but isn't thrown out because it might be "useful".

Goodbye to hypothermia. Getting medically treated for hypothermia twice this year due to swimming in cold water is twice too much. This year I am not swimming in any water with a temperature below 65 degrees.

Hello to being an ironman. Acheiving a goal I had been chasing for two years was worth all the emotional and physical pain and was enormously satisfying and empowering.

Hello to Facebook and the friends I made including ones from my high school class of 1972. Who would have thought I would connect with these people after all of this time. Sometimes it's the only social contact I have in a day.

Hello to blogging. I am hoping someone actually reads this stuff and I connect with them at some point.

Hello to painting. It was surprisingly therapeutic when I am emotionally down. I hope to do some more. Immersing myself in the complexity of painting makes the depression and anxiety go away.

Hello to a 5k and 10k personal record. Who would have thought that in my fifties I would be the fastest runner I have ever been. Of course I was never fast, but the fact that I can still improve is age defying. I can still go beyond my physical limits even if I am older. I don't have to be feeble yet.

Hello to competing in a World Championship. I qualified due to luck and not great racing. I felt like a poser racing in the World Championships, but it was a good experience and it made me feel like "hot stuff" to say that I had raced at that level. I may take the stroke of luck even further and race in the Nationals because racing in the World Championship has automatically qualified me for the Nationals even though my race time sucked.

Hello to 2010.


2009 Years Totals: Swimming, Biking, Running

182 hours swimming, 311,950 yards or 177 miles

267 hours biking, 3783 miles

160 hours running.

Total 608 hours