Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mesquite Canyon Trail Run Race Report

I think I have gotten into trail running because I got tired of grinding endless miles on the pavement for ironman training last year. The scenery is way better than road running. It's also way tougher and harder on your body.

I found that out when I tripped over a tree root, checking out the trail for the Mesquite Canyon Trail run. The run wasn't as bad as the elevation map shows:

However, I found out that (a) you can run as fast and as hard as you can and you will never be as fast as you would on pavement; and (b) you have to work harder for less speed. Not only that, you have to pay attention to where you are putting your feet so that you don't end up sprawled on the ground with a bloody knee or worse.
The first time I checked out this trail, I was blithely unaware of the danger those little rocks on the trail could inflict. I ran a seemingly easy 2 1/2 miles and turned around and tripped on a little pebble in the trail. I got up with a bloody knee. I recovered and ran down a wash that had a lot of soft dirt that had washed down from a rain storm. Sitting in the dirt, waiting to snarl me was an evil root. I caught my foot in it and slammed down hard on my chest. I had the breath knocked out of me and felt rather battered at this point. I finished the run. It turned out that I had bruised my ribs, which meant that everything I did that involved moving including running, coughing, lifting and generally existing really hurt. The pain didn't really abate until the morning of the race.
I decided to run the race hard, but to be relatively cautious, because I really didn't want to fall. Racing this trail seemed a lot harder than training on it. It seemed the faster you go, the harder it was to avoid the rocks. I got a fairly good pace going, but a lot of people were passing me. I got up to my racing heart rate, which usually makes the right side of my chest hurt. My ribs hurt on the left side, so I had bilateral pain. Fun. I stumbled a few times, but I stayed upright. I had to shorten my gait and pick up my knees. It felt like I was dancing on the rocks.
The turn around passed an aid station. Volunteers checked out your number when to came through to keep track of the bodies. I guess they didn't want to leave anybody out in the desert. The trail goes steeply up for a short while, then you come back down.
Coming back, I spotted the evil tree root that I had tripped over the week before. It looked like they had put some dirt over it. By this time my legs were really getting tired and heavy. The last mile and half, there seemed to be only one person in front of me. There weren't any mile markers, so I couldn't tell how much I sucked time-wise, but I was doing the best I could. I stumbled some more, but I stayed upright.
I hit the finish line in 51:56 for the five miles. I wasn't thrilled about the time, but I was about mid-pack and 3/5 in my age group. Trail running isn't about setting personal records anyway. It's about you against yourself and the terrain. It almost seems more like pure running. Instead of spacing out and running as fast as you can, you test yourself as you struggle against the rocks and the dirt and the hills. And when you are getting weak, you can look at the scenery to distract yourself and know that it will hopefully always be there.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Desert Classic Duathlon Race Report

The Sonoran desert is green. There is a reason for that. It occasionally gets rain. Sometimes it gets a LOT of rain.

The Desert Classic Duathlon is a competitive, fairly difficult race. It attracts some really talented pros. The difficulty of the race is increased when you are cold and wet and the trails have turned to mush from the rain.

I incorrectly assumed that the rain would stop and that I would warm up on the runs. I was sadly mistaken. The first run is on a relatively easy trail that goes uphill, then downhill. Last year I managed about nine minutes miles for the 3.5 mile trail. I was in the third wave of runners.

I had a hard time getting up to speed. The first two miles were about 10 minute miles if the sign was correct. The trail had loose wet gravel, but wasn't too muddy. I tried to speed up. The wave of male runners behind me starting passing me. I stayed to the right, but I had to avoid the Cholla cactus, which has nasty needles with hooks that cling to your flesh if you try to pull them out. I managed to pull out an average of 9:31 miles for a total time of 33:18.

I fumbled through transition. Since it was raining, I had put my shoes in a plastic bag, which slowed me down. I was warm from the run, so I assumed I would be warm enough on the bike. This turned out to be a mistake.

Coming out of transition, there is a climb on the bike, before you go downhill. The bike is an out and back for a total of 21 miles. Last year, my legs really hurt starting out on the bike. This year they didn't hurt. Maybe because they were numb from the cold. I didn't feel too bad at this point. After you hit the park entrance, there are rolling hills to the turn around. My speed was about the same as last year, judging from the mile markers. My bike computer wasn't working because of the rain. I hit the turn-around in about 42 minutes. It was raining, but it was a light rain. As I hit some of the downhills, I kept telling myself that I wasn't cold. I really was.

About five miles from the end of the bike route, the rain started coming down. HARD. It was blowing in my face and it hurt. I was totally miserable at this point and I just wanted to be done with the bike. I wanted to get to the second run and warm up. I saw a fair amount of people on the side of the road with flats or who had just given up. I thought about quitting, but standing in the rain freezing waiting for sag to pick me up wasn't an attractive option. About three miles in I noticed that I wasn't focusing very well. I had to remind myself to pay attention and not run off the road. My mind was getting foggy from the cold. At this point, I couldn't feel my feet. I finally got into transition in a time of 1:25:26. This time kind of sucked, but it was only about a minute more than last year when it was sunny and dry.

I fumbled around again. I had a hard time getting my helmet off, because my finger wouldn't do what my brain was telling them to do. My old friend hypothermia had come to visit. I got my wet running shoes on and finally got my chin strap undone. Another slow transition.

I started out the second run with numb feet. It was hard to know what they were doing. It seemed like I was turning over my legs, but it was hard to tell. At about mile two the quagmire started. The trail was three inch deep tracked up mud. Some people had bravely ran right down the middle. I chose to try and avoid the deepest mud, but it was impossible at times. I passed people struggling through it and finally hit the HILL. The HILL is a short steep hill about two miles from the start of the second run. Last year I managed to make it up the entire hill without walking, but last year was last year. I went up the hill in something resembling a run, but I had to walk a little when my legs decided they didn't want to run anymore. I made it to the top and then had to navigate a narrow muddy trail going steeply downhill. From there it was a fairly "easy" short run to the finish. Total time for the 2.7 mile run a disappointing 27:56. I don't know if anyone was lucky enough to run the trail before it turned into a quagmire, but if they did, they had a distinct advantage. Mud does not make for a fast run, at least for me.

Total time for the race was 2:32:20. I actually got first place in my age division because only one other person my age showed up. The faster people elected to stay home and be warm and dry. Wussies!

This race is kind of cool because USUALLY the weather is great, it's challenging, well run and people show up from all over the country and even Canada. It was a qualifier for the World Duathlon Championships in 2009. I will be back next year, hopefully, and maybe even not freeze my body parts off.