Here in the Valley of the Sun, our race season goes from about October to April. We avoid those hot months that will melt the rubber on your shoes and in which you need an oven mitt to steer your car.
As a young man, it didn’t bother me as much. I would mow, trim and do other yard work in 100 plus degree temps. Now that I am more “mature”, I can see the effects of overexposure. For example, all those years in the sun have burned away some of the hair on top of my head.
Last weekend was my final half of the season. The IMS Arizona half marathon. The race is only eight years old and I have enjoyed watching it grow and change. It’s still fairly small though and I had to chuckle at the runner info packet which read: The start line will be on Sweetwater Ave. at light post #521879.
My friends Steve, Doug and one of Steve’s friends, Tammy, ran it. Tammy was sweet. We were talking about how slow our paces were and she said, “I’ll run with you for a while, Doug.” I think her definition of “slow” and my definition are quite different. I was telling her how I like to chat with other runners, but I found myself unable to carry on a conversation because I was out of breath trying to keep up with her. She probably thought I was lying. What a dud! So, I made up some excuse about an old football injury and told her I would see her at the finish.
Several years ago, I ran it for the first time with my friend, Doug (aka The Jackrabbit). The start was in a suburb of Phoenix. It was a super cold morning and all the runners, about 800 of us, were freezing. We dressed light because once the sun came up, it warmed up fast. I shivered away all the carbs I loaded up on the night before. Somebody got a key to an office and several of us piled in. Fifty of us, shoulder to shoulder, kept each other warm with body heat and by breathing on each other. Since then, they moved the start to a clubhouse with seating and outdoor heaters. Nice!
For the last couple of years, the course has run through Luke Air Force Base, which is pretty cool once you get past the soldiers with automatic weapons at the entrance. I can only imagine the hoops race organizers had to jump through to make that happen – thousands of strangers running a mile through a military base. But the troops inside were terrific cheerleaders. About every 50 yards someone was blasting a boom box and yelling at us like a drill sergeant, “Move it you maggots! I haven’t got all day!” It was great! They also had various vehicles lining the course. I asked one guy attending a large armored vehicle if I could take it for a test drive. He didn’t respond. Just stared at me, assessing my threat potential.
After that, we headed across some farm fields and scattered housing. The view was open and if the wind blows the smog just right, you can see the Cardinals Stadium where we finish. “Holy Cow! I’ve got a ways to go!” The manure and farm animal smells hit you like a board to the face and some people stumble there, but once you get used to it, it’s not so bad. This part of the race is actually the most enjoyable for me as I love being out in the open where I can look around. I imagine that I am actually not moving and the earth is my treadmill, spinning beneath me. Then I got smacked in the face again.
I didn’t remember the water treatment plant from last year. Probably blocked it out. That was not enjoyable and it was too far to hold my breath. Some of my fellows ran past pinching their noses. However, we all came out the other side, feeling a little dirtier maybe, but free.
Throughout the whole race, people parked on the side of the road and cheered us on. I laughed out loud at mile ten when I saw two young girls sitting on the ground wrapped in blankets holding a sign: YOU THINK YOU’RE TIRED? MY ARM IS KILLING ME.
Even though I had left my refueling chews in my bag (that I checked), I was feeling good. Steve had given me one of his chew packets. Thanks, buddy! On top of that, temps were 15 degrees above normal. But so far, it was going well.
This is a pretty cool race, I thought. It’s not too big, around 1,500 runners, the shirts are cool and this year’s medals spin! I can’t wait to play with it.
It was around mile 11 when my right knee started to hurt. (The price I paid for not training adequately.) So, I ended up walking the last two miles. It only set me back about five minutes from my expected finish time so I wasn’t too disappointed.
At the finish, I joined my well-rested friends for a beer then headed home so my knee could swell up properly. My awesome kids cheered and congratulated me with hugs. My loving wife, St. Gwen, brought some Ibuprofen and water. She may have been about to rub my feet, but got no further than taking my shoes off and making a face. Another half in the books!
Next up is a 4k with my boys at the Kiss Me I’m Irish race. The only kiss I ever get there is a chocolate one at the finish, though. Maybe I need to wear a kilt…