Running has been sporadic over the past week which is a little scary since the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona half marathon is fast approaching; just three weeks away! Every waking moment the little voice in the back of my head says, “Dude, it’s cold out and you’re getting thin up here. Put a hat on!” It also says, “You better get in those distance runs. Tic-toc goes the clock, big guy.”
The first problem has been taken care of. My boys got me this ultra-cool Darth Vader beanie for Christmas. Now the wheezing and heavy breathing when I run sounds intentional. Carson, the ultimate Harry Potter fan, got all the essentials to become a Gryffindor barber pole. And Parker is modeling his beanie from the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Park, which also makes an ideal target in our Nerf gun wars.
The second problem is a motivation issue. Lately, it’s been, “It’s cold out.” Or, “I’ll run later.” Or the ever popular, “I just ate that dish of lasagna and wouldn’t want to puke in the neighbor’s lantana again.”
However, a hero has arisen! Now that Parker has joined the cross country team at school, it gives us a reason to get out and run together. Well, ok, it’s more like, “Come on, Parker, let’s go.”
“Oh, alright,”and the negotiations begin. “Can I ride my bike?”
“How far are we going?”
“You can run the first two miles with me then go in and I’ll continue the rest of my run.”
That’s how it starts, but the truth is that we both thoroughly enjoy it. I love it because it’s a private time with my boy when we talk about whatever he wants. He likes it because he can run circles around me.
If you haven’t seen The Incredibles, you should. It’s my favorite animated film. There’s a scene at the end where Dash, the superhero kid who is super fast, is in a track meet with other kids and is trying to dial in his speed so that he’s competitive but doesn’t blow everyone away. He speeds up, then slows down looking at his dad in the stands for guidance. That’s Parker.
His skinny legs slip through the air with no resistance as his canoe paddle feet slap the pavement like flippers. All the while, he has a look on his face like, Come on, man. I’ve got places to go and people to see.
“I know you’re used to running a lot faster than this,” I say, and then his face softens as he takes pity on me and a conversation begins. He may have me on speed, but I can still outlast him. The max they run is two miles.
This week, my goal is 24 miles including some intervals (which for me is more like the sputtering death throes of a Yugo near empty) and 9 miles next Saturday. Depending on whether or not it rains, I would like to do that on a trail to get in some inclines.
Since training has been lacking, I plan on doing the run-walk method. I’ve done it before and it was quite entertaining. The app Run-Walk – which you can set for whatever time intervals you want and gives one loud beep when it’s time to walk and one loud beep when it’s time to run – is apparently pretty popular. As my phone beeped, I began to walk. Then in a few seconds there was another beep, and another. I looked up to see various runners starting and stopping and looking around at each other. We sounded like a convoy of U-Haul trucks backing up. This year, I’ll carry earbuds for one ear.
On New Year’s Day, I’ll begin the I Love To Run challenge of 1,000 miles in a year which, by summertime, could become the I Hate Running What Was I Thinking passing fancy.
Run into the New Year with determination, my friends, and don’t look back. I wish you all a wonderful, positive and productive 2017!
Has it been 50 years already? It seems like just last week I had not a care in the world – kicking back with a drink in one hand, a rattle in the other, waiting for someone else to dress me. Those were the days. Now every time I move I sound like a rusted barn door.
However, as I ruminate on 50 years of life a smile emerges because those years hold many happy memories. No, I won’t bore you with my life story. I’ll save that for my days in the senior care center where I can spew endlessly to fellow residents without the strength to wheel themselves away.
Fifty years have gone by in a flash and as my birthday approaches (December 29th, size 13, 4E shoes, XXL shirt, favorite color: coppery-red) I find myself torn. On one hand, I feel I should mark the occasion. What do guys typically do for a mid-life crisis? I pondered. A new sports car? Well, unless Vespa has recently made it onto the cover of Hot Rod magazine, that was not in the budget. A tattoo? No, I already have that birthmark that resembles spilled kool-aid. On the other hand, I don’t really care. It is just a number and I don’t want to build it up into some geriatric rite of passage.
So since I’m a runner, I decided to do a race that was on my bucket list. (My wife hates that term, by the way. She thinks it tempts fate and has declared that she’ll kill me if I die before the kids move out.) The Ragnar Trail Relay was last month and I thoroughly enjoyed it. See previous post. Now, however, another running siren song seduces me from the realm of pop-ups. Damn you, Facebook!
They caught my eye with some shiny bling and I was bewitched. Until I saw the price tag. Really? Forty-four dollars for a medal? And yet, 1,000 miles in a year intrigued me. Could I do that? I quickly did the math: less than 20 miles a week. I can do that. And as I type this my knees crack in protest. “That was my chair!” I say aloud to oblivious coworkers.
The only problem would be summer when the tempts reach “molten hot lava” levels and me with no treadmill. The gyms that claim $10 a month don’t mention the sign-up fee and the documentation fee and the rate guarantee fee and the treadmill heavy-fella fee etc. I’ll have to work something out.
The good news is that I don’t have to buy the medal to participate. So I signed up.
A few friends “Liked” the link, thinking it was pretty cool. When I asked if they wanted to join me: “Are you nuts?!” “Doug’s on the Crazy Train again.” “I’ve got a root canal that year.”
Mileage markers aside, I love running so I can do more with my kids. I can’t count the hikes, soccer games, football games, baseball, tag, Nerf wars and more that we’ve played. I especially love the races we’ve run together in recent years.
I’ll never forget the first organized 4k race that I ran with Parker. Two blocks out of the gate, “Come on dad, I wanna win!” he said with a look like I had betrayed him. We’ve run that race four years now and still haven’t won. Although, he’s joined the cross country team at school now so my retirement dreams are pinned on his Olympic track and field success in 2024. Come on kid!
This last picture was taken on a tour of Shamrock Farms. I asked Carson to sit on the cow so I could take his picture. He struck a pose with a balloon sword that I just had to have fun with.
The next race in line is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona half in January. A fairly level course until mile nine where a two mile incline begins, affectionately known as “death row”. More on that in upcoming posts.
This post doesn’t involve as much running, although I did some intervals and a three miler during the week. Now, apparently when I say “intervals”, people get the impression that I am fast.
Back before college, I used to drive a diesel VW Rabbit (this was before most diesel cars had turbo). It was a feat to go more than 45 mph, but on the rare occasion when I wanted to pass somebody on the highway, I had to plan a half hour ahead. Ok, there’s a downhill coming up. I would roll up the windows to reduce drag and stomp on the gas as hard as possible. With a loud bang, the exhaust would belch a great black cloud and gradually the speedometer would notch up… one mph… two mph… As the car gained speed, I checked oncoming traffic and the cars behind me, calculating the time and speed necessary to make my move, praying that a big bug wouldn’t hit my windshield and slow my momentum. The time came and I made my move into the next lane. Inevitably, some fancy Yugo or Gremlin would come up behind me, honking for me to get out of their way. Too bad! I’m committed now! Slowly, I passed the target car giving the driver a smug nod while inside I was sweating bullets as the life-and-death game of chicken with the oncoming semi played out. “Come on, baby. You can do it!” I coaxed. The truck approached, not even slowing. Doesn’t he see me?! I looked at the car next to me, “Slow down!” I screamed, waving my hand. At his mercy, I narrowly passed before the semi roared by the other way. And then we would come to the bottom of the hill heading back up where I would begin to accumulate a long line of irate drivers behind me.
That’s me running intervals. Of course there was the time my gas pedal got stuck on Interstate 10 driving to U of A. That was a little stretch of terror I’ll never forget. But that’s never happened to me on a run (unless you count G.I. issues).
Now that we’re clear on that, I did do some fun outdoor hiking and camping over the weekend. My younger son, Carson, is a Cub Scout. So he, me and my older son, Parker, left Friday for a three day campout at nearby Lake Pleasant with his pack.
We left after school and got there early to find a good spot – close to the water spigot and upwind of the restrooms. Carson and I slept in the larger tent. Parker slept in the little orange pup tent. He could barely stretch out in it, but he likes having his own place and I’m pretty sure he had snacks stashed in there as late at night I could hear the rustling of a chip bag and the whooshing of what I now believe was a battery operated Cappuccino machine.
Behind us, you can see part of a wall where the side of the hill was cut away. Digging and chipping away at that hill was the favorite pastime at the campout. The cubs were all over it like ants on a cookie and I soon found myself singing the dwarf song from Snow White.
“We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig in our mine the whole day through.
To dig dig dig dig dig dig dig is what we like to do.
One boy said, “I’m digging for diamonds!” I suspect Minecraft was an influence.
At one point, they all got excited as someone said they saw a clown hiding in the bushes. This was a false alarm but stuck in the back of their heads for a while.
On Saturday, we went with the den on a hike up a nearby hill. It was steep and full of cacti and loose rocks. Some boys struggled. One slipped and scraped his leg. Others needed a boost. Finally, we crested the top feeling satisfied and accomplished. “We’re the kings of the world!” we shouted, then looked down to see a smashed beer can. Bummer. Great view from up there, though.
The boys and I visited the Nature Center, then hiked a bit more and played by the lake skipping stones.
“Watch me skip this one!” Carson hollered, stumbling to the water’s edge with a boulder the size of his head. Parker and I were bent over looking at shells.
“Wait!” we yelled. Too late. Lake water in the mouth.
We had a blast, laughing and giggling as we pulled barbed stickers out of our shoes. At day’s end, we had walked or hiked over six miles and enjoyed sitting by the campfire that night.
The way they lit it was clever. A wire was threaded through a roll of toilet paper and ran from a tree branch to the fire pit. Then the toilet paper was suspended near the top. All lights were extinguished and near the tree you could hear the “flick, flick, flick” of someone trying to ignite a lighter. With a flash, the fluid saturated roll caught fire and all eyes went to the tree branches above. “Ohhh!” said the crowd of 75. The roll sat there dripping fireballs as a guy with kitchen tongs tried to nudge it along, dancing all the while to avoid catching his shoes on fire. Finally, it sailed down the wire as the “tongs guy” swatted at his now burning leg hair.
Whoosh! went the firewood which had obviously been heavily doused with something flammable and we all scooted back a few inches.
Bobcat ceremonies, skits and cheers ensued followed by flaming marshmallows on sticks. It was a grand old time with chocolate-mouthed kids running about and parents comparing camping gear. “It’s a water purifier and a coffee grinder. See here?”
One of the leaders decided to have some fun and had his wife bring up a clown costume. As the boys were all hopped up on S’mores and hot chocolate, he climbed the hill in the dark and had his wife tease the cubs about hearing something. Their eyes grew wide, intrigued but not willing to admit it. Then the clown stood up, turned a flashlight on himself and laughed maniacally. At first they were spooked, but then they picked up sticks and rocks and challenged the clown to show himself again. “Ok… who wants s’more S’mores?!”
I led a little service the next morning and then the place cleared out like a classroom at recess time. Packing up and then unloading at home is never fun but we’ve gotten pretty good at it and I looked forward to a shower and a big cup of coffee.
Tonight is non-turbo intervals and I’ll try to get in my regular run schedule this week. Another speedy friend has asked to run trails with me so we’ll see how that goes this weekend.
Happy Thanksgiving and cool runnings to you my friends!
Ok, except for my son losing his next-to-last baby tooth, it’s been a rather slow unexciting week since Ragnar last weekend. I took my legs for a two mile test drive around the neighborhood Tuesday just to be sure they still worked and they were ok, albeit a little tired. My muscles were wary of the exercise. “What’s going on here?” legs asked brain. “You better not be putting us through that hell again! I swear, we’ll give out right here in the Azaleas!”
“Relax,” brain replied. “It’s just a little two mile jaunt to keep you from getting lazy. If you’re good, I’ll reward you with a nice foam roll later.”
“Really? A foam roll?”
So that went well, but I took it easy for the rest of the week until Saturday morning. In lieu of some exciting adventure, I thought I would take you on a tour of the trail I ran.
Some new trails recently opened up at Skyline park including a couple of loops that, according to the map, were fairly level (an elevation gain of 280 feet over six miles). I woke up early to catch my legs unaware, hoping to get in a few miles before they knew what hit them.
From the parking lot, I took the Turnbuckle trail to the first loop, Granite Falls. The route would wind through the above pictured valley and intersect with another loop, Chuckwalla.
It started off nice and the elevation gain was minimal. However, soon there were deep washes to cross and small hills to climb. I had brief flashbacks to the Yellow Loop at Ragnar and broke out in cold sweats. My legs woke up, “What’s going on here? Hey! Where are we?” Brain was wise though and slowed the pace, walking the ups and running the downs and flats with about 200 breaks to take pictures. It was a gorgeous, cool November morning.
Take a look at the above two pics. One of the most fascinating things about the desert, to me, is how plants and animals adapt. Saguaro cacti, among others, often grow under a bush or tree such as the Palo Verde. The shade helps them survive the hot sun. Personally, I prefer a hat and some iced tea.
After almost two miles on Granite Falls, I crossed to the Chuckwalla trail. This is where things got interesting. As the trail took off into near unexplored territory, I found a dead body! The flesh had decayed and rotted away so all that was left was the skeleton. I could see the ribs and everything!
Yeah, it’s a Saguaro cactus skeleton. Did I have you going? When it rains, such cacti soak up the water into a fleshy center and the ribs expand allowing it to survive long periods without rain. The surface of the cactus, or skin, has a waxy coating to keep the moisture from evaporating. What a wise design!
The needles keep large prey away from the smaller critters who make the cactus their home. The hard white shell-looking thing with a hole is actually a scar that forms when birds such as woodpeckers dig in. It’s rare to find one like this, intact. Sometimes, it’s called a boot for the shape. Woodpeckers burrow the holes and typically stay for one season then move, leaving a vacancy for other birds. They used to have a timeshare type of agreement but that led to all sorts of lawsuits so now it’s more of a co-op. Here are some other pics.
Below is a petroglyph I found left by the Yavapai Indians of a studly warrior. Impressive. I bet he lost his other arm fighting off a bear or mountain lion to protect his tribe.
As for the wildlife, I didn’t see much running around, but I did see signs that they had been there. The sand in the washes had lots of tracks: coyotes, quail and below is a pic of a javelina hoofprint. They travel the trails at night searching for trail mix and popcorn dropped by unwitting tourists.
By now you’re saying, “Ok Doug, how much running did you actually do with all this picture-taking?” As I said, I took it easy and didn’t check my pace. Legs and brain worked out an agreement and everyone was happy with it.
Here is a field of Cholla cacti at sunrise, also known as Jumping Chollas. They strike fear into the hearts of all Arizona hikers and trail runners. You will be running by, minding your own business saying, “Oh, look at the pretty cactus holes” when all of a sudden Hah! one launches itself at you and digs into your leg. You will lose a pound of flesh getting that sucker out. Ok, well, they don’t really fly off the plant at you. It just seems that way. And the hooks on the needles will make you want to leave it in.
“That? Oh, that’s just a souvenir of my trip to Phoenix. I’ve named it Cholly.”
Here’s a picture of the Cholla balls (for lack of a better term). They are all over the place, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting passerby with tall white socks.
One brave critter that’s not afraid of these balls is the pack rat. They gather sticks and leaves to build a burrow then place these strategically around the outside to keep predators at bay. Tough little creatures. I once saw one with a patch over one eye and asked him how he got it. He said, “Don’t ask,” then flicked his cigarette butt at me. [shiver]
Towards the end of my run, I came across this structure (above). I got excited and thought, Cool! It must be an old prayer circle or maybe a famous tribal leader was buried there. I approached with reverence and wondered at the history of the site. Then I saw what was at the center.
It was a survey marker from the Army Corps of Engineers. So I didn’t feel bad about stepping all over it to get the shots!
And so Chuckwalla turned back to Granite Falls which connected once again with Turnbuckle and soon I was within a half mile of the parking lot. Rounding a corner, I swallowed the last gulp of water and let out a satisfying belch as two young girls came into view, jumping with surprise.
“It was a rat,” I said. “Watch out for the one with the patch.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and maybe learned something about the desert. If not, I hope you had a nice nap.
It finally arrived. The Ragnar Relay at McDowell Mountain Park was upon me and my excited brain shouted, “Oh crap!”
The thing about relays is this: other people rely on you. There is more pressure to stay on top of things and do your best. So regardless of what people say, it’s hard to relax completely. No stopping every 50 feet to take pictures or smell plant leaves, “Oh, a creosote bush. Mmm, smells like fresh rain.” Ok, maybe I did do that once. Believe me, it was the only thing that smelled fresh the entire race.
So, after checking off list after list and freaking out a few times about having enough food, I was finally packed and ready to go.
“Where are my shower caps?” my wife asked.
“Uh, I packed them.”
“Why,” she pressed. “Do they have showers?”
“No, they’re for my shoes. I don’t want to track dirt into the tent.”
A few of us were heading out Thursday night to get a good spot and set up camp, but dark clouds were spitting big drops of rain. We checked the forecast continuously. “Ok, it’s supposed to blow over by 6pm.” The rain came harder. “Now it says 9pm. Now 11…” and so it went.
One guy on the team, Frank, offered to drive us out there in his truck which had a covered bed. So three of us drove to his house, relieved to see a monster quad cab diesel dually that could fart thunderous exhaust and roll over a VW Beetle without noticing instead of the ancient Datsun 620 we had envisioned.
When we got to the park, some friends of my buddy, Steve (frequently mentioned in my blogs), had already picked a primo spot for us and set up a tent next to their own site. The rain was spotty and we quickly set up another tent, a pop-up canopy and some chairs. The other four members of our team would be arriving in the morning.
Then the wind hit.
This wasn’t just a kite-flying kind of wind. This was a blow your toupée off and glasses too kind of gale that sent the SS Minnow hurtling to a desert island kind of wind.
The inside of the tent was wall-to-wall cots with not an inch to spare. Our gear was stashed underneath. I had to flip my bunk on its side to get clean undies.
The storm raged and we four men decided to turn in and pretend that we would nicely go to sleep and dream about giving news interviews as the Ragnar grand champions. After lots of cursing and a few banged shins, we finally settled into our sleeping bags.
I was on one end and Frank was on the other. The wind blew all the harder, thrashing the tent and I heard him say, “The side of the tent keeps smacking me in the face! And there’s rain coming through. Pluh! It tastes terrible in case you were wondering.” Occasionally, you would hear someone in the distance cry out as their pop-up flew away or their tent blew down. We would say, “There goes another one.”
Unsurprisingly, there was a group of people 30 or so yards away up partying and having a grand old time. I thought, Man, who can sleep in this cacophony? The thought no sooner entered my mind than I heard the two guys in the middle snoring, like the great lumberjack Paul Bunyan going to town on the Redwood forest.
Around 3:00am, after fading in and out of sleep, I had to pee. Damn it! The thought of climbing out of my cozy bag and banging my shins all the way to the door again did not appeal to me. When I could hold it no longer, I clamored up. Greg, who was next to me was awake wrestling with the same dilemma and said, “I’ll go too.”
Apparently, our graceless fumbling woke Steve up as well and we all three spilled out of the tent, flashlights in hand, on a mission to find the port-a-johns. The good news was that the storm had stopped.
Finding them was easy. Getting back, not so much. The campground looked like tornado alley. Flattened tents and debris littered the area and nothing looked like it had. The three of us tried to navigate the carnage back to our tent and sure enough, the laughing Larrys were still up partying, pickled like a bunch of Herrings. “Hey look!” they shouted, pointing at us. “Random wanderers looking for their tent that blew away hours ago! Ah ha ha ha…”
Thenceforth, we called ourselves the Random Wanderers.
The next morning I awoke feeling good, having gotten a few hours of sleep at least. The air was crisp and cool and I was excited to meet the other members of the team, explore the Village and get the race started. We were due to start at noon.
Upon emerging from the tent, I took in the magnificent clouds, glistening flora and the parade of mourners marching their mangled tents and pop-up frames to the dumpster. I kid you not, the large semi-truck sized trash bin was full. I felt like singing a dirge.
Soon, the four other team members arrived and our first runner was off! The sun was out in full force and, even though it’s November, it was unseasonably warm. She was taking longer than expected and we began to get worried. It was the Green Loop – the short one. However, our team name soon popped up on the monitor indicating that she was a quarter mile out. She came in looking beat. The combination of heat and breakfast did not sit well. Later, we would discover that she had missed a trail marker and ran farther than necessary on the first leg. She’s a strong runner, though, and nailed the other two legs.
Some of the other team members I had never met before, but they were all great people – friendly, fun, encouraging and supportive. I am grateful to team captain, Tiffany, who covered all the details and allowed us to have a snag-free adventure. Plus, she scheduled my hardest loop first and easiest one last. Not sure if that was intentional, but “Thank you!”
Our team progressed through the legs, managing the afternoon heat reasonably well, mainly due to the fact that we were fresh and anxious to run. I was sixth in line out of eight, and my first leg came up at 6pm. The Red Loop. 6.6 miles.
The sun had set and I took off, grateful for the relief from the heat. Ok, the first mile and a half is uphill on rocky terrain, I thought as I gazed down the side of a hill. Watch your step. There were a few people in front and behind me and, as I neared the top of the hill, I chanced a look around at the stars and glowing horizon and smiled at the string of headlamps slithering up the hill. Just then my foot hit a big rock and I took about three giant stumbling steps forward trying to avoid tumbling off the precipice. “Tell my family I love them!” I yelled as I wobbled like an ox in ice skates trying to regain control. Every light on the hill turned toward me. “Nothing to see here.”
The rest of the Red Loop was downhill and that was the fun part. I barreled down the trail like a giant snowball. “Gang way! Coming through! On your left! No your OTHER left!” I yelled, jumping over rocks, ducking under branches, leaping small washes with a single bound. My breath was huffing and my knees were cracking like a well-oiled antique sewing machine. Wow! If this is the hard loop, the others must be cake! Yeah, then came the Yellow Loop – the Widowmaker!
The Yellow Loop was almost two miles shorter than the red one at 4.7 miles. In talking to others who had survived it, I learned that it consisted of many small ups and downs. I began it at 2:30am with a slow pace, wanting to save my energy, estimating an hour and fifteen minutes to finish it. It started off innocently enough, but then came the first major downhill. “Holy Crap!” I said aloud looking down the 15 foot drop. “I need some sort of repelling gear.” Then I heard, “On your left” as some young skinny dude leaped past me and skipped down the hill like a deer on its way to the prom. Ok, here we go. I crossed myself and plunged onward picking up steam as I descended.
I can’t stop, I screamed inside my head. My mouth was frozen open in fear, catching whatever unfortunate bug happened to be flying by. I prayed my legs could keep up with my runaway body and finally made it safely to the bottom as my momentum carried me halfway up the other side. “Ha ha. No problem,” I said loudly, looking around for witnesses.
The rest of Yellow was smaller hills and washes – very technical – so I tried to keep somewhat of a stable pace and made it back to the transition tent in about 75 minutes.
The relay “baton” that we passed off to each other was an elastic belt with the team bib attached which has a tracking chip on it. As I entered the transition tent, I saw my smiling teammate ready to go. So I unclipped the belt and held it out to her, slick and dripping with sweat. “Go get ’em!” I said. Poor girl. I didn’t look but wouldn’t have been surprised if she had run the entire leg holding that thing out at arms length with two fingers.
The final leg, the Green Loop, came up for me at about 12:30pm on Saturday. The sun was beating down and even on that easiest, level 4.1 mile loop, people were whipped, walking the first half. I too walked. My legs had no energy after two nights of little sleep, two hard runs and now the heat. I had no gas left in my tank. My legs were on autopilot as I trekked across the desert like Clark Griswold searching for a gas station.
I finally made it back and handed off the belt, then went to our camp to rest. We were all pretty ripe, but the inside of that tent… whew! I think I killed some brain cells inhaling that stench. Everything was moist. Wet socks stuck to the window with hopes that the sun would dry them. Underwear here. Shorts there. Candy wrappers and wet wipes scattered about.
Someone said, “Forget packing it up. Let’s just burn it.” I felt bad for Steve. It was his tent. Plus, the whipping wind Thursday night had torn holes in it, and when we did pack it up one of the legs ripped out.
However, as our last runner came in, all the pain and fatigue was forgotten. We donned our Ragnar t-shirts and joined him on the trail to cross the finish line as a team. It was a great feeling. Like kids on Christmas morning, we eagerly awaited our cherished medals and then ogled over them with “Cool! This edge is a saw!” “Oh, this edge is sharp!” “Hey, it’s a bottle opener!” and so on.
Overall, it was a tremendous experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was my 50th birthday marker and it was awesome. Sure I joke about the hardships, but what made it good was the people. The cheering on, the laughs, the encouragement… and meeting some really cool people. I was in awe of Frank the whole time. He was eager to run every leg and just tore up the course. Thanks to my friend, Steve, for getting me in on it.
The focus of my running for the past few years has been mainly on half marathons with a couple of 5k’s thrown in for fun. This year, one of my favorite 5k’s has gone the way of the Sony Walkman – disappeared, vanished, all but forgotten with no regard for its contribution to society and its inspiration to countless masses yearning to break free from the bonds of conformity, existing merely as a dust-covered memory in the dark shadows of our minds. Uh, where was I? Oh, so I was looking for a fun Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas themed run as I haven’t done one before.
Using the power of Facebook, I put out an APB to see if any of my local friends had one they were doing. Crickets. So I searched and found a Halloween themed 5k at a nearby park complete with glow-in-the-dark shirts and medals (which doubled as bottle openers) and even had a Groupon. Jackpot!
Again, I harnessed Facebook to see if anyone wanted to run it with me. One friend offhandedly showed some mild interest, so I quickly pressured him into signing up with his wife and we were set!
Now I needed a costume. So I hit the Goodwill store and saw that they had clown wigs (or maybe they were shower poufs). Perfect! I had a red nose at home and picked up a big bow tie at another store. Clowns are funny, I thought. Oh sure, clowns have gotten a bad rap lately, but I won’t look like one of them. I’ll be a happy clown spreading good cheer and laughter.
WARNING: The picture below is not for the faint of heart. Do not scroll down if you have a pacemaker or high blood pressure. Pregnant women in their third trimester should consult their gynecologist.
I parked and got out of the car. Various people were milling about, none of whom were in costume, of course. Although as more people arrived, a few princesses and aliens popped up. It was a nighttime run on an unlighted course so we all had headlamps.
Here’s a picture of me that my friend, Steve, took.
I call it the Skittles Nightmare. Now, in my defense, it was unusually hot and that wig made my head sweat. It hasn’t seen that much hair since I turned 40. The red nose made me sound like Rosie O’Donnell and I couldn’t breath with it, so that disappeared. As for the look on my face… don’t know what to tell you… it’s a cyclops clown with a five o’clock shadow who just ate a lemon.
Needless to say, I did not spread laughter and cheer wherever I went. Women gasped and little children ran away.
It was dark when we started the race. I was a few steps ahead of Steve and, as we passed through the starting arch, they flashed a strobe light in our eyes just as we ran over the timing sensor bump. I stumbled and looked back to warn Steve but he was already doing the zombie two-step, nearly doing a face plant. I should have given him my rubber nose, I thought.
It was a well set up course with the expected ghosts and ghouls hanging in the trees. The first half mile had a slight incline but after that it was a very pleasant level course. As I said, it was a warm night and I paced myself comfortably. A little boy and his mom were running alongside of me. He wore a black suit with skeleton bones and a skull mask. He yelled something unintelligible through his mask about the heat, then ripped it off and pitched it to the ground taking off like a cheetah, his mom in pursuit.
Around the halfway mark, I came upon a table on the side of the road with a man laying on top and a crazy doctor cutting him in half with a saw. There were some girls near me and we all approached to get a closer look. The patient had a turkey baster or something and squirted us with it. My shorts now had a wet spot, but it was dark so it was ok.
Towards the end there were some Sheriff’s deputies and my first thought was to yell, Don’t arrest me. I’m not one of those creepy clowns. I’m part of the race. But instead, I shone my light in their eyes as I passed. The funny thing is, the bright clown colors attracted bugs. I must have swallowed the equivalent of a trucker’s windshield by the end of the race. Speedy Steve waited at the finish line to cheer me in and a cute little zombie girl handed me a medal. “Don’t eat my brains,” I teased as she inched closer to her mother.
I was looking for the water station as my mouth was coated with wings and legs and, upon finding it, discovered there were no cups left. It was like that milk commercial where the guy finds himself surrounded by delicious cookies and starts chowing down, only to find the milk carton empty and that he has died and gone to hell.
“I have some water in my truck,” Steve offered.
“Oh, I’m ok,” I choked. “I do too. (hack, hack)”
Overall, it was a pretty fun race although $45 is steep for a 5k. I wouldn’t have done it without the Groupon. For the next 5k fun run, I will plan further ahead and get my kids to join me. I thanked Steve and his wife, Cece, for joining me then headed home to my family and a bottle of nut brown home brew.
Tonight I will take my kids trick-or-treating. Parker as an old man. Carson as a Phantom. The clown outfit is nicely tucked away until next year.
This Friday is the Ragnar trail relay and I’ll have a full report after it’s over.
Have you ever been running down a trail and you don’t lift your foot high enough and end up kicking a rock way out in front of you? Yeah, that happened to me only it wasn’t just a few feet down the trail.
There I was out for an early morning six mile trail run, contemplating such things as the economy and how to stop the pigeons from eating my winter grass seed, and my legs were getting a little tired. My right foot rolled a rock underneath which rolled right onto my left foot in mid-stride and I ended up kicking that sucker a good 10 yards. A placekicker couldn’t have done better. It flew along the trail and rolled off the downhill side where it smacked into a creosote bush. A bird flew out, “Bastard!” it said in birdspeak.
But I’m ahead of myself. My original plan for the weekend was to run a six mile trail run Saturday morning with some jackrabbits (that’s what I call anyone who’s faster than me, including Mrs. Crabbles down at the senior center with her fancy four-wheeled walker), run four more that night and another three Sunday morning. This was all in preparation for the Ragnar trail relay in two weeks. I told Gwen if I didn’t survive to spread my ashes across some local trails and my favorite recliner in the family room so I could be forever close to them.
Saturday morning, I got up at 4:30 and was all ready to go. I chickened out. All I could think about was this group of people impatiently waiting for me at the end of the trail, wondering whether to send out a search party or move on to power pilates before a nice brunch of kale and açai berries.
I texted an excuse and instead headed to a closer park. With an hour before sunrise, I donned the hydration pack, switched on my headlamp and took off down the trail. There was a nice cool breeze blowing and I thought about how cool it would be to have a cape. I made a mental note.
Two-thirds of the course was a gentle incline with some dips and washes. Lots of horse droppings as this trail is next to a horse arena and includes some water troughs. I wouldn’t mind the droppings so much since they quickly disintegrate to nothing, it’s just that they’re so big, and right in the middle of the trail. I’ve often thought that next to the dog poop baggy dispenser at the trailhead, they should have a Glad bag dispenser for horse poop. One distracted step and you would go down faster than a slick-shoed bowling pro in a hockey rink.
As the sun rose, I stopped to snap some pics. Alas, the iPhone camera just doesn’t do it justice. This, however, is why I like running trails and just being in the outdoors. I never get tired of God’s awesome creation. One day they’ll find my body hanging by my shorts snagged at the top of a Saguaro cactus, camera in hand as I tried to get that perfect shot of a Cactus Wren feeding her young.
It was a three mile loop of trails that I did twice and, though my pace was slower than I would have liked, I felt pretty good afterwards.
Saturday night I didn’t get in the four miler as planned. We (me, my wife and boys) went to a Halloween party and Haunted Hike at Estrella Mountain Park instead. The ranger there is terrific and they had games like Eat-Brains-On-A-String and Stick-Your-Hand-In-A-Bucket-Of-Goo-And-Find-The-Bugs, plus crafts, live snakes and other critters.
Parker was an Old Man and Carson called himself a Phantom, but he looked like the Grim Reaper to me so I’ll call him the Phantom Reaper.
Carson’s skeleton hand is actually a bag holder. You put the candy in his hand and it disappears. The same thing happens when you put it in his mouth, you just gotta watch your fingers.
Parker’s costume is just hilarious. Even the expression on his face reminds me of dad. Whoops, I mean a different grumpy old man.
After the fun and games, we went on a hike. I thought it would be a short quarter mile loop like they did two years ago, but it was a mile and a half up the mountain. So we didn’t have water, we used our phones as flashlights and the boys were wearing black dress shoes. I don’t think they enjoyed it as much as I did.
There were probably two hundred people on that hike. Occasionally, somebody would pop out of the bushes and scare the kids. One guy was hidden up the hill making noises like a cat. He had us going for a minute as there are bobcats in the area. “Is that a mountain lion?” “That sounds like a sick coyote, look out.” But then he started laughing.
Near the top was a full size skeleton in hiking gear laying on the side of the trail. The ranger said, “Look at the hat” and moved on. I looked at the hat and it had the name of a nearby competitor mountain park. The message was clear: don’t cross Ranger Tippy. Great view of the city lights from up there.
The next morning, I woke up early and got out for a three miler around the neighborhood. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining brightly and there was a smell of manure in the air from the adjacent farms. Ahh, this wonderful weather is what brings the snowbirds (that’s local slang for seasonal visitors fleeing south to avoid the snow). Traffic gets thick with them so we build golf courses to try and spread them out.
My legs were a bit heavy and I think I may have pushed the trail run too hard. Two weeks until Ragnar. I have mixed emotions about it, sort a of nervous anxiety about my performance (no honeymoon cracks, please). Not as excited as I should be.
Next weekend is a Halloween 5k, then there’s the Rock ‘n’ Roll half, followed by the Sun Health half and a Kiss Me I’m Irish race with my boys. Been doing at least three half marathons a year for a while and I’m considering reducing that to one next season. Maybe do some more 5k’s with my boys instead. We’ll see. 5k’s are almost as expensive as HMs anymore. I’m running out of stuff around the house to sell on Craigslist, and it’s only a matter of time before Gwen finds out her favorite sweater is missing.
Last week’s runs and the hike on Saturday went so much better than the previous two weeks. A few things changed. First, the weather is cooler which means there is more oxygen in the air and fewer bugs. I find it’s better to bring my own fuel rather than rely on the occasional gnat. They just don’t satisfy.
Second, I got over whatever virus or bacteria was feasting on my insides – probably swallowed a bad gnat. All the blood in my body was torn between fighting off the microscopic invasion and supplying oxygen to my muscles as I forced my legs to run. I should’ve known better when my vision got spotty, my head whirled and the bees buzzing the cactus flowers started to look like tiny fairies with blue hair.
“Mister, are you ok?” a kind passerby would ask.
“These must be the retired fairies.”
“Ok then. Have a nice day.”
And third, I stopped pushing so hard. The trail runs became slower paced hikes and my distance runs were done on the road. Once my body got the rest it needed, the runs became pleasurable again. I lifted my head to take in the sights again which, since I run in the evenings, include Burrowing Owls and the rare bat chasing a moth under the streetlight.
Twice last week my boys joined me for an easy two-mile run. Actually, they turned into walks when the little one got a side stitch after three blocks, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. I love it when they join me. The older one is a different story. He’ll literally run in circles around me because he can’t stand to go so slow. “Come on, dad. Where’s the next turn.”
“Save your energy, son, (huff, puff) so you’ll have something left (puff, huff) at the end.” Who am I kidding? The kid has boundless energy and weighs only as much as one of my shoes. He’s all knees, elbows and big feet. When he stands on his toes he shoots up another foot. When he sticks his tongue out he looks like a zipper. When he… well, you get the picture. He’s built to run. Wish I could convince him to join the school cross country team. “No way! That’s hard work.”
On my trail run last Saturday, I wised up and took the Turnbuckle trail loop the opposite direction from the last two times so I would be going down the switchbacks instead of up them. It was much easier as the incline (560 feet) was spread out over half the loop. I did stop to take several pictures, though. What did you expect? I may have to curb this photographic desire during the Ragnar relay.
I mentioned bees earlier. For some reason, the restrooms at the park attract bees. Flies I can understand, but bees? They buzz the toilets and sinks, scaring away small children (which might explain all the yellow bushes around there). I can tell you I won’t be eating any of their honey. So the park people put buckets of water behind the building in an attempt to attract them away from the toilets. The lure worked for a while as you can see from the bucket of dead bees below. But only the slow ones fell for it. The smart bees figured it out when their brother buzzers didn’t come back. “Don’t go over there, Harry! It’s a trick. You can’t swim!”
Here are some pictures from along the trail. Fall in the Valley of the Sun is different from other places. We don’t have it. But the desert has a rugged beauty that I appreciate more as I learn more about it and experience it.
For example, the below pic of a Jumping Cholla cactus. It looks innocent enough, but the mere name of it strikes fear into the hearts of hikers all across the southwest. I’ve heard countless horror stories of people and pets being attacked by these predators. Did you ever see the Star Trek episode where they’re on the planet and one of the red shirts gets hit by a flower that pops up and shoots tiny darts? Yeah, that’s this.
“Doug, I was walking by minding my own business getting ready to throw bread crumbs out for the cute little quail, when all of a sudden this cactus barb jumped out at me and stuck into my leg! It was horrible. Now my Hello Kitty tattoo is disfigured.”
Yes indeed. You have to watch out for these suckers because the needles have little hooks on the ends and pulling them out is far more painful than getting them in you. The pic below is a whole forest of them. They looked down on me ominously, daring me to pass. I felt like Indiana Jones running through the temple, leaping over skeletons with the little golden statue as poisonous darts and spears whizzed by overhead. At least, that’s how it was in my head.
But once you know the warning signs – bits of clothing, flesh and tufts of fur on the ground – you can avoid them for the most part. Once, I saw a whole sock stuck to one. Poor guy, wonder what happened to his foot. [shiver]
After that, I quickly came to the high point of the trail where in the past I would take a short break and continue on down. But this time I felt good and decided to hike the extra .33 miles up to the vista point. It was quite a bit steeper and mountain goat rugged, and it began with this sign:
My first thought was, how did they get this pole up here? Sherpa? Here is what the trail looked like:
Yes, there is a trail there. I’ll admit I stopped a few times to catch my breath and look around. At one point, I heard voices behind me, “F— this! F— that! Blank, blank Fat Cat…” I stopped and turned around and saw a stream of teenage boys coming up the trail. One of them had a pack on his back with rap music blaring. I let them pass.
A few minutes later we all reached the top and were in awe of the view. Thankfully, they had turned the music off. It turned out they were from a local high school.
The trek back down was enjoyable. No trips, stumbles or resulting landslides. No cholla bristles in my tushy. Towards the end, I did come across some people on horseback.
“Beautiful day!” I said to the lady.
“It sure is!” she responded and stopped. I assumed she was waiting for me to pass, so I advanced, but her horse had stopped to pee. This thing was like the Old Faithful geyser, splattering shoes, socks, rocks and cacti. Bugs and beetles fled like rats. I would have gasped, but prudently closed my mouth instead.
I looked up at the lady. She said, “He does that. That’s my boy,” and gave its neck a pat then walked on or pranced or whatever horses do and we passed each other. I gingerly stepped over the Rio Grande with my now spotted shoes and continued around the corner to the end of the trail.
The entire hike totaled just over four miles with the vista point added in and I felt really good afterwards.
That afternoon, the fam and I went to a new theater in the neighborhood with the largest screen in Arizona – although we were in a smaller adjacent theater – and saw “Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life.” I wasn’t sure about the movie, but was pleasantly surprised. I liked the message it gave about releasing imagination and creativity. Plus, there was a bar in the lobby.
I got to bring my local microbrew ale into the movie and kick back in my recliner. Yes, the seats reclined. Ahh, what a great Saturday!
Oy, I’ve been dragging this past week. We don’t have fall color changes here in the Valley of the Sun (pretty much brown year round) but one of the signs that the season has changed besides Count Chocula, Boo Berry and Frankenberry cereals appearing on the shelves, is we get sick. Pretty much a certainty, just like when the kids return to school after summer break.
“What did you learn in school today, son?”
“That there’s a case of strep going around.”
Thursday night in the wee hours of the morning, I got a chill. Not a spooky chill like there was a ghost in the room – although I’m pretty sure late uncle Eddie gets his kicks moving my glasses while I’m sleeping – but the chill you get when you’re hot and cold at the same time. Gwen would later tell me I had a fever. I woke up having to pee really badly but I was barely keeping warm under the covers. Laying there in misery for what seemed like an hour, I finally went for it. I thought, I’ll run! Yeah, that didn’t go so well.
The second I stood, I started shivering and banged my shin on the edge of the box frame. Gwen stirred and I whispered, “Shh, it’s just me vacuuming,” thinking that would appease her because she hates to do it. I did the shiver-shuffle to the bathroom groping for the walls afraid I was going to pass out. Wouldn’t she love to find me on the bathroom floor in the morning with my underpants around my ankles and a bruised shin.
As badly as I was shaking, I decided it was better to sit down. If worse came to worst, I would blame the kids.
After another couple hours of sleep, I felt better and went to work where there is a thermostat war raging between the receptionist and the financial executive.
Friday night I wanted to get in six miles so that I could hit a trail on Saturday. I managed to run most of the first three miles, then all of a sudden I felt weak, like my energy reserves had petered out and I got really thirsty. One word popped into my head: sugar. I smacked my lips, boy, a grape soda would be really good right now!
For the next three miles, most of which I walked, I weighed the arguments in my mind: grape soda or Gatorade. Gatorade has the nutrients, electrolytes and carbs my body needs. Grape soda has sugar. Gatorade comes in a bigger bottle but man the carbonation and strong flavor of grape soda would sure be satisfying… and on it went. I kid you not.
The minute I got home, I grabbed my car keys and told my wife I was going out for a drink. What did I get? Both of them. While slamming the grape soda in the QT parking lot, I thought, I’ll save the Gatorade for my hike in the morning. When I got home, Gwen was in bed so I sat and watched Star Trek (original series episode, yes, I’m a proud Trekkie) and drank the Gatorade.
I sat there, basking in my hydration, rubbing my extended belly. “I think I’ll name you… Graporade,” I told it and belched my kids’ full names.
The next morning, I felt fine and was looking forward to a three mile hike in the brisk desert air. If you read my last blog, you know how the Turnbuckle trail got the best of me last week. So now I was out for revenge. This week I’ll conquer those switchbacks!
Guess I should have known I was in for it when I stood at the trailhead setting my Runkeeper app and a lady with a walking stick said, “You look lost. Do you need help with the trails?”
“No, I’m just testing my Life-Alert button.” I never saw her again.
The difference between this hike and last week’s hike is that last week was a run, or an attempt at it. This week would be a moderately paced hike.
I did well up until the switchbacks. Once I started up those, again my energy reserves gave out and I felt weak, wishing I had brought some fuel. I had my Camelback with ice water (which I finally figured out how to properly use, which is another story), but no snacks. It was just a three miler. Who brings snacks?
I started looking around at the vegetation. Didn’t the Yavapai use that plant for food? Or was it for starting fires? As I continued up, I slowed down and could feel my head starting to swim. Not a good sign. I rested on a rock and began to make my peace with God. “Doug!” I looked up, “Yes, Father. I am ready.”
“It’s Doug Irby! Heeeyy!” Coming down the trail was my buddy, Steve, his family and some other friends waving and yelling. I couldn’t help but smile. Good, a large group. They can distribute my body weight.
“How’s it going?” We chatted for a few minutes and I tried not to complain, always truly happy to see friends. Then he told me he just did 22 push-ups out on the vista point. “That’s nice,” I said.
“Wanna see?” as he pulled out his phone.
“I believe you” and I watched the little high-speed video of him cranking out push-ups like a hyperactive cricket against a gorgeous mountain backdrop. That’s not natural, I thought. There’s something wrong with him. But it was then I decided that the Insanity classes had really done him well and I should find a way to make that work.
The problem is, I am gone eleven hours a day, Monday through Friday, and sit nine hours of it at a desk. It is much too sedentary. I remember an article last year in Runner’s World that cardio exercise loses most of its health benefits when you sit for so long. I do have a stand-up/sit down workstation but movement is what’s needed. Here’s a link to a similar article I found online.
Maybe old uncle Eddie is just doing his part to get me my morning cardio with the daily glasses search.
Here’s to hoping this week is better because Ragnar is closing in. I did just order some nighttime running gear so that’s exciting.
Saturday’s trail run was interesting. My younger son, Carson, wanted to come so Gwen came along to hike a newly opened trail with him while I ran. This time I wanted to increase my distance so I looked at the nice colorized map they had posted and picked out a three mile loop with a section of trail I had not done before. “I’ll just go around this one twice,” I told her.
The new Granite Falls trail, which they would take, split off in a quarter mile from the Turnbuckle trail that I had chosen.
It was a beautiful morning – the birds were chirping, a breeze was blowing and my hair looked good. Off I went ahead of them.
Boy, this starts off steep, I thought as I went up along the mountainside. I looked over at the new trail noticing how nice and level it was, winding between the hills. I hustled as much as I could (and pushed too hard too early – rookie mistake) and thought, Hope I can get around the corner soon so they don’t see how slow I’m going. Gwen would later show me her phone, “Here’s a picture I took of the trail. You’re right there,” she said pointing to my red shirt. I KNEW I should have worn the camo shirt.
Around the corner the trail leveled out and I booked it. Woo hoo! Now I’m cooking with gas! A gradual but mild incline around to the back of the mountain. As I was about to turn another corner, I heard voices behind me and saw Gwen and Carson coming around the bend.
What the heck?! How did they get so close? Carson raised his arms and ran down the trail “Weeee!” We had passed the split-off for their trail, so I yelled, “You’re on the wrong trail!” They both froze and looked at me. It was then that I noticed it wasn’t them. It was another mother and her daughter and I think I scared the crap out of them.
“Is that man threatening us? Stay close, Susie!” I turned and continued around the corner, determining that anything else I said would only come across as creepy. I’ll just put some distance between us.
I came around the back of the mountain and my eyes grew as big as cueballs at the sight of what awaited: The Switchbacks from Hell.
“That doesn’t look so bad, Doug. What are you complaining about?” This picture doesn’t do it justice because you can’t see the angle at which I’m looking up. I actually got a crick in my neck. They’re tiny in the picture, but if you look closely you can see used oxygen canisters along the path. Base Camp 4 is just beyond that bush on the left.
Along the way, I came across far wiser people than I who took this way down. One flushed man said, “I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon before and this is worse.” He told me about a short trail near the top that leads to a vista point.
Another lady on her way down with a dog only laughed when I asked if I was almost there. Her dog pooped on the trail to accentuate the absurdity of my question.
Huffing and puffing, I climbed the switchbacks one at a time, taking frequent rest stops disguised as photo ops. Somewhere around halfway, the lady and her daughter caught up to me and quickly passed. The mom pulled out her phone while grabbing her daughter’s hand – predialed to 9-1-1 no doubt. I had in mind to say something clever and witty but was too winded to speak.
Eventually, I made it to the top and felt immensely proud! Here is a panoramic shot.
The path straight ahead leads to the vista point which was tempting but it was a quarter mile further and I was way behind already.
Obviously, the downhill was faster and I ran most of it, satisfactorily passing the lady and her daughter. I got to the bottom and thought, there’s no way I’m doing that twice. So I intended to catch up to Gwen and Carson along the other trail, but she was already waiting under a tree, taking my picture.
When I got home, I decided to go get my hair cut. A friend had given me a card for a free haircut with the VIP treatment at Sport Clips. Have you heard of this place? It was amazing! You go in and there’s a big screen tv in the waiting area showing football.
After exchanging the standard greeting grunts with the other guys, I sat and watched Notre Dame. Then she called me back, sat me down and cut my hair. As always, I produced a plastic baggie and asked her to save the clippings. “Someday, scientists will find a way to reattach them and I want to be prepared.”
After that, she said, “This way,” and walked into a dimly lit back room. I was a little worried. “If this is about the hair, you can keep it,” I told her. “Bald is beautiful.”
There in the little room were a couple of chairs and sinks. Oh, she just wants to rinse my hair, I thought. She had me sit down and lean back with my head in the sink. Then she pulled up a footrest and turned on the chair. Yes, she “turned on” the chair. It was a massaging recliner! How cool is that? Actually, it was more like one of those vibrating tabletop electric football games that shakes the little players up and down the field. But it was nice and I was pretty sure the whole rig would have me vibrating across the floor and bumping into a wall. Then she massaged my scalp and put a hot towel on my face (not sure what that was about). After a few minutes of that, she dried my head and brought me back out front where she turned on a neck massager and did my neck and shoulders.
“This is heaven on a lollipop stick!” I said, glancing to the guys in the bleachers whose mouths were hanging open. Seriously, after it was over I wanted a cigarette. I didn’t care what my hair looked like. Hair? What hair? Don’t tell Gwen, but on the way out I grabbed about five more of those cards.
That night, I ran another three miles around the hood and slept soundly, dreaming about electric football games and being tased on the trail by protective mothers.