It’s been a while since my last update because I’ve been pretty busy, but I do miss writing it. Plus, some poor soul has been checking in on my blog regularly. Mom? So, I will sit here with a cold bottle of home brew and recount my latest adventure – dedicated to you, loyal reader.
The last race of the season (fall through spring) is the Kiss Me I’m Irish 4k. It is also my favorite because I run it with my boys, Parker and Carson. This was the fifth year and we were all looking forward to it. Well, I was looking forward to the run. The boys were looking forward to the treats at the finish line. The running was just a means to the end.
There we were on the crisp cool morning in a sea of green shirts wearing our green Irish buttons, necklaces or necktie and flashing gizmos, looking at all the funny people and dogs wearing kilts. One particular bulldog with a tiny leprechaun hat looked at us pathetically. “Don’t you poop on the course,” I told it.
A loud squelch followed by garbled music blared over the loud speakers. Nobody could make out a word of it and there was no flag in sight. But assuming it was the national anthem, we exchanged glances, put our hands over our hearts and sang along – everybody staring off in a different direction with a reverent look.
No gun, but the guy said, “Go!” Parker turned to face Carson and me. His face was a bit red but he was smiling.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
He said nothing. Just kept staring with that creepy smile. As the crowd in front of us began to move, I said, “Alright! Let’s go, guys!” Parker blew a fart in our general direction (because farts are still funny to a 12 year old) and took off.
Carson, bless his heart, tried to keep up. I was left back with the bulldogs and crying toddlers. Slowly, I trotted along and soon came upon Carson who was clutching his side.
“Got a side stitch?”
We walked for a bit then ran every time the camera drone flew by. When we reached the first water station, I said, “Carson, do you think Parker is done yet?”
We ran-walked the rest of the way. The course looped around the Cardinals football stadium and as I ran, I imagined myself as receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Carson was quarterback Carson Palmer. “Carson, I’m open! Throw me the ball.” I said running forward.
“I can score a touchdown! Pass it!” I hollered back.
In my head, I made a spectacular one-handed fingertip catch, scraping my toes along the grass to win the Superbowl and was contemplating my celebratory dance moves when somebody shouted, “Drone!” We all faced forward, smiled and sucked in our guts.
I coaxed Carson to push it a little bit and sensed he was low on gas. As we approached the last turn, I said, “Ok, we’ll walk up to the corner then run in to finish strong.”
He didn’t wait for the corner. He took off at a full sprint. I thought, well he’s got a last spurt of reserve energy afterall, he, he. He’ll poop out in a minute though. When he kept going I decided I had better run and stepped on the gas. I ran full tilt and passed people left and right, “Freight train coming through!” Sideline supporters stared and gaped. Probably wondering why I didn’t go potty before the race. As fast as I ran, I still couldn’t catch the little squirt and he finished a few seconds ahead of me.
We high-fived and hugged and congratulated ourselves and got our medals. Then we went to look for Parker. He was standing at the finish line still looking down the road for us. We collected him and declared, “Time for treats!”
There was a long line for mini bundt cakes, KIND bars, Muscle Milk, Gatorade and various fruits. We sat stuffing our faces in front of the Irish band (I’m sure they appreciated that), then had to be going to get to the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. As we were walking to the parking lot, a lady passed by and, indicating the boys, said, “Did you check the times? They might have won their age group.” Hmm…
Sure enough, Parker took third place in his age group. But it wasn’t until days afterward when I saw the races photos that I learned the exciting truth. He was in a battle to the finish line with another kid! The crack photographers caught all the action and snapped a shot every second so clicking through the sequence looks like a stop-motion movie. They were looking at each other, hoofing it out on their skinny legs until Parker finally edged him out, leaping across the timing line like a gazelle! That’s my little wide receiver, I thought. I’d show you the pictures but I’m too cheap to buy them. Above is a pic of him getting his medal with a giant leprechaun. I asked him who stole his Lucky Charms but he just stared at me. Kind of like the time I tried to start a conversation with Mickey at Disneyland.
So, another year passed at the Kiss Me I’m Irish race and I still have not been kissed. Nothing lost though, because nobody kisses like my sweetie.
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.
This morning I had a leg cramp. I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know exactly when. It teased me last night, lurking just out of sight in my left calf then popping its head out every few minutes. Every time it twitched I massaged and rubbed it profusely! It only taunted harder, “Try as you may, you can’t stop me! I’ll wait until you’re asleep tonight dreaming about unicorns or some crap, then… BLAMMO!!!”
My boy, Parker, had a boys bible study last night in a community about 12 miles away, so after work I changed into my running supersuit, drove him out there and ran a nice four mile jaunt during his meeting. It was a beautiful area at the foot of a mountain so the roads had some mild ups and downs. A little bit of a challenge and I may have pushed a little hard because the night was cool and I felt like I could run forever.
About halfway along, I came to a park and turning around some bushes, behold, a family of cute little cottontail rabbits were romping and frolicking! There were at least five of them and when they saw me, much like quail, three of them fled in terror, “Flee! Flee!” they cried and dove into the bushes, leaving little pellets in fear. So that’s where Easter eggs come from, I thought.
Two of them remained and I heard one say to the other, “Don’t make any sudden moves, Martha. I’m sure it’s as scared of us as we are of it.” I slowly reached for my phone to get a pic (one of these days I’m going to make a quick-draw holster for it) and as soon as I got the shot they farted and dove into the bushes. “What, no Easter eggs?!” I shouted.
Later at home watching tv, my calf began twitching and you know the rest. At four in the morning it hit. I kept my mouth closed trying not to wake Gwen and sounded much like Frankenstein might after looking into a mirror for the first time, “mmMMMMMMMmm!!”
So then of course, as I laid there recovering wiping the tears from my eyes, I thought, I’ve got to get up in an hour anyway and there’s no way I’m falling back asleep.
On Saturday, we took our boys to an Extreme Adventure park in Flagstaff. It was our birthday gift to them since both are in September. I was worried that it would be too scary for Carson, our younger son. But after the first time through, they didn’t want to stop. It was like watching monkeys swing through the trees on their way to a banana festival. They were a blur. They went through the kids course four times and want to go back soon.
A little ways off, beyond some trees was the adult course where occasionally we would hear a scream. I asked the guide if there was a weight limit. She looked at my belly then said, “Well, the cables are tested for 1,000 pounds.”
“Does that mean no?”
Embarrassed, she said, “Oh yeah. No problem.”
I made a mental note to come back. Today was for the kids.
Now I have to tell you about Insanity! My friend, Steve, was leading his first Insanity class at EOS last Friday morning and when his wife mentioned it, I asked if I could get in. I’ve never done one before and wanted to support him and see what it was like.
Ignorance is bliss because if I had known what I was in for, it would have been a lot harder to get out of bed at 4am. I brought a water bottle and hand towel for the sweat. In hindsight, a beach towel would have been better.
He started the music and we all watched as he demonstrated the moves. That looks like a good workout, I thought. Although I couldn’t make out much of what he was saying over the music, I did hear, “You can all join in anytime!”
It was going well and I was keeping up until, among the cacophony, I heard one word: Burpees. Nobody told me there would be Burpees! I looked around to see if anyone else was going to sit this one out and they were all smiling. Dang it! I managed some pushups but by the time I got up off my knees, which cracked like dry timber, everyone was back down for the next pushup.
There were some girls breakdancing 80s style and jumping, kicking and clapping like Richard Simmons on crack, and God bless them for their energy, but I was proud of myself just for not passing out. When we finished, I tossed my sweat-glossed mat onto the pile. It would probably stick to the wall if I threw it. We hi-fived and took the above group shot.
In the parking lot, I sat in the car staring at my arms hanging limply at my sides. I’ll have to steer with my lips, I thought. I stumbled into the house past my family still sleeping blissfully, dreaming of unicorns, and showered before heading back out to work where I could nap.
Truth be told, I enjoyed the class overall and wish I could do it regularly. That time of day is not happening for me, though. Steve is a great teacher and full of energy and wit and I am happy for him.
Tonight is intervals. The only time I feel fast when I run. In fact, sometimes I slick back what hair I have left so it sticks out in back and looks like I’m running fast even when I’m tying my shoes.
Look, the Milky Way! Yes, it was that dark on my trail run last night. I saw E.T. and he told me to “gooo hooome”. If you read my last post, A Dark Alley, you would have learned how depth perception goes away in the dark. Plus, it’s just spooky. Every rustling bush is a prowling mountain lion or drooling, rabid cottontail. I’ve seen Naked and Afraid. I know what dangers lurk in the wilderness at night.
By the time I got home from work and changed into my supersuit, it was 5:45pm. I had forty-five minutes to get to the trailhead and run before the sun set. Well, I’ve been so looking forward to running a longer trail that I opted for the closer park, Estrella Mountain Park, to give me more time. I set up our Cub Scout pack’s 5k trail run there (https://runsignup.com/pack645k, Feb. 11th, 2017 if you’re man or woman enough) and was familiar with the 3.1 mile route, so I figured I could easily navigate it. Problem was, this was a pay park and the other one I’ve been running that was so busy was free. So, there was nobody else there. Just me and my imagination – which is pretty wild by itself.
The course I ran is a loop of three trails, each with a different level of difficulty. I started with the hardest one, Butterfield, saving the easiest one for the darkest time. Yes, it was tough and, as you can see, it goes uphill. My imagination said to itself, “Ah, fertile ground. Did that rock just move?” But I trudged on, taking several walk breaks. Or rather, I took run breaks during my walk. Plus, I had to stop every 50 feet to take a picture.
So I made it to the first trail intersection without getting eaten by covey of zombie quail and was relieved the next leg would be downhill. The sun was behind the mountains now and the overcast clouds gave a sinister pall to the sky. Imagination snickered.
This trail, the Dysart trail, ran through two washes loaded with trees, bushes, shadows and mischief. The edges were lined with rocks and the bottom was about eight feet across of sand, so of course I had to slow down.
“What’s that sticking out of that bush? Feet?” imagination said.
“Shut up! There’s nothing there.” I hollered.
As it grew darker, I realized how bad an idea this was. Alone at night on a dark trail. I checked my wrist for the RoadID bracelet that would let first responders know where to send my carcass, or what would be left of it after the mutant geckos got to it.
At the second wash, some owls decided to tease me. One on each side, hooting with laughter as I ran in slow motion through the quicksand. I dropped a piece of cool looking quartz I had picked up earlier. “Just leave it!” I told myself. “Gotta protect my eyes. Don’t owls go for the eyes?”
Finally, when nothing happened, I felt silly and quickly came upon the last trail, Coldwater. It is actually a service road. Nice and wide and level. There were some dips and a lot of horse droppings, but it was relatively easy. This is the place where I saw the patch-nosed snake last time. And now it was quite dark. Another owl hooted behind me. I swear it followed me as it never seemed to get further away. “I’ve got glasses on!” I told it.
There was a horse arena near the parking lot and I could tell by the smell that I was close. Just inside the trailhead, there was a large burrow. I would’ve loved to peek inside and see what was home, but it was too dark even to get a pic. And whatever was in there probably wouldn’t appreciate a flash of light in its eyes while it was trying to sleep. The park ranger pointed out on a hike once that there are several badgers in the area. In fact, their coloring resembles that of a skunk. They frequently get calls from frantic golfers at the course next door. Funny.
In the end, I decided to change my trail runs back to the weekends and do my distance runs during the week on the lighted streets.
Here are some pics I took before it got too dark.
This Friday morning, I am trying an Insanity class for the first time. My friend is leading it and said I could attend as his guest. We’ll see how that goes.
Happy trails to you and cool runnings, my friends!
Wednesday evening’s trail run was fun (he said with a straight face). I had been looking forward to it all day. My boss wanted to discuss ideas for some upcoming ads and I said, “Trail run!”
“Cactus and critters!”
“Doug’s gone to la la land. Anyone else have ideas?”
The thing is, I have an hour commute and normally get home a little after 5:00pm. So I left work at 4:00 and thought, Ok, I’ll get home, change into my running clothes and be at the trailhead by 5:30. The sun sets at 6:39pm so that would be perfect. I could do the longer trail! But I could almost hear the fates laughing at my well-laid plan, “Not so fast, George Banks.” [name the movie]
By the time I got through rush-hour traffic, changed, and read a magazine (I’ll let your imagination interpret that) and got to the trailhead, it was 6:30. Crap! I’ve got nine minutes until the daylight’s gone. So, disappointed, I opted for the shorter two mile trail.
Now, you would think that Wednesday evening would not be a popular day to hit the outdoors but the lot was full! It was like the cafeteria on Free Soft Serve Day at the old folks home.
All right, I’ve got to hustle, I thought as I strapped on my hydration pack, passing pedestrians left and right, feeling speedy. But I saw the moon and couldn’t help myself.
“Wow, look at that big beautiful moon,” I said to a Cactus Wren while pulling out my phone for a snapshot.
It looked bigger in person, I promise! Can you see it? There, just over the mountaintop? No, it’s not an airplane or speck on the lens. Google Grand Lunar Illusion.
Then it got dark. Now I know why the Ragnar people say to do a couple of training runs in the dark. I didn’t have a headlamp and all depth perception went away, so every step was a tightrope walk on the precipice of oblivion. Well, maybe not that bad but a misstep certainly could have meant a big skidding raspberry on my tush.
Uphill wasn’t bad. Downhill was out of control. The trail was littered with Ruggles (non-running folk) and I was constantly calling out, “On your left,” which means nothing to them. They either ignored me or stopped and turned around with a look of confusion.
“I can’t stop! Gang way!” as I careened on by.
Now, with no depth perception it’s impossible to tell whether a line on the trail is a step up or a step down – or even a step at all. I was busy looking at the elderly couple ahead of me, trying to decide how best to let them know I was coming up behind them without scaring them, when I came upon such a step, and it was a downer. There was a loud popping sound (probably a disk in my back giving way under the sudden strain, “You bastard! Why do you treat us like this? We’ve done nothing to you!”) as my foot landed a good six inches below where I expected it to. I let out a “Hiyah!” that must have sent horses galloping for miles. As for the old couple, I can only hope they were wearing their Depends.
I recovered with as much grace as I could muster and wished them a good evening as I trotted by. Their eyes were as big as cueballs and the lady had her hand on her chest.
Well, now I know to be prepared. The days are getting shorter and I may have to shift my running schedule around.
Until next time, cool runnings to you, my friends!
Well, the jury is out on these new Bluetooth earbuds. The features and convenience are nice, but they have these rubber cups that seal them into my ears. No wax needed. They block outside noises very effectively, but they also trap noises inside. Yes, my head makes noises, doesn’t everyone’s? All my internal workings reverberate along the ear canal and it sounds like a blacksmiths convention in there. My breathing is really amplified, like an asthmatic making an obscene phone call, which might actually turn me on if my footfalls didn’t sound like Japanese Taiko drums. Am I alone here or have you experienced this too?
I discovered I was wearing them wrong when I saw Shalane Flanagan wearing some in an ad in Runner’s World. Apparently, the cord goes around behind the neck. I had been wearing them cinched up under my chin like a little boy with a cowboy hat.
So my long run came up last weekend and, let’s face it, who looks forward to the long run? I find myself looking for things to do around the house. Hmm, that tree could use some trimming. Where’s the chainsaw? Oh, and the shower drain needs to be de-hairballed. Good.
But Sunday evening came and I could put it off no longer. One thing that does motivate me for the long run is a good audiobook or a thought-provoking podcast. So I donned my earbuds and grabbed my phone and headed out the door for a 60 minute run around the neighborhood.
Earlier in the day, we went to a pot luck where I may have had a few garlic meatballs. Then a few more. So for dinner, I decided to go light and cut up some celery, carrots and had a few slices of thin crust garlic spinach pizza. I was confident no vampires would come near me that night. Well, I don’t know if it was the meatballs or the veggies or what, but halfway into the run my gut felt like a balloon. I did a quick glance back to be sure the coast was clear and let ‘er rip. Although I couldn’t hear anything because of the earbuds, it just felt loud. You know what I mean? My cheeks rattled. Grateful for once to be heading into the wind, I trotted onward, cracking thunder for about a block. After another glance back – not to check for people, but to be sure I wasn’t trailing a garlic vapor cloud – I quickly turned a corner.
The nights here in the Valley of the Sun are indeed cooler now, but also more humid, so it makes the runs a bit harder and I don’t worry about pace as much. But I don’t mind a hard run this time of year because I know that if I push, it will pay off when the weather cools.
Rounding a corner, I headed into the final mile. Running in the evenings poses a problem with being able to see obstacles, particularly on a sidewalk that is partly in shadow and could be uneven in spots. The sidewalk was lined with trees and bushes and whatever debris they may shed. So I didn’t worry when I stepped on a leaf, until it went Pop! It was a pop that I could hear through my hermetically sealed earbuds. You see, the recent rains chased all kinds of critters from their underground lairs. This one was a sewer cockroach. And there were more, I soon discovered. I tried to avoid them but it was useless. There were too many. It was like tap dancing on bubblewrap.
After that little Fred Astaire moment, I came across a cute house with an immaculate front lawn and deftly wiped my shoes on it before continuing. Hey, you don’t know! That stuff could be good grass fertilizer.
When I got home, I felt really good. Lighter for some reason. I also felt good because earlier in the day I had weighed myself and had dropped another seven pounds! Some simple diet adjustments and increased running frequency are really making a difference. I had checked out a diet book from the library, The Joy of Tapeworms, but I don’t think I’ll be needing it.
The earbuds, I don’t know… a little too soundproof for my comfort. I prefer to be more aware of my surroundings.
Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Desert.
The weekly Wednesday evening trail run was fun last week. I didn’t see any snakes or panicking quail, but the run felt good. My time is getting better around the two mile loop and I think it’s time to move over to the three miler.
On the uphill part, which is the first half of the loop, I passed a lady heading down. We exchanged the standard greeting grunts and, as I passed her I thought, I’m going to beat her back to the parking lot! So I ran uphill. And in about 50 feet I stopped to catch my breath. Then I ran again. And in about 25 feet, I stopped to catch my breath. Now, I’m no mathematician, but I do know that if you go half the distance, then half that distance and continue that way, you will never get where you are going. So I “power-walked” the rest of the uphill part. Then came the downhill and away I went. Although, I did stop to take this picture of Buckeye, AZ.
I was like a deer, darting this way and that down the trail. Dodging a loose rock here and cactus needles there. Look out for that horse poop! Leaping and prancing [stop to pet the doggies] more running, until finally I came to the bottom and saw the lady coming down the other trail approaching the bridge where they converged.
“Hey! Didn’t I just pass you?” she asked. “Did you run?”
“Well, it’s easier going downhill,” I replied trying not to sound out of breath and turning a little blue from the effort.
We chatted as we crossed the bridge to the parking lot. She said she saw a baby rattlesnake and some quail and told me about some kids cutting cross-country. I told her about the dogs I petted.
There is always something to enjoy in a run, even the long runs. Find it and savor it.