Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Soaking it Up at Mud Mountain

(Originally posted on Runners World Loop 7/23/11)
’m currently on a business trip, visiting the beautiful city of St. Louis, Missouri. I always bring my running gear with me when I travel, and find that the change of scenery often breathes some freshness into my runs. Maybe it’s the greenery and trees, because nearly everywhere in the world has more of both than Tucson. Of course, abundant plant life often comes with high humidity.
Most of the U.S. is currently experiencing a heat wave so my runs for the past few days in St. Louis have resulted in yours truly being a soggy mess by a mile or so in to the run. Tucson humidity is often below 10%, so even though I run at home in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, I’m not accustomed to running in a combination of high heat and high humidity like I’ve experienced in St. Louis.
This morning I decided to enjoy an out-of-town race, so I entered the Mud Mountain Cross-Country 5k Classic, held at the SIU campus in Edwardsville, Illinois. It was about a 30-minute drive from St. Louis, and along the way I crossed the Mississippi River. By the time I arrived, my mind was filled with dreamy thoughts of a lazy summer day rafting down the river, sort of a Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn type of day. Not necessarily the best pre-race mood, but I thought I was ready anyway.
The race itself was very well organized. It’s a benefit event for high school runners, and there were plenty of fast young people there. I picked up my timing chip, strapped it around my ankle, and noticed that the grass was rather tall (at least from the perspective of an Arizonan).
I  took a mile warm-up jog on the course, and was pleased to see how nice the scenery was. Tom and Huck could have run through these woods and found all sorts of mischief along the way. But I had to focus on the race preparations – this was not looking like an easy course, and definitely not one to set a 5k PR.
There were a lot of people there – probably around 700 or more including plenty of volunteers. One of my friends at the meeting, Pete Dillon from Georgia, also signed up for the race and we had a few minutes before the race to compare race strategies and complain about the heat. Looking up, we noticed that the sky was crystal clear – and the sun was taking full advantage of that fact!
When the gun went off promptly at 8:00, I quickly realized that I had started too far back. So I spent the first mile dodging people, and found myself passing racers for nearly the entire race. There were a few dirt patches, which meant I ran through a choking cloud of dust at those points. Despite the race’s name, there really wasn’t much mud. But the most challenging features of the course were the hills – although they were not terribly long, they were enough to significantly affect the pace. The finishing stretch was in full blazing sun which made the finish line more appealing, but also more difficult to reach. My final time was 20:37, which was 53rd overall out of 538. Many (but not all!) of the racers ahead of me were high school or college runners, and I have never seen so many people throwing up at the finish line! It was a true puke-fest as these youngsters pushed their race to the limit. I was 2nd in my age group, missing 1st by less than 7 seconds (although I didn’t know that at the time).
Here’s me and Pete (who also ran a great race) basking in the glory of the finish line. It’s not so obvious in the picture, but I was pretty much soaking wet after the race.
And here’s a photo of the medal that I won for placing in my age group:
After the race and awards ceremony, I re-ran the course twice at a slower pace to try to capture that magical Tom Sawyer-ish free feeling. But I have to admit, I’m not acclimated to the humidity so it was not as fun as it could have been. Still, running and racing in a new place was sure fun!
Final comments: I did hold back a little bit today, since the San Francisco Marathon is now only 8 days away, and I did not want to risk turning an ankle or pulling a muscle so close to that big event. Also, I am planning to return to St. Louis for the Rock’N’Roll Marathon in October – I sure hope it cools off a bit before then!

Nuts About Running

(originally posted on Runners World Loop 7/16/11)

I'm in a phase of life in which I really love running. As a result, I find myself entering more and more race events - they give me a chance to run, with the added benefit of hanging around with friends, most of whom are cheerful and as excited about the race as I am. This weekend started off with my 22nd race of 2011 (30 if you count the summer park races and aquathlons), and once again I enjoyed it tremendously.
This morning's race was the inaugural "Breeze in the Trees 5k", held in the beautiful pecan orchards of the Green Valley Pecan Company. The race was sponsored by Tagg Running Events, and was inspired by their outstanding Pecan Classic race held in the fall. It's summertime and we're in Arizona, so this race was only 5k whereas the fall race is 8.5 miles.
The start time was 6:30 a.m., so the sun was up, but the trees provided a wonderful shade canopy that we don’t experience in many places here in the desert southwest. I spotted a few tractors chugging along while warming up, and the pecan shells mixed into the dirt made the farming theme complete. We were blessed with perfect weather this morning, just the type of cool crisp environment that one wants for a summertime race in this area.
Two of my sons answered the alarm call early with me to make the hour’s drive out to the pecan farm in Sahuarita. Jason came along to run the race, and Brad joined us for cheering support and also to take pictures. Here’s one of his first shots, taken about a quarter mile into the race. At this point I had worked my way up to 5th place.
Jason started further back in the pack, as he prefers to pace himself right from the get-go. (That’s a very wise racing strategy, one that I would likely be smart to implement myself!)
I’m only 2 weeks out from the San Francisco Marathon, so I ran a bit cautiously, by which I mean that I tried not to make any quick pace changes or hard muscle pushes. Fortunately this course was very flat, so there was not much need to push up hills, and I didn’t need to work much of a kick to hold my place at the finish either. I got into 3rd place around mile marker 1 with a split of 6:05, and held on to that position for the rest of the race. My finishing time was 19:18, and I was 1st in my age group.
Jason held steady and knocked out a nice 31:06. That’s a few minutes slower than his PB, but he was happy after I explained to him that a dirt course always slows you down a bit. I’m so proud of him, especially considering that his athletic interests are in swimming and the running is almost an afterthought – he really does not train for running much. He also won an age group award today, getting 2nd place in the 12-and-Under category. We both received very nice handmade medals – they are glazed-clay pecan leaves!
Brad ended up taking over 100 pictures, which I’ve uploaded to an album on my FaceBook page. I thought they came out pretty good – maybe he has a future career opportunity as a Race Photographer?
We’re lucky in the Tucson area to have several outstanding Race Directors, and they all work hard to find ways to keep their races unique, fun, and widely appealing to all levels of recreational runners and walkers. Steve Taggert, his wife Liz, and their daughter give a huge amount of their time and energy to put on many excellent Tagg races. This morning we had a pancake breakfast to enjoy after the run, and the race also raised some funds for the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance.
So I loved running the Breeze in the Trees 5k – I guess you could say I’m “Nuts About Running”.
Unrelated side note – Pam is back from the Anasazi Training Camp – yeah! She got some good high-altitude trail running in up there.

Running With the Roosters

(Originally posted on Runners World Loop 7/10/11)

Tucson gets pretty hot during the summer. Monsoons add humidity, so there usually aren't as many running events as there are during other times of the year.  One event that tries to get around this problem is the Everyone Runs Run With the Roosters 5 Miler.
The race starts and finishes in the parking lot for Old Tucson Studios, one of the area's attractions and famous for the many Westerns that take advantage of the beautiful desert surroundings.  The course consists of a loop along the roads and has rolling hills the entire way.
We were fortunate this morning to have thick cloud cover.  The race starts promptly at 5:00 a.m., which was just after dark.  Since Old Tucson is about an hour's drive for me, I had to get up really early!  I stopped on the way to pick up my friend Don at 3:45 a.m., and we arrived for warm-up and race prep around 4:15.
I felt pretty good on this course, despite the fact that this was my 4th racing event in the past 7 days.  (Monday was the 4th of July Freedom 5k; Wednesday evening was the Aquathlon 800yd swim / 3 mile run; Thursday evening was the Parks & Recreation 2k + 5k races).  So I took off fairly fast, hitting the 1 mile mark at about 6:05 and 2 miles at about 12:05. The hills slowed me down by the mostly-uphill 3rd mile.  At around the halfway point, I had moved in to 3rd place, and managed to hold that position the rest of the way.  So my final result was 3rd place overall, with a time of 31:58 - not sure yet what the total number of runners was but I'd guess around 250-300.
These days it's rather unusual for race directors  to purchase trophies for awards, so I was really excited to get a golden rooster trophy!  Also got 2 free meal certificates for getting 3rd.
Steve Landau always put on a classy race and this one was no exception. There were a lot of happy early birds out there this morning!
Time for me to slow it down a bit as I taper for the San Francisco Marathon!

Two Seconds on the Fourth

(Originally posted on Runners World Loop 7/5/11)

OK, I've been planning to start this blog for months now.  So I'll finally get it going with a race report.
Yesterday was the 4th of July, and Independence Day in the United States.  What a great reason to host a running race!  Tagg Running Events held their third annual Fourth of July Freedom Run 5k race at Golf Links Park.  The course was cross country style and included some dirt paths as well as paved paths.  We had a nice monsoon storm the night before so the weather was cool for Tucson (about 80-85 degrees at start), and the dirt was a little more packed than usual.  The rain did cause some humidity, which us Tucson runners aren't really accustomed to, so there were a lot of sweaty people!  Around 200 runners ran in the races.
I've been focused on marathon training lately, and during a long run 2 days earlier, I experienced heat exhaustion during an 18-miler when the temperatures soared over 100 degrees.  Also, I've been doing the Wednesday evening Aquathlons, and the Thursday evening Parks & Rec races, so my legs were tired and I didn't go into this race expecting a very fast time.  With the next marathon less than 4 weeks away, I'm more concerned with staying injury-free than with fast times.  However, once the starting gun goes off at any race I always find it hard to hold back too much.  So when Steve Taggert set us off with a loud "GO" in the megaphone, my legs fired away.  My first mile split was about 6:10, and by then the runners had spread out.  I finished in 19:20, about a minute faster than I had planned, 6th overall out of 170 runners.  I won a nice medal for 2nd place in my age group.
My 12-year old son, Jason, also ran the 5k.  He isn't a serious runner, preferring to swim (he's on a club team and has daily practices, and competitive meets twice a week).  Jason's last run was actually the ING Kid's Rock mile in San Diego 4 weeks ago.  He likes to race occasionally, and of course I love it when he joins me.  He did quite well, and he also won a 2nd place medal for the 12-and-under group!
Here's a photo of Jason and I, proud father and son displaying our race medals after enjoying some post-race watermelon and other refreshments.