(Originally Published on Runners World Loop 1/30/12)
Race Directors often search for unique locations to hold events. In Southern Arizona, one of those unique locations is Old Tucson Studios. This theme park has been home to many movie sets over the past 70 years, including some very famous flicks.
When they are not shooting a Western movie or TV show at Old Tucson, the public is allowed to tour the park. Race Director Randy Accetta saw the potential for a fun running event, and the result was the “Sunrise at Old Tucson Cross Country Trail Run”. The race actually begins right in the middle of Old Tucson, on Main Street in front of the Hotel & Saloon; the start happens when the Sheriff fires off his shotgun. After a quick loop through the dirt roads in town, the race heads out to a few miles of cactus-forested desert trails in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains.
And yes, the race is run by our very own local “Mexican Lone Ranger”! I was too busy trying to escape his heroic chase, so wasn't able to capture a picture myself, but here's one taken by my friend Gilbert:
Before the race, the MLR was reportedly heard to say: “I'm going to knock off those two hornary varments when I head them off at the pass, then I'm going to hog-tie those two scally-wags up and then make off with the loot!" The FaceBook smack-talk was going strong!
Because the trails are narrow, Randy wisely splits the event into two separate races. Last year it was Open and Master’s divisions, and this year we had a Men’s race first, followed by a Women’s race.
The Men’s race began just as the sun was cresting the mountaintop, at about 8:15 a.m. It’s a fast start as many people want to avoid getting blocked behind other runners; the narrow trails beginning after about 1 mile make passing difficult. I haven’t done any trail running for a long time, and my trail running shoes weigh about twice as much as my normal shoes, so by about mile 2 I was feeling pretty bad. Cross country racing requires some different strategies from road racing, where you can generally keep an even pace. In cross country, it’s better to use hills, twists, and varying terrain to your advantage, but all my knowledge of that seemed to be somewhere else this morning.
I finished the race in 25:48, and my GPS showed about 3.8 miles. That was good enough for 16th overall, 1st in my age group. My son Jason also ran the event and got a nice time. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of us running. After Jason finished, he and I immediately ran another 3.2 miles. (We also had run 2 miles for a warmup, so his total for the day was 9 miles).
We got back in time to see the women finishers. Here are a couple of fast female friends, Stephanie and Michelle, racing to the finish line:
My wife Pam was also in the race, and she got into the spirit of things with a few cowgirl accessories. She finished strong and came in with guns-a-blazing, challenging a few Caballero who were trying to pick gunfights with the finishers.
Pam’s the Coach for Saguaro High School’s Cross Country Team, and they came out this morning to volunteer at the race. Actually, as with all Southern Arizona Roadrunners events, there were lots of volunteers – from packet pickup and registration, to finish line workers (some of whom were Pima Community College runners), to course markers, etc. I honestly cannot imagine how the SAR races could survive without the many volunteers.
The finish line area was between the rodeo arena and some movie prop building facades. There was a free southwest-style breakfast, free Body Armor drinks, and plenty of great opportunity to socialize with friends.
The awards ceremony was sponsored by The Running Shop, and winners took home some nice prizes. I got this nice tech shirt for my age-group win, and Pam won a gift certificate for placing in her age group.
After the race, runners are granted free access to Old Tucson Studios for the remainder of the day. There is a lot to do there (including my favorite, a walk through the gold mine!), but I had to work this afternoon – it is tax season – and also had to help Jason with a science fair project, so unfortunately had to skip the tour. I’ve been there numerous times before, and I highly recommend a visit! Runners also get a coupon for a free visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, an absolute must-visit attraction near Tucson.