Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Oracle Run

(Originally Published on Runners World Loop 10/25/11)
A local Halloween tradition is the Oracle Run. The race is held in the small town of Oracle, Arizona, which is in the Northern foothills of the Catalina Mountains. The elevation of Oracle is about 4,500 feet, and the course is very hilly, so this race has a well-deserved reputation for being very difficult among the local runners – definitely not a PR course. It was a bit chilly when I first arrived, and there were plenty of runners picking up their numbers, socializing, and doing the normal pre-race routine:
This race has a Halloween theme, and it’s also a bit quirky. The Race Director, Darrell, always begins the start with some odd poems and his famous hand-signal description of the course, and his humor puts everyone in a cheerful mood. The start line has a banner made of race T-shirts from the each of the 29 years that the race has been held.
The course goes through a very rural area and there have been recent reports of mountain lion sightings, as well as other critters, but fortunately the only animals I saw were some mean dogs, and they didn’t attack. Volunteers place many “spooks” along the course – mostly artistic creations made of stumps, sticks, rocks, etc. There are also chalk drawings on the road of witches and the like. The course is well-marked – although the arrows don’t necessarily give you a lot of confidence:
There are mile markers, but you can’t totally rely on them – the 4 mile marker was actually placed at about 4.4 miles, and the 5 mile at about 5.1 miles. In fact the course is 6.3 miles long, even though it’s advertised as 10k. It’s a loop course, but with plenty of twists and turns so you never really know what’s coming up next. The hills are pretty much continuous, and the smart/experienced runners use them to their advantage. Here’s an elevation plot captured from the data recorded by my Timex GPS watch:
The volunteers are not your typical race volunteers. Rural Arizonans have their own unique style, one that I’m not too sure how to capture in a blog. But they were friendly and encouraging. There was also a convertible riding around with their top down, full of folks dressed in “Where’s Waldo” costumes.
My race went fairly well, especially considering that I had run the marathon in St. Louis just 6 days ago. My legs are still a bit sore, and I’m feeling the little tingle in my right ITB, near the knee, but I gave it a good effort anyway. I always enjoy running on roads in rural areas, the scenery is just so beautiful that even when my heart is pumping hard and I’m gasping for more air, I feel a sense of peace and freedom. Those are the moments of running that I love the most, and that I wish everyone could experience!
The race is one of the SAR Grand Prix events, and I had many friends running this morning. One of them, Martin Pena, flew by me at about mile 6, and kept on going; he’s in my age group but I was happy for him. A couple of friends passed me around mile 3 and I never caught back up to them. I also lost a place in the final 100 meters or so, when a youngster kicked hard past me; I didn’t have enough in my tired legs to keep up with him (note to self: Gotta work on that finishing kick!). I crossed the line in 42:46, which was 15th place overall. My bib tag was collected by the winner of the race, Craig Curley, whose time was an incredible 32:48! (Craig did an 11-miler “warmup” before the race; he’s training for the Olympic Marathon Trials in January, and we’re all rooting for him).     I was happy with my time, it was more than 3 minutes faster than I ran at Oracle last year.
After finishing I grabbed my camera and took photos of other runners (they are posted on my FaceBook site), and cheered them on. It was really exciting to see so many runners nearing the finish line with big smiles on their faces, even after pushing through the challenging course. Here’s one of my friend Cindy approaching the finish:
I had a great time hanging out with running friends. Here’s a photo of me and my buddy Chris, taken by Brian, at the finish line:
The awards ceremony followed. Darryl had this friendly skeleton attached to him throughout the entire event:
In the past, award winners received very nice hand painted tiles. This year’s awards were a bit of a disappointment, because they were just stickers. The artwork on it was nice, though. I got 2nd place in my age group so I got a sticker:
Overall it was a very fun race morning.

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