Sunday, April 23, 2006

9 Miler

This morning was my morning. As I had done on Saturday, I again sat out on my driveway waiting for my Garmin to align and wondered which course would be best to try for a 9 mile run. After failing to reach my goal of 9 miles yesterday, I needed to select a course that would increase my probability of success. Suddenly, in a “eureka” moment, I decided to throw out all the usual runs and try something completely different.

I live about 4 miles from the Reach 11 Recreation area in north Phoenix. This little used park runs for seven miles along the north side of the Central Arizona Project Canal (The CAP Canal is a 340 mile straw connecting Tucson and Phoenix with the Colorado River. It is the CAP Canal that allows those of us in Phoenix to ignore the fact that we get less than 10 inches of rain a year). Most of the park is a riparian area, which means it is relatively lush by Sonora Desert standards (see picture to the left). Most of the trails are wide and hard packed. Although the park runs under two freeways, the dense vegetation (again, dense by Sonora Desert standards) allows you to forget that you are running in a big city park. This would make an ideal destination.

The reason I hadn’t considered running to this park is the fact that I need to cross three major streets to get there. This means three sets of street lights with cars / trucks / SUVs making turns without looking for pedestrians / runners. However, this was Sunday morning, how much traffic could they be? It was worth a shot.

I set my “running buddy” on my Garmin for a 8:45/m pace for 9 miles and took off. Heading east with the sun in my face, I was immediately challanged with climbing a short hill. I slowed down a bit and settled into a 9:00/m pace and just enjoyed the run. The first 3 miles were uneventful, although I had to stop at 2 of the major intersections as well as one of the minor streets that also has a street light.

On the 4th mile, I turned north on a paved trail that runs along the Squaw Peak Freeway. The trail rises as it approaches the bridge crossing the CAP canal. I think I was doing something close to a 9:30 pace over the bridge. Although my pace was no where near 8:45, I felt great and was enjoying the run. I hit the 4 mile point in the park, disappointed that I only had ½ mile to go before I needed to turn around. The park was beautiful this morning, and aside from 2 women riding mountain bikes, I had this section to myself. As I approached the 4.5 mile mark, I flirted with the idea of extending this run out to 10 miles; however, better judgment prevailed. At 4.5 miles, I stopped briefly to take care of business and started back.

At this point, I was 460 feet behind my running buddy. This is a lot of ground to make up over 4 miles. A easy rule of thumb at my slow pace is 1 second per 10 feet, so I needed to run the return at an average pace of roughly 8:30/m to get the overall run under 8:45. I quickly hit 5 miles and started south again along the freeway. At the 6 mile point, I still hadn’t made up any of the deficit. My splits for the first 6 miles were: 8:49, 8:50, 8:43, 9:06, 8:59, and 8:45. Although I didn’t know the exact number, I knew I need to make up more than 40 seconds over 3 miles to get the total run in under an 8:45 average.

I clocked the 7th mile at 8:31, so there was hope. I had just picked up nearly 15 seconds and the gods would be with me the rest of the way. As I approached each intersection, the lights turned green and the intersection cleared of cars … no need to slow down. ¾ of the way through the 8th mile, I crested a small hill and could see the last hill of the run a little over a mile ahead, but it would be slightly down hill for the next mile. My 9th mile split was 8:16; 30 seconds faster than plan. I also crossed over into positive territory. At this point, I knew I only needed to hold an 8:45 pace up the last hill and I would have the run in the bank. For the first half of the 9th mile, I was averaging 7:50/m pace and steadily adding distance on my running buddy. I hit the last hill and slowed down to 9:00/m, but I soon crested the hill and cruised down the back side. I completed the 9th mile in 8:12.

Now that I have two 9 miles runs under my belt, I feel comfortable pushing my long run up to 10 miles next week. We’ll see how that goes.

Keep running

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