Monday, September 03, 2007

My Everest

I was down in Tucson, Arizona this morning for the annual Labor Day 8 mile race through Saguaro National Park. This course has a reputation in the state for being rather hilly and it didn’t disappoint. The elevation map (below) only provides a glimpse at how hilly this course is. The only way to understand this course is to get out there and let it beat up your quads on the steep down hills and burst your lungs on long up-hills. A perfect way to spend a Labor Day morning.

Gun time was set at 6:30 AM, so I got to the park entrance around 5:30 and found a place to park along the outer edge of the park as the eastern horizon started to brighten. The over night low in Tucson was 75F, but that would soon change as the sun slowly rose over the Rincon Mountains on the east side of the park; but that wouldn't be for another hour. For the time being, I could warm up in the shade of the mountain.


I took the rest of the pictures in this set after the race, so you won't see any people milling about. I also apologize for the poor lighting. The only time I had to go back and take these pictures was high noon; not the best time of day for subtle lighting effects.

The course undulates up and down over Mile one and Mile 2 with steep 50' down hills that set you back on your heels, immediately followed by an equally steep 30' up hill. Over all in this section, the course descends into the valley below, but the only thing I can remember is people streaming by me as I held back, trying not to overdo it; knowing full well that I still had a long hill climb on miles 4 and 5.


Note the warning to bicycles on the right side of the road. The Park Service needs to add one for runners. The course drops 50 feet straight down after passing the sign.


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The course flattened out on mile 3 and gave my quads a rest. I was watching my HR carefully in this area, trying to keep it below 155; again, trying to hold back for the hill climb. People stopped passing me in this section and I started reeling a few back; mostly the cotton tee-shirt and tennis shoe set who had blasted off the starting line like there was no tomorrow.

The HILL starts on the last part of mile three. As we turned the last corner before starting the ascent, a petite thirty-something made a "statement" pass and surged by me. I didn't know we were racing until she got around me, but she immediately slowed back to may pace once she got 10 feet in front of me. This was fine with me; I could always use someone to drag my sorry butt up the hill.

I sped up a little and got on her right shoulder. She didn't take too kindly to this move and surge ahead again. Fine ... I caught up with her again and sat on her tail, keeping myself 2 feet behind her. I don't think she could hear me and I know she couldn't see me without doing a Linda Blair-like head spin, so I continued up the hill in this formation for a few hundred yards before her pace started to falter. I passed her slowly on the right thinking that she'd surge ahead again, which she did. But she couldn't keep up the pace (which at this point was only 10/mi) and started falling back again. I turned and gave her a few words of encouragement. I think her response was something close to "fxxk you." The heat just makes some folks crazy.

I continued the grind up the hill, passing the walkers and slower joggers in the process. I must have past 20 people at the aid station half way up the hill. Lots of runners came to complete stop at this aid station before continuing upward.

The picture above was taken at the bottom part of the hill where I was dancing with my friend. The picture below is the hill directly after the aid station. It felt a lot steeper than it looks in this picture. When I passed this point, I still had a mile of climbing to do.

One of the fun things about this climb is that it has a false top. You think you see where the hill crests, only to go around the corner and see the road continuing to climb in the distance. I just put my head down and kept grunting it out.

But I did eventually reach the top and I'd kept my HR right around 160 for most of the climb. In my treadmill training, this meant I could now accelerate and pick up the pace over the last few miles. HA HA HA HA. I'm soooooo funny. I know running inside under ideal conditions doesn't really simulate the great out-of-doors, especially running outside in Southern Arizona in the waning months of summer; however, I didn't expect my legs to refuse to react to a direct command. Brain to Legs: "You may start running now." Legs to Brain: "Remember what your girl-friend told you a few miles back!"

After much coaxing, I got back up a to an 8:40/mi pace, but couldn't run any faster. It was the strangest feeling. My HR was holding steady at 155, I had at least 10BPM to play with, but I couldn't generate any power. The only saving grace is that the last few miles of the race are pretty. And running as slow as I was, I had plenty of time for site seeing. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the road heading for the finish on mile 8.

Technical Stuff:

Splits: 8:09, 8:17, 8:28, 9:10, 10:06, 8:34, 8:53, 8:41
Place: 207/570 - Complete Field; 162/305 - All Males; 20/39 - M50-54 only

Runners who know what they're doing: Go check out my friend Mike. I had a chance to talk with Mike before the race and wish him him well and I actually saw him take off with the leaders this morning, but he was out of my sight within 10 seconds. He finished 5th overall with a blistering time of 47:27 - that's a 5:55/mi average pace.

I hope you all had a great Monday; even those of you living in parts of this world that didn't get the day off. Have a great week ahead.


J~mom said...

Congrats on a great race!! Thanks for the picture tour. It does look beautiful out there but that course screams quad strain to me. Great job!!

Jamie said...

That's one hilly course, congrats on a great performance! What software do you use to generate your charts?

Beautiful pictures. Love the cactuses (cacti?).

Thomas said...

You have a knack of running behind young women for a mile or two, don't you? Anyway, well done for managing a decent race in those conditions.

Bruce said...

Well done on that race. Not a bad result considering your recent lack of high mileage over the last few months.

Jenny said...

What a huge hill! Great pictures. I loved the incident with the ambitious thirty-something - how rude of her!

Deene said...

what a roller coaster ride! Congratulations on passing the nasty woman uphill!

stephruns said...

Great pace for that hilly course! Well done:-)

Chad in the Arizona Desert said...

I loved the race report. I did the race a few years ago after Runner's World did an article about it. Like you I started slowly as a throng of people flew past, only to pass scores of them going up that climb and also the rolling hills that come after it. Great job with the race. Maybe you didn't have the higher gear at the end because you are still coming back from your injury and don't have your base established yet.

ReneeMc said...

That's one big hill! Nice job on the race, and once you've fully recovered from the injury you'll see more improvements.

Grellan said...

Great race report. It felt like I was there with you feeling the heat and fatigue as well as the pleasure in trailing and overtaking petit thirty-somethings. Seems like she was your best motivation.

Journey to a Centum said...

Great race report with beautiful photos of the course. Good job choosing a person to draft up the hill, or did she choose you? Actually I paid her to sprint out in front of you and provide some motivation to climb the hill. Thank me later. I'm here to help.

Anonymous said...

Ditto what everyone says on the pictures. After a race--especially *that* race--all I want to do is go to sleep. That said, so much as for sportmanship on your fellow hillmate. Whatever happened to saying "good luck on the climb". I've passed and been passed many times.

Ewen said...

That was a well judged race Phil. Good to have a win over the girl who said "fank you" ;) Sounds like tired legs at the end (not being able to push the HR up).

Thanks for the photos again - beautiful country. A nice smooth road too by the look of things.

Lana said...

Wow - those are some major hills. Great job running them...sounds like you gave it your all. Congrats!

Dusty said...

I don't know which is better, your race report or the pictures... both are great. If you are going to feel pain, might as well do it with nice scenery! You were really tough - love how you show your recovery from the hills with your splits coming back down. Many would be ruined by the hill, but you were able to recover nicely, even if your legs had other words for you.

Great job -was thinking about you during the race!

Sempre Libera said...

You ran a very smart race on a blistering, tough course. Those hills - WOW! Congratulations to you!

jen said...

Holy Crap!

Excellent job on what looks to be the hardest race ever. Sheesh!! You are awesome.