So here’s the deal. Apparently we’re both nuts. When Jason and I planned a trip to visit friends in Arizona in March, he looked up races in the area and decided Mesquite Canyon would be perfect for his first half marathon.
Here is what I’ve learned about racing-you don’t have to be completely prepared for a race to finish it and have fun. You just need to have to be honest about what you aren’t going to be prepared for.
And what I couldn’t be prepared for is the elevation, the elevation gain and the (lack of) humidity.
What I could be prepared for is the fact that I was going to be climbing up a big ass hill. So for the two months leading up to the race, I can probably count on one hand the number of runs that did not involve climbing in some capacity.
We ran Cedar Ridge, which is our hilliest local trail. I ran stairs. I cranked up the incline on the treadmill and ran up that and when I was done running, I cranked it even higher and power hiked.
I ran hills and hills and hills and by the time the race rolled around, the hills started to feel easier.
Even with that, I still gave myself a generous time goal to account for what I couldn’t take into account. I did my first half marathon, a very hilly and challenging course in it’s own right, in 3:09 so I set the goal for this race at 3:30.
Then the dehydration hit pretty much the minute I got off the plane and for two days, I couldn’t shake a terrible headache and low grade nausea. Ugh. And before you start on me, I did my best to prepare. I cut out soda the week before we left, upped the electrolytes and never went anywhere without a bottle of water with me.
Still. Because of my discomfort, my goal went from 3:30 to just finish.
The day of the race was beautiful and sunny and I discovered that one of the benefits of low humidity is that 70 or 80 degrees in AZ doesn’t feel as hot as 70 or 80 degrees in the swamp that is Texas and even with my concerns regarding my head and stomach, it was hard not to be in a good mood as I took in the scenery around me.
We started out about 8 am and ran through scrub and cactus for about 2 miles before we stared climbing.
And climbing and climbing.
Every once in a while I’d look up and get a glimpse of Jason ahead of me make his way up the switch backs. I would smile, happy that he seemed to be moving well and hoped he was having fun.
The area was bright and wide open, so different than the trails back home and I did my best to appreciate my surroundings when I wasn’t focused on my breathing or my screaming quads.
I didn’t have my watch with me but as I crested the summit of the hill and started my way down, I felt like I was doing pretty well despite my misgivings-still in the middle of the pack and moving steadily.
Then I discovered what else I wasn’t prepared for: DOWNHILLS. I was so looking forward to them too. But it turns out that when you trash your quads for an hour on the uphills, the downhills hurt. Holy crap.
Still, thanks to gravity, I made better time on the way down (well, except for a slight mishap where I rolled my ankle and hit the trail, almost going over the side of a fairly steep decline. It’s not like there were vultures circling above my head when I did it either. No big.) and soon-that being a relative term for me-found myself at the last aid station.
The last two miles were pretty bad, I’m not going to lie. My hips were yelling at me thanks to all that inclining and declining and we were back on flat ground in a valley and it was just hot and flat and I was tired and I hurt and I wanted to stop. I started to play a game I like to call Fun with Cactus: I’ll run from this cactus to that cactus. Then walk from that cactus to the next cactus. I’m so sick of looking at cactus. Stop looking at me like that, cactus.
As I approached the finish line, my only hope is that the clock hadn’t hit noon yet. We started at 8:15- as long as it was before noon that would mean I was still under 4 hours. While I felt I’d moved fairly well considering the conditions, the race had rung me dry and I honestly didn’t think I’d hit my goal. Imagine my surprise then when I rounded the last corner and the clock read 11:34.
3 hours, 19 minutes. Not only did I make it in under 4 hours, I beat my original time goal!
In case you are wondering what beating a time goal looks like:
Jason was waiting at the finish line for me, having finished about 10 minutes ahead of me, and we took a few minutes to talk and share our experiences and eat and drink ginger ale. As glad as I was to complete when I did, I was happier that he’s had a good time.
A note on nutrition: I never stopped drinking during that race-taking small sips from my hydration pack every few minutes. I had gatorade and orange slices at every aid station (we had two aid station that we hit once on the way up and once on the way down for four stops). In between, I ate two packs of Gatorade chews (200 calories total).
When it was all said and done, I had approximately half and orange, about 8oz of Gatorade, 200 calories worth of chews and 2 liters of water. And yet, the minute I stopped moving and consuming fluids, the dehydration headache came back. That no humidity thing is crazy.
The aftermath was pretty hilarious, with both of us hobbling around and covered in salt but by the next day, as we left for home, we managed to move through the airport without looking too obviously broken.
But I’m so glad I got to share this experience with Jason and that he had a good experience. In many ways, this race and the training leading up to it gave me confidence in my running again-the ability to run without injury, to complete longer races and to do something challenging.
Totally worth the trashed quads.