Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Racing in Cottonwood Canyon

Little did I know, when I woke up to the alarm at 4:30 AM on race day morning, just how this day would play out for me.  But I do know that if I could survive this race, I could survive most anything!

I left the hotel and within a few steps, fell in with another runner who was walking to the bus pickup area.  There were a whole lot of runners milling about but they didn't seem to be formed into a line, and there was a bus sitting there with its doors open, so I stepped on-board and took one of the last seats.

It was about 5:15 and still dark outside, as the bus crept slowly up the twisty, steep canyon road toward Spruces Campground.  The low growl from the bus's engine, the steep tilt of the bus's fuselage, the weird way that the front of the bus seemed to go one way and the back of the bus another around the hairpin turns. all combined to make the trip up the mountain surreal.  We have now been transported from 5000 ft above sea level to 7400 ft above sea level.  Yikes!  Now all we have to do is run down that big mountain!

We were disgorged from the bus at the entrance to the campground and we all made our way in the dark, down the drive and into an open parking area.  I wandered a bit until I spotted the handmade sign pointing down a dark pathway to the portapotties.  Here, set up in another large parking area, a giant bank of spotlights provided much needed light as all of us fumbled our way into and out of the johns.

We were given space blankets and cheap throwaway gloves in our race packets.  I nearly missed this fact.  Thankfully, I noticed the space blanket folded up into a tiny packet and grabbed it as I left my hotel room.  I say that because, even though I was wearing my Target outfit of long pants and fleece pullover and a pair of $1.99 gloves, I was still teeth-chattering cold!

Just beyond the throw of the spotlights, I could see what looked like ghosts, shiny silver specters, everywhere along the periphery.  Then I realized that there was a picnic area off to the side, under the trees, and I joined dozens of others as I huddled under my space blanket on a picnic bench and waited.

The sky began to grow light at 6:45 AM, and the sound system came to life as the announcer began urging us toward the start line.  But then just minutes later, it was announced that the start was delayed as buses were still coming up the mountain with runners.  Then more delays as bag check was held up until the buses had delivered their runners, could get turned around, and then started back down the mountain.

As I stood waiting, the fellow I'd walked with from the hotel approached and said, "We meet again." We chatted until the bus deliveries were done and we could start moving out to the main road to the start line. I wished him a good race, then tried to seed myself toward the rear of the pack of runners. It was hard to do as more and more runners joined us on the roadway.  But faster runners were filtering through the masses and ultimately I was positioned just about right.

It was close to 7:15 AM by the time the horn went off to start the race.  I'd shed the long pants a few minutes before moving up to the start line and had my space blanket wrapped around my legs.  So when the start horn went off, I tossed it into the growing piles along the side of the road and shuffled toward the start line and then I was off and running.

I was clipping along at a pretty good pace, but I gotta say....this felt much steeper running down than it did driving up in the car!  Yikes!  I tried not to put the brakes on too much, knowing it would burn out my thighs.  I tried to relax and let gravity do most of the work.

The race route:
Route, data from my GPS watch
When I got near the mile 3 water station, I knew I was going to need a potty stop.  Darn it!  When I got there the line was huge!  There was no way I could make it to the next water station at mile 5 and if I did take that chance, there's no telling how long the line would be at that stop.  So I really had no choice but to get in line.  The line moved slowly.  I timed it.  I spent more than 12 minutes waiting in that line.  Arghh.  No way was I going to be able to make that up.

When I got back out onto the course, I could see by the slow walking pace of the other participants around me that I was truly in the very back of the pack.  Overweight slow walkers for the most part.  So I started to run again, and starting reeling these folks in one by one.

At about this time I was beginning to feel tightness in my glutes and my piriformis.  I hadn't felt this since I quit running full marathons, but I sure did recognize the sensation as it gradually set in.  Walking would relieve it for a few moments but then, oddly, the relief would be short-lived and resuming running would feel better for a short while.  I alternated running and walking until I got to mile 10, where the course flattened out.  At this point I could only walk, except for a long downhill section at mile 12.

Somewhere between miles 6 and 10:

Some of the more spectacular views along the route...I didn't take these photos, they are screen grabs from Google street view:

But then....drat!  I had to go again.  It seems no matter how carefully I've prepared for a race, I can't always account for how my body is going to react to elevation change, temperature, diet.  Another stop, this one at mile 7 and another bunch of minutes lost. This just wasn't going to be my race today.  At this point I was pretty much giving up on having a decent finish time. I'd hoped that I'd have a great time on this downhill course, but it just wasn't to be. I ended up losing almost 20 minutes waiting in portapottie lines. Arghhh!

Not only was I disappointed, but I was also very demoralized seeing the types of participants I was coming up behind and knowing that in spite of the fact that I ran much of this race, my finish time was going to be slower than that for many of these purely walking entrants.

But finish, I did.  I collected my finisher's medal, got my photo taken, and then picked up a fabulous freshly baked cherry whole grain bar at the Whole Foods tent.  There was live entertainment and many other food tents but I needed to get back to the hotel and cleaned up in time for a 12 noon checkout.


The medal:

Within an hour the tightness in my butt turned to stiffness with even a short period of inactivity. Standing or walking after sitting still for a few moments was torture.  I really wanted to put my things in the car after checking out and then walk back down to the finish line area to spend more time and find some lunch, but the thought of walking even that short distance was beyond comprehension at this point.  So a quick, light lunch at Chipotle next door to the hotel, and I got into my car and drove to the airport where I had a room for the night at a nearby hotel before my flight home the next day.

What the US map looks like now:

Knocking out these large western states, and the map is filling in fast!  Three of those New England states will get colored in next month, and Nevada will turn blue in early November.  Then there will only be 4 remaining states left.

Now to rest up and recover, learn to walk without hobbling again, then get ready for a trip to Michigan to see family and attend my nephew's wedding.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Packet Pick-Up for Big Cottonwood!

Sign posted in hotel lobby...nice!
One more day and it's race day!  This morning I drove down to Sandy UT to South Towne Expo Center to attend the race expo and to get my race packet.  If I wasn't excited before I definitely was as I approached the expo entrance.

Entrance to Expo at South Towne Expo Center

Nothing gets the experience off to a better start than a well-organized Expo.  Friendly faces at the bib pickup table, more friendly faces at the chip check station, and then even more friendly faces at the shirt pickup station.

Friendly bib pick-up folks
Race shirt pickup...very well organized!

Great bag with unbelievable engraved name tag!  Cool swag!

I was done with the expo; now it was time to go find some lunch.  My smartphone was showing a Subway sandwich shop across the street and down a block, but wandering around for a few minutes, negotiating busy intersections and red lights and I sure couldn't find it so I just started heading back in the direction of the hotel and found a KFC.

Weather forecasts for race day morning had been changing dramatically the last couple of days.  A strong cold front which was bringing snow just to The North of us was expected to quickly push through here Friday and Friday night.  Indeed, as the day went on today, the temperatures were dropping.  Even though I'd purchased an inexpensive fleece at Target the other day, I decided that I might need some long Pants as well.  So back over to Target and $12 found me some yoga pants with wide cuffs (to easily slip on and off over my runniing shoes) on sale.  Then, of course, I couldn't leave the store without buying a Starbucks cappuccino.  Did I mention that I'd earned a free drink by accumulating extra stars earlier this week?  Yeah, they had a promo going on for 2 days:  visit 2 different Starbucks and get 3 bonus stars.  Easy to do and it got me a free drink of my choice.  Yay!

Back to the hotel room, feet up, catching up on emails, Facebook, and watching mindless TV.

Tomorrow:  Up very early to catch a shuttle bus to the race start!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Spending the Day in Brigham's Settlement

It's been a long-time dream to one day spend some time in Salt Lake City and, specifically, to spend some time in the Temple Square area to see the Temple, the Tabernacle, visit the Family Search headquarters...just to take it all in and let the history of the place take over my imagination.

Coming from Houston, where everything is so spread out, it was hard at first to grasp just how close my hotel is to downtown Salt Lake City.  My GPS tells me 12 miles.  So on Thursday, after a breakfast of Cheerios, banana, and a cup of decaf coffee in my room, I was out the door and in my rental car, heading toward Loop 215 towards I-15 North to downtown.

Not only was it close, it was also easy with hardly any traffic.  Off the interstate onto W 600 S, left onto State Street, several blocks north to W. South Temple and straight onto the ramp to the underground parking garage.  Wow!  It couldn't have been easier!  There were plenty of empty spaces in the garage, and next thing I knew, I was up one level by escalator to an outdoor shopping mall area in the block just south of Temple Square.

The large Temple Square area sits between South Temple and North Temple, and bounded east and west by State Street and W. Temple.  Every square inch of outdoor space is lushly landscaped and brimming with flowers!

 Many statues and fountains are scattered about this large area, as well.  I was a photographing fool, trying to capture it all.

Lion House

I decided that I needed to stop just wandering and do it right, so I joined a walking tour. We started at the southeast corner where Beehive House and Lion House sit side by side.  Lion House was the private residence of Brigham Young and his wives and children and Beehive House next door was Brigham Young's official residence, offices, and reception area.  Today, a restaurant is housed on the first floor of Lion House and I made a note of that for later.

We continued walking along S. Temple, passing the Administration building and coming to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which was at one time a hotel but now houses meeting and function rooms as well as the LDS FamilySearch headquarters. Our walking tour continued through a gated fence and along the exterior of the temple where we learned a bit of history and architecture as we walked around the massive building.

I left the tour and returned to the Smith building, where I stepped into the lobby to admire the gorgeous architecture and was approached by a docent who took me under her wing and took me on a tour of the building.  She showed me a gorgeous wood-paneled room on the first floor, and we passed through it to a hallway which opened up to the FamilySearch facility.

We went back to the lobby and up the elevator to the second floor where she showed me lovely views out of a west-facing meeting room that was, in its former glory days, two separate guest rooms.  The beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows gave a view out over the temple and the tabernacle and the south visitor center.  She then walked me to the other side of the building where I could look east out over the other side of the square and beyond to the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains where the University sits as well as the medical centers.  I could just make out the capitol building up the hill at the top of State Street.

Then she took me up to the 10th floor, where two different restaurants are located, and she showed me an even better view west out over the tabernacle, the temple, and much of the rest of the city.

When we got back to the lobby, I thanked her for the wonderful tour and overview and then headed back to the FamilySearch center, where I was immediately taken under the wings of a delightful elderly couple who assisted me with getting an account set up and then getting started by using my dad's information to "seed" the search.

The facility is gorgeous!   elegant, state-of-the-art, with comfortable workstations and large LCD monitors.  We quickly made progress, enough that I felt I could resume my work once I got home.  She helped me search for a help center near home, and we pulled up several, one of which is in the neighboring town.  I was very impressed with the whole experience, the friendly and knowledgeable staff, and the facility itself.  Before I left, they insisted that I have my photo taken at their Ellis Island photo station.  Old fashioned bellows camera masking a very high-tech set-up with digital camera, LCD touch screen for me to enter my email address and have the digital photo emailed to myself.

As I returned to the lobby, a woman was playing the piano, playing my favorite song from Les Miserables....I Dreamed A Dream.

The timing was perfect because as I left the building, it was 11:50 AM and just enough time to stroll over to the Tabernacle for the 12 noon organ concert, free to the public every day.
The interior is just spectacular!  Very simple, very acoustically perfect.  Built years ago without benefit of today's design technology.  The organ dominates the front of the tabernacle and the organist pointed out to us that there are additional pipes at the back of the hall....the flute pipes.

The concert was just right.  A nice mix of ecclesiastic music with a couple of non ecclesiastic pieces thrown in as well, such as I Dream of Jeannie and a choral bells piece.  The selection of pieces perfectly showcased the organ.  A powerful opening piece that had the air ringing for several seconds after the music stopped, and another piece that had sufficient soprano parts to showcase the flute pipes at the rear of the hall.  And then, too soon, it was over.

Before walking back to Lion House for lunch, I ducked into the South Visitor Center and walked through the linear chronology exhibit chronicling the arrival of the first Mormons and building the Temple.  Old photographs of the period were riveting.  Amazing to think that they quarried the stone in the mountains and then carted it, block by block, to the construction site.

Lunch time!  The aroma of freshly baked rolls assaulted my nostrils as I entered the Pantry at Lion House.  I stood in line, passed through the cafeteria-style service, then found a table to dig in to my chicken pot pie, boiled cabbage, and to tear into that warm, soft, butter-brushed dinner roll !  The chicken pot pie was like no other pot pie I've ever had. It started as a large puff pastry ball, pre-baked, and into which a ladle is pushed to break a hole in the top to receive the chicken/vegetable concoction.  Delicious!

After lunch I walked what I thought would be an easy 4 or 5 blocks to see the capitol building.  What I didn't realize is that it would be straight up a pretty steep hill to get there.  But I was all in on this, wanting to get some exercise and wanting to see the capitol and take a photo.  So many of my half marathons have been run in state capitals.  Lansing, Columbia, Jackson, Little Rock, Austin, St. Paul, just to name a few of many.

So much more to see and do, but so little time to see it all.  I found my car in the parking garage, used the pay kiosk to get my ticket validated, then exited out the State Street exit and headed back to I-15 south toward the hotel.  That was way too easy!

Tonight: ticket to attend Tabernacle Choir rehearsal, which is open to the public

Tomorrow:  packet pick up, and get ready for race day on Saturday.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Day In the Wasatch Mountains

I woke up Wednesday morning excited to think that I was actually in Salt Lake City to run the Big Cottonwood Marathon/Half Marathon!  The previous afternoon, I climbed into my SUV and headed north to the airport in Houston to start this journey.  The flight was easy and navigating the SLC airport even easier.  Only downside is that it was late - close to 9:00 PM and raining.  Thankfully I had my GPS with me and could let it lead me to my hotel on the south side of the city near Sandy UT.

My first order of business for the day was to make a quick trip to the Target store right acoss the street to buy some fresh fruit, Cheerios, and makings for salads for dinner each  night.  I was staying in a Hawthorne Suites hotel with a full kitchen and I planned to take advantage of this.   I also purchased an inexpensive pullover fleece in the boys department to wear race day morning.  We will be bused to the race start line 13 miles up into the Wasatch Mountains at an elevation of 7400 feet.  It will be cold up there!  And we'll have close to an hour to hang around waiting for the race to start.  Oh yes....there was a Starbucks in that Target store.

Purchases safely put away in the fridge and freezer back at the hotel, I fired up the GPS, put the Starbucks cappuccino into the cupholder and I headed due east on Fort Union Blvd which becomes Cottonwood Canyon Road as it rises into the mountains.

The race route starts at Spruces Campground on Cottonwood Canyon Road and finishes just a block away from the hotel I'm staying in.  My drive will cover the race route in its entirety, only in the reverse direction. we go!!

Within just a couple of miles from the hotel, the road changed dramatically as it snaked its way into the deep mountain folds and into Cottonwood Canyon.  It was breathtakingly gorgeous!  I could not believe that I would be running down this road in just a few days.

The road alternated between gentle sweeping curves and hairpins as it gained over 2,000 feet in elevation.  Only short stretches were relatively flat or straight, but everywhere the views are breathtaking.  Leaves on some of the trees are beginning to change color, adding to the beauty.

Before I realized it, I was upon the campground where we half marathon runners will be dropped off by bus.  I continued on up the road to Brighton and the ski resorts where the full marathon will start.  This is the end of the road, so I back-tracked to the road to Park City, route 220.

Oh, my!  This is the back way to get to Park City and the road was relentless in its climbs and hairpins and steepness.  It's a much more primitive road, barely two cars wide, no shoulder and very steep drop-offs.  But the views were spectacular!  The road had me up above the ski resorts of Brighton and Snowbird and the trails of winter are, today, beautiful verdant glades sweeping down the mountainsides.

One more very tight hairpin turn and the road became a single lane road with no painted lines, no shoulder and patches of gravel and sand in places.  I was beginning to worry what would come next on this primitive road but cars were passing from the other direction so I knew it had to go somewhere!

After what seemed like an eternity but was really only 16 miles, I began to see civilization and that gradually turned in the town of Park City.   I had done a little Google satellite view research and identified a parking garage right off the main road and just one street away from Main Street.  It was well-marked and easy to find.  Perfect!

Park City is a cute town, but very touristy.  What were once shops of a typical Main Street USA are now high-end jewelry, clothing, art shops and held no interest for me.  But there was one shop I definitely wanted to shop buy postcards for the grandkids.  I found a shady bench to write them little notes and address the cards and then mailed them at the post office just a block away.

I had lots of choices for lunch, cruising the main street down and then back up to check them all out.  I settled on Bistro 412 with its outdoor dining and interesting menu.  a nice appetizer - duck proscuitto with roasted figs and pistachios - won out.  It was the perfect choice for me, having grown tired of the lack of creativity and the mundaneness of many restaurants I've encountered in my recent travels.

I'd seen all I wanted to, here in Park City, so I headed back to the car and let the GPS guide me through town and the few short miles to I-80.  Definitely the civilized way to get to or from Park City!

I was about 45 minutes from my hotel, but it went far more quickly than did my drive up Cottonwood Canyon Road and along 220 to get to Park City.  I still had a portion of that cappuccino I'd purchased earlier, so I sat outside on a bench at the hotel and sipped the coffee, nibbled on a chocolate I'd purchased in Park City, and enjoyed the beautiful day.

A quick walk back over to Target to purchase a forgotten item, and I settled in to my room, had a delicous salad with grilled chicken sliced on top, and watched TV.

Tomorrow:  go into downtown Salt Lake City to see Temple Square, the capitol building, and other downtown sites.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Taos and Santa Fe

IBA InterNational Meet is over and the hotel parking lot was rapidly emptying out as I brought my luggage out to my car.  It's Sunday and it was time to move on to Taos NM for the night, before continuing on to Santa Fe NM for a few days.

I didn't have too far to drive, so I took my time leaving the hotel in Denver.  Along the way on US 160 to Taos I passed a produce stand so I did a U-turn and returned to pick up this bounty - $5 for as much as would fit in a large bowl, and common sense over-rode my ability to completely fill that bowl.  Corn, apricots, nectarine, plum, apple, tomato, zucchini, summer squash, and a cucumber.  Worth the U-turn!

In Fort Garland, I turned south onto 159 but not before stopping for lunch at a really great little place!  I had one of their enchilada plate good!

Much of  159/522 runs through open range country, but I was surprised that it wasn't the usual cattle open range but horse open range.  Miles and miles of high country pasture land, a bit hilly, but mostly a very long flat valley between two mountain ranges.  I could see herds of horses off in the distance and then, as I came up a slight rise, I saw a half dozen horses standing very near the road.  A pretty brown and white paint horse, a black horse, and a few brown horses.  The lead horse began to make a move for the road so I slowed way down.  The other horses looked like they were starting to follow the lead horse.  But then they all stopped and stood near the shoulder, on a little knoll, watching me drive by.  I so wished that I had a camera handy and then kicked myself for not pulling over.

I continued on into Taos NM and the Historic Taos Inn.  Beautiful old historic hotel just a couple of blocks from Taos square.  The Inn itself is more of a compound of buildings pulled in tightly against the backside of the original hotel structure.  When I made my reservations, the choices were dizzying.  But I'd decided on a room in the courtyard section, a low adobe structure surrounding lush shady gardens in the center.   My room was so beautiful!  Very upscale, with luxurious furnishings and a wonderfully comfortable bed.  The front desk woman walked with me to show me how to get to my room and then showed me the evaporative cooling device and how to use it, but even though it was 90 degrees out, the room was very comfortable and cool without it.  I was beginning to regret that I'd only be here one night.

the courtyard rooms

Courtyard rooms walkway
Last time I was here was on my BMW motorcycle.  I had booked the same timeshare in Santa Fe and a friend joined me on his BMW.  We rode up to Taos and then did the enchanted circle and some national parks in the area, stopping along the way for lunch.  I remembered a chocolate shop on the square in Taos and how decadently good the truffles were.  So once I'd unloaded my car, I walked over to the square to find that shop.  To my delight, it was still there!

These are the best truffles I've ever had!
I found a shady bench on the square and sat there just enjoying the afternoon and nibbling on some chocolate bark I'd also purchased at the shop.  A woman - an artist whose works were for sale at that shop - was checking in with the store clerk when I finished my chocolate purchase.  A few minutes after I sat down on the bench on the square, she came over and asked if she could join me for a bit.  She was about my age, dressed every bit the role of an art colony resident, and we had a delightful chat.

Sitting on a shady bench on Taos Square
See the Welcome to Taos sign?

Taos Square

Taos Square, dominated by a veterans memorial

Taos square, shops barely visible in background

That evening I had dinner at the hotel restaurant - Doc Martin's - and then stepped into the tiny little lobby/lounge area to have a glass of after dinner wine and enjoy the little two person combo playing delightful easy jazz music.  It was a great day!

Duo playing in lobby area of Historic Taos Inn

I slept in, and then had breakfast in my room before loading my things back into the SUV and continuing south to Santa Fe NM.  I thought I'd stop at Bandelier National park along the way, spend some time walking the grounds and taking photos.  But when I got to the town of White Rock, I saw signs directing all traffic for Bandelier into a brand new visitor center in town.  Private cars are no longer permitted to continue to the National Park entrance on Hwy 4, but must park at the visitor center and take a shuttle.  I really didn't want to do that, since my car was filled with valuables, two cases of wine, and my luggage.

I found a grocery store in town and picked up a snack and some bananas to eat in the car while I considered my next move.  It was too early to arrive in Santa Fe, since they probably wouldn't let me check in until 3 PM or later.  Then I decided I would just take my chances.  I planned to stop at the Albertson's beforehand and do some major grocery shopping to stock the kitchen at the timeshare, so this would kill some time, as would a stop at the Starbucks for a much needed cappuccino.

I stopped at Starbucks first, then brought the coffee into the grocery store with me as I shopped for additional vegetables to augment my roadside purchases for a salad, some additional fruit, cereal, fresh fish, steaks, crackers, and sandwich meats.

By the time I got to the Villas of Santa Fe Resort, it was 2:30 PM and surprise!  My unit was ready to check in.  Good news!

Monday evening dinner...a bottle of Malbec from my Denver stash

Tuesday morning walk to Starbucks
Tuesday I woke up late, still getting caught up on rest and sleep apparently.  I took a stroll down to the Starbucks, a nice mile or so walk, then continued on into town and found a great place for lunch, where I had my tacos, washed down with a draft beer.  Then it was on to dessert:

Tuesday stroll to Santa Fe Square
Tuesday evening I had baked tilapia for dinner, along with a nice salad and another glass of that Malbec wine.

Wednesday morning after breakfast I returned back to Santa Fe square and continued onto side streets to wander through some of the great little shops that are tucked back off the street, venturing down hidden alleys that open up into little courtyards lined with shops.  A few minutes were spent on a shady bench in front of the cathedral, just enjoying the morning and the views and people-watching.

The beautiful Cathedral that dominates the center of town,
just off the town square
I had lunch at a delightful little Italian restaurant tucked a couple of blocks off the main square, with very good food and service.  A bowl of out-of-this-world minestrone soup made with all fresh vegetables and a small carpaccio plate, one of my favorite Italian antipasti dishes.  I found Senor Murphy's chocolates again, still there.  His chocolates are beyond delicious!  Mostly dark chocolates with a hint of chili pepper!  Several of these chocolate bars came home with me from this trip.

I spent another pleasant little while sitting at these tables.  A couple
with a gorgeous bull mastiff sat next to me and I enjoyed their company
and their beautifully trained and docile mastiff
I wanted to spend more time wandering around the town, revisiting the things that I'd seen and done when I was here three or four years ago.  So many cute shops, so many great restaurants...but I was really beginning to get homesick and shopping or eating out just weren't doing it for me anymore. I decided to leave a day early and to drive straight through to home - 886 miles - in order to be home by late Thursday night.  I returned to my villa that afternoon and began pulling things together in preparation for packing the car for home.  I had one last dinner in the villa - steak, salad and wine - and then finished packing.

The trip has been wonderful, but long, and I was starting to feel the pull towards home.