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.


  1. well, congratulations for finishing! you are wrapping up a fabulous accomplishment! and yay, NV at probably (barring weather) the best time of year! rock/race on! :)

  2. Wow, great job finishing the race. It sounds as though you overcame quite a lot and managed to finish.

    I never though about elevation changes and what that does to the body. At least there were potty stops along the way.