I must really love endurance sports. I hate waking up early, but I am constantly setting my alarm for 0 dark 37 (yes, I want every minute of sleep I can get) for races. A few times a year, however, a night owl like me gets a treat like the Sabino Canyon Sunset Run. I had a leisurely morning of sipping tea and reading, took a midday swim, and headed to the race. The Canyon is a beautiful spot, popular with walkers, hikers, and runners. There are several trails in the park, but the race course is a paved out-and-back that could be described as pancake flat – if mountains were made out of pancakes.
Because this was an evening race, I was happy to volunteer at the registration table. There was an early start option for the non-competitive runners and walkers, and I handed out those bibs. To keep the line moving, I would frequently shout and point, “Early start see us, regular start see them, fun run, see her.” I wouldn’t be surprised if I uttered those words in my sleep that night.
It was a warm and breezy day. The course starts pitching upwards almost immediately, but it saves its worst for the last .7 miles before the top. I had run 56:28 the year before and my goal was to go under 55. I had no idea if that was a reasonable goal or not. It was just a nice, round number, and a good but not crazy amount of improvement. My friend and rival Kristen, who smokes me in short distances, was running. She and I did some back and forth early on, but eventually I kept the lead. By mile one, we were shaded by the canyon walls. I had spent the week chatting with some Facebook friends about whether or not a twenty year high school reunion was in the works, and had written a parody of the school fight song “Gold and Blue.” Guess what was stuck in my head… That song didn’t even motivate me in high school, but I couldn’t shake it. I did some back-and-forthing with another woman who had a blond braid, and then pulled ahead. My stomach felt a little cranky. I suppose one of the downsides to a late afternoon race, is figuring out how to plan the eating for the day so that you’re fueled but not filled. There are several bridges along the course, and in rainy years, water flows over. That wasn’t an issue this year, but the rapid tempo adjustments was one more challenge on an already tough course.
When I hit the three mile mark, my strategy was to hammer hard, knowing that my heart and lungs would get a chance to recover once I started downhill. I see this race as a 3.7 miler, followed by 2 or so miles of a semi-cooldown, then a hard finish. I did what I could, but it was so steep I felt like I was limited in how hard I could push because I was running so slowly. Finally, I reached the top, grabbed a water cup, and tossed it neatly in an open garbage bag on the way back down. Now it was time to fly. I ended up passing Jeff, who is a much better runner than I am, so I figured he wasn’t feeling good (he wasn’t). Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” had replaced “Gold and Blue” in my head, and I was thankful. The bridges weren’t too much of a problem on the way down. There was so much downhill running that it was actually kind of fun to power up those short inclines.
WIth about a mile to go, things started to get challenging again. There’s a steep hill, a descent, and then fairly level ground to the finish. I fished for a mantra. I started with “Suck it up,” but I didn’t like the way it worked with the rhythm of my footfalls. I shortened it to “Suck it,” but that just sounded wrong. The blond braided woman had overtaken me by this time. She had a good lead, but was still in sight, so I decided to use “Blond braid.”
I had done a long run with a fast mile at the end with my friend Keith the week before. He had complemented me on my finishing kick, and I decided that I at least had to try to chase her down. I could also almost hear him giving me form pointers like he had during the run. Blond braid. Fast turnover. Blond braid! Use your butt. BLOND BRAID! I was gaining. I pushed hard and felt strong. According to the Garmin, I was running a 5:24 pace at the finish, but I ran out of room and she finished five seconds ahead of me. My time was 55:07, which was good enough for first in my age group and very close to my goal. I was really happy with the run, but wishing that I had started that kick just a little sooner…
Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/297536566