After a long, hot summer break, the Southern Arizona Roadrunners racing season resumes with the popular Saguaro National Park Labor Day run. The course is a paved 8-mile loop with a big, honking hill smack dab in the middle. Beautiful and challenging, it’s one of my favorite places to run and bike. With the combination of heat and humidity, the weather can be brutal this time of year. I had run an easy four-miler the day before, and it was nasty.
My PR at this race was 1:07:09, set two years ago. I missed it last year to run the Disneyland Half Marathon. My goal was to go under 1:05.
The day dawned cloudy, if not cool, and I took that as a good sign. The desert was beautiful in the early morning light. My husband came to watch, and he dropped me off by the entrance and then went to find a parking space (expect a long walk to the start if you ever do this race). I picked up my number, chatted with some friends, had my Clif Shot, and then it was time to take care of business. No, not race: hit the port-o-potty. The lines were long, and I kept looking at my watch and the people ahead of me, performing mental calc. It would be close. My adrenaline was pumping. It was almost race time, but they hadn’t sung the national anthem yet. It was finally my turn, and if this portion of the race had been timed, I think I would have done very well. I dashed to the starting line with a few minutes to spare. It was pretty packed, so I couldn’t get as close to the front as I wanted, but I wasn’t too far back.
People were tightly clustered, so the initial pace was kind of slow. Shortly after the start, there’s a steep downhill and I had to hold myself back because of the crowds. I passed a lot of people early on – I had been farther back than I thought. I ran by my friend Melody and she cheered for me and then told her friend, “I used to beat her.” A light, refreshing rain fell. This was by far the best weather I had ever experienced at this race. I hit the first mile at 7:15, which I felt really good about. I passed my Ragnar teammate Tim, but he blazed by me back shortly after, never to be seen again (he ended up beating me by almost five minutes).
Things had thinned out enough that I was able to run my own pace comfortably now. The next two miles splits were 6:55 and 7:16. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” ran through my head. But Fonda ain’t got a motor in the back of her Honda. But I do, and I was ready to use it. Motor, motor, I got a motor… A strong crosswind blew as I headed up the hill and I felt like it might push me into the cactus. A few local high school cross country teams dressed up as super heroes manned the different water stations. The next two miles were covered in 8:05 and 9:22. Just a wee climb. “Flesh and Bone” by the Killers was in my head now. And what are you made of? Flesh and Bone! And sweat. Vats of it. My shorts were soggy by this point.
After the five-mile mark, it’s mostly downhill. Barring catastrophe, I would easily beat 1:05. My friend Craig, who is training for a 100-miler, was volunteering and cheered for me. He had done a 30-miler the day before, and today’s mileage was running to and from the water station. There are so many supportive people in our local running community who love to come out to races when they aren’t participating just to encourage others and help out.
There was a girl up ahead that I had my eyes on, and people kept cheering “Go, Diane!” I didn’t make the connection that it was Diane, one of my local running heroes, until after the race. The cloud cover surrendered to the sun during the last mile. I tried to focus on keeping my footsteps light and quick and ignore the increasingly nasty sensations coursing through my body. Diane pulled farther and farther away. The final mile has a lot of twists and ups and downs, so I was constantly changing gears. I made the final turn toward the finish line and knew that I had run a 1:02-something, so I was thrilled. It gave me hope that maybe one of these years, I could possibly break an hour.
1:02:02 (7:45 / mile)
Age Group: 2 / 75
Overall: 81 / 764
Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/369508499