Monthly Archives: December 2014

Secret Solo Run: Icehouse Trail #198

To celebrate the end of a freaking kickass semester (straight A’s with two classes over 100%- and I wonder why I never have any free time), I went on a secret solo run. I researched different trails- I wanted something with a bunch of climbing, clear trails but not sanitized, and high solitude. I found an amazing place.

I stopped at Starbucks for a large breakfast (nom nom nom) and I headed up to Globe. A little over an hour outside of Phoenix, Globe is normally a place I just drive through on my way northeast to Show Low. There doesn’t really appear to be very much of anything here. But, just a couple of miles off of the main highway are the Pinal Mountains.

Breakfast from Bux

Breakfast from Bux

Travelling through some residential area, I eventually came to the end of the paved road. Half a mile beyond that, on the left, was a picnic area, which is also the parking lot and trailhead. I pulled in, and other than the campground host, there was no one else there. From the parking lot there are two trails; Six Shooter Trail and Telephone Trail. I read online that Telephone Trail to Icehouse Trail had the most climbing, so I chose that way.

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Straight out of the parking lot, the trail went uphill. I began in dense, low-lying mountain desert type scrub, but compared to the Sonoran desert scrub that I’m used to, it was nice. Telephone trail crossed the road, and after a bit met up with the lower half of Icehouse. From everything I’d read, staying on Telephone to the second Icehouse intersection was way more interesting, so I did that. Immediately, the views were beautiful.

Telephone Trail 192 to Icehouse Trail 198

Telephone Trail 192 to Icehouse Trail 198

Panoramic

Panoramic

I popped out on a service road. In the absence of any signage telling me which way to go, I assumed that up was correct, so I went left up the road. It was STEEP. I have no idea how vehicles are able to drive on this road, but I saw tire marks. I saw a gate just slightly up and on the right side of the road, but I went a little further up the road because it was so freaking steep! That was fun. Then back down to the gate.

STEEP ROAD!

STEEP ROAD!

Gate #1

Gate #1

I stopped frequently to enjoy the view in between the thickening manzanitas. The foliage was fairly dense around the trails. I was extremely grateful that it was a chilly day so I wasn’t too worried about snakes. In warmer weather, though, I would have a hard time with my little “venomous snake fear issue” on this trail.

Coming upon another gate, I stopped for some selfie-shenanigans.

Goofing at the Gate

Goofing at the Gate

Gate #2

Gate #2

More Goofing at the Gate: Channeling Joey Tribbiani's "Smell the Fart" acting

More Goofing at the Gate: Channeling Joey Tribbiani’s “Smell the Fart” acting

Crossing the gate put me on another road, where again there was a complete lack of signage. Assuming again that up was good, I climbed. Once again, the next gate was just a little up the road.

Gate #3 plus the "trail marker"

Gate #3 plus the “trail marker”

Very quickly through the third gate the manzanitas got taller and made a kind of hall to run through, then began giving way to pines. *Sigh* breathing deep the smell of the pine needles under my feet made my heart happy. Eventually the trail finally went downhill for a short bit until it met up with the lower section of Icehouse Trail at Doghouse Spring. From here, there was a choice to head left, staying on Telephone to head towards Six Shooter and do a loop, or keep right and continue the climb up Icehouse, which is what I did. Not too far after the intersection there was a spot where there appeared to be an old logging road heading off to the right. I stayed left following some old water lines up the hill. This ended up being correct.

IMG_20141212_111640280 IMG_20141212_111734545 IMG_20141212_111947265

I was in dense forest and now there were leaves underfoot and the dense, earthy, clean smell of fall filled my nose. My feet rustled through them and I felt like a little kid. Occasionally there was a red one mixed in with the brown, making me want to come back in the fall. The leaves obscured the trail the whole rest of the climb, and it was a good climb. I hiked most of the way up, running when I could, which wasn’t often. I had to stop now and then to allow the pounding in my chest to slow down to a dull gallop. And then, there were aspens- in Globe!

LOLz Tree

LOLz Tree

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Goofing, showing the trail behind me

Goofing, showing the trail behind me

Aspens in Globe!

Aspens in Globe!

Not too long after the aspens, I popped out on a service road and could see towers in two different directions. A glance at my Garmin showed that I was almost at 5 miles, so I decided to run up the road a little bit just to hit 5 and see what was up there. I’m so glad I did because about a quarter of a mile up the road is where the most incredible view of the day was! I looked out over the glorious wilderness, with the wind blowing up the side of the mountain, chilling me, making me thankful for my arm sleeves.  Every view is unique and amazing and always worth the effort that goes into finding it.

Top Icehouse Trail Entrance

Top Icehouse Trail Entrance

At the Top

At the Top

The road and towers

The road and towers

View from the Top

View from the Top

From here I ran just a little further up towards the towers, but then decided I was too cold and headed back down to the trail.

The run back was fast. I was careful because the leaves were hiding the trip-me-ups in the trail and I really didn’t want a twisted ankle, or a fall, but fast nonetheless. At one point I heard a loud sound in the woods off to my left. Stopping to look there were maybe three white-tailed deer making their way up the hillside and away from me. I’d spooked them and they were probably the wildest deer I’ve seen on my runs since they actually ran away from me.

White Tail Deer, circle in red, center

White Tail Deer, circle in red, center

I flew down the same way I came up and it was pretty uneventful after the deer, except for where I overshot the trail turn-off on the super steep road. I figured it really quickly though, and had only missed it by about 200 feet.

Shadow pic showing the steep road

Shadow pic showing the steep road

 

Arriving back at the parking lot with about 10 miles and 3500 feet of climbing under my feet, mine was still the only car in the parking lot. Other than a truck I’d encountered on the service road at the top of the mountain, I’d seen no one, spoken to no one.  This was an epic day of playtime in the woods! I took one last look out over the valley below and headed home.

For directions, maps, and cool historical info on this area click here or here or here. This run took me about 3 hours, with lots of stopping for pictures. It’s rated as “Most Difficult”, but I really didn’t think it was; medium perhaps.

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Aravaipa McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50K Race Report

As I drove down the road at 5:30 in the morning, on my way to meet a couple of friends for the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50K race, I reflected on how not nervous I was. I’d even slept great that night! I felt at peace inside, and was excited to see some different sections of trail that I’d never been on. I was just looking forward to the run and viewing it as any other long run. I was going out to have a blast, no pressure at all. In fact, I’d signed up for this race at the last minute to celebrate my friend Becky’s birthday, which was the day of the race. So this was a have-fun run all the way.

In the past I would always have some kind of caffeinated foo-foo Starbucks drink (one of my favorite things to drink!) before a run. I have noticed, however, an odd feeling of… not right, when I do that, and sometimes a messed up run. So on this day I had a non-caffeinated foo-foo drink, plus a breakfast sandwich, plus a scone (a girl’s gotta eat). My buddies, Matt and Kathi, rolled in. We had this picture taken with our rockin’ socks, while we were still clean.

Starbucks: Pre-Race

We arrived at the start line just after the 50 mile racers took off. Going to check in, I was happy to see my friend Michelle volunteering at registration! She handed us our bibs, and then we just hung out with friends until it was race time. The morning was chilly (for me and my hot-weather self), but I decided to go sans sleeves. I figured the running would warm me up, plus the day might get warm, and I didn’t want to be carrying them. A few minutes before the gun (horn), Jamil, the RD, announced it was time to line up.

Friends Ready to Run!

So here’s where the story really starts. I started out WAY too far forward in the chute. I knew this, but decided, “Eh.” Countdown… Go! And I was running WAY too fast. I knew this, but again decided, “Eh.” I knew I was going to blow up, and, you guessed it, “Eh.” Running at a 9:30-ish per mile pace for the first 5.5 miles, I felt great. I was having fun, the course was easy, and I just rolled with it. Since I was out to have fun, I really didn’t care about blowing up later, I knew I’d finish somehow, it just might not be pretty. Oh! I never saw my friend Kathi after the horn went off (Matt and I stuck together for a while though). She was GONE. TOTAL ROCKSTAR. I found out later that she took third for the women, and this was her very first 50K!

I started to slow myself down a little about a mile outside of the Escondido aid station, the first aid station. I think I grabbed something really quickly to snarf down, but it was too soon to really need much of anything at that point. Walking out of the aid station, Matt and I stayed to the side so people could pass us. We were now on the Pemberton Trail. I do not like this trail. It’s wide and fairly uninteresting, and the direction we were going was a constant, steady climb, but not steep. However, I’ve run this trail enough that I am familiar with it and knew where I was and how much climbing there was, so I held a fairly steady pace up, stopping to walk once in a while. I felt great and was having fun!

We hit the Granite aid station, aid station number two, with little fanfare. I knew the next aid station was about 11 miles away, so a volunteer was kind enough to refill my pack for me. We ran into our friend Ila at this aid station and talked for a little bit. It was nice to see her friendly face. At this aid station I ate a little more. I walked out of the station carrying fistfuls of food: bean burrito bites, a potato with salt, and Pringles potato chips (I told you, a girls got to eat, don’t judge). While I stuffed my face, Matt and I walked some new trail. As I stepped over knobby sections of plant, I wondered if Jamil had just bushwhacked a trail through the desert. However, after about a quarter of mile, we actually came to a signed intersection, showing we had been on an actual trail. Jamil told us later that he thought that section of the trail was maybe just a few months old.

This next section of trail? Priceless. Having completed putting food in my stomach, I was ready to run again, and this part of the trail was GREAT. It was single track, with cool scenery, and rollers (rollers are gentle rolling mounds, not hills) and twists for fun. The rock formations dotting the landscape were epic; some were covered with moss, or with lichen. They stacked up and around each other like giants had been playing dodgeball. Unfortunately, Matt wasn’t really able to enjoy this section because he started to have a really hard time with his ankle (he has suggested, on numerous times, that he should just chop it off). In fact, he hadn’t run the entire week leading up to the race because of his ankle. He told me he needed to stretch for a bit and that I should just go, so I did.

I laughed quite a few times at the sheer joy of running through here, especially as I rounded corners to then tear down a hill! Eventually, the trail hit Pemberton Trail, and then I was about half way done with the race.

The town of Fountain Hills, which is just south of the McDowell Mountain Regional Park where this race was held, has a huge fountain, spraying about 560 feet up, that goes off every hour for about fifteen minutes. This fountain can be seen for miles around, and is easily viewed from the park. The first time I saw it during the race I went to turn around to point it out to Matt, forgetting he wasn’t with me. That sucked.

I don’t mind running the backside of the Pemberton Trail too much. It’s at the base of the McDowell Mountains, and relatively flat with just a few rollers, so I picked up the pace a little. It was here that I started to catch a few people. I think I caught one or two on Pemberton itself. After a few miles, we turned off of Pemberton again onto Coachwhip Trail, and I caught a few more people who slowed down on some climbs. I was once again in new territory. On Coachwhip and onto Windmill towards Windgate Pass we rolled along on some slightly rougher terrain as we made our way towards the mountains. I caught my friend Brad here, and we chatted for a bit.

The course elevation profile showed that we had one big climb. I wasn’t quite sure where it was, but figured I’d know it when I hit it, which I did! I practiced my “ultra-walk” up Bell Pass. I kept looking out behind me because the view out over the valley was beautiful. It’s interesting to me how soft the landscape can look from up high. We know the desert is covered with things that want to poke, scratch, bite, or otherwise maim us, but from up above it is like a painting.

At the top of Bell Pass I began to feel my blow up from going too fast at the start. Coming down Bell Pass would normally have been my “jam”: my thing. It’s a steep, fun downhill section with all kinds of rocks to hop over. Unfortunately, this is where my dear friend Schnebly (my side stitch) decided to make his presence known, and I began to feel fatigue running down my legs. So I went down the hill like a normal person instead of crazy person with an apparent death wish (for clarification, I don’t have a death wish, I just really, really like running really, really fast down hills). Also through here, I began to feel… off. I had now been running with a solid effort for a little over 4 hours and knew that I had better eat something at the next aid station if I expected to finish this race.

At the Dixie Mine aid station, a volunteer once again refilled my pack. I don’t remember what all I ate there, a bunch of things. They had little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and of course, the requisite potatoes and salt. I know I ate those things because I walked out of the aid station with them. I desperately did not want to eat. Both foods were just “blech” in my mouth, but I forced myself to swallow them. I was glad I did because after a few minutes, I felt immensely better. I allowed the food to settle as I walked to the top of the hill out of Dixie Mine, where I started running again. The blow up was becoming, well, more. Thankfully Schnebly had bid me adieu, but now the fatigue in my legs was quite defined, and every now and again, I had to walk as one leg would attempt a bit of a buckle underneath me. But somehow, I was still in great spirits! I was seriously having such a good time, even with all the fatigue and cramping, and whatever it was going on in my legs. I just slowed my pace and kept a running motion as much as I could. Through here, I chatted with a nice man who was from Calgary, Alberta. He told me he’d been warm that day, which amused me. I knew instantly that he wasn’t from Arizona, since most Arizonans would have been cool! He told me about past times he’d run this race, and one of those times getting lost in the desert. It was nice talking with him.

I continued my running motion to the Gate aid station, which was the fourth and final aid station. I grabbed a bite, probably a potato, and left. Just out of there, my friend Brett caught me. He was running the 50 mile race and looking strong! By now my running motion had many hitches in it, but that was okay. I knew I had only about a 5K (just over 3 miles) left to finish. The trailed rolled and I rolled with it. Crossing through a giant culvert, I knew I was getting close because I’d gone through that culvert in races past. I climbed up one last steep hill and at the crest I could see the finish line about half a mile down below me. I did my best to run, crossing that last half mile as fast as I could. I crossed the finish line in 6 hours, 22 minutes, and 44 seconds and had gone just over 31 miles. This was not my fastest 50K time, but I felt really good about it.

Throughout the race I compared how I was feeling then with how I felt on my first 50K, the Pemberton 50K, from two years earlier. It was incredible how different everything was. At that first race, I wanted to die for the entire second half of the race. My legs felt like lead, and the only thing that kept me going was watching the feet of my friend Dawn in front of me. What a difference 2 years and countless mountains and trails has made. I actually had FUN at this race! This difference is exciting, and has me incredibly excited for my next 50K at Black Canyon.

After the race, I changed out of my stank clothes, ate an amazingly delicious pizza that absolutely hit the spot from Freak Brothers Pizza, and hung out with friends. We discussed our race and how it went, what we thought, how we felt, what we saw. As I mentioned earlier, Kathi placed in this, her first 50K! Matt finished strong on his bum ankle. Brad finished strong after getting through stomach issues. This was my new friend Jon’s first 50K and he absolutely killed it! Ila finished strong, ready for her next race, (which was the next day). Brett got second place in the 50 mile! Erin had a solid, good race. Miguel set an incredibly epic PR! He later had a brilliant idea to start a campfire, so we collected wood. I was informed that my wood-gathering skills are “legit”. It’s nice to have your skills be recognized.

At the end of the day, Matt and I started tearing down. I’m afraid I was useless. I don’t know why Jamil keeps allowing me back to volunteer. By the time it was dark, I was down to a turtle-paced hobble. I had no strength left in my upper arms to lift anything. My back and shoulders were done. However, I still had a great time tearing down- I’d never done that before and it’s amazing to see how much work goes into putting on a race! I give serious props to all RD’s everywhere. I also had the joy of watching the last 50 mile racers come across the finish line, all going strong, all with big smiles on tired faces.

I can’t wait to run this race again. It was a great day, with great views, and great friends!

* As usual, the pictures aren’t mine.

On the McDowell Mountain Frenzy Course

On the McDowell Mountain Frenzy Course

Finish Line!

Finish Line!

Smelly Armchair Musings: Why Do I Run?

Why do I run?

In normal, daily life it is common for someone to ask how your weekend was and what you did. Answering this question, though, is never easy for me. How do I respond?

“Well, I ran a 25 followed up by an easy 15 the next day. Checked out some sweet single track.”

I’ll have to explain what a 25 followed by a 15 is (25 miles on Saturday and 15 miles on Sunday). I’ll have to explain what single track is. And I’ll be met with seriously blank stares followed by incredulous questions, the most common of which is, “Why on earth would you do that?”

Why on earth indeed? Why do I choose to run hours and hours every weekend? Why do I like ultras? Honestly, rather than trying to explain myself, I find it easiest to just laugh and say, “Haha, I know, right? I must be crazy.” Because this drive to run is down at the core of my being- how do you explain something beautiful that is lodged in the depths of your soul, to someone else who does not have that same thing there? You can’t. Not really. But… I thought I’d give it a shot. I know everyone who does run has different reasons as to why, but here is my little story.

I grew up outside, and I’m sure that’s where I gained my love of the outdoors. I spent the entirety of my summers running around barefoot in the woods (or I had my nose buried in a book- I’m a person of extremes). I climbed trees, I swam in cricks, I picked berries, and I played with crayfish and frogs and toads. I explored the wilds around my house and I knew their secrets. This was my world and my soul ran free.

Fast forward however many years it’s been (it’s a number that surprises me!), and out of necessity, I now live in a development; in a city. For many years here, my soul just kind of sat in a hole, bewildered perhaps.

One day, amidst babies and house cleaning and whatever else I did, I realized that I needed something that was all mine; something that I did just for me and only for me. This thing could not be because someone else told me to do it, or because someone else wanted or needed me to do it, it needed to be because I wanted to do it. So I ran.

I started out just running a little around my development, until my friend said, “Hey! Let’s run a half marathon!”  and I said, “Holy crap that’s far, okay!” And really, that’s what started me down this path. She and I didn’t make it to that half marathon together, but I did end up running one. And it was hard. And I had a good time. All of this running was pretty good, until one day, I found it. “It?” you may ask? Oh yes, IT. My niche. I ran a trail.

And then another trail. Then I realized that these trails go off into really wild places, far away from cars and tech. I could have space to breathe. The constant tension in my shoulders could disappear. I could just BE. There was no one to judge me and no one to want anything from me. I didn’t have to try to make sense of social situations. There was no one who would look at me or look at my life and make any decisions about it one way or the other. I just was. And it was good.

Running by myself is great, but running with other people, sharing the glory of the world around me, is even better. I love these people, these trail runners, this community. We run and while we do so, we are relaxed. We can be in the moment and appreciate each other’s presence. We share our lives.

And yet these still are not the entire reason that I run. When I stand on the edge of cliff looking down and out, I see my place in this world, and it’s comfortingly small. As I run, I feel my muscles working, straining, rising to this new challenge as I climb a mountain or run across the rocks. I feel capable and strong. The feats that the human body is able to accomplish are incredible- do you realize that humans can keep moving LONG after most other animals collapse because they literally have no more ATP (the energy source for our muscles) left? It’s amazing that we can do this, if we just get out and start going! We are able to acclimate to almost any environment on the planet, if we get out and go do it. We can scale the highest mountains, cross the hottest deserts, swim the greatest waters. We can see waterfalls, jungles, crazy animals, incredible vistas. What other animal can do that as we can? None. WHY would I want to sit at home when there is so much world to see, and I am uniquely gifted to see it? I know what’s in my home, I don’t know what’s down that trail I have yet to explore. Whether you believe in God or not, this world is an epic gift that I would feel I was squandering if I only ever hung out in my smelly armchair.

So what am I saying, exactly, with all of these thoughts? Why do I run?  Well, the simple version is that it makes me happy. Anyone can understand doing something because it makes them happy, but I believe most people would ask, “Why do you run so much? Why not just run a 5K? A 10K? A half marathon? Or at the most, the occasional marathon? Do you really need to run a marathon pretty much every weekend?”  The answer to the final question, unequivocally is yes. I need to breathe, and the long runs are where I breathe the best. I need to be a part of a community, and these are my peeps. I need to explore my amazing planet, and I can do that best while running. It’s possible that Disney’s Pocahontas actually said it best in “Just Around the Riverbend.” Just because we grow up, does that mean we stop our awe and wonder of the world around us? Do I just stay home and do what’s easiest?

So, there it is. All of that, that’s my reason for running. You may disagree with me. You may think I’m wrong, or selfish, or something else entirely. I’m okay with that. I don’t write for you, but rather for me. I know that most people still will not understand, and I wouldn’t expect them to. This is something you either “get” or you don’t. BUT- I would say that all of us have something that we love. That something may be more socially and culturally acceptable than running long distances and so you may feel that it’s not the same thing, but it is. This sameness is something I have come to realize over the past few years and I hope it’s made me a more accepting person, at least sometimes. Trying to understand another person and see the world through their eyes is extremely hard for me- I think everyone should see things my way! But when I shut my mouth and slow down my race to take offense, I gain an insight into another person and that is priceless.

* On a side note, these are not my thoughts on a balanced life, but rather on my gut-deep passion. Balance is a whole other thing that comes into living the passion, and is best discussed in a different smelly armchair sitting. (See? Balance.) Sometimes I manage balance better than other times, as my exceedingly understanding husband can attest.