Wednesday, December 08, 2010

[Health and Fitness] Climbing and Running

Climbing and Running: For some reason, I took running to heart this year. I don't know why. I'm not a particularly good runner. And I don't actually enjoy it all that much -- well, there are moments; when my stride is smooth and easy, when it's just me and my running shoes and shorts, with the sun and the summer breeze on my back, when even running in a straight line feels like a dance. That's rare. Usually it's work. Sometimes it's torture. Sometimes each step is struggle and my knees howl with each impact. Sometimes it's bitter cold and I am lugging around an extra 10 lbs. in layering while trying to figure out how to wipe my nose on my sleeve as hygienically as possible.

The Six Tunnels to Hoover Dam Turkey Trot just outside of Las Vegas wasn't supposed to be torture. Look at the photos on that site and you will see shiny happy people running in their shorts in the desert morning sun. Um, no. It was 35 at the start of the race, but the killer thing with cold weather running is rarely the temp, but the wind. I'll take a calm 28 degree run over a windy 40 degree run any day. And it was windy on Thanksgivng.

The run starts about a half mile walk from the Hacienda Casino (an establishment whose official motto is "A fun place!" which gets points for succinctness) and goes along a dirt path, a former light rail line, along the coast of Lake Mead to the Hoover Dam where you turn around and retrace your steps back.

As I said it was cold and I wasn't expecting it to be cold, so the day before race featured a visit to Niketown at the Forum Shops to buy some cold weather gear, which was great because I wasn't spending enough money in Vegas as it was.

The race was a bad one for me -- a real struggle. In addition to the freeze-factor, I was fighting a head cold and could barely breathe. Plus, there were a number of hills, including one at the turnaround that nearly made me puke. But I can't complain about the views along Lake Mead; plenty of runners were stopping to pull out their phones and take some shots.

At 12k, it was the second longest race I have ever done and my time was pretty abysmal. I think I came in at right around 10 minute miles. I was just happy to have it over. I honestly felt so bad that I thought of sacking it entirely the night before. But I had already picked up the t-shirt and so not doing the race would have been a scam. Not only that, had I skipped it I would have spent the next few days chastising myself for being such a wuss.

Despite all that, I'll probably do it again next year. The reason: I am an idiot.

The previous weekend was in Phoenix where I did a little race warm up that was much more enjoyable. Of course, it wasn't actually a run, but a climb. Phoenix is an interesting city. Whereas we in the East tend to think of our municipal parks as oases of greenery, in Phoenix the parks are centered around smallish rocky mountains, the most notable of these being Camelback Mountain. It's not a trivial climb, but quite doable if you are in good shape. If you're not in good shape, you'll want to leave yourself a lot of rest time. The total length is a little over a mile, but the elevation gain is nearly 1300 feet. I would guess the split is about 30% trail and 70% scrambling up rocks. Give yourself about an hour for a steady climb. The route will be crowded with everything from families with their Golden Retrievers to fitness lunatics speeding up and down against the clock.

As an urban park, it's not surprising that one of the most daunting aspects of the process is parking. There is a small parking lot that will be full with a line of folks sitting and waiting by 6AM. There is a secondary trail that can be accessed from street parking, but even that fills up by midday when it's busy.

I lucked out with someone clearing out of aspace the instant I arrived. It was a perfect day for a climb. I was in my light jacket and my day hikers. The sun was shining. Everyone was quite friendly. Some of the dogs seemed to have astounding balance considering they lack opposable thumbs. There was the oddity of one group of people taking a smoke break just of the trail, presumably they had had too much fresh air. At the summit, everyone had their phones out taking snaps and emailing them. Amazing 360-degree views of Phoenix/Scottsdale and the desert beyond.

It's probably just my impression, but it seems to me there are endless fitness opportunities out west, with much more variation that back here in Michigan. Working in runs and hikes and bikes and climbs out west is a truly joyous late life discovery for me. Can't get enough of it.