Monday, 3 February 2014

Running for nothing.


I've been putting this thing off. The writing of this blog, but also the telling of this story. So I may as well just get it over with, as it turned out to be one of the best experiences I've had in a long time.

Last summer, on the urging of a distant friend, one whom I haven't seen in years, but speak to almost daily, I signed up for a the Arizona Rock n Roll half marathon. It was a no brainer: relatively easy travel - two easy flights, and a place to stay. Besides that, I needed an excuse to kick start my run training as I slowly build up my distance in prep for Ironman Boulder on August 3, 2014

Of course perfect plans being what they were, training didn't quite pan out and I found myself running in circles, as noted in my previous blog of the same name. 

So I got onto a jet plane, flew through Calgary, Alberta where I met up with three guys that would be my companions for race weekend. We boarded the jet and flew down to a strange and foreign place where Seguaro cacti and palm trees grow freely and oranges fall off the trees on public sidewalks. The desert like landscape was indeed strange and foreign, but it was also oddly familiar. Like Penticton, BC or Kos, Greece; two places where I had spent
many summers. These places were both arid and welcoming and offering a multitude of adventures for someone like me, who prefers introspection over extroverted excursions.

But it was also January. With temps hovering in the teens (Celsius). This itself was a welcome shock to my anti-freeze filled system.

My companion and his friends were quite proud of this place. And for good reason. Life here almost seemed effortless. From tasty dining that was fast and flavourful, to quaffing some of the best and biggest beers I've had in many years. 

This 22 ounces of  Modelo Especial at the local Aunt Chilada's was but one example. There were many tasty experiences, including fish tacos at a place featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Los Taquitos and Pizzaria Bianco, which had the freshest and best pizza I've had in many years; and also sported a collection of feral cats, although, the two are not related.

There was also great coffee at Dutch Bros, which became a regular routine. There were also other fine dining and drinking opportunities. This is starting to sound a lot like a vacation, isn't it? From the backseat it was truly a great ride and a chance to unwind, to chill out in the outdoor pool and to see a part of the world I've not yet experienced.

But that was Friday and Saturday. Sunday included a little run I had to do. I wasn't overly stressed. I knew I could get through it, I had done the distance. The decision to make was, how was I going to run it. Was I going to run, or was I going to race?

After a number of 22 ounce beers and a little too much exceptional Mexican food, I realized that this was going to be a Sunday run, with 16,000 friends. Once that decision was made, I relaxed and thought more about the experience and less about time.

As usual, I prepped the night before.And as is usual for me, I had a crappy sleep, then stress-filled pre race time looking for somewhere to pee. I eventually found a quiet and inviting parking complex, as all the porta-toilets had 30 minute waits and I had waited 15 and was bursting.

I found my corral, and lined up. I was not too sure what to expect, as I had never run with this many people before. I took the requisite group shot and then waited. The organization was very good and the waiting was not terribly long. It was a perfect morning for a run, just around 8 C. Then the gun fired and I was off.
This run felt more like a training run than anything else. I will not go into any great detail about the run itself, as it was unremarkable. I ran steadily but not phenomenally. I essentially ran at the same pace as I had in my previous half marathon, the RPS, last April.

I took my time, stopped for water and Gatorade and several bathroom visits. There were strange and interesting bands every few miles. I resisted the temptation to take pictures, but I soaked in all the atmosphere.

Not once did I feel overwhelmed by the effort, which tell me I didn't push myself. I did feel the familiar tightness and cramping above my left knee and in my calves that stalled by Ironman attempt last year, but I simply slowed down and slogged through it. This was a start, not a finish. My results are recorded by Garmin here. 

I didn't really pay that much attention to the time. I was just pleased to have finished. I got to the finish line and had this strange sense of "what adventure will I do next". Which is very different from the euphoria I normally feel at the end of a race. But again, this was in every way a run, not a race.

After connecting with friends (I had been waiting in the wrong place, and they all got to the finish line before me!), we had the compulsory low alcohol beer - Michelob Ultra, which, I must admit is the one beer that is actually worse than the usual American beers.

After the drive home, and another visit to the outdoor pool and hot tub, I enjoyed yet another rare experience for me, watching an NFL Conference Championships at an American bar. Truly an experience that I have not had. More akin to watching the Montreal Canadians in a Stanley Cup final in Montreal, than any CFL final, even the Riders.

It was both a gastronomic and entertaining treat. The enthusiasm and pride that I saw bar patrons and bar staff put in their teams was equal to Canadians' but had a totally different sense of importance and immediacy. The voyeur in me thoroughly enjoyed it.

Following this experience, the weekend drew to a close, we drank and dined a little more, although too much post race food, negated any hunger. The next day was a slow wind down and a trip to the airport.
Like a deep water diver, it was a welcome and slow return to the atmospheric pressure of home. The sunset over Calgary was the last of the warmth of the trip, as I returned back to the arctic blast and familiarities of home.

And as it turned out, and as I have hinted, the trip itself was more of a highlight than was the run. Still I finished and was not upset by my untrained results.

An incredibly busy week of work ensued that not only did not let me reflect on the race further, but prevented me from reaching out to both real life and virtual friends who provided the support that helped me leading up to the race.

Then, without much prep time, it was time to do the Tour of Sufferlandria, a nine day indoor bike tour, which will be reported on in the next blog installment. Thanks to SP and his friends for their hospitality. This was an experience
I hope to have again. I hope to be able to run again for nothing but the pleasure of both the run and the destination.


  1. Wonderful! I have often thought that I should do a run in Arizona -- it is after all, right next door to me. Not a lot of people can appreciate the state. I love the desert.

  2. I am signing up for a half marathon in October.....gulp!!


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