Travelling to Tucson

The states are finished. The goal is complete. What to do next? I once read of a runner who said, ‘just ran my PR at Chicago, 50 states are done, only Boston to go and then I will retire.’ I always thought that was one of the saddest things I ever read. Maybe not everyone would view it that way, but you think of all the friends you have made, the journeys you have had, and to top it off you may be improving and you want to quit? Just toss it in? I suppose the saving of the money would be nice. I still think that if I met the right gal I may just go down to ten marathons a year but give it up? No. Not until I am injured and cannot go on. There is just too much out there to run for – the friends, the times, the tee shirts, the good causes we give to, and even the medals.

When the December 8th weekend came up a year ago I was just positive I was going to run Memphis again. The funds go to St. Jude and it is just an awesome feeling to run through the hospital and see those kids and high five them! Really there are very few other race moments that compare to it. I have to do that again! However in order to ensure a spot this year, you had to secure $500 in charity funding to get in. And I am not saying my friends are not charitable but I will say I think they would be a bit silly to give even $10 for me to run another marathon. When you have already run 32 marathons in one year, it is a bit of an excessive habit. So next I looked into Dallas. I love Dallas. The course is nice and such an underrated city to visit and everything is so easy to get to from the airport. I ran it last year as well and that was a fine event. I had a good time due to some nice heat (and seriously after the last couple weeks I could use some warm weather) and it turned into a perfectly planned trip with no taxi even!

But tickets to Dallas were $400 even in June! I only spent $300 last year. So after talking to a friend, Allison, at Casper I decided that maybe a nice trip to Arizona and to see Tucson would be a good idea. I looked the tickets up and at $275 (sweet!) it would be on the cheap side and I booked it almost immediately. It was also a nice addition that my good friend Michelle had signed up already. The only downside to booking such a trip would be I would have to get my own hotel but I was sure something would come up. And a week later Karen told me the only place she could travel on points that weekend was to Tucson so sure enough I never even had to worry about the hotel either.

Then another horrible and odd thing happened on my way to Tucson. Severe weather hit most of the US and both Memphis and Dallas cancelled their marathons! The three of us had to agree we had made the right choice that weekend to run (though I am sorry for those that did not get the opportunity to do so). I arrived first to the airport and after what was a messed up run in the airport parking lot with my backpack strapped on, I was ready to run the marathon the next day as I waited for Karen and Michelle. On a side note I have been run streaking for over six months and sometimes you get your miles where you can. Someone reported my backpack so I was forced to carry it. Michelle had booked the rental car and both had gotten rooms at the host hotel so it was going to be an easy weekend. Plus all three of us left Monday morning so we were even able to get some sightseeing in as well. Perfect planning.

We got to the hotel and checked in. Then since the expo was at the host hotel (not uncommon for a smaller race) we just walked over and went to the expo after checking in. The expo was in the tourist attraction part of the hotel which led to plenty of great pictures and a fun time. I think it was supposed to be outside as it was very cramped but the temperatures in the 50’s made that a hard sell. And the cramped conditions made it hard to spend too much time there. That was okay – the hotel we were staying at was incredible. It was a resort with six different swimming pools, 16 tennis courts and a golf course to go with three restaurants. I still don’t want to see the bill!

After that it was pretty close to dinner, so we just went back to our rooms and readied ourselves for the next day. I was wearing my new lucky shirt I had worn at Oklahoma and had gone back to my shoes from Nevada. I am not one of those runners that has a superstition or anything like that. I just wear what I have based off of cheapness more than anything else. I think when you run 20 marathons a year it can be harder to justify spending extra money on separate outfits every race.

We went to dinner that night and Michelle, Karen and I were joined by Allison (who made another appearance after her recommendation) and three new friends Sally, Jeanette and Danielle. Sally is another fellow 50 states finisher who is trying to run every state in under four hours now. She will officially be the new friend of this race! She is also having a Super Bowl party this year that we both found out at that dinner I had been invited to by fellow runner, Marina, who invited me to Surf City in February. What a small world we runners have! And yes, Marina talked me into Surf City and then told me to go to a Super Bowl party afterwards that Sally just happened to be having. Even saying it twice over seems confusing.

I ordered a pizza at the suggestion of our waiter and Michelle and Karen went completely healthy and got some good looking and somewhat healthy pasta. Karen and Michelle were very excited about the course and could barely contain their excitement. It was pretty much a straight downhill with one rather drastic uphill at Mile 23. I have to admit I was excited as well, but by this point all I really wanted was below 3:30. I have now made my new goal to hit all 50 states in under 3:30 and if Arizona turned out well I would only have only 10 states to repeat after this weekend! Yes, there was an excitement to get a Boston Qualifying time for 2015 at such an easy course, however I figured I would do this soon enough and it would be nice if Karen got one. She was only six minutes away in August. I was not trying to get too optimistic but a lot was on my side…

After dinner we went straight back to our rooms and got in a good night’s sleep for the night before. It is usual to pretty much always be on the go so the night before the big run most runners go to bed as early as 8 or 9. I have issues sleeping before 10 but even I can nod out as early as 9:30. However at 1 AM I got a rude awakening by a very upset stomach and it did not leave for a full two hours. Worsening the matter was that we were getting up at 4 to make a 7 AM start. So now I was in full blame mode about the greasy pizza. And I was not too happy about the run in the airport with my backpack either. It was a little much to run 2 miles with it on. On top of that it was freezing. Where was my warm weather marathon?

Maybe freezing might seem a little extreme a statement but hey it was snowing when we got to the start. We all went to the restroom and lined up for the picture at 6:30 which in hindsight was way too early as everyone ran back to the buses afterward. It was cold! Finally the start came and we took at least another ten pictures as we went to line up. And as always, we were off in no time at all. Funny how it seems like you can go from we have to stand here for five minutes in the cold to leaving in no time at all.

And the downhill kicked in quick! I was cruising for the first mile passing all sorts of people and feeling really great! There actually were more hills on the course than any of us would have guessed and the ones around Mile 3 really affected me as I watched ten runners pass me. I would get them back I thought as I reached the top of the hill. The problem was… I never did. The cold temperatures and cross winds were really affecting me and as I ran a long downhill two runners ran behind me the entire time using me as a wind block. I did not think it mattered that much but as soon as we hit the bottom one of them cruised past the other two of us no problem at all. The wind really was a factor and I let them use me up – rookie mistake.

Then on top of that, it was pretty demoralizing to see at this smaller event when I started counting runners at the turnaround? I was not even in the top 50?!? Wow. Just wow. I was running near seven minute miles and there were 50 people in front of me. Maybe this run was a lot more downhill than I had thought or maybe this was a real fast crowd! I looked great until Mile 16.5 when my stomach kicked in again and this was not just a cramp unfortunately. I was lucky enough to see a port-a-potty just in front of me at Mile 17and was able to get right in with no wait. However by this time I got out, I was passed by the 3:15 pacer and even more people had passed me. I caught up with them again but it was a lost cause. I just had nothing in me at that point and every Gatorade stop was nirvana. I walked them drinking every drop of that liquid gold. The uphill at Mile 23 was brutal but I walked it as my gait was really off on the uphill and even the last mile was filled with two walking stops just due to exhaustion and a general feeling of off. All in all I came in with a 3:24 which was really good considering and actually just what I wanted.

I had seen both Michelle and Karen at the turn around and was impressed with where they were. I thought I may be hearing about a couple personal records! I was right about Michelle as she broke 3:30 for the first time ever! Fantastic! And after talking to her and a couple other friends in our 50 Sub 4 club, Glen and Becki, we saw Karen come in with her second best time ever! Everyone there seemed to have one of their best running days except for Sally and I. Sorry Sally that I am reporting this. But you actually made me feel better and not so alone! Glen and Becki are finishers as well and prove to me that even after you finish there is still plenty to do out there – to go and run. Glen had a top three performance for him too.

It was still way cold so we got on the bus sooner than we may have wanted (it could have been much sooner grumble grumble) and went back to the hotel. We decided to go to a National Forest just outside of town and I have never seen so many cacti in my life! It was beautiful and there were pictures aplenty, including one cactus that actually looked like Homer Simpson. Even as I sit here writing this I do not feel like I can describe it quite accurately, it was certainly the highlight of the trip.

After that we made our way to the local Fleet Feet store to check out any running goods and then a fantastic dinner and a few beers at a Mexican restaurant. I really wished I had gone there the night before. It was recommended by Allison as well and she was spot on about this one. We had a few drinks that night and Karen and I went to the hot tub where we met a couple from New York. He had came in 17th overall and she had run a 3:45. Karen spent some time trying to talk them into joining 50 Sub 4 and I just marveled at his sub three time – still a goal of mine.

But as we sat there talking I knew that was what I had to keep running for – not necessarily my own goals but for others. I was there when Michelle finished her states in New York. And now I know I want to be there when she finishes all of them in under four hours. I know I want to be there whenever Karen finishes her quest (in her case hopefully together). I want to meet new people like I did on this trip and make new friends. I want to get to know other people better like new friends like Marina, Glen and Sally. In short, why would I want to stop? I had the worst day of any of my friends but I could still smile and have a much better weekend than I ever would at home. It is nice to have the Sub 3:30 goal but maybe what I need to focus on more is being there for other people’s goals. Those always end up being much more fun.

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