Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Conquering Mountains - Valley of Fire RR

In a valiant attempt to do everything before my body remembers it is old and should just slow down, I am saying yes to everybody and everything and using up my (many) vacation days. So, after returning from the awesomeness of Marshall on Monday, I put in two days at the office, and then headed out for another 4-day weekend. Las Vegas, baby!!!
It was time for my annual reunion trip with my high school buddies from Minnesota. Each November for about 15 years now, we get together in a warm-weather state for golfing, racing, and general camaraderie (drinking and eating). No wives allowed. There were nine of us this year, and we rented a huge house to camp in.

So in brief, here was my weekend:
  • Drive from LA to Las Vegas, picking up a friend on the way - 5.5 hours
  • Drinking, eating and gambling on the Strip

  • Side trip to Hoover Dam
  • 18 holes of golf - Best round ever! (111)
  • Back to the strip for dinner, drinking
  • James Bond movie (excellent!)

  • Half Marathon! (RR below)
  • Giant buffet on the strip
  • Drinking and football watching and gambling
  • Cirque du Soleil show (Beatles - Love)

  • 18 more holes of golf
  • Drive home

We had a great time. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to have so much fun.

Before I jump into the race report, let me tell you about my friend K. K was my best friend in high school. We were teammates in track and CC, and ran many miles together. One of my best memories is the only CC race that I had a chance to win. K and I were leading a smaller race and decided to finish in a tie. So we came in together, but someone had to go through the chute first, and he pushed me ahead.

About a year ago, K got diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. He had been training for the Twin Cities Marathon, and feeling sluggish so he went for a checkup. It was shocking news, and we all figured he had 3-6 months to live. This cancer is notoriously brutal and almost always fatal. But K started in on the chemo treatments, and after a while showed improvement. He kept working, and kept running when he could. His athletic vigor certainly helped him through the harrowing days of chemo.

It was a long road, but his last two visits have shown him to be cancer-free! So no more chemo, for a while at least. It has been incredibly inspiring and emotional, and we runners of course claimed that running helped his body and mind to be strong enough to win the battle.

So, K was with us in Las Vegas. And he was the same guy as always. Looked the same, acted the same. No obvious change in his outlook on life. And his training partners said he's really on fire lately - running strong. Kicking death's ass tends to give you confidence and lets you not pay attention to a little running pain.

Race day we were up at 4:45 to do the 75 minute drive to the Valley of Fire, which is a state park in the middle of desert. The rocks are blazingly red and orange and beautiful, but we would be running on a 2-lane road in the desert. Only 73 people ran the half, so lots of alone time. Weather was good though. Low 40's maybe, and sunny.

Five of us did the half. Two others did the 10K. P was the favorite - a serious runner that I may have had a shot at if I was in top shape. But I planned to run with the other three guys (K, T and M) a bit slower. Normally I would be the #2 seed, but not by much.

The race starts out with a big hill in the first half mile. Followed by more hills.

So we go to the start and nobody is even on the line. Everyone is back 10-20 yards even though the start is seconds away. We go and realize why. There are no fast people in this race! Two guys went out ahead, and then there was us 5 middle age guys and a few others. I plan to jog up this hill, but P is already going ahead and so are K and T. By the top I am huffing and puffing and tied for last of our group. The downhill didn't change things either. Soon P was moving out of sight, and K and T kept pulling ahead. M and I just let them go because we were already going faster than planned, so we just decided to run our race and see what happened.

The elevation chart is not quite accurate because the hill at mile 10 actually got moved to mile 3 (an extra out and back), thus pushing the rest of the chart over. Anyway the first 3 miles were hilly before a long downhill. M and I stuck together for 5 miles, but then he started to slip as I seemed to find a good groove and starting pushing it a little. I waved good bye and set my sights on T who was a good quarter mile ahead. K and P were out of sight.

The road was very curvy and closed to traffic, so I was running the tangents. But nobody else was. It really made a difference. More people need to learn this trick. I passed a few people, but it was pretty desolate. There were some marathoners and 10Kers on the course too, but not many.

After mile 6, T started coming back to me. He was recovering from foot surgery and it made him slow quite a bit. I went by with a greeting and moved on. In mile 8 we hit a turn around so I could see the people ahead of me. P looked good. K had maybe 2-3 minutes on me. I figured if I kept feeling good he may come back to me.

The return trip had some major uphills, but I found a good trotting pace that didn't kill me and kept going. I passed some marathoners that had started 30 minutes earlier. Glad I wasn't going to be out in the sun for 5-6 hours! One guy stopped to take pictures around every turn.

At times I could see K up ahead and I think I was gaining a little ground. Then I saw him walking up a hill. OK. If he's struggling I can catch him. A mile later I saw him walking again up the last big hill. I was struggling too, but I knew I had some in the tank, so I kept plugging.

With about a mile to go I realized I was going to catch him. So I had to have a little conversation with myself. Should I stop and run in with him? Repeating our famous tie from high school? Or should I just run my race and go on by. I was pretty sure he wasn't going to rally and stay with me. Of course his recent bout with cancer was on my mind. I decided that a pity tie would be the last thing he would want. We are both competitors and knew that the race was the thing. So I beat him. I'm sure he would have done the same to me. Well, maybe not.

We gave each other a supportive cheer and I ran up over the last hill and flew downhill the last half mile. Finished in 1:46:44 and got 5th overall. P beat me by 4 minutes and got 3rd overall, which allowed me to get "1st" place in our age group, and the coveted cowbell award. My legs were not real happy afterward, but it was a good race.  I cheered the other guys in, and we got ready to celebrate in Las Vegas.

Coming in to the finish!
Photo: Racing in Nevada!

Photo: Another successful showing and beautiful day at the Valley of Fire Half Marathon for the Tonka class of 1980 gang.
Me, S, T, M2, K, M, B and P. My bro B and M2 did the 10K. S was supportive.

Looking forward to next year. New Orleans was mentioned as a possible destination.

Since then, my legs recovered a little. I did 5.6 miles Tuesday, and will be turkey trotting 3 miles tomorrow. Shooting for sub-7 pace. THEN I'll take a break. Really.


  1. Congrats on the cowbell award!! That is deserved anytime someone races a half marathon the day after playing 18 holes of golf! I never recover from the golf :)
    Looks like a beautiful course- and good weather. Looking forward to the Turkey Trot report!
    Hope your thanksgiving was great :)

  2. Thanks, I guess I better put the Turkey post up here then. I don't put all my Loop posts up here. Just the good ones. Wish you were still on the Loop.