By Steve Sharpton, Parsons Training Center, Tucson, Arizona
January 21, 2016
In less than a month, I will be running in the heat and in the muck that is the concrete hell of Phoenix, Arizona. More specifically, I will be running around Phoenix and wishing for death, since Phoenix made it very clear they don’t like too many races in their city. In year’s past when I did Ragnar Del Sol, I was always in the first van, which had quite a few liberties in regards to sleep patterns and rest. The only downside about being in the second van was the fact you mostly ran in the city (something I noticed in Las Vegas as well) and most likely had to run in the heat of the day. Eve though I would lose a lot of sleep during Ragnar Del sol, at least the scenery was quite awesome. Now, the Phoenix metro area can get as hot as 85 degrees in February, and unless you are prepared to run in this kind of heat, it will be a hell on all who participate. The final legs are always cramp city, mainly because people are always stopping and wishing they had signed up of the longer, less sleep friendly Van 1. It’s even worse for me this year, since I am the last runner in the entire race and not only do I have to run sometime in the late afternoon, I will have to do that twice while also running along the hot Tempe Town Lake (our No. 12 last year told me it was just humid, hot and unpleasant). But hey, the good thing about my precarious position is the fact I am the guy that gets to cross the finish, the guy that everyone has to wait for at the end. Plus when I get my celebratory beers, it will be a straight shot of awesome since I will be dehydrated and subjected to rather quick “pain relief.”
Now my training schedule has still been inconsistent in a lot of ways, for I am still only getting a couple runs in each week. But I am certainly getting better since my injury riddled December, which sidelined me almost indefinitely with some horrible blisters. After starting up slow and doing only three mile increments, I have been pushing the envelope recently, pushing through six and seven mile runs. It has gotten much easier to train for me near my house, as well as much more convenient. With the addition of that new section of running path, my inclination to run my home path is becoming much stronger. It has gotten to the point where I consider the section of path between Valencia Road and Silverlake Road (which would combine to an 11-mile traverse) one of the premiere training spots for any runner. It has so many inclines and declines that it will challenge your legs extremely well. Not to mention, you can wander off into the actual river wash and run through the porous sand that lines the bottom. For nearly three months, I have been pretty exclusive to that path, even if it is pretty lonely with few runners to gauge just how fast I need to go (and to the woman that gave me a dirty look for saying “hi,” you run like molasses!….yeah I’m not angry about it or anything). Anyway, I have started to become a little too good on my home course. It used to be I would barely blow through that area at a pedestrian 10-minute a mile pace. Nowadays I’m getting down to 9:30 per mile, which is unbelievable when I think about it since I am usually running the path in the middle of the day or in the late afternoon (as in, I am running in sunlight to train for Ragnar). One thing is for certain, the dirt paths they are laying out in the area are making it much easier on my legs, and with the new pavement that seems to be more of a rubber-based compound, it certainly feels better on the body after a long run. I guess this was intentional, since the number of cyclists hitting the south side of the path are steadily increasing. I mean, it used to be a rather cult-like thing to use the path as a bicycle path. Now I’m seeing meet-up groups of cyclists riding two-deep in rows of ten. Seriously, we have been getting more of those seated biking enthusiasts as well. Just last week, I actually saw a hipster couple! Do you know how rare it is to see a hipster, complete with their Salvation Army threads and vintage bike, riding around on the southside of Tucson? Especially a couple? Compete with them using a bicycle baby stroller to haul their little dogs for the ride? It was surreal, man. I couldn’t believe it. My dogs looked at me and asked why can’t they get a carriage when they go on walks (well, at least that is what I interpreted from the looks they gave me).
So yes, life is changing quite a bit, even though some things never change in regards to yahoos tearing up the path with their stupid ATVs and the knucklehead horse owners not picking up the massive horse clumps that get left behind on the path (which might be a good reason to run in the daytime). I think this is why, more than anything at this point in my Ragnar Del Sol training, I needed to visit an old haunt. I haven’t been to Reid Park in quite a long time, mainly because I don’t view the park as a challenge anymore. The last time I ran the well kept paths, I blew up my previous best by averaging 9:13 per mile for an 8.09-mile run way back in November. And what made it even more impressive, I did it without my Camel Pack, which adds a few pounds when filled with water and stuff. I had also run 8.03 miles a couple days before, making a beeline all the way from Veg in Box in downtown Tucson to my parent’s house (which I was house siting at the time). While the adrenaline of Ragnar Las Vegas was still in my veins and the awesomeness of the trip still giving me the post race high, I have to believe the run I partook in on Wednesday night was equally impressive. With so little time back on the track, attempting an eight-mile run seems rather ridiculous right now. Three weeks ago, I was barely getting four miles. Last night, I want to go a full playlist. Now, when I put together most of my playlists, I gun for a specific amount of time based on the mileage. It’s a nice little mental cue for me when I realize I am getting near the end of whatever race I was doing. But last night I chose one of the oddest playlists on my new iPhone 6S…a playlist from the band “Godspeed You! Black Emperor.” Now, when your music constantly jumps speeds and loudness, switching between rousing guitars and droning keyboards, it can be a rather difficult list to run to. Not to mention, the 80-minute list I put together only has five songs, with two of them 20-plus minutes! So yeah, I wasn’t going to concentrate on a speed or distance…just running the whole damn list!
The great part about running Reid Park is definitely the people watching (as in my case, checking out the beautifully fit women on the running path!). The only downside of course, most of the people kind of do their own thing and will never wave back at you or even acknowledge your existence. Only once did I have a good experience when me and this one woman were running two laps around the path, doing it virtually the same speed as we kept passing each other on opposing sides of the path. She gave me a nice smile and a high five, for it was pretty obvious she doesn’t have very many people that can keep up with her. Most of the time, people recoil when I run past them or something, utterly surprised a 237-pound man is running past them. And you read that right, I’m down to 237 pounds, at least I think. I can’t rely on scales much anymore, but if that was correct, that would mean I dropped nine pounds in five days…just from doing the potato diet! Now I would think this is an inaccurate drop, but hey, just means I am getting closer to 230 pounds! Plus my 38 jeans are turning into clown pants recently, meaning I can legitimately use the fourth hole on my belt! So yeah, even if the weight is unreliable, the inches are!
Anyway, I started my 80-minute run rather quickly, and I pretty much knew the final couple miles were going to be horrible on me. I was just going too fast, and I really couldn’t do anything about it. The flatness of the course makes this easy to do, and I unfortunately started on the part of the path that is a bit of an decline. I ultimately tried hitting some of the hills that line the Country Club part of the path, but I was booking down the hills much faster than I needed to. During the course of my run, I maybe “killed” a good 20 people and actually lapped a couple of couples trying their hand at running, most likely for the first time. Now the good thing is, I didn’t get too big headed, for I did get passed by one guy along the way. But from what I saw, he only did a four-mile run, which didn’t affect my ego at all since I was easily running double that. One thing I did notice due to my absence from Reid Park was just the hardness of everything. The ground felt harder. The pavement felt like I was running around my job’s warehouse. It seems I have gotten a little spoiled with my home path. With fewer people using the path near my house, the lack of use probably hasn’t compacted the path quite as much. Who would have thought this would have happened. All the weeks I have been running my home path may have been challenging the strength in my quads, I was not being exposed to the secret weapon that makes Reid Park slightly tougher than it looks. All these years I called it a training course for beginners, and the path surprised me like a horrible Christmas present or not getting your bonus at the end of the year. I think this was good realization for me, for it brought some new perspective in regards to my training. So yes, while I need my difficult home course, filled with its pitfalls and potential homeless denizens, I still need to test myself on the course I cut my teeth on.
I still remember the day I ran the 2.87-mile stretch in 29:37, which was the first time Jon had ever timed me for that course. At that time, I had barely started running the full loop at all. Now here I am, blowing up my per-mile average at 9:21 per mile (not great to some people, but considering I had my Camel Pack on, I will take it!). But the time the last note from my playlist had finally sounded, I was actually done before the 80-minute mark. So in reality, I actually outlasted my playlist (but only by a mere minute!). I figured it would be best to get a more even running time, for I hate going for a weird amount of time. Needless to say, due to my RunKeeper app, I have become obsessed with running in five-minute increments. Anyway, I finished just a hair over 80 minutes, finishing strong with 8.56 miles under my belt. I was gasping for air when I stopped, for I went pretty hard for a guy that is a little out of shape. As I struggled for air while sitting on my car, I saw a guy that reminded me of myself running past my jalopy. I had passed him a good two miles before, watching him struggle at maybe an 11-minute per mile pace. I felt a little camaraderie with him because he had almost the same exact color bandana I had as well as wearing a bad yellow shirt (which I used to have as well). He was struggling, so I told him to keep his head up to aid in his breathing and posture. I think he might have taken it a little badly at first, thinking I was giving him strange words of encouragement due to his size rather than practical advice about his running posture. But as he passed my car in front of the tennis center, he had his head up and looked to be making a little better time. I gave him a little wave and he trudged along. To think, that used to be me in regards to my running, wondering if I could make the next half-mile increment and wait for my running app to tell me if I am slowing down or speeding up. Personally, I’m thinking I need to do this more often. And with the added memory capacity on my new phone, I will be ablate add more playlists instead of the usual nine or ten I seem to have. Yikes, am I turning into a fitness nerd? I say yes!
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Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.