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The thermometer on the front porch read 82 degrees; more humidity than I like but enough of a breeze to offset it, and enough thin cloud cover to provide some screen from the sun once it rose, without threatening rain.  At 4:30 in the morning I started my 15 mile long run.


It can be a tricky business training through the summer in central Arizona, cramming your runs into the margins of the day.  Key to avoiding heat stroke is back into shade, and preferably A/C, before the sun gets too high in the sky.  At this point in my training, my long runs don’t dip below half-marathon distance until my taper.  I’ve been scouting out new routes lately, re-evaluating streets I’ve driven for years, now with a runner’s eye.  The straight shot between my house and the gym, which I’d always thought a nice drive, revealed a desolate five-mile stretch of block-wall-enclosed neighborhoods without a drinking fountain, convenience store, or stick of shade in sight.


What do I look for in a good long-running route?  One, there need to be places along the way where I can fill up my water supply or buy drinks.  Two, toilets.  If I’m going to be out there bouncing my bladder around for 2+ hours I don’t want to feel like a fugitive from Urinetown by the end!  If there’s some nice scenery along the way that’s a plus.


The greater Phoenix canal system is popular with runners (also walkers, cyclists, etc), and in fact I’ve been using an out-and-back along the nearest canal for my short runs.  There’s no vehicular traffic and few street crossings where you might have to wait, making them ideal for tempo work.  This favorite stretch is paved and lighted most of the way, and while not particularly scenic (unless you like sleeping mallards and free-range cats), I often catch the sunrise over the Superstition Mountains on the return.


Yesterday morning I cobbled together a route out of canals and streets, a 5-mile loop and a 10-mile loop with my house as home base.  First loop, done in twilight, went pretty well.  The second loop, well, either it needed more convenience stores or I needed a bigger bottle.  At mile 14 the sun came out from behind the clouds, and – you know those old-time cartoons where the character suddenly turns into a big thermometer and his head explodes?  That was me.  Also, I’d underestimated the mileage and would up with a 1-mile walk to get home.


So, I learned a few things with my little reconnaissance run that I’ll use plotting my future courses.  Smaller loops back to home base will probably be my strategy for now.  Not too exciting, but safer.

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Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Take my breath away


The Flagstaff Folk Festival this weekend is an annual tradition with me, and last year I added this race to that tradition.  Flag reminds me of the Pacific Northwest where I grew up, and it’s usually 10-20 degrees cooler than Phoenix.  Also, the high altitude is good training!




I set out from my hotel about an hour before start time.  It’s about a mile away from the start line, so I run/walk down Route 66 to Wheeler Park and stash my ratty jacket in the cook of a tree; unusually for Flag it’s already too warm for that.  A friend from Tuesday track finds me; she lives here over the summer, lucky her.   I go over to join her “other” running group and we chat until start time.





The course loops through historic downtown, then heads out into the moderately hilly suburbs.  The altitude is getting to me, but after Kitt Peak I resolve not to walk any of these hills.  Eventually the 10K-ers split off from the 5K-ers.    The volunteers are abundant, and so are the spectators, sitting on lawn chairs in their front yards.  The course is very meandering , so the volunteers really are vital to point us in the right direction.  I enjoy the smell of the pine trees and the beautiful gardens – I miss being able to grow those flowers here in the desert!  The race encourages costumes, but I don’t see too many – there are a few gals with tu-tu skirts, but no Mr. Incredible this year.   I cross the finish line and my camera catapults out my back pocket onto the pavement.  Back in the day, that would’ve meant the camera popping open and film spilling everywhere.  Today, a kind volunteer simply picks it up and hands it back to me.  Time: 1:09:55.




Time – not great, not terrible, I think a few seconds better than the only other 10K I’ve run at this altitude.  (I don’t have a lot of races this length to compare it to.)  I don’t see the folks in the running club I was taking to before the race – they were mostly 5K-ers, so they may have already left – so I walk back to my motel, picking up a really good latte from a tiny coffee stand on the way.

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