This spring I'm training for a 50 mile run in Page, Arizona. It's called the Antelope Canyon race, and it's part of a series of races near the National Parks of the Southwest. I'm actually not in shape for a 50 mile run (as usual), but I'll get through it (as usual), by walking the last part, however long that might take. In fact, I probably should have signed up for the 50k, which is a significantly shorter option for the race, but...the 50 mile version goes through Antelope Canyon, and the 50k doesn't. Antelope might be the most beautiful slot canyon in the world, and with no technical sections, it's also easy to get to. As long as you are willing to pay a local tour company to take you there! So a chance to run through it on my own in a race seemed really cool. I might be regretting that decision by mile 45, but....oh, well.
It's been cold and snowy in Utah, so my first chance for a run outside came in Tucson. We had just arrived in Arizone, but I was going to fly out for a working vacation in Iowa the next day, giving me one day to get a long run in! Luckily the weather cooperated, and from our campsite, I was able to run to the highest point of Saguaro National Park (West) in the Tucson Mountains. Along the way, I got my first introduction to the full desert. It was mostly flat for the first 10 miles, and the trail deviated from straight only to go around the multitudes of cactus growing everywhere.
Wasson Peak, at 4687 feet, is surrounded by (you guessed it) Saguaro cactus by the thousands. These beasts can grow over 40 tall and live for hundreds of years. They stick up above the landscape of Tucson like half-buried forks, and I pity the person who ever runs into one. It seems like every plant in this desert has vicious spines, and I was very careful where I put my feet and how I stepped. I have been known to trip over an imaginary stone and take a header on the trail...but not today, hopefully!
From relatively flat terrain, I crossed into the National Park and climbed steeply up to the summit. The trail was rocky, loose, and hot. The relatively cool morning had passed and I knew the rest of the way would be pretty hot. With temps in the 70s it was hard to stay cool enough to run. There were a few other people on the trail but it wasn't crowded at all.
I was very happy to see the summit, because it meant I was now on the second half of my run. Actually a little more, as I would cut off a few sections of trail and return a shorter way. It meant running on a road for a little while, but the trail had been exceptionally slow, what with dodging cactus and running around each obstacle. After a few road miles, and a water refill at the Desert Museum (worth visiting if you're in the area), I had a final few flat miles to be home again.
Jim had been tracking me, and brought Spot out on the trail to meet me for the last mile. Australian Cattle Dog or not, he doesn't like the heat, and he was grateful for a sip out of my water bottle! My mileage for the day was about 25 miles and that was good enough for a training run. Some of my distance for the day was on bike trails, and I am looking forward to riding them, too.