I’m going to do things backwards and start with my verdict on the race, because I’m going to equivocate the hell out of it, and I don’t want you to get to the end and be mad at me.
Should I have done the Tucson Half Marathon? Well, running in the desert was amazing, and now I’ve knocked Arizona off in my unofficial quest to run a race (any race, 5ks count) in all 50 states, but I also had been having some leg problems leading up to it that have manifested in a pretty severely strained calf. So no, I probably should not have done it.
Should you do the Tucson Half Marathon? I’m not sure. Here’s why: You have to be on a bus by 5:30 am. The bus then drives you a half-hour north and lets you off in the middle of the pitch-black desert. There is nowhere to go–barbed wire lines the side of the road (to keep you out or to keep scary desert predators in? I’m pretty sure snakes can get through…). The port-a-potties were in the road; we kept having to move the line to let buses through. But there were lots of them, and there were heat lamps. Because it’s cold in the desert at night!
The start area was really compact, which was a good thing, because it enabled me to use the port-a-pottie, huddle under a heat lamp, then at 6:50 take off my sweats, run them to the bus, huddle under the heat lamp some more, and start at 7:00. By then the sun was coming up, so it was warming up, and I was looking for snakes or lizards, but I didn’t see any.
The gun went off, and I proceeded to run downhill. Down, down, down for six miles. I was feeling good, easily running an 8:25 or so pace, watching the sun come up over the mountains as I went. It was gorgeous–but then it all flattened out.
The elevation chart alleges that the race is completely downhill, but I assure you it’s pretty flat for the last few miles and that mile 12 is uphill on a rocky road. My feet were furious with me at that point, and my legs had started to seize up. Oh yeah, I remembered, I haven’t run 13 miles in like a year, let alone 13 miles relatively quickly.
Now, my watch died before I pulled my splits off of it, but they went something like 8:25-8:22 for the first 6 miles, then a bathroom break for a 9:25, then 8:33s or so, then that killer mile 12 hill, which led to an 8:40, then an 8:14 last mile.
BUT WAIT. I forgot the best part. I’m cruising along, the end is in sight, I’m bargaining with my legs and feet, asking them to just hold on, I pass mile 13, I make a right and … sand. “Are you kidding me?” I yelled at the lady next to me, who seemed more intent on finishing than sharing my indignation. But I showed her; I ran off to the side, hoping there was some solid ground over there, and there was. So I passed all the suckers in the sand pit to run 1:52:03, which is not embarrassing!
I was really worried about the race (before I even knew about the last little sand scuffle (it wasn’t far, maybe .01 of a mile, but still! It’s sand!) because of the altitude and my lack of training and my abundance of leg problems (my quad had been acting up so badly that Coach George told me not to run the race.) But 1:52 was ok by me.
At the end I greeted my family, who had been kind enough to get up at 4 to take me to the race, and they waited for me to get a massage. There were definitely more massage tables than I’ve ever seen at a race, so I didn’t have to wait long. I thought the massage would keep me from getting hurt. And when I went to the chiro for my strained calf, he told me my hips were feeling great. So I was kind of right.
In conclusion, the good is definitely the downhill and the massage. The bad is the early gathering, the uphill, the sand, the fact that I could only get one bottle of water (in the desert, people)–everything else was a weird drink, most with carbonation, which I have a hard time drinking. There are no spectators allowed until about mile 6, and then there aren’t many anyway, but that doesn’t really bother me in a half. The reviewers on Marathon Guide pointed out some stuff I hadn’t thought of, like the fact that there were no space blankets.
I’ll say the medal is null: it’s tiny, but it’s totally awesome. It’s shaped like a cactus and engraved. My nephew loved it. He even bit it to see if it was real. “Solid gold!” he pronounced. (It’s some kind of bronze, but his teeth marks didn’t show!)
So should you do the Tucson Half Marathon? I still don’t know. What do you think?