Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Another Hot ... but Happy! ... Summer in Phoenix :-)

It's that time of year again where my social media accounts are awash with pictures of mountain trails and the lush greenery of Colorado or other cooler climes, whilst I and many others attempt to tolerate the baking heat and increasing humidity of Phoenix. We've been in triple digits for several weeks now and being in the middle of the monsoon season, that "dry heat" that we are accustomed to disappears and we are dripping with sweat from the hot temperatures and higher humidity. We look forward to those afternoon storms, hoping for torrential rain that is usually associated with the word “monsoon”, but instead we dodge dust storms and high winds that sweep across the valley.

For me, this time of year is tough in Phoenix and I feel like a bird that has had its wings clipped and is no longer able to fly, trapped in a world that it doesn't understand. I'm so used to being outdoors, so used to hiking and running with the dogs and running miles and miles on the trails, but all that changes for the best part of the summer months. Dogs are banned from the trails when temperatures are 100 degrees or more, and who would want to take them anyway when the ground is so hot it burns their paws? The lunch time and afternoon tea time walks diminish as it's still too hot to play outside, and we wait like hermits for night to fall so we can head to the dog park and avoid the burning sun. We still try to spend an hour there, icing the dogs down to keep them cool and trying to stop them from running around as much as they normally do. We arrive home around 10pm, hot and tired and sleepy - the thought of getting up at 4am to run 10 miles in the morning before work is simply not appealing, and so we get up at the usual time, follow the usual routine, and try to cram in a run around 6pm instead, hoping things have cooled down by then but knowing full well that it's going to be another hot, sweaty slog whilst trying to run a half decent pace and carrying the two litres of water that are a necessity due to the heat.

Hills, heat and humidity - another tough run!
I make it sound awful - and sometimes it is! - but whilst I do find myself starting to feel a little claustrophobic at times, I am coping far better with things this year when compared to last, and that alone makes me happy. I am running daily, the dogs are playing in the paddling pool in the back yard, and we have visited Pine, Prescott and Sedona in recent weeks to find some reprieve from the heat and have fun with the pups.

Earlier this month we had Independence Day and certainly in our neck of the woods, there were lots of fireworks displays which sent the dogs loopy! Poor Brandy was terrified and couldn’t wait to leave the dog park virtually all week whilst Wilson just barked in confusion whenever he saw flashes in the night sky, and Tillie got nervous simply because the other dogs were nervous. Andy and I did head up to Anthem for their annual display in the park but our main priority lay at home and trying to keep the pups calm.

Due to the holiday, we had an extra-long weekend off work and boy were we busy. The Sunday saw me joining AZTraileggers for their 4th of July Hot 'n' Heavy Half at Apache Wash. I missed it last year so was determined not to miss the party again this time around despite having to crawl out of bed at 4.30am on a Sunday morning. It was well worth it though and it was nice to start the run shortly after sunrise when the temperatures were much cooler. I felt great that day and ended up running a PR on the loop by some 12 minutes which I was really chuffed about.

Hot n Heavy Half with the AZ Traileggers (PC Jon Christley)

 After the run, it was nice to have a chat with friends I hadn't seen in a while and with the runners’ pot luck, we were treated to home baked cakes, watermelon and crisps as well as other snacks and munchies. 

With having 4 days off work, on the Monday we decided to go to Prescott to escape some of the heat and give the dogs a day out at Lynx Lake. There had been a huge brush fire in that area and the main road to Prescott had only recently reopened so we weren't sure whether certain areas would still be inaccessible due to the fire. It was so sad driving there and seeing how much damage the fire had done to the land and how close it had been to houses, and it was a relief that nobody had been injured or properties damaged, although there had been evacuation orders in the surrounding areas.

We arrived at Lynx Lake and were very surprised to find it was open although it was much quieter than we were expecting, especially being July 4th weekend. At 85+ degrees, it was still hot but being by the lake meant that the dogs could have a swim virtually every couple of minutes to cool off, and boy did they take advantage of it! Wilson refused to come out of the water, even Brandy got her hair wet, and young Tillie was getting braver with every step and although not swimming, she did paddle up to her belly before she jumped back out of the water and did crazy spinnies whilst trying to engage Wilson and Brandy in play. We had a lovely little picnic together on the lake shore, and it was so nice to have the place pretty much to ourselves so we could enjoy the peace and quiet whilst the dogs happily played nearby.

Cooling off at Lynx Lake

Fun at Lynx Lake

However, when we arrived back to the car, we bumped in to the Park Ranger and were informed that the lake area was closed due to the fire risk and recent fires in the area. Somebody working for the Forestry Service had accidentally unlocked the gates that morning when they should have remained closed. The ranger was apologetic and although we weren’t to blame, it didn’t stop us feeling guilty about wandering around and having a fun but relaxing day when we shouldn't have been there.

With the Mogollon Monster 100 miler being my next target race, I have been trying to incorporate technical climbs and descents into my training, and so the day after our visit to Prescott, I did a 10-mile run at Thunderbird Park. I didn't get out until after 10am and it was so HOT! I got a little paranoid that I was really going to suffer and become one of those names on the news where people judge and comment, "you can't fix stupid!" but I am realistic. I know my limits and I know how much the heat can affect you - I had a very relaxed run at Thunderbird Park in temperatures in excess of 100 degrees and I felt ok. I drank 2 litres of water, I took salt tablets and salty snacks with me and even though I had gone there to run, I did hike the steeper more rocky sections so that I didn't over exert myself in the conditions. I thoroughly enjoyed the run and I made it to the summit of all 3 peaks in the park - with something like 3,000 ft of climbing over the 10 miles, I was done for the day!

North Peak at Thunderbird Park - enjoying Independence Day Weekend :-)

A week or two later, I joined around 20 other people for a training run on the Mogollon Rim. This again meant waking up at 4am to allow time to drive to Pine for a 7am start. The idea of doing this run was to reccie some of the Mogollon Monster course - the meetup notes said it would be around 35km and would use the course route throughout.

It was so relaxing driving up to Pine on the morning - no traffic on the road, cutting across country and watching the sunrise as I drove along. The only downside was yet another brush fire burning to the north of Phoenix, something that later that day would cause significant smoke and air quality issues close to home.

Once again it was great to see a few familiar faces for this training run and after a bit of chat with friends and a group picture, we headed out for the morning run.

Mogollon Monster Training Run Group - PC Noah Docherty

The trail started to climb straight away, a gradual incline to start before it gradually got steeper. By the time we made the turn on to the Donahue Trail, things were far rockier, extremely steep and somewhat overgrown. The Donahue Trail would take us to the top of the Mogollon Rim and it was a slog due to the steep gradient and the increasing heat. Although we had set off as a group, we were now at around 3 or 4 miles and I was already running alone. There were probably 3 or 4 people ahead of me and everybody else was behind. I don't know why, but I've always ended up as one of the mid-packers in ultra-running - too slow to keep up with those at the front, but too fast for those towards the back - I always find myself running in no-man’s-land, usually on my own which is why I think I tend to do most of my training runs on my own - it teaches me to be independent and not fear things quite so much, to be more aware of what I'm doing and where I'm going and not to rely on other people being around me during a race. Of course, during a race there are race markers and flags and it is far easier to navigate a course if you are paying attention. The Mogollon Rim has lots of trails and wannabe trails and if you are unfamiliar with area - as I am! - it is very easy to miss a turning and go the wrong way.

Mogollon Rim Training Run

Mogollon Rim TRaining Run

The map instructions mentioned a meadow at around about 5 or 6 miles into the run - it really wasn't easy to miss and I had no problems knowing exactly where I was at that point - but then it mentioned that the aid station would be clearly visible and that the trail was behind the aid station - "don't follow the forest road, follow the trail by the wooden sign". This wasn't race day so there was no aid station, I didn't see any trails veering off the main forest road, and so I continued onwards. I should have turned down Turkey Springs which would have taken me to the water drop at around about 10 miles, but I missed the turn. By the time I got to 8 miles, I knew something must have been wrong, but I could still see footprints on the trail I was following and thought that maybe I was still on track. My sense of direction was telling me that I was going the wrong way and I knew I had to turn right somewhere, but still I didn't see a right turn that would take me to the edge of the Rim for the climb back down.

My watch beeped 10 miles - that was it. It was starting to get really warm, I had got through half of my water, and I still needed to get back. I turned around to retrace my steps, figuring that I would either see the turning this time or meet the other runners coming in the other direction and I could just tag along with them.

Two miles later as I was heading back, the forest ranger came driving along the dirt road. I flagged him down and asked if he had seen any other runners - no he hadn't - and then I asked if he knew where the Turkey Spring Trail was - he'd never heard of it. My heart sank and I felt so frustrated - not with him, but more because of the situation. The sole purpose of being here was to check out the course, but now I would be lucky to see 5 miles of it and I was disappointed.

I had no choice but to continue onwards - I didn't see anybody else except for a couple of campers and a family out on an ATV. Other than that, it was so quiet out there and I found myself just enjoying listening to the wind in the trees and the birds singing. I was drinking lots more now and with a few miles still to go, I was getting a little concerned I would run out of water so I tried to drink a little more sparingly. I passed the meadow once again and still didn't see the Turkey Springs Trail and so I admitted defeat - I just had to head back to the car and give up on the route we were meant to be doing.

Solo Run at the Mogollon Rim - may as well admire the beauty of the area :-)

I made another mistake as I hit the single track again - after a half mile or so, the trail really didn't look familiar. I remembered a couple of fallen trees from earlier in the day but I hadn't yet seen them and I was pretty sure that they should have been there by now. I turned around and found a fork in the trail and yes, I had headed left instead of right - 200 yards or so down the right trail and I spotted the trees. Heading back down the Donahue Trail I slipped a couple of times on the loose rock and at one point found myself clinging to a tree branch to stop me falling and then rolling down the hillside amongst the brush.

Mogollon Monster Training Run
Almost 3 hours later, covered in dust and extremely thirsty, I arrived back at the car. It had still been a beautiful run, but I couldn't erase the disappointment that I was feeling. I needed to get home, have some proper food and a drink, and get some sleep!

After that training run, I was starting to doubt whether I wanted to do the race after all, but after a few beers, a good night's sleep and a couple of good runs over the following days, I know that I will end up doing it. Crikey, I've even arranged to rent a house in Pine on race weekend that is minutes from the start, I've booked the time off work, and my mind is focused on getting into the best shape possible for what will be a tough race - how can I possibly back out now?!

I've been doing alot more trail running since that training run and I'm now doing a consistent 50 miles a week in my build up to the race. With the heat, the miles and the climbing, along with the reintroduction of strength sessions in my routine - my body is trying to adjust to the demands that are being placed on it. I work hard on hard days, I take easy days easy, and I look forward to my rest days when I can relax and have fun with the family.

Last Saturday was such a day and rather than staying in the oven that is otherwise known as Phoenix, we headed up to Sedona to go hiking with the pups. 

Sedona is usually stupidly busy and very popular with tourists, but we managed to get onto the parking lot at the West Fork Trail with no problems and had a lovely walk along the river and back with the dogs. We ended up with 8 miles in total and the rainfall made things far more refreshing. The dogs had a fabulous time, I had a fabulous time, and after a bit of a picnic and a paddle at all 13 water crossings, we were all suitably tired and content by the time we arrived home that evening.

West Fork Trail in Sedona 
Just one of the water crossings but the dogs loved it!

The next few weekends are going to be busy and we likely won't get up north for a while, but that's ok because we have some great plans ahead. Next weekend our friend Dennene from Canada will be visiting briefly and we'll be heading out for a long trail run together which I'm really looking forward to. I then have another race on August 5th - the Vertigo 52km Night Trail Race at the nearby White Mountains. It'll be almost 2 months by then since I last raced and I must say that I've missed it and am looking forward to getting out there and hopefully having a good one.

The following week is the next Mogollon Monster training run and we will be heading back up the Rim for a 25 to 30 mile stretch of the course - this time I will hopefully have company, or at least be able to do the proper route without taking a wrong turn! 

And then I am so happy to have Andy's mum and dad visit us during August and September. We haven't seen our family for nearly 3 years and it's one of the things that I for certain find difficult since we left the UK. Andy's parents are absolutely amazing - so easy going, non-intrusive and I love them to bits. We are planning to head up to Wyoming to watch the eclipse with them, and then visit Yellowstone before heading back towards Phoenix and doing the sightseeing on the way back. We'll then be taking them to Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as spending a couple of nights in Las Vegas - we still need to come up with a feasible itinerary to ensure we fit in what we can but it's coming together and we are very excited about spending some time with them. And of course, Wilson, Brandy, Tillie and Khayman the cat will be coming with us :-)

So yes, this summer is once again a hot one, yes, I am finding it tough not being able to go outside as much as I would like, but I am trying to make the most of things and am spending as much quality, happy time as I can with those that are important to me. Life is good right now and I am feeling happy, and I know that it's thanks to the support of Andy and the unconditional love from Wilson, Brandy, Tillie and Khayman - they mean the world to me and I am so grateful to have them all in my life.

Our little family - minus Smudge the cat :-)

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