March 23, 2021. Like many of you, I have run a lot in the past 12 months of Covid, but raced very sparingly. I ran a little, local 5K on the 4th of July, when the first surge seemed to be fading,The 'Big Boom 5K' in Zionsville, IN. and jumped into one of the USATF-Indiana XC races in the fall. My wife, who is an RN at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, is looking toward retirement later this year. She had a week's vacation coming and is in 'use it or lose it' mode. We have enjoyed trips to the Tucson area in year's past in February, and we had both Pfizer shots now, so figured why not give it a try. We booked an Air BNB in the Catalina Foothills and arranged an American Airlines flight. I went online to see if I could find a race for us to run in while we were there. It is the wrong time of year for the 'big deal' Tucson Marathon and Half Marathon, that is in December. I checked out the Arizona Distance Classic HM in a northern suburb called Oro Valley, but they were not able to get a permit after all for their March 14 race. Looking a little further, I found a Shamrock Half Marathon on the 13th, with a 10K and a 5K. Their race was one valley further west than the Distance Classic, but that was different enough or maybe they had a better plan. Either way, the health authorities in Manzana were willing to permit the race.
In November 2019 at 74, I had broken the M70-74 course record for the Indiana Monumental Half Marathon, averaging just under 8 minutes per mile. In the July race, I had managed a 23:20 5K (7:31 pace per mile), although that course tends to run a little fast. A few weeks before the live 5K, I had run a VR 5K in 24:08 (7:46/mile). If I was now in similar shape to the VR in June, I had some hope of breaking 8/mile in a 10K, and might do better if I were closer to the 7:31 pace for a 5K. At least that's what I thought when I signed up for the race in early February. I had been in good shape for a Half Marathon in January, but in February ran into
some minor problems with my adductor, so had eased off a little in
distance. That was mostly behind me but I did not feel I had a good Half
Marathon in me. I opted for the 10K, just to get my first live race for
On February 27th, two weeks out from the race, I did a 5 mile Time Trial to see where I was. I selected a course a couple of miles from my house. It has a lot of 90 and 180 degree turns but they are mostly 'soft' and gently curved. It is mostly flat, with a small slope downwards toward the end. It is easily record-eligible, having less than a 3 meter drop over 5 miles, with the finish about a kilometer from the start. It's a good indicator. I was reasonably pleased with the result, a 40:46 (8:09 pace). I wore my old-style Brooks Hyperion racing flats. It was clear, though, that my fitness was not as good as I had hoped. The chances of averaging under 8/mile for a 10K, much less a Half Marathon seemed slim; it would be a real 'rust-buster!' In my mid-60's I figured I would usually add about 15 minutes to pace per mile for each doubling of distance. If that were still true and a 6.21 mile race is about 25% longer (not 100%) than a 5 mile run, that suggested a 6:12 pace per mile for a 10K would be a reasonable target. I had hoped to break 50 minutes, but would need an 8:03 pace for that. At 8:12 per mile, I would have to be satisfied with breaking 51 minutes. At 75, and with no real road races in 8 months, it is a pretty happy place to be. Naturally, having been an 80%+ age grader through most of my retirement years, I am aiming for improvement in the latter part of 2021.
An added complication was that shortly after the time trial, I woke up to slight pain in my right foot when walking and, as I later found, not surprisingly, when I ran. It is in the front instep area, just below the toe. I was trying to figure it out. It did not seem to be worse when running. I felt the same 0-2 range of pain, with '1' being the predominant and only very occasionally getting out of the 0-2 on the high side... on a 0-10 scale. It did not seem to be the case that running made it worse but I did worry that it might. I was also concerned about running longer distances. Maybe I needed more support than the Hyperion's would give me. I decided to go ahead with the 10K, but decided to be on the safe side and wear my Brooks Ghost 13 trainers for more support, if slightly less speed.
I also had figured when I signed up that an 8 am start would likely mean temps in the 50's or 60's and, of course, it being Arizona, I counted on a sunny day. The closer we got to the day, the more doubtful that seemed. On Thursday, I noted the empty, dry bird baths in the patio of our Air BnB casita and wondered if they ever fill up with water for the birds. I needn't have worried. Friday afternoon, the wind picked up to 15-18 mph with gusts 25-30 mph. Just before we went to bed, we could hear light rain hitting the windows. During the night, the winds were howling and the rain had gotten heavier. Luckily by the time we woke up at 6 am, the wind had subsided, but there was still noticeable rain. The temp was 39 degrees. It didn't seem fair! Oh well, distance running is about nothing unless it is about soldiering on despite any obstacles or disappointments. Just layer up a bit more than usual for a race and off we go! An hour later when we were on site just starting to warm up, the temperature had risen to a balmy 40 degrees, with light rain falling and 6 mph wind. The humidity....did I mention the humidity...it had started to climb Friday evening and now with the rain, stood at 93%..for gosh sakes, this is Arizona!
The Half Marathoners started at 7:30, 7:40, or 7:50, and ran 3 miles further than the 10K bunch before turning around. That meant the faster Half Marathoners would be finishing up running past all but the fastest 10K runners. By 7:55, I was reporting to the starting line for my 8 to 8:10 am starting window. The staging area was a local park so there was plenty of room for social distancing prior to the start.
|The staging area was at 'Crossroads at Silverbell Park in Marana AZ, a northwest suburb of Tucson [Map from Strava]|
A few minutes before 8 am, they called our group forward, instructing us to keep our masks on, pair up and line up at the cones. They would be starting us 2 at a time, separated by several feet, in, roughly ten second intervals. Once we started we were advised to remove our masks. With 40 allowed in each wave, that only took 20 pairs x 10 secs or a little over 3 minutes. That gave them 7 minutes to get ready for the 8:10 wave. And so on. The course would be entirely along a paved trail running next to the Santa Cruz River Bed....Though not completely dry like many of the rivers within Tucson, it had a wide area of dry land around it, but one could occasionally see flowing water. Mostly, of course, we were focused on the trail ahead, making sure we were ready for any elevation changes and/or runners in the way. The trail was not closed to recreational runners and dog walkers; we shared the trail.
|The Race Course ran along the Santa Cruz River Trail, with an underpass
in the first few hundred meters and another underpass between miles 2 and
3. [Map from Strava]|
We ran on a paved park path to the paved trail and then turned left. A hundred meters along the trail there was a sharp slope down to pass under a road. That was a little dicey with the right foot. Despite my worries though I got down okay and up and onto the flat beyond with no difficulty. Although this was, technically, a race, it was a 'Pandemic live' race. It was more like a time trial with other runners on the course whom you might use as 'competitors.' I fairly quickly left behind the person I started with, but soon enough got into a small group of 3. One of the runners, a woman in her 20's or 30's perhaps, seemed to be going at a good pace for me to work with. She was ahead for a bit and then I took the lead for the next quarter mile or so. She had one more stretch ahead of me but when I next pushed forward, we were approaching the first mile and I did not see her again until after our 180 degree turn at 3.11 miles, when she was well back. By then I knew my first three mile splits of 8:11, 8:03, and 7:58. I felt good about the progression, but knew, also that the course was advertised as somewhat downhill on the way out (45') and the same amount uphill on the way back. There were a couple of people farther ahead whom I thought I could maybe keep in sight to work off of, but it seemed uncertain at best. Just then I caught a break and a different woman, who was probably a Half Marathoner, came past me at a clip that I could aspire to match, at least for a while. I stayed within a few strides of her for the next mile or so, but then she started to pull away slightly. I kept her in sight though until we hit the underpass a few hundred meters from the finish. It seemed a little steeper in this direction and I definitely held back more than normal due to my foot, but it couldn't have made more than a few seconds difference. Then it was through the underpass, up the other side, past the photographer, and into the finish!
|A Photographer was posted just before we left the trail 100 meters or so to the Finish. You can see the trail is still a bit wet and everything is rather green by Tucson standards.I am running up behind two 5K Runners who were about to finish in 29 minutes + [Photo credit: Startline Racing]|
|Sleep Running in Tucson? Not really, the Photographer was focused on the runners ahead of me and almost missed me entirely-Nice pic other than the closed eyes! [Photo Credit: Startline Racing]|
The finishing time was 50:52, or 8:11 pace per mile, about what I had predicted. I was a little disappointed with the time, but figured at least everything had gone okay, I had not made any injury worse and I had a live race under my belt.
It was only a 74.9% age grade with the new 2020 road race calculator [at http://howardgrubb.co.uk/athletics/mldrroad20.html], but it was something to work from. I checked later and, not surprisingly, won my 75+ age group. I also ran faster than anyone in the 60-64 and 65-69 age division. One 74-year-old put me to shame though, running 48:06. Maybe I will come back next year and run closer to my potential!
|T-Shirt, Finishers Medal and 1st Place Add On-Not a Bad Haul for a Runner who has always had the Luck of the Irish working for him! Photo by Author|
Imagine my surprise when I passed through the refreshment area and bumped into someone who looked like Joe Reda, one of the fastest 65-69 year olds in the country. In 2019, he and Reno Stirrat had a battle to see who would take the USATF Masters Grand Prix title for M65. Reda was just a little faster just often enough to claim that title. We re-introduced ourselves. I found out he was now wintering in the Tucson area to escape the Wisconsin winters. He indicated he had just turned 67 and was gunning for the Arizona HM single age record for Men 67. He was quite sure he had gotten it with his 1:28:55 in this race, as he said the record was a little over 1:32. Joe already holds the AZ State Record for 65-69 at 1:24:52.
|Joe Reda heading to the Finish Line with a time below the Arizona State record in the Half Marathon. He crafted a 1:28:55! [Photo Credit: Startline Racing]|
We both hoped to see each other at the USATF National 12K Championships in New Jersey in September. We exchanged good wishes and, after congratulating him one last time, I left him with a challenge. He was 67 for this 1:28:55 race today; when I was 68, I won the USATF Masters Half Marathon Championship in 1:29:29, including climbs up two high bridges over the Inland Waterway in Melbourne FL. I said "That time should be within your reach...go for it!" He laughed and said " You really ran that fast at 68?-Wow! I'll do my best!"