Friday, as we drove closer to the location of my 10th half-marathon, I was feeling pretty lucky to have the opportunity to race in an amazing place like Sedona, Arizona. Sean and I hadn't been here for nearly 18 years, when our oldest was just three years-old, but my memories of our vacation here are still fresh in my mind--beautiful landscapes, lots of outdoor places to play, and amazing food everywhere. And while I was primarily here to run, the only reason I chose to travel to a different state for a race was to take advantage of all the amazing experiences we could share in Sedona as a family.
Now if I told you that I wasn't concerned about this race, I would be lying. I knew that this would be one of my most challenging races of the year. First, I find running hills to be very challenging (both my hamstrings and quads protest vehemently after my hill training runs) and this race was all hills. I have also had difficulty with altitude sickness in the past, and with the course going between 4,300 and 4,600 ft., I was sure breathing would be difficult for me. In addition, because we have to work to pay for my racing habit, we could not get to Sedona early to acclimate to the altitude.
So it was with a little nervousness that I lined up at the starting line at 8 AM, with #1048 pinned to my chest, surrounded by some of the most beautiful rock formations in the nation. The gun went off, and I headed up my first hill of the day. Throughout the race I was either going up or down hills of various degrees of elevation. When I hit mile 3, I was both relieved and a little worried to encounter a mile-long, steep downhill. Because this was an out-and-back (go half the mileage and then turn around and do the rest back the way you came), I knew that this meant that mile 10-11 would be my most difficult because I would be going back up this huge hill. Luckily, I had psyched myself up by telling myself that I was not shooting for a personal record on this course--I just wanted to conquer the hilly course with a respectable time.
I continued pushing up and down the hills, enjoying the amazing red rock formations surrounding me. At about the halfway point we ran into a canyon of sorts where the rocks towered on both the right and left of us. The landscape was breathtaking and made each step I took worth every muscle ache I knew I would be feeling later that night. As I approached mile 10 and the dreaded hill, I focused on my music, looked several feet ahead of me instead of at the top of the hill, and I walked and ran my way to the top. I had made it past the worst of the hills, but at mile, 12 I got a stitch in my side that made running and breathing difficult. Being that close to the finish line, I was not about to give up, so I pushed through and ran as fast as I could across the finish line.
I finished in 2:25:03, not my best race time, but running my most challenging course of the year and only adding 3-4 minutes to my average time is nonetheless a triumph for me. I conquered the hills, I conquered the altitude, and I was still able to go out and play in Sedona the rest of the weekend.
On Saturday after the race, Sean and I took Eoin hiking to an area in Sedona called West Fork. Being at 6,000 ft. elevation, the air was crisp and cold, and the ground still had snow and ice for Eoin to play with. He loved exploring the ruins of an old cabin and hen house, gazing up at the icicles hanging off the canyon walls, and throwing rocks into the partially iced over creek.
Sunday had us once again out and about trying to fit in as much playtime as we could in one day. We began the day by climbing to the top of a peak to look down on the Sedona Valley below. We then did a very touristy thing by taking a jeep tour of the area--Eoin loved riding in the back and bouncing around the offroad landscape. The best part of the jeep ride was that we actually took the same road I ran on for the half-marathon at one point, which allowed me to see how truly challenging the course had been. There really was very little of the 13.1 miles that was flat. We ended the day by hiking through Slide Rock Canyon. In the summer you can actually jump off the ledges into the water below, and slide down flat rock formations into glistening pools of water. It was a little cold for that on this day, so we hiked up both sides of the creek, and ended our jaunt by taking the scenic clifftop route to look down on the canyon below.
Now, I must confess, my eating was not as good as it has been in the past (as the hot fudge stain on my Temecula Half shirt can attest), but I got out there and moved all weekend. I ran, I hiked, and I made sure that we were getting the most out of our short trip to Sedona. I found that the number 10 was once again a lucky number for me. I finished half-marathon #10 with a huge sense of accomplishment. I managed to run hills in high elevation, and I actually enjoyed every minute of it. This trip has me thinking that Sedona is a perfect 10 in my book--great race, great food, great hikes, and great memories for Eoin of a trip where we filled his time with some of the best that the west has to offer.