Race Report: Saguaro National Park Labor Day Run

August and September have morphed into one big blur of travel. I feel as though I have spent at least a solid week in transit at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. I returned home on Friday evening, and on the last leg of my flight my seat mate asked where I’d been. It took me a minute to remember.

I have about eight different blog posts partially composed, and another eight ideas in my head, but haven’t quite gotten around to finishing anything. All that is to say: writing about my race at the Saguaro National Park Labor Day Run is a little behind schedule.

I’d been sick for the couple of weeks leading up to the race and still wasn’t feeling 100% on race day. I hadn’t run in ten days, so my goals for the race was 1) finish and 2) try to finish in under 90 minutes. It’s a hilly course, so I didn’t have any expectations of a speedy time.

My friend and running partner Sergio runs this race every year. This year he finally talked me into doing it. Saguaro National Park is split up into two separate segments, one way the heck out on the west side of Tucson and the other way the heck out on the east side. The race was along the beautiful rolling 8 mile loop at Saguaro East.

Sergio picked me up bright and early and we got to the park around 5:30. Sergio, who is much speedier than I even when I am not recovering from being sick, was going for a PR, so I found some other friends and left him to warm up and get towards the front of the pack.

There is a 5K and an 8 miler at this race. The 5k goes off 15 minutes before the 8 miler and runs counter-clockwise on an out-and-back course, while the 8 miler does a clockwise loop around the park. Summary: there were a lot of people at the start. In spite of this, I kept seeing folks I knew, which was a lot of fun.

Lori, Elise, and me before the race.

Lori, Elise, and me before the race.

The race director welcomed us. Park Superintendent Darla Sidles welcomed us (she was running the 5k). Ross Zimmerman, father of Gabe, gave a lovely speech (this race is the second leg of the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown). The national anthem played. And then the 5k runners were off. The 8 milers shuffled toward the start and before we knew it we were off, too.

Saguaro National Park Superintendent Darla Sidles welcomes racers.

Saguaro National Park Superintendent Darla Sidles welcomes racers.

The first three miles of the race are mostly downhill or flat. The sun was rising over the Sonoran Desert, and the scenery was stunning. At this point I was feeling really good.

  • Mile 1: 9:27
  • Mile 2: 9:20
  • Mile 3: 9:38

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and even snapped a few pictures of the people ahead of me as I ran along.

The light was breathtakingly beautiful. Early in the race it was cool enough and gorgeous enough that all I felt was lucky to be able to run in such a lovely spot.

The light was breathtakingly beautiful. Early in the race it was cool enough and gorgeous enough that all I felt was lucky to be able to run in such a lovely spot.

About halfway through mile 3 the big hills begin. At first I really thought I could hang. I made it through mile 4 in 11:37–definitely slowing way down, but still running. But by mile 5, which is basically all steep uphill, the two weeks of being sick and ten days with no running caught up to me and I found myself walking.

  • Mile 5: 15:40. Yikes.
The scenery was as breathtaking as the hills.

The scenery was as breathtaking as the hills.

At this point I changed my second goal. Pushing myself to finish in under 90 minutes just didn’t feel like any fun at all, so instead I decided to see how many species of birds I could spot or hear while running. That was a lot more fun.

  • Red-tailed Hawk (a pair, chasing each other)
  • Verdin
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Cactus Wren
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Trying to power up the hills.

I think I can...finish this race...

I think I can…finish this race…

Runners behind me, coming up the hill.

Runners behind me, coming up the hill.

Mile 6: 11:18 (getting back into some downhill here). Mile 7 ticked away in 12:07 (rolling hills again).

  • Common Raven
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • American Kestrel

As I eased into mile 8 I heard someone coming up from behind me saying, “I’ve been chasing you for the last three miles!” It was my friend Sean–so great to see his smiling face. We ran together for about a half a mile and then he pushed ahead towards the finish.

I was almost there. I put my head down and went for it, running Mile 8 in 11:21.

This was supposed to be an 8 mile course, but when my Garmin beeped for mile 8, I was interestingly not at the finish line. My watch measured out another .15 miles before I crossed the line. Hmmm.

According to my Garmin, I ran 8.15 miles in 1:31:42.

According to my timing chip, I finished the 8 mile race in 1:32:18. (The race website said they had some issues with the timing chips, so I am leaning in the direction of my Garmin).

You be the judge.

I walked over to the finishers’ area and quickly reunited with Sergio (who had run a PR–67 minutes, I think; way to go, Sergio!), as well as a handful of other friends who all work in my building. We ate pretzels, drank water, and found a tiny spot of shade to recuperate from the heat of the morning and the run.

Finishers!

Historic Y Finishers! Greta, Carolyn, Joey, Sergio, and Jennie.

One of the neater parts of the race is the medal, which is the second part of the puzzle for the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown. Two races down, one to go (a half marathon in October).

Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown in progress.

Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown in progress.

I was surprised to be reasonably close to running the race in under 90 minutes given the amount of walking I did in the middle. I was even more surprised to see/hear just eight species of birds. But birding while running definitely helped take my mind off of the fact that this race was freaking hard. In fact, as I got to miles six and seven I even found myself wishing that there were a few extra miles in the race so I could see more birds. I really wanted a Gilded Flicker, guys.

Maybe next year.

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