Monday, January 14, 2013

American Canyon 50K Training Week Five: Running in Sabino Canyon and GCGP Awards (or: One Medal and a Funeral)

Rest In Peace, Uncle Russell
What a whirlind week five was... My coolest uncle passed away on Tuesday morning, prompting an unplanned trip home to Tucson for the memorial service on Saturday. While that provided an opportunity for an impromptu family reunion and much waxing philosophical about mortality and memories, it also made for a disjointed week. I skipped 45 minutes on Friday morning to spend more time in bed with Twirly before my flight (no brainer). My long run on Saturday was an out-and-back in Sabino Canyon, jewel of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The low temps in Tucson were only a couple degrees warmer than Nevada City! And at 26 degrees, I am not sure there was much difference (although it was a "dry" cold, lol). Sunday I flew home to California and managed to slip into the Gold Country Grand Prix awards ceremony in time to receive my third place age group award.

Awards ceremony

2012 Grand Prix bling

Here's the week:

Tuesday: 45 minutes at 9:00 pace

Wednesday: 70 minute tempo (8:00)

Saturday: 3:30 in Sabino Canyon

Sunday: 60 minute recovery jog

Totals: 35.91 miles, 6148/6033 elevation gain/loss, avg HR 145

Uncle Russ was a Navy Veteran, a long haul trucker and a civilian contractor for the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was opinionated, and would let you know how he felt, especially if you held a contrary viewpoint. However, he was willing to agree to disagree, and if he felt heard, would not bludgeon you with rhetoric. He developed lung cancer-induced pneumonia in early 2012, which was too much to defeat. Fortunately, he did not suffer long, having been diagnosed this past New Year's Day, and passing away January 8th. He relished life, and was quoted on Thanksgiving counseling my sister's room-mate regarding her decision to adhere to a vegan diet: "if you can't eat the good foods you want, what is the point in living." He will be missed greatly by our family, and is survived by his daughter, granddaughters, sister (my mother) and my siblings and me.

So dry you can't see our breath, but it was COLD
I got up early on Saturday before Russ' memorial service and set out into the cold with my father for my long run up Sabino Canyon. Dad jogged the first miles with me as we warmed up in the brisk air. Thoughts of Russ forced me to soak in the experience of running with my father, trying to commit every step to memory and live in the moment while I tried not to think about his own inevitable passing. Then we parted ways as I hit the trail and climbed steadily up the eastern side of the canyon on the Phoneline Trail towards Thimble Peak while he stuck to the road along the canyon floor and cheered me along. The trail was rocky and technical and I picked my way at about 12:30 pace, figuring I could make the return trip at 10:00 pace, using gravity to assist me. I paused occasionally to snap a pic as the sun rose and illuminated the desert around me, and the trail leveled off after about an hour, affording some steady running for a spell.

Looking up-canyon, trail is on the right
Sabino Canyon is a favorite spot from my adolescence in Tucson. Vivid memories of a backpacking trip my father and I did when I was 15 years old came flooding back while I ran. We hiked for three days from Pusch Ridge Wilderness on the west side of the Catalinas, over Romero Pass and down through Sabino Canyon on the very trail I was running; we got caught in a thunderstorm in the middle of the second day. My father likes to recount a moment when the skies opened up and lightning lit up the mountains surrounding us, and my eyes became wide as saucers (he uses his fingers to splay his eyelids open as he tells the story). The highlight of the trip was Hutch's Pool, a deep crack on the bedrock where Sabino Creek created a deep swimming hole. Years later, I would hike there with friends toting a cooler full of beer and steaks for a weekend of delinquency (can you imagine hiking five miles with a full cooler?!?).

Thimble Peak, right horizon
Good morning, Tucson!
Phoneline Trail traversing the left side
 The miles slipped away from me as I recounted these memories along the way, and before I knew it I was running through a campsite full of small children; a couple families worth of backpackers were surprised to see me as they cooked their breakfast and drank coffee around their campfire. I ran another couple miles up into the east fork of the canyon before a quick pit-stop (thank god for the foresight to pack TP) and then turned around for the return trip.

Three horizons, one shot

Thimble Peak silhouette looking up-canyon

Looking West

Upper Sabino Canyon
On the return trip, I realized that the trail was so technical, it was like playing hopscotch! There was no way my fatigued ankles were going to carry me at 10:00 pace, even though I could have crushed it if I were fresh. I picked my way back down the trail, and called my father to let him know I was running a bit behind. I did not want to be late to Russ' service, and I was about 15 minutes behind schedule, so I had him meet me at the trail head instead of running the last mile back to the house.
Headed home

Thimble Peak silhouette

Russ also rode motorcycles, and was a member of the Star Touring Club in Tucson. The club met early on Saturday to do a memorial ride, led by my younger brother, who rode Russ' bike wearing his colors. This was the first funeral in a long time for my family, but only the tip of the next generation's iceberg. Tears flowed, and awkward silences punctuated the afternoon. By the time we all moved to a local restaurant, the mood had lightened a little, and people began to feel somewhat normal. A surreal trip, to be sure; Russ' memory will live on.

After only 40 hours, I got back on a plane Sunday morning and flew home. The silver lining was I received an unsolicited upgrade to first class for the Phoenix to Sacramento leg!
Camelback Mountain, from Sky Harbor tarmac
San Francisco Peaks and the Mogollon Rim

Lake Tahoe, looking picture perfect from the plane
Now, I am thrust back into the daily grind, and my maintenance runs midweek are becoming ten milers... Four weeks to American Canyon. I think I'll be ready.

I invite comments regarding loss and memory. Have you experienced flashbacks to forgotten memories while running? Had to get a long run in during an emergency trip home?

Sunday's details:

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