Joshua Tree Half Marathon

First, I just noticed that  I have not blogged in almost 2 months!  I have been busy with the new school year… (new curriculum, transitioning to much online work… I am a busier teacher than I have been in decades!!)  And of course there has been the coaching of yet another Hillview cross country season… And directing the NEW Wave Race at Apollo Park…. I will try to post on these separately soon.

Amidst all of this my big goal was to run the Big Bear Marathon and try to BQ but the business and frankly the lack of motivation to put in the long runs caused me to take a raincheck… I skipped it…

On the positive side… in September I ran a really good 5k (21:13)) and I have been having some great training workouts with the Hillview team, but my mileage has been pretty short the last few weeks after backing out of Big Bear.

Quite a while back I registered for the Joshua Tree Half Marathon. I set it up as part of a weekend camping trip and it was intended to just be a fun race and weekend. At one point 6 or 7 other High Desert Runner friends and acquaintances were registered or talking about doing so so it seemed like it would be a fun team event as well….

So, with somewhat iffy training, Friday I hooked up the Mity Lite 12 trailer and Cheryl and I headed east towards Joshua Tree Park. The race, and all of the “Vacation Races'” races are held near the park, not in it. In this case the race was to be held at the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground. We booked early and got one of their 44 RV sites with Water and Electricity Hook Ups. Our friends Darrel and Leslie (not runners) reserved the site next to us and met us there.

The campground was interesting. They had the 44 sites, another area for RVs without hook ups, and LOTS of room for tents. There was also a small lake, a fenced off festival area where I believe they have concerts, and even an area with a screen designated for shows and viewings put on by local astronomers. The RV sites had rows of Oleanders separating them. They were all pull through and nice and wide. My wife loved that we did not feel like we were camping in a parking lot!

Saturday we slept in, as the race did not begin until 6:15 pm.. 16 minutes after sunset. We headed about 5 miles into the town of Joshua Tree and then into the National Park. We spent the morning there till a little after noon. Just driving and checking out the sites. We (mainly I) enjoyed scrambling up some rocks. There were LOTS of serious rock climbers climbing the formations in the area. It was pretty!

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We got back to the campground mid afternoon and the place was starting to get pretty crowded. There were probably a couple of hundred tents set up (many had arrived Friday as well.) and the spaces between were becoming parking lots! It took a few minutes to navigate through all the incoming traffic to get to our site! I headed to check in, get my bib and check out the booths. My friends found the running shoe deals pretty enticing and bought several pairs. I ran into old friends Jose and Yeni Estrada. They are parents of one of my former Hillview runners… now playing collegiate soccer in South Dakota.  I run into them every now and then at races, though not too often as they have moved to Santa Clarita.

At 5 everyone gathered in the finish area and they started raffling off free stuff. After a while, however, I felt it more wise to stay off my feat. I walked back to my camp site and relaxed and got ready. At 6 I headed back and heard the last prize… which I did not win. Then I made my way to the first wave of runners. There were 3000 or so signed up and they had about 10 waves designated on the bibs based on your predicted finish. They had me down for the first wave so I got up there. Krysti Ruble was there as well. At 6:15 they promptly got underway.

We left the campground and made a left onto the paved street for about half a mile then we made a right onto a dirt road. It was just one of those single car wide dirt road/paths across the desert. It was fairly sandy and quickly turned into a significant hill. The hill topped out for a bit maybe 2 miles in, then continued climbing. The combination of soft sandy patches and darkness made it challenging. I had to take my headlamp off and hold it in my hand to better illuminate the ground right in front of me. Sometimes there were cross roads or places the water had washed across causing uneven footing. You’d go along with halfway decent footing and suddenly hit soft stuff throwing off your rhythm.  Eventually I got the hang of it.

At mile 3 we made a right turn and entered an aide station. I was already feeling thirsty… probably from not drinking enough throughout the day, so I stopped and got a quick drink. Then back onto the road that was still climbing. I noticed a guy on my right shoulder with no light! I tried to ask him about it but got no reply. He must have had headphones on… It was so dark I could not tell. Eventually it leveled off and probably started going downhill. Downhill on the dirt was pretty had to tell. There was so little that you could see to get your bearings. All I could see was the 10-20 feet of dirt in front of me.

5 or 6 miles in We made another right and we were on pavement. And we were going downhill! I quickened my turnover and caught a few people in this section. At mile 9 I almost missed a right turn. The others near me noticed though and I followed. From 9 to 11.5 were uphill and the way was pretty soft and sandy again. I was feeling pretty fatigued, but I just tried to keep a quick turnover cadence going.  Mercifully at 11.5 we began a downhill all the way to the finish. At mile 12 we made a left turn and you could see the camp up ahead. There was a police vehicle where the dirt turned into pavement and the fence of the campground began. It looked like it was just a few hundred meters away. I thought to myself they must have a short course, because once we got to the corner it was just a very short run on the road and then into the camp site to the finish.

Those flashing lights on the squad car were a mirage of sorts. They were so bright that they just seemed way closer than they actually were. I ran, and ran, and ran. The false sense of closeness to the finish caused me to speed up too early… my calves felt like they would cramp up any moment… I spotted a guy on the side of the road stopped and stretching out his calves….. still I strove onward……. but yet the car and its lights remained ahead in the distance…

When I finally got past the car and onto the paved street I had no kick left… I did the best I could to finish strong though. We made a left into the camp’s access road and it was a fun loud enthusiastic finish. They had colored lights illuminating the sand roadway. Spectators lined the whole way. An announcer called out ALL the names of the finishers as they came in. The clock said 1:55 something as i ran under it for my finish!

1:55 would be one of my slowest half marathons. The only slower ones were also trail runs with much bigger hills… but this was sandy…. and dark!  I was very happy with my effort.  My wife and friends greeted me at the finish! I got some refreshments and enjoyed being done.  I found the results posted and my time was good enough for 157th place out of the almost 3000 finishers and 2nd out of 30 guys in my 55-59 age division. Woo Hoo!!

Eventually I got back to my trailer, had a shower and then some soup by the camp fire.  I put on some Hyland’s Cramp relief cream….. After a while Jose and Yeni found us and we hung out talking till 11pm…

We all headed to bed… The announcer was still calling out finishers, even though we were now way past the 4 hour time limit… We put in ear plugs and drifted off to sleep. When we awoke in the morning the whole finish line set up was gone! But many of the runners/ campers remained. Everyone had a leisurely morning and headed home (or into the park) to enjoy their post race day.

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