This morning I rolled out of bed a half hour earlier than I would have on a workday with some kind of crud brewing in my chest to drive all the way out to the west side beyond Phoenix because DAMMIT there was a trail that needed running!
I heard about the Cactus Flower Trail Series last year from my friend Susan who is some kind of amazing, crazy, trail-running fanatic. We both ran Ragnar Trail McDowell Mountain over a Friday & Saturday early last November (yes, I am reviewing this race before that race – I’m terrible!), but SHE also ran the “Reach Your Dream 6k” that same weekend! That is some serious running commitment, and I trust her judgement when it comes to these things because she has run so many trails in AZ.
Also, I kind of totally fell head-over-heels for trail running when I ran Ragnar Trail McDowell Mountain, even though I felt like ass after I ran the 8.4-miler in the middle of the night and had to walk the 4-mile technical trail the next day (more on that as soon as I finish writing that blog post, LOL). There is just something so different about running out on dirt and rocks, surrounded by the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. It’s peaceful, easier on the body… I just feel different and better when I am running out there than I do when I do road-races.
So when Cactus Flower announced an awesome deal at the beginning of the year to pay $150 to do the Dual Cactus Flower Trail Series (3 runs in spring of 7k (April), 6k (May) and 5k (June) and the same in the fall of 5k (September), 6k (October) and 7k (December)), with t-shirts and medals, and bonus medals and some other goodies, I couldn’t pass it up. I even convinced some of my other running friends that they needed to sign up too. Suckers.
So let’s talk about the race…
The race was the Cactus Flower Series Saguaro 7k, located at White Tank Mountain Regional Park (20304 W White Tank Mountain Rd, Waddell, AZ 85355). I’m giving you the full address because the park was gorgeous and you should go there! It was about an hour drive Chandler but the freeway was pretty dead that early in the morning on a Saturday and it was a nice drive (thanks Z for driving!).
Entry to the park was $6 per car, which compared to the fees you are charged to literally just park at some events was very reasonable, and at least the fees contribute to the maintenance of the park, which I support. Parking was plentiful for the number of runners that attended, though if interest in the series were to grow they might have to consider a different race location or a trail with more parking.
This was a timed race – packet pickup was available for a 4-hour window at a local running store (Sole Sports – check them out!), as well as packet pickup on the day-of. The timing chips were on the back of the race bibs and timing was provided by Race Timers. The organizers are testing the ability to post your finish line info to your Facebook (if desired) but I missed the window for signing up for the trial so I’m not sure how well it worked. The race times were up a few hours after the race, which was nice if you missed the screens at the race displaying the finish times for the runners.
The trail itself was well marked and not too difficult, consisting of some rolling hills, none of them very steep, and some rockier areas, but nothing too technical to navigate. The trails were a bit narrow in some places (I’ll talk about that in a bit) which made it difficult to pass people when needed. We crossed the road through the park a few times but were told in advance as a reminder to watch for traffic (there was none when I crossed). There were two water stations along the 4+ mile trail, which was ample, though I carry my own. Finally, you got this cool little medal at the finish line along with ice cold water and some treats (they had OREOS! No, I don’t need Oreo’s. Yes, I had two, and they were delicious. #notpaleodontcare).
Room for Improvement
Let me start out by saying that I really did enjoy this race! It was very well organized for such a small race and delivered on everything it promised. The few things that could be improved are minimal.
- Before the race, someone with a microphone was giving out some race instructions. The only part I caught was the bit about watching for traffic because the volume wasn’t turned up high enough (I wasn’t standing too far away). Some of the rest of my feedback may very well have been addressed before the race, but I didn’t hear it.
- I don’t know if I missed it, or if there wasn’t one, but a more prominent race countdown would help. I was putting my phone in my spibelt walking toward the start line when everyone just started running. Whoops. I got stuck at the back of the pack and it took a bit to get going as either A) the trail was so narrow the takeoff was slow or B) everyone in the back was walking
- It would help to do like I have seen in a few other races: separate the runners from the walkers by asking the walkers to stand toward the back (that’s how it seemed to be anyway), and maybe even add a 5 minute gap between start times.I would also recommend reminding participants to move to the right to allow faster participants to pass, because desert trails can be tricky and dangerous if you don’t pass on the path itself, and you don’t want to damage the flora either.Like I mentioned, we ended up starting at the back of the pack, which I normally wouldn’t do even though I’m not a super speed demon. I spent about the first minute or two just trying to get into a jog and get around people who were walking right out of the gate. Walking is awesome! I do run-walk-run myself. But on narrow trails we need to find a way to enable those who are running to keep moving forward and keep their pace. Moving off to the side is a great common courtesy to faster runners (or even just runners if you’re a walker) that is often overlooked in less competitive events (such as The Color Run). I will definitely say that this improved greatly after the first few minutes of the race, and for my part, I will try to get to the front of the pack before the race starts for the next run.
That’s it! It was a very well-done race. And seriously, every race should have Oreos. And also I should have taken photos of the park and the trail because it was beautiful out there.
And now let’s talk specifically about my race (beyond the above feedback). I felt like the crappiest crap this morning. I’ve been trying to fend off some kind of cold all week and spent all of the night before coughing. Then my phone woke me up at 3am! When I finally got out of bed I felt the worst I have felt all week, so I sucked down some cold meds, allergy meds, some emergen-c and my inhaler and hoped for the best. I was feeling better by the time we got to the race (thank goodness) and my lungs weren’t totally killing me while I ran, which was excellent.
I ran the whole first mile, which isn’t an accomplishment per-say, but I do normally do a run-walk-run method. I just spent so much time passing and trying to pass other runners and walkers that before I knew it I was a mile in, and feeling surprisingly good. Hopefully none of those people think I am an asshole for passing them. Unfortunately it went downhill from there. Despite the meds, I was still kind of sick and the small bit of sun started wearing on me about halfway through. My face always gets red and hot when I run but it felt extra hot today. I stopped to walk more frequently by the time I hit mile 3, though I tried to keep the walking portions shorter than the quarter-mile distance I would normally pace for.
I also lost my husband somewhere along the way. When I passed the 2-mile marker I looked back and saw he wasn’t far behind me, and then with all my walking I was sure he would catch up to me. I found out after he crossed the finish like that he had dropped his water without realizing and had to run back for it. Luckily some really awesome runners had picked it up and got it back to him, so he probably lost less time than he would have. Thanks to whoever you were for being so nice!!!
My music was right on the money today, playing lots of great songs from my running playlist and keeping me moving as much as it could. My Nike+ app was NOT on the money and repeatedly paused my workout for no reason. Repeatedly = about 20 times over 4 miles! I really wanted to scream out loud at it because it was so annoying, but I also didn’t want to sound like a crazy person, sooo… Apparently that’s happening for a bunch of people lately, so I’ll have to try uninstalling and reinstalling the app to see if it fixes itself (thanks for the tip Nike on twitter – we’ll see how it goes). I really like the app for pace time information as I go to help me motivate to speed up, etc… so I need it to work. Plus it tracks the mileage on my running shoes. I’ve tried a few other apps, but none of them let people cheer for you through your headphones, and one of them had a really wonky GPS that tried to tell me once that I had run 2x as far as I’d actually gone.
My overall time was about 56 minutes with a 12:08 pace – not my best, but I didn’t train (read: didn’t run for 2 months), wasn’t feeling well, and didn’t come in last, so I’ll take it.
Overall, I am looking forward to the next race, which is the Desert Marigold 6k on Saturday, May 16th at Estrella Mountain Regional Park. Want to join me? Click the link on the race name and register! It’s only $35.
And Susan? Totally whipped my butt, and then went and helped a friend train by running another 8 miles. She’s good people.