Tinkerbell Half Marathon Report, Part 1

Well, last weekend I ran the Tinkerbell Half Marathon at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. The weekend was so big that it’s going to take two parts to tell it all!

On Friday, I drove out to California. The plan was to hit up the race expo, visit Disneyland, and then return Saturday to spend another day at the parks and on Sunday for the race. The race expo was at the Disneyland Hotel and I had a bit of a hard time finding it, but that’s partly due to my failure to correctly read a map.

Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 3.27.25 PMLines moved surprisingly quickly, and I was able to pick up my number, test my timing chip, buy park tickets, and get a race packet without issues. The race t-shirt is a really cool design, which is also on my race number and program. In a stroke of genius, the race packet also includes a drawstring backpack with the race logo. I used this all weekend to carry things around the park. Aside from these items, there weren’t too many “goodies” in the packet. A snack-sized Luna bar and some race info, but not as many samples as I’m used to getting. The expo itself was also OK, but smaller than what I expected for a race this size. I’d say it was similar to what I saw at the Women’s Half Marathon event I did in Scottsdale in 2010, and it may even have been smaller. Nonetheless, I did make sure to scarf down some free samples of Cliff shots and Luna bars, plus I bought myself a glitter headband for my race kit. I didn’t have time to put together a costume for this race, but in case you wanted to do one last-minute, there were plenty of opportunities to stock up on wings, mouse ears, sparkle skirts, and Run Disney gear at the expo.

Visiting Disneyland by night was extremely cool. One discount (and about the only worthwhile discount) that the race offers is an evening ticket that is discounted by about $20 off the regular ticket price. I also had to buy a full-day ticket for Saturday and got a $2 discount on that… but come on, Disney. I think you can cough up a little more of a discount given how much I paid for this race in the first place. Anyway, on Friday night I got on many of the iconic rides: Pirates of the Caribbean, the spinning tea cups, the Matterhorn, and I saw the Captain EO tribute! Lines were pretty short, and everything lived up to expectations. I have to say, spinning in the tea cups and watching the fireworks go off overhead is a mental snapshot I will always remember.

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On Saturday I returned to the park to scope out Disney’s California Adventure. This newer part of the park celebrates several more recent Disney and Pixar films. I was very excited about visiting Cars Land, since I loved the movie. The layout did not disappoint. It’s really just like the movie come to life! Sadly, though, the lines for rides here were horrible. I never did get on the Radiator Springs roller coaster.

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DL_FlosMy favorite rides at the California Adventure park were the Tower of Terror, and pretty much all the rides I went on in the Pier area. This part of the park has a ferris wheel, a roller coaster, flying swings, and a Little Mermaid-themed ride. The Never Land 5K race took place on Saturday morning, and I saw lots of people with their “medals.” I stopped a young woman and her family to take a picture of their medals. They reported that it was a great time and wished me luck on the half.

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I also had no shame about acting like a big kid all day long.

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At the end of the day, I watched the Pixar play parade and then headed back to my aunt and uncle’s house for an early bedtime before waking up at 3:30AM to get to the race the following day. The only question is, after a whole day on my feet and stuffing my face with ice cream and churros, would I be able to meet my goal time? (Dramatic music)

To be continued…

Tombstone

OK, still busy catching up on work, running, and prepping for next week’s trip to California. 2013 has been nonstop so far! But here’s a brief overview of my visit to Tombstone earlier this week with my friend. Overall, Tombstone is a fun place to visit for a day trip if you are interested in getting a Western experience or if you are familiar with the Old West legends. This was my second time there, and a four-year break between visits was about right. The biggest issue that I have with Tombstone is that it can get expensive in a hurry… It’s free to walk around, but every museum (of which there are several) will charge between $3-$10 to get in, and it’s not always worth it. The restaurants are slightly overpriced and underwhelming, too. On this visit, we went to Helldorado Town, which offered a package deal on a trolley ride and comedy mock gun battle. That was worth the price of admission ($10), and the courthouse museum (run by the AZ Parks Service) is a comprehensive orientation for about $5. I recommend skipping the shabby and overpriced museum at the Birdcage Theater ($10) and the “authentic” (but not really authentic) OK Corral gunfight ($10), unless you are really into the history (in which case, though, you’d realize that the gun battle didn’t really take place at the OK Corral itself).

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A Virtual Trip to Zion National Park

Ever since I found out that I won a free entry to the Zion Half Marathon next March, I’ve been totally geeking out on Zion National Park and all things Southern Utah. If you’re an avid hiker, check out this virtual hike up Angels Landing, from the National Park Service. There’s lots of great multimedia stuff here, including video and information about the trail. I can’t wait to try it out myself. After all, what’s a little five-mile hike up a mountain after a 13.1 mile race?

Let’s Get Serious

Screen shot 2012-07-05 at 1.08.57 PMWell, one of my goals over the holiday break was to start training seriously for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon, which I’m registered for in January. On the whole, I’ve been working out regularly and running more miles per week than I did in preparation for the Arizona Half Marathon. The downside, though, is that I’ve been unhappy with the length of my long runs. We had four days of rain last week in Tucson, and with end-of-semester grading I’m a bit behind where I’d like to be. Last week I did 9.6 miles on the treadmill and it was slow and generally awful. This week I hope to do a 10-miler and get a weekly total close to 24 miles.

OK, but I’m not here to write about the race I already told you about, as cool as running a race at Disneyland may be. No, I’m here to tell you something even more exciting. Last night I found out that I won a free entry to a race that I am super excited about and terrified of: The Zion Half Marathon in beautiful southern Utah.

I first found out about the Zion Half a few months ago and it struck my imagination, but I was wary of registering because of the cost, the travel expenses, and my concern about running an uphill race at altitude in the cold of March.

I hope the Zion Half people don’t mind me stealing their image. Free publicity!

Now that I’ve won this entry, though, I think this might be fate. I am already planning my Utah road trip adventure, and even if it is cold, I’m looking forward to pushing myself and to exploring Zion National Park after the race. Moreover, this trip will come about a week after my planned Spring Break adventure in Honduras, and a couple of weeks before I go to a conference in San Francisco. This gives me a lot to look forward to in 2013, and hopefully it will mean some very cool pictures and travelogues for all of you! If anyone has done an uphill half or a very challenging race like this in the past, feel free to share your training advice!

Northern Arizona and Utah

Just over a week ago, while my father was visiting, we took a road trip to the Grand Canyon and the Arizona-Utah state line. I’ve waited years to see the Grand Canyon and it was wonderful to be able to see it with my dad and my dog, who came along for the ride.

A few helpful notes: Since my dad is a senior citizen we got in for a mere $10. He also got the national parks pass for that amount, which will get him into national parks for the rest of his life. Also, dogs are welcome in the park but I can imagine it being impractical if we were there in the tourist high season. Dogs are only allowed on the rim trail (not into the canyon), and while the rim trail offers more than enough for the first-time visitor to see it can get crowded near major vistas and high-traffic areas.

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We spent a few hours at the canyon hiking and taking pictures. We also took a scenic drive along the rim that included several vistas. Without a doubt, I can say this is one of the few places in the world I’ve visited that I wish everyone could see. It is unbelievable. If I had been on my own, I would be off on the trails and down into the canyon. Maybe another time.

My dad had arranged to stay the night in Page, AZ. Frankly, I’m not sure why because that is quite far away. There are many hotels near the canyon… but driving to Page did allow us to see some of the Navajo reservation and to enjoy Navajo blue corn mush with our breakfast buffet.

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Just outside of Page is Horseshoe Bend, which is a beautiful sight. This site is much-photographed, but I was not aware that it was over 100 miles away from the Grand Canyon. The river sure gets around. (Joke.)

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We got all the way to the Utah state line and just over it. I walked my dog into Utah and he almost immediately got a pricker in his paw. That’s when we realized Utah is not the place for us.

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This road into Utah is an adventure that will have to wait for another day.

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Arizona Half Marathon Report and A Very Busy Weekend

Wow, a lot of things to report this weekend. On Friday morning I drove to the Phoenix area for the Arizona Half Marathon. My first stop was the Arizona Sea Life Aquarium in Tempe at the Arizona Mills Mall. I love aquariums, and when this came up on a Groupon I couldn’t resist. Exhibits here featured creatures native to Arizona’s riparian areas and sea creatures from the waterways of nearby Mexico. My favorite, though, was Ziva the sea turtle, a rescue from Florida. In addition to aquariums, Sea Life also operates sanctuaries and rehab centers in the U.S. and Europe. Ziva was struck by a boat and her shell still bears the scars, but she’s doing well now.

I really enjoyed Sea Life and it made me feel good to know that they support rehab centers and care about the animals on display. Normal adult admission would be a bit steep at $18, but you can always get discounted tickets on their web site. It’s also a great place to take kids.

After the aquarium, I went to visit the Arizona Capitol building and the Arizona Capitol Museum. The copper dome of this building commemorates Arizona’s mining history. Though it is no longer used for legislative business, the museum is free to visit and has interesting exhibits on the USS Arizona, Arizona history, and mock-ups of the old state legislative chambers. The Bolin plaza next to the museum also has a variety of war memorials, monuments to fallen law enforcement officers, and statues commemorating famous figures in AZ history.

By this time it was after 3:00 and I had a 30-45 minute drive to Estrella to get my race kit. Estrella is located outside of Goodyear and is a uniquely Western concept–a totally planned community. I mean, not just one housing tract but a planned community of many identical tracts, plus matching shopping centers, even parks and trails that are neatly maintained. It’s a little weird, but the place is pretty. This event also features a trail half marathon, and from the beautiful surroundings I’m guessing that would be a fun course.

My road race started at 7:15AM, and I was staying in nearby Goodyear so I didn’t have to wake up too early. There was also plenty of parking close to the start at the Safeway plaza. This was the smallest half marathon I’ve ever run, maybe a few hundred runners at the half starting line, plus more doing the 5K and trail race. The course was just so-so. The first 4.5 miles is an out-and-partly-back along the outskirts of Estrella. The scenery was really nice, and the fans were few but devoted (shout out to the noodle ladies with pretzels and candy!). By about 5 miles in, though, I was tired of the little rolling hills and the scenery. Around 7.5 miles we turned off a road into the developed part of town. It was better running by houses and side streets, but at this time I developed a real annoyance with my hat. I was getting a little warm, and so I kept taking it off, wanting to throw it away, deciding I’d never find it again, and putting it back on. This is what you do when you’re running 13.1 miles and are bored.

Around 10 miles in there was a big freaking hill. I knew this from the map, but it made me unhappy anyway. I ended up walking up it, which is what everyone was doing, but I was worried about how that would affect my goal time of 2:15. I’d kept my miles under goal pace the first part of the race, and I hoped that was enough to off-set the slow down. When we turned onto San Miguel drive (which I had passed the day before in the car), I knew the finish was getting close and I just kept going. In the last mile, passing the park and the Starpointe Residence Club, there were lots of spectators out enjoying the finish festival and their cheers kept me going. It was a nice touch to have an announcer read my name as I crossed the finish line. I could see I was coming in just under 2:15 and it made me feel great. I give a princess wave to the cheering crowd (seriously) and collected my medal with a big smile on my face. Can’t wait to see these race pictures.

My final time of 2:14:– is a PR by over 15 minutes, and a real point of pride for me. I’ve never been so consistent at this distance, and I’ve never put in so many miles leading up to the race. More than that, though, this was an important accomplishment for me in recognizing and rewarding myself for being so conscious this year about health, diet, and personal improvement. A year ago I would not have been able to do this, but willpower and dedication made it possible. Here’s how my times break down:

Mile 1: 10:08

Mile 2: 9:53

Mile 3: 10:03

Mile 4: 10:12

Mile 5: 10:00

Mile 6: 10:16

Mile 7: 10:11

Mile 8: 10:38 (Gu and Water)

Mile 9: 10:23

Mile 10: 10:30

Mile 11: 11:32

Mile 12: 10:07

Mile 13: 10:13 (with 8:38/mi pace on the .1)

Total: 2:14:– chip time, 10:18 pace

After running I had to go back to the hotel and check out, then I came back at 11 to enjoy the awards ceremony and some more free food and a free massage. Overall, this was very good for a small event. A lot of the kinks from the first time this event was held (regarding course, location, and timing) seem to have been ironed out. IO Events does a great job with festivals, medal and shirt designs, and keeping races affordable. With a discount code, I paid $55 for this race just over a month out. They also organized the Temecula Valley race back in January. On the down side, Estrella is a bit in the middle of nowhere and for someone visiting the area there is not a tremendous amount to do. I also get the feeling that these organizers can be a bit overwhelmed at times. They started several new races this year, and it’s obvious that things like course planning, hotel planning, and start times got away from them a little. At one point, this race listed different start times on different web sites, and I also decided to register for this race instead of their upcoming race in Laughlin, NV because the Nevada race had no hotel rates posted at all. Still, if you are in Goodyear, Glendale, Peoria, or other locations in the West Valley, check out this race in the future.

As an epilogue, after getting back to Tucson and to one happy little dog, I had a good rest and woke up this morning to help out at the Tucson ADA Step Out event to cure diabetes. My legs obviously were not happy about spending another couple hours on my feet, but it felt good to give back a little and support another athletic event. I always try to thank volunteers and police officers when I do a walk or run, but knowing that volunteers really make all running/walking events possible, I’m glad I could be one of them today.

Celebrating National Public Lands Day 2012

Outdoor enthusiasts probably already know that today is National Public Lands Day, a day on which we can visit U.S. National Parks and Historical Sites for free. Many public lands around the country also had programs for volunteers to clean up and preserve sites of interest. Here in Southern Arizona, there are several interesting properties run by the National Park Service. I decided to visit one that was new to me: Tumacacori National Historical Park.

The site at Tumacacori has a long and kind of sad history that reveals a lot about what life was like in the Sonoran Desert before the 20th Century. A mission was established near this site by Father Eusebio Kino in 1691. Father Kino was a Jesuit priest who, during his time in this area, established a network of missions and interacted with native tribes. The official historical record states that Father Kino (an Italian of noble origin) was well regarded and respectful of the Pima (aka Tohono O’odham)  among whom he lived. Tumacacori was Kino’s first mission in the area, though he started preaching long before a church was built here. Kino would go on a year later to start the mission at San Xavier del Bac, which I visited in March, and numerous other missions in Arizona and Sonora.

Father Kino died in 1711 in Magdalena, Sonora, where he is buried today. After his death (and likely before it, too) the mission at Tumacacori struggled. The mission complex (as shown above) should be considered more of a town center than just a church. There was a granary that stored food, a school, a cemetery, orchards and fields, irrigation canals, and a kiln to fire bricks for construction–all in this one spot. While that made it an important spot for the community, it also made Tumacacori an attractive target to hostile Apache who repeatedly raided the site in spite of attempts at fortification. (To be fair, the Pima were also sometimes restive–it was an uprising by the Pima that forced the move to the current site in the mid-1700s.)

European politics also influenced Tumacacori’s fate. In the 1760s, the Jesuits fell out of favor with the Spanish king and were expelled from New World colonies. More precisely, Jesuit priests like those at Tumacacori were rounded up and sent out into the desert to almost certain deaths. Their replacements, from the Franciscan order, wanted a bigger and better site and put the Pima to work building the current church around 1800s. Although this church was never actually finished (the design was scaled back several times due to lack of funding, and the bell tower was never more complete than it is now), at one point it was functional–the facade still shows some traces of the bright paint that once covered it, and the inside also hints at better times.

Note, for example, the niches in the side walls along the nave and the painting behind the altar. The ceiling also shows faded patterns. So what happened here? Well, after the Mexican Revolution, the Spanish-born Franciscan priests were also expelled, leaving the site without a resident priest and in the care of the Pima, who had their hands full with awful weather, Apache raids, and disease. The Mexican-American war provided the final blow to Tumacacori: Supplies became harder to come by and Mexican troops abandoned the nearby presidio (fort) at Tubac, making the site even harder to defend. In 1848, the last native residents of Tumacacori decamped to the more vibrant and better-defended mission at San Xavier. As they retreated, the Pima took much of the church’s artwork with them. Whatever was left was subject to a fast and intense decay. Only about 60 years passed between the abandonment of the mission and the creation of the National Historical Site under Teddy Roosevelt, but the mission looks like it suffered centuries of damage.

Cemetery at Tumacacori. The grave in the center is the only one that is identified. Others are from the early 20th century; any traces of pre-20th century graves are gone.

The site is worth a visit if you live in Tucson or the surrounding areas. Admission is normally $3 and includes a self-guided tour. A festival in December also includes music and dancing from local native peoples. While San Xavier is hands-down the better example of a mission church, it does not offer such extensive historical and educational display as Tumacacori. I felt I learned a lot more here about what life was like at a colonial-era mission, and one of the highlights of the site’s museum was hearing audio recordings in which elder members of the Tohono O’Odham, Yaqui, and Apache tribes discuss their lives and heritage.

The town of Tubac, which I just love for its galleries and boutique shops, is a few miles up the road. (Technically, it’s a few kilometers–I-19 south of Tucson has metric highway signs. As a runner, it’s a good thing I’ve become so adept and making distance conversions in my head.) I went to Tubac today as well, but only after another short detour to the Coronado National Forest site on the outskirts of Nogales. I took a nice, 10-mile drive out to Peña Blanca Lake. This body of water that is not so impressive on its own, but the drive out is filled with hairpin turns and rolling hills. It was also nice to spend a few minutes sitting out on a dock in the middle of the desert, appreciating all that our public lands have to offer.