Dry Martini: Dreams Stay With You (a Tuscon Race Report)

Look! Both feet off of the ground!

“I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert

But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.”

— “Big Country” by the aptly named Big Country

I feel like I’ve written about this song before (but google isn’t helping) so skip ahead if you’ve already heard this. One of my formative memories of my freshman year at college was dancing a little drunkenly on a low table belting out this song with my new (and still) friend Callie at a fraternity party in 1989.

So many details in this sentence are decidedly not me, both before that moment and after. That was the first and only frat party I’ve been to. I was sorta drunk, which isn’t really my m.o. I was dancing (!) on a table (!!) and singing (!!!). And, yet, it is one of those moments where I was completely convinced the world was vast and wonderful and that I belonged someplace in it.

In the 30 years (!!!!) since, that wash of well-being crashes over me again every single time I hear “Big Country,” which is why I put it on my running playlist. It seems to randomly come up whenever I most need to hear it. This time around, it was in the middle of mile four in the (incredibly well organized) Revel Mt. Lemmon half.

"Big Country" came on shortly after this.

The run was going well enough that I didn't need the song to give me a boost. The 5,000 feet of downhill was still super fun. I was flying and nothing hurt. (Yet.) The view was simply spectacular and I was taking it all in, if only because a saguaro-filled landscape is so far beyond my daily existence that it will always be a wonder.

When the opening bars hit my Aftershokz, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. 

Getting to Tucson from Oneonta had been, at best, a test of endurance. One of the first storms of the winter was parked over Chicago. Planes were delayed or canceled or both. Lisa and Carol, my roomies for this adventure, spent 18 hours getting from New Hampshire to Arizona, via lovely ports of call like Baltimore, Nashville, and Las Vegas. I arrived more or less on time — but my luggage did not. Because it never does.

My Garmin was in my checked luggage -- yes, I live on the edge -- and must have gotten bumped while waiting to catch up with me. It had quite an adventure in Denver.

Once all were rested, reunited with luggage, and showered, we took in the Desert Museum, which is amazing. Seriously. If you are in the area, go. We also commenced to eat our way across the city, based solely on suggestions in my last post. Seis is a delight. Again, if you are in the area, go.

We hooked up with Natalie, one of my OG Little Rock crew who was running the marathon, and Laura, my best acupuncturist friend from Oneonta who came down on a lark to run 13.1. We carpooled to the race finish, just to fix it in our minds before the next morning. After a quick trip to Whole Foods to pick up provisions, we went to bed.

We also took your recommendations and went to El Charro (so yummy) and eegee's for an eegee (so ... interesting).

The upside to traveling west is that a 3:45 wake-up feels like a perfectly reasonable 6:45. It wasn’t until we were on the bus riding up to the starting line that it began to sink in that we were about to run down the very, very steep road we were climbing. Our bus driver’s jokes — dude’s joy in his work was infectious, frankly — kept the mood light. Then, after a short wait and a port-a-john visit, we were off.

Running downhill feels amazing until it doesn’t. For me, that point was around mile eight, as we made the transition from mountain amazingness to flat suburban meh-ness. Also: the sun came all the way up and there was nearly no shade. The arch of my left foot developed a stabby pain. It traveled up my left calf, which became an unhappy slab of granite, and into my left hip. My right side compensated as best it could. The hitches in my get-a-long grew from there to the finish. I did, however, find a dime. Upside.

The last few miles, in a nutshell: Irritating. Scenic.

Did I spend the next 24 hours feeling worse than I did after running a marathon? You bet. Would I do the same thing again? You bet. Believe it or not, I'm looking at other Revel runs because this one was so wonderful, despite the pain.

Running down a mountain in the desert that includes a weekend with running friends will always be worth several different sorts of pains in the heinie. A week later, my body is starting to feel like my own again. I’ve finally unpacked and caught up on most of life’s requirements, like grocery shopping and bill paying. The winter gloom is settling into my part of the country but a couple of days in the sun makes the grey skies almost enjoyable. 

After the race, we spent a good 15 minutes picking the world's sharpest seed pods out of our shoes. Stepping on them in bare feet was worse than stepping on a Lego.

One of the reasons why I'm on this 50 states quest is to have these little breaks from my routine where I do something sort of epic someplace new. These races are like postcards when the everyday-ness of every day gets me down. They are that out-of-character moment singing at the top of my lungs just because I can.

They are also a reminder that this is, indeed, a big country. I want to see as much of it as I can -- and the best way to see a isn't through a car window.

What song takes you right back when you were 18?

6 responses to “Dry Martini: Dreams Stay With You (a Tuscon Race Report)

  1. My workplace just started playing 80s songs almost exclusively, so every time I go to work, I’m back to the summer I was 18, when I worse my sunglasses at night so I can, so I can, watch you weave and breathe your story line.
    Though some days I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun. You got your hair combed back and your wayfarers on, baby.

  2. Oh forgot about the song. Well, there’s lots of them. Rapper’s Delite, anyone?! Springsteen. Michael Jackson. Donna Summer. Chaka Khan. Pretty much any disco.

  3. I am a confirmed downhill runner. I know you’ve already done Utah… but if you want to run screaming downhills (that will make Ogden look like the last 4 miles of Mt Lemmon), This Is the Place. Specifically, Drop13 in early June, Big Cottonwood just after Labor Day (where it’s jolly cool for the first 10 miles at least!), American Fork Canyon (fundraiser for cancer) in late June, Run Elevated (run by Sandy City – fabulous race except for the uphill at mile 10.75. Walk that sucker every time) in late August, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten others (oh yeah, Mt Nebo and Timpanogos halves). As another commenter said, once you’ve done a couple downhills, the soreness is gone by the morning of Day 4. Always exhilarating and piles of fun.

  4. The REVEL Race Series is the best! And after you’ve run a few (and trained a little by running down some hills at home on repeat) you won’t hurt as much during the last few miles or afterwards. REVEL has a great half marathon training program on the website if you want to get some downhill training in before your next race!

  5. Ex-Tucsonan now living in Colorado~ EEGEE’s!!! So jealous! I went to camp up on Mt. Lemmon in the 70’s when it was that two lane road that Cheryl mentioned~ I can’t imagine running down it. My knees cringe thinking about it. With that said, my body had a very similar experience when I ran a downhill to flat half in Buena Vista in September. I hope you heal up quickly. Song from 18? Probably something Guns and Roses or Bon Jovi…..maybe I should perm my hair again!

  6. Goats heads…yes they hurt. And they cause SO many flat tires if you mountain bike (we went tubeless with liquid latex years ago…had to just because of these little suckers.) Glad you saw the Desert Museum. This area is pretty magical…was even more so in the 70s before it got so insanely crowded. That road up (and down) Mt. Lemmon used to be nothing more than a tight two lane with no shoulder/bike lane when I first rode up to Summerhaven in the early 80s. Which is why I took the Esperreo Trail up that mountain when I decided to run to the top….much safer! (and more scenic if you can believe it). Keep warm…! Song…hmmm…it was 1970-71. So many. But I would have to say anything by CSN & Y. Four Dead in Ohio comes to mind…because I lived in Kent Ohio then.

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