So I’m training for this ½ marathon in Inner Mongolia. I have the VERY lofty notion that I might be able to complete the 13.1 miles in less than two hours. This assumes that…

  • I can breathe through the China smog
  • I don’t get lost on the course and end up in some random yurt village
  • Inner Mongolian aide stations feature bottled water
  • A yak doesn’t eat me

 I’m not too hopeful, especially as I’ve just noticed that the race is advertised as an “extreme” marathon. I hope that’s just a random adjective and doesn’t mean I’ll be running up mountain slopes or anything.

Anyways, my training has been going well, but the three weeks before the race I’m traveling, which really gets in the way of training. For the first leg of this vacation I headed to Tucson (average temperature during my stay: 110 degrees) to take care of some family stuff. After two days I ditched my mom and uncle and hightailed it up to Sedona where it was a noticeably cooler 100 degrees. I sought out the longest, flattest trail in the area and woke up for my run at 5:30am to beat the heat.

 

My flat, long trail of choice was the West Fork Trail, about three miles north of Slide Rock State Park on highway 89A. The trailhead is on the west side of the road and is well marked. You do need a $9 trail pass to park at the trail head which can be purchased in the parking lot near the trailhead…unless you arrive at 6am. Despite the sign that indicated that the trail was open from dawn to dusk, the parking lot was gated shut. I guess I was up earlier then the park people. Luckily there was a place to pull off the side of the road and park about ¼ mile north of the trailhead on highway 89A.

 West Fork Trail was indeed long and relatively flat. The trail runs 3-4 miles (depending on which signs you believe) into the woods, creating a 6-8 mile round trip. There were some hills and inclines, but nothing too strenuous. It’s a perfect trail to run on except for the numerous times (over ten) you are required to cross Oak Creek. Sometimes this was accomplished by teetering on logs and rocks and sometimes my shoes and socks just had to get wet. However this year was one of high rivers and Oak Creek was pretty shallow in mid-June. By August of this year and probably the whole of next summer the creek will be mostly dried up.

 

The West Fork Trail is gorgeous. The clear water, blue sky, red rocks and green vegetation provided numerous excuses for me to stop running and take pictures. However, I wasn’t the only one enjoying West Fork Trail that morning. Every spider in the southwest decided to spin webs across the trail exactly at face level. After spitting out the first dozen cobwebs, I took to running through the forest whilst waving my arms in front of my face to knock down the webs.

If a runner looks like an idiot in the forest but no one is there to see her, did she really look like an idiot at all? Hmmm.

To avoid this problem, I’d suggest that you aren’t the first person on the trail in the morning. Let someone else knock down the webs for you.   

In addition to spider-clearing duties, The West Fork Trail requires that you pay attention. (not my strongest skill!) Before crossing Oak Creek each time, look ahead to where the trail continues on the other side. Sometimes it’s hard to pick it up once you’re on the opposite bank. In at least one instance, I thought I had to cross the river but the trail continued on the same side of the river. A few times I thought that the trail ended, only to climb over a boulder or cross another bend in the creek only to discover more trail ahead of me. This is where I decided the end must be:

 

By nine o’clock I emerged back onto highway 89A. I had not gotten lost in the woods, bitten by a poisonous spider, nor passed out from heat stroke. I celebrated my successful run with a burger and chocolate milk shake (available at the Dairy Queen four miles south of the trailhead towards Sedona) before heading back to Tucson.