Above is one of the marvelous plants in my brother and sister-in-law’s backyard, in Phoenix: an ocotillo. In spring, evidently, it looks much more alive (that orange bloom that is using one of its thorns as a hat-rack is from the flowering plant that sits next to it). Here, it’s sporting more of a glass sculpture look.

I spent this weekend in Phoenix; I’d read a good review of an area trail race in a magazine a few months ago, so picked this weekend to visit my brother so that I could do the race. The timing worked out well (3 weeks after my half-marathon trail race), and I love desert scenery; it’s so beautiful and fascinating. The Coyotes‘ season opener was also a great reason to be in town, as well.

The Cactus ChaCha was a lot of fun! It took us over pretty rugged terrain, but I did the 7-mile run in 1hr 6 minutes, which is faster than my usual trail pace. The weather was perfect: a little chilly, just at the start, so I was glad to be wearing a long-sleeve technical t-shirt.

I’d only done one trail run before -a half-marathon- which did not use timing chips, so I was a little surprised to receive one at the packet pickup. The nice thing about using timing chip technology at a trail race is that it can decrease the funnel effect at the point where the trail inevitably narrows to single-track width, near the start. This proved to be true, to an extent. And it may have accounted for the speed-racer woman that flew by me at mile five. There the h*** did she come from? The porta-potty behind the start line?

She didn’t bother me, no, not much at all. I kept a pretty swift clip, and passed people now and then. This, even through some of the rocky gullies that illustrated, for me, why the race is called the cha-cha: the light-on-your toes sort of dance technique of going downhill is what you have to do, in order to keep from rolling an ankle over a rock. You also have to do a little cactus-dodging. This kept my leg turnover pretty high, although surprisingly my HR didn’t get much above 162 or so. I’ve seen it get to 171 during road races.

There were a few rather steep hills that I wisely chose to ski-walk up, but most of the gently-rolling hills allowed for a somewhat steady running pace. Now and then some sandy areas made it interesting. However, the course wound its way a bit up the White Tanks Mountains (I was worried that it would go all the way up, but that didn’t seem feasible for a mere 7-mile race). This made for a rather sustained climb, about halfway through the race, but it eased off soon enough. The terrain was such a tease.

This was a very well-run race! Plenty of water, plus medical support at the four (or five?) aid stations. The wind had blown down many of the trail- and mile-markers, but as there was only one trail, I wasn’t likely to get lost (yay!). There were “breakfast burritos” as post-race food, in addition to bananas, great (pumpkin chocolate-chip!) muffins, chips & salsa, gatorade, etc. Music, fun raffle prizes. Class act. My mom was there with me, so I had a cheering section; she claims to have had a good time people-watching while I ran around among the saguaro. And she got a burrito, after the race, too.

I think there were maybe 300 people running the 7 mile race, and nearly 200 doing the 3-miler. I came in 22 out of 121 women, in the 7-miler. I didn’t expect to place, but the field in a trail race sure is different than in a road race. Those rare folk that do it, tend to be pretty competitive, or so it seems at this shorter distance.

I may do this one again; October is a fine time to visit Phoenix, even if there aren’t yet spring-training baseball games.

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