When I first started actively training for this year's Ragnar, I began on the treadmill. I'd set it to the steepest angle and then run as fast as I could, which wasn't very fast. Combine my general overall deep hatred of running on the treadmill with my discouragement over not being able to run very fast (or very long) and it was sort of a recipe for disaster.
Then I talked to a friend at work who is also a runner, and he was like "why don't you just train on Squaw Peak Road?" (which I've blogged about before) and then he gave me an eye roll when I said I was afraid of bad guys in the mountains and then he said "you'll be fine, just do it," and so I did. My first Saturday run on SPR was painful and short: 18 minutes up, 13 minutes down and I hoped I'd done three miles.
It did get easier. But only sort of. The reason I'm running SPR every weekend is to prepare myself for another steep uphill run at Ragnar, and I want to be ready. I want to face those 7 uphill race miles with grace and strength and consistency (meaning: I want to run the whole way). And running 1700+ uphill feet in 7 miles is a lot of uphill. And running uphill for long distances? Well, this is a different running experience than I've ever had. It is hard. And slow (my regular pace is 9:30; my uphill pace is 12:00). I sweat harder than I ever do with any other kind of running.
But each weekend I've conquered another half mile of Squaw Peak Road. I've been encouraged by mountain bikers who are also going uphill but with much more speed than I can manage. I've startled birds from their nests and once heard a rattlesnake in the weeds. I came across an injured deer one day. I've nearly been hit several times and I've wondered at the two cars I've seen parked in the same spot every single time I've run.
I've marveled at the beauty I get to live near.
But what I wasn't ever sure of was how far I was really going, since SPR doesn't have mile markers. It's just a small, switchback-full mountain road that leads to two places: a campground and an even-narrower dirt road or an overview at the top of the ridge. The overview has been my goal these past five or six weeks of uphill training; next week I should make it.
But last weekend I couldn't stand not knowing exactly how far I've run, so I took my camera along and drove the road first, stopping at each half mile point. I discovered that I haven't gone as far as I thought but that my turn-around points were pretty close to the mile points.
I thought I'd share the photos here, even though they aren't very good pictures. (It was alternately hard-sunshine or gloomy-cloudy that morning, and with all those blind curves I didn't want to stop very long on the road.) Just in case anyone else is also running Squaw Peak Road and wants to know how far they've gone. I started at mile 1.5 because a 3-mile out-and-back run seems like a good start. The trail starts at 4950 feet of elevation.
MILE 3.5. (Elevation 6450.) This marker comes at the second of two small switchbacks. You'll run past a sheepskin seat cover mouldering on the side of the road and those two suspicious cars (a grey truck and a red jeep). When you get to the tall pine tree on the right, you can turn around if 3.5 miles is your goal.
MILE 4. (Elevation 6500 ft.) As soon as you curve up and around enough to see that white sign, you've reached mile 4. That fork in the road up ahead is almost your destination; turn left to go to the campground and dirt road, or right to go to the overlook.
And don't be surprised when you run back down if you find yourself smiling. It's an awesome run!