Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Neighborhood Water Heaters in the Southwest: Save this Information

Note: This post is for reference for residents of my neighborhood community. It might also be helpful for anyone who has electric water heaters with solar water heater assist. 


Many of us now have brand new shiny, not yet iron-choked water heaters. While I give Frank Sayne of Just Water Heaters high marks for efficiency in his installation skills, he was rather brief on the tutorial front of how to use the new product. When asked, he and his co-worker did explain everything they could to me, but they were pressed for time to change so many tanks. I do believe he did a good job but we can certainly maintain them better than we have in the past. 


Allow me to tread these warm waters for you. Also, if you haven't joined the water heater swapping party, I (and the rest of the  Structure and Maintenance Committee) greatly encourage you to consider replacing your tank if you haven't done so in the last 8 years. Most of us had waited 16 years and they were well past due. 


For evidence, I took a picture of the old tanks after they had been removed. See the evidence for yourself!






The first thing you should know is that we have a different system than most other homes. We have electric dual element water heaters with a supplemental solar water heater (SWH) that feeds into it. In order to constantly blend the hot water coming from the SWH to the tank, we have recirculation pumps installed on the pipe that uses electricity to pump water in and out of the tank throughout the day. Your recirculation pump is likely brown and has the brand name Taco on it. It also has a black chord hanging out of it going to a yellowed plastic box mounted to your wall. On the front of this wall mounted box is a plate you can remove with a flat head screwdriver. Behind that cover is are two adjustors. One is for the frequency or time of day the pump will operate. Mine is currently set to 12. Other options are 6, 18, and 24. You simply swivel the red dial to change this setting. The other red knob is for the thermostat on the recirculation pump. My pump has always been warm but after they put in my new tank, my pump was unbearable to touch - something like 150 degrees. That seemed to be not right. Frank had already left so when he came back the next day to work on other homes I asked him to come look at it. He did and agreed it was too hot. His specialty is replacing tanks he does not specialize in unusual systems nor does he cater to trouble shoot issues with parts he doesn't normally deal with. Rather than remove my pump and disassemble it for inspection, he suggested we just replace it, which he did. The new one was also very hot, but I suggested we adjust the thermostat on the pump and when I did that, it instantly cooled off. 
Something important to note about electric water heaters is that they have two thermostats. One up high and one down low on the tank. This is because there are two heating elements to keep the water evenly heated. Gas water heaters don't need this because the flame at the bottom is strong enough to heat the entire tank (I'm guessing here) but electric tanks need these two elements. Our recirculation pumps also have their own thermostat so that's three thermostats total. Here's the important thing, 
You need to have all three thermostats adjusted to the same temperature or you risk burning out one of the elements because it will be working harder than the other two.  To access the tank's thermostats, first turn off the power to the water heater by turning off the breaker switch on the circuit breaker panel in your downstairs hallway. Then, take a flat head screwdriver and remove the two screws of the upper cover plate on the side of your water heater. You'll see two foam insulation pieces like this.. Pull those out and you'll see something like the second picture. 

In the center of that opening, you'll see a small bolt that looks like a screw. This is the thermostat. There is a guide next to it. If you want to change the temperature of your water, use your flat head screwdriver to adjust this thermostat to the desired temperature. Deciding exactly what is the proper temperature is up for some debate. 


Recirculation Pump Control Box with Thermostat inside.
The manual that came with the water heater says that homes with small children should not have water hotter than 120 degrees. It even suggests considering adjusting your water temperature less than that to avoid any chance of scalding. Certainly by having water warmer than 130 you will increase your risk of injury and use unnecessary energy to keep that water very hot. I have read online however that water heater tanks need to keep the water in the tank at a minimum of 130 degrees to prevent bacteria from growing in the tank and not doing this can potentially lead to Legionnaires Disease and other health problems. From what I've read, if your tank is set to 130 degrees, then the water will actually cool off about 10 degrees as it makes its way in the pipes to the nearest tap, and that water will then be a safe 120 degrees when it finally touches you. 


The EPA says your tank should be set at 120 degrees but OSHA says it should be at 140 degrees. It really comes down to how susceptible are you to illness? If you're not extremely susceptible, you can likely do fine with 120 degrees. 


The manufacturer preset my tank to 125 degrees and I chose to leave it there. However, my recirculation pump was at 140 degrees and likely led to it being so hot. We also noticed that my original pump was not making any noise, possibly indicating that it had ceased to function. After Frank changed my pump, we heard the new one working and after I adjusted the temperature on that, it cooled down right away. Bottom line, adjust all three thermostats to the same temperature and periodically check the temperature of your Taco pump to make sure that it isn't too hot. 

Thermostat and timer for pump (red knobs).

The manual also recommends periodic maintenance of the tank by occasionally bleeding off some of the water from the pressure relief valve. This is an "emergency door" for the hot water in the tank. In the event of an emergency of too much pressure, the tank is designed to send the excess pressurized water out the pressure relief valve. It's like when your car radiator cap finally pops open, that keeps the radiator from cracking. I believe the discharge for this pressure relief valve is on the side of our homes, where it would come out one of the random plastic pipes we have sticking out of our walls. Forewarning, if you do lift this pressure relief valve, and that is recommended once per month, make sure that no one is standing near or under the discharge pipe as hot water will come out of it. I believe you simply lift the silver tab to release water out the discharge pipe. You don't need to do it for very long, just a short burst to ensure that water can flow out if needed. 



Then there's the flushing of the tank. Just to make you feel better, let's pretend that, like you,I've never done that before. Here's how, as explained by Roberto and Frank. At the bottom of your tank, you'll see a pipe with threads that looks like a garden spigot with no handle. I think this should actually have a cap on it but they forgot to put mine back on. I will ask them for it again. At least every six months, connect a garden hose to this threaded pipe. Drag the other end of your garden house down the staircase and into the downstairs shower or tub where it can send the water down the tub drain.  Use your flat head screwdriver to turn the tiny handle (screw) only 1/4 turn to open the valve. The water heater does not need to be turned off to do this. Only leave the valve open for 15 seconds. Then close it and wait two minutes. The tank will be refilling itself and the 2 minutes will allow more particulates to settle to the bottom of the tank. Then open the valve again for only 15 seconds. Then close it and wait 2 minutes. Do this a total of three times and then you should be good.

When done flushing the tank, make sure the valve is closed (1/4 turn) and then disconnect the garden hose. It's best to coil the hose from the attic, lifting it as you go downstairs as this will force the water in the hose to drain properly into the tub. 

Finally, for additional energy savings, you can purchase pipe insulation at Ace Hardware, like the picture above, to better insulate the hot water pipe and prevent some of the heat from escaping. 

Another important piece to our system is the expansion tank. This is the metal round water bottle sticking up from your tank or possibly on the side of it. Inside is a rubber balloon that expands and contracts to give the water a place to go when there's a sudden change in temperature or pressure. If you hear your pipes going, "thunk" loudly when you shut the water off at a tap, that could indicate that your expansion tank is not functioning properly and you should have it looked at. 

I think we have gotten good units this time around. I think the installation was much better than the first time. I believe Frank knows his stuff and with a little more awareness on our own part, I don't think we should have to worry much about these units until it's time to replace them in about 8 years. 

One final thought on the issue of hot water in our community. I know there have been many lessons learned since we first broke ground. Hindsight is always 20/20 but looking back at our experience with hot water, I would caution future developments against the system we used. Solar water heaters don't seem to be able to tolerate the hard water we have in this region. The boxes are too heavy to deal with on our tricky roofs and having the boxes up there required us to have the water heaters in the attics. Though there's not much point in reviewing something that can't be fixed now, it makes me wonder what projects we will take on in the future and how we can learn from one experience to continue to guide our wisdom in another, despite uncertain technology and improved design.  





Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2nd Annual Vicious Circle and Half Circle Ultra Urban Adventure



2nd Annual Vicious Circle & Half Circle Run


 Sunday, January 22, 2017

 It's the Vicious Circle. A 45 mile Urban Adventure.
And the Vicious Half Circle. A 22 mile Fun Run
- - - - - - - - -All city - No roads - - - - - - - - - - -
A side of Tucson you've never seen before.
Spend the day finding out why."


Who is Invited? Any member of TTR, their friends and invited guests. 

How do I register? Please RSVP with your name, your planned start time, planned distance, email and cell phone number to Brian Stark (Race Director) at RunForrestRun@Hotmail.com 
Questions? (520) 576-8666.

Start / Finish Line:  at Milagro Cohousing on Tucson's west side near Grant / Silverbell, 3057 N Gaia Place, Tucson, AZ 85745. Ample parking, restrooms, large dining hall, food and drinks! 

6am: Early start time for full loopers - those wanting additional time on the course. 
7am: General start for full loop. Numerous distance options. 7pm finisher cutoff (12 hours). 
10am: Shuttle leaves starting line to take half loopers to east side. 10:45am, start of Half Circle Run.

3-7pm: Finish line and "I'm Not Dead Yet" celebration. Prizes for finishers at all distances with Tucson Tamale meal and drinks served at the finish line. 

Items to bring for this run include: a credit card, two $1 bills, a phone with a flashlight, a running buddy and pepper spray or other suitable weapon. A current tetanus shot isn't a bad idea either.

Tracking: For safety, I'm going to ask each runner to either text me their location twice during their run or (iPhone users) set their phone to share their location with me during the event. 

Course: This 45.66 mile clockwise trail run encircles the city of Tucson while only crossing 6 roads. 

Aid: I'll send you off with a cheery goodbye. I may drive out to see you run through a few of the tunnels. Other than that, there are over 100 aid stations on this course in the form of convenience stores. Bring your credit card and the world is yours. Awesome finish line party with food and drinks provided. Emergency shuttle service available. 

Shorter options: choose any distance between 5k and 50k or the full 44 miles. Either do an out and back or take city transit to skip ahead on the course or return to the finish line early. Bail out options are listed below. 

Detailed, zoomable map can be viewed here: 
Participants will be given pocket guides at the start. These will consist of a foldable map and concise pocket edition of the written description. It is highly recommended that you spend some time reviewing the route in both the online zoomable map (pasted below) and the full description written below. In case you would like to access the concise description ahead of time, it is pasted here as well (further down is the detailed version):

Concise Notes: From Milagro, cross Goret Road, dip down into desert floor and head east to Silverbell. Cross under Silverbell in tunnel and head east to Santa Cruz River. Join river bike path heading north all the way until it crosses frontage road and I-10. Head east on Rillito on south side of river, pass Trader Joes. At Racquet Club, cross to north side of Rillito. At Dodge, cross back to south side. At Craycroft, join the Pantano Wash, staying on the west bank of it going south. At Lakeside Park, run clockwise around lake, behind Ford Elementary School and in wash heading SW towards Kolb. Cross Kolb Road, then go north along it. At Escalante, turn left and stay on paved bike path past Boneyard and DMAFB. At intersection of Craycroft / Golf Links, cross road UNDER intersection in tunnel. Stay on path on north side of Golf Links, heading west. Continue west, across Snake Bridge, past Light Rail Station, and cross 6th Street at railroad tracks. Enter wash just north of 6th street at trestle and turn left in wash. Go UNDER I-10 and Frontage road in wash, leading to Santa Cruz. Cross Santa Cruz (if able) and head north on bike path along west bank. Continue past Grant Road until cross iron bridge across small tributary before golf course. TURN LEFT immediately after the bridge, leaving the paved path and follow the narrow dirt trail back under Silverbell and up to the finish at Milagro.

Detailed Notes: From Start, head up sidewalk, across parking lot, following cones and flags to empty neighborhood (Black Cloud Court), turn right. Exit neighborhood and stay on left shoulder of Goret Road for 40 yards. Turn right across Goret Rd (WATCH FOR TRAFFIC!!!). Veer right onto old road bed sloping down into desert floor. Short steep descent. Pick up flagging to small main wash and run east towards Silverbell Rd. Go under Silverbell Road in low tunnel. Emerge and climb up to left embankment. Follow wash east to intersect with paved bike path. 1.2mi: Intersect Loop, heading north on bike path. Follow this north past Silverbell Golf Course and Silverbell Lake (drinking fountains, restrooms). 
Stay on bike path and arrive at El Camino Del Cerro. Turn right at road, staying on bike path.  Stay on path under bridge to north side of Cmo Del Cerro and continue east across bridge over Santa Cruz River, then north on bike path again. 
Continue following The Loop Bike Path as it bends to the right, UNDER the frontage road and I-10 (under the railroad trestle), and then turn right, staying on bike path.  
ACROSS N. Camino De La Tierra. 
UNDER N. La Cholla Blvd. 
UNDER N. Flowing Wells Rd. 
Planet Fitness on your right if you want to stop for a quick workout. 
Go UNDER N. Oracle Rd.
Here you will leave the bike path. 
Run along the edge of the mall parking lot, inside the hedges, and behind BevMo. 
UNDER N. Stone Ave. After crossing under Stone, hop up onto the parking lot surface of the Tucson Mall. 
Run UNDER N 1st Ave. 

BAIL OUT OPTION 1: If you're done at this point, head to the Tohono Tadai Transit Center at the Tucson Mall. Take Route 19 to the Ronstadt Transit Center and transfer to Route 21 to get to Goret / Silverbell. From there it's just a 1/2 mile

Here you'll run the Secret Rillito Trail.
RUN UNDER Campbell Ave. (Trader Joe's Aid Station on your left here). 

At the pedestrian bridge at the Tucson Racquet Club, CROSS BRIDGE TO NORTH SIDE OF RILLITO. Get on the bike path heading east on the north bank.

 At Dodge Blvd, turn right, crossing on bridge sidewalk to the south side of Rillito, then UNDER N. Dodge Blvd, resuming on bike path. 

Run UNDER N. Alvernon Way
Run UNDER N. Swan Rd.

This is just under the halfway mark on the course. 
Here, as you cross N. Craycroft Rd, stay on the south side of the Rillito. 

Here, the Rillito meets the Pantano. 
Get into the Pantano Wash or on the west bank of the Pantano running 
UNDER E. Tanque Verde Rd, 
UNDER E. Speedway Blvd, 
UNDER E. Broadway Blvd, 
UNDER E 22nd St. 

Between 22nd St and Golf Links, stay on the path to the right, which takes you to a spillway of Lakeside Park. 

UNDER E Golf Links Rd.

LAKESIDE PARK IS THE STARTING POINT FOR the HALF VICIOUS Circle Runners at about 10:30am. They will start from the east side of Lakeside Park, near the spillway. 

Bail out option 2: If you're done at this point, you can pick up a city bus that will get you back to Rondstat Transit Center and then Route 21 takes you up Silverbell back to Goret Road where you can run or walk the final 1/2 mi to the finish. The nearest bus stop is just west of this bridge at 22nd St but is for Express only and doesn't run on Sundays. Bus #17 stops at Golf Links / Pantano. Get on. At 6th St / Wilmot transfer to Route 3. That takes you to the transit center (1 hr commute), then get on Route 21 to return to the finish. Fare is $1.50 and you can transfer with that if you tell the driver. If you catch Brian Stark when dropping off the halfers, you can get a ride back with him. 

From the spillway, follow the sidewalk clockwise around the lake.  Climb up the steep sidewalk hill to pass over the spillway, then back down to return to water's edge as you make your way around the park. Watch for fishing poles waving around. At the boat ramp on the west side of the lake, make a sharp left up the hill, across the parking lot and head across the athletic fields of Ford Elementary School. Cross the soccer fields and curve left around the backstop of the baseball field. Once through the school property, just before the next road crossing, dip down into the wash on your right (if it's not flowing). You will ideally dip into this wash, turn left in it and run it 
UNDER Stella, 
UNDER Pantano, 
UNDER Carson,
here, there is a dirt road on your right paralleling the wash. You are welcome to it. 
UNDER Escalante, then climb up the right embankment, and find yourself in bit of a trash heap. Head east cross country or on a single lane dirt road towards the southernmost row of homes and run east in the alley behind them. The goal here is to be south of Escalante and with all of the housing to your right. Head due west ACROSS Kolb Road. 

(the street light pole here is numbered 4320)

Once on the west side of Kolb Road, turn right, running north on the west shoulder of Kolb. At Escalante, turn left to pick up the Loop bike path. Head west on the paved bike path, running past the iconic airplane boneyard. 
There are 4,200 military airplanes stored here. Please don't take one. 
There is a Quick Mart Aid Station at NE corner of Escalante and Kolb.
Follow the path as it bends along S. Calle Polar and Nicaragua. 
There is another QuickMart (aid station) at your next intersection of Wilmot and Niacaragua Dr (14mi to go!). As you pass the Quik Mart on your right, go down into the wash on your left and under Wilmot. Turn right to stay in the wash and climb up the right bank onto the bike path heading north.  Continue north on path along Wilmot until coming to E Golf Links Road. Turn LEFT here to stay on bike path. You are now running next to the world's second largest solar installation on a military base (#1 being Ft. Huachuca). 

Convenience Store (aid) at NE corner of Craycroft and Golf Links.  As you near the intersection with Craycroft, turn LEFT to dip down into the wash. Get out your flashlight and buddy up. This is a tunnel under the intersection. It has a dogleg in it so you can't see the other end until you're halfway through. Emerge on the NW corner of the intersection and get back on the bike path to your right, heading west. 

Stay on bike path along Golf Links until coming to Alvernon. Continue straight ACROSS Alvernon, heading west. CROSS Dodge, go UNDER Palo Verde and stay on path.

After 34th St, dedicated path ends, so veer right to head onto neighborhood street, named Aviation Road. Continue NW on this until it resumes as a bike path at Camilla Stravanue.

CROSS Country Club.

Go UNDER 22nd St.

UNDER Kino.

Pass by TUSD Project MORE High School.

CROSS Basket Bridge over S. Euclid Ave.

CROSS Snake Bridge over Broadway Blvd.

After exiting snake's mouth, turn left on path.

Stay LEFT along Stevens Ave, pass by Light Rail Train Station.

Dedicated path ends at train station, but continue straight across open desert between the street car station on your right and the Amtrak train tracks on your left.

Cross bridge over 6th Ave next to train tracks, then turn right.

At 7th Street, turn left.

BAIL OUT OPTION 3: If done here, head south to Rondstat Transit Center, get on bus route #21. Will return you to Silverbell/Goret Rd. 

At 7th Ave (Small Planet Bakery), stay to the right of the train tracks.

At 6th St, cross street, following railroad tracks and get on left side of tracks.

WATCH FOR TRAFFIC!

You will next come to a wooden and steel train trestle. Dip down into the wash here and turn left in the wash (Arroyo Chico). If it is flowing you can opt to run west on 6th St. If it's not full of water, stay in the wash, under I-10 and the frontage road and emerge in the Santa Cruz River. If it is flowing, you can get up onto the east bank of the river and get on the bike path on the east bank, head north. If the river is dry, cross it and get onto the bike path on the west bank, head north.
At the Dragon Restaurant, you only have 4.92 miles to go! 

With just over a mile to go, cross iron and wood bike bridge and IMMEDIATELY TURN LEFT, OFF the Paved Bike Path and retrace your steps back to Silverbell. Run UNDER Silverbell Road in the concrete culvert and head up the same wash you came down what will now seem like 17 years ago.  Up the hill, cross Goret, enter Black Cloud Court and from the empty roundabout, run across the Milagro gravel parking lot to the mailboxes. Pick up the cement sidewalk and head down to the metal gate, the Grassy Circle, the Common House, Beer, Tamales and THE FINISH LINE! 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Filming the World's Shortest Ultra



Last weekend I stepped up to the starting line of one of the oldest ultra trail races in Arizona and only of the only ones in southern Arizona.  The Old Pueblo 50 Mile Endurance Run has been around for years and is one of the most friendly staffed with the most beautiful scenery in my racing log.

After some changes in management this year, Bob Bachani took over as Race Director and he pulled off an impressive performance, given that he took the reins with not much time to reorganize.

Many in the Tucson Trail Running community came to his aid and the event was top notch all around. The Summit Hut Camping Store stepped up with major sponsorship at the last minute and provided nice etched beer glasses for the goody bag, among other things. Hammer Nutrition also played a big role in donating product and signage for the race.

My body was horribly undertrained for this race, but after 15 years of doing them this way, why break with tradition?

Rosemont Copper, a multi-national mining company from Canada has recently acquired mineral rights to portions of the course and promptly closed access roads near their property. This caused a major disruption to the existing course and specifically Gunsight Pass, the most notorious climb of the course. Instead, the course now does a 25 mile loop and then hits repeat.  While it does insert a new section of welcomed single track, it also makes for a significant head game at the end of your first lap. Welcome home. There's your car right there. We got burgers on the barbe. But first, why don't you go back out and run another marathon over the very course you just finished?

When I saw the double loop design, it didn't take long to convince myself the night before to just opt for the first loop.

Plus, I'm still recovering from some tendonitis, probably, right?

More than anything, I was looking forward to using the event to test out my new camera setup.  For several states I've been filming the run using my GoPro Hero 3 camera.  Sometimes I mount it to my chest harness, which results in my swinging hands being in the shot most of the time. I also have a selfie stick that I can mount it to. This works better but there's still a significant bobble while watching. Puke Cam, as it's been described.

This year I upped my game and acquired a gimbal. Small name, huge potential.  This is a camera mount that has batteries, 3 independent motors and a controller.  I mounted my GoPro in the gimbal. Then mounted the gimbal onto the end of my selfie stick and left it there the whole race. Rather than carry it in my hand the whole time, I found a way to attach it to my shoulder strap and could easily remove it for shots when needed.



I was very happy with the result. It's nothing less than stunning. If you compare it to some footage from my recent trips, the difference is night and day.  If I hadn't been there to see it in action, I would have thought it was a drone flying next to me. It's that steady.  But don't take my word for it - see for yourself!



Click the link below to see the short 7 minute recap!




Besides super smooth footage, the other good news?  The course was a little long. After I finished the first lap, I looked down at my watch. Total distance for first loop: 26.3 miles.  A marathon is 26.219 miles. An ultra, by definition, is anything longer than a marathon. BOOOOOM!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Vicious Circle: The 8 Hour Race That Took 15 Years

When I first moved to Tucson around 2000, I loved heading to any of the cardinal points to run trails in the four mountain ranges surrounding the city. They are the crown jewels of the city, to be sure. But an hour of driving each way made me grow tired of the commute just for some adventure and I began to wonder if there was a way to find the same thing within city limits.

At the time I worked at the Summit Hut, a locally owned camping store.  I would run a different route from my home to the store each day, get cleaned up in the bathroom and change into work clothes for the day.  I enjoyed my run commute. It was a great way to start the day and it proved equally effective at shaking off the day's stresses of working retail (not that selling gear in a camping store is especially stressful, it's not).


As the months and years went by I transitioned into teaching middle school in the Vail School District located in the extreme far south east of the city. The only problem was that I lived in West Tucson.  The distance from door to door was 32 miles. Wishing to avoid busy roads I researched other ways to get there on foot.  I developed a network of sidewalks, paths, frontage roads and the occasional tunnel to help me avoid traffic.  I made several of the running trips to school, leaving home at 2:30am in order to get to the school by 7:00 for the first bell.  "Kids, Mr. Stark is going to be at his desk today. Please work at your desk and if you need anything, come see me, over here."

I liked my new route across the city so much that I began to wonder if I could extend it to go around the entire city.  


 With limited time, I found myself occasionally looking at maps, going for a run in different parts of the city and slowly piecing a route together.  A few years ago two friends and I biked the entire route.  Unknown to me at the time, the county was also developing a pedestrian friendly route around the city and actually building paved bike paths, rest areas, and signage as well. They called this route, The Loop. When complete, it will span 131 miles which includes spurs to Marana and Oro Valley to the north and South Tucson to the.. well, south.


One version of The Loop is 55 miles and is designed for public use. That means there must be emergency access, minimum trail width, proper intersections and other safety considerations. I liked the thought of finding adventure inside the city and complying with so many safety criteria seemed to diminish the intent I was going after.


Looking back at my evolving route, I incorporated as many opportunities to avoid roads as possible. My route uses bike paths, as well as underpasses, washes, alleys, and even tunnels.  When I finally had it in working form, my route totaled 45 miles and only crossed 6 roads. Not bad for circling a city of a million people.

Here's the route, as captured on Matt's GPS watch. Notice the extra tunnels he squeezed through making sure he didn't                                             miss any! Thanks Matt! 

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zt7aQYHhbSD4.ksrulPHA22D8&usp=sharing

I've run the entire thing in sections. I have biked it twice, but I hadn't run it all at once. But that didn't stop me from offering it as a group "race" with my local running group.  We get together most weekends during the school year to run in the mountains but this run would be different. We scheduled it for the last weekend in January and there was strong interest.  The usual amount of people wanted to make it but couldn't due to travel, work, or injury.  In the end, we had 12 people show up: 7 men and 5 women.
Route of the Vicious Circle
Running 45 miles can take awhile even when the route is easy. But this thing has you crouching through long tunnels, navigating the occasional weedy desert lot, and encountering who knows what all may be found in such places. I wasn't expecting particularly fast times.  In order to give everyone as much time as possible, I invited people to start at 5am or later. I didn't want anyone out in the dark after sunset in these remote areas so I set 6:30pm as the finisher cutoff.

In order to promote this event, I needed a good name for it.  Looking at a map of the route, it gently curves around the south side of the city but has a very sharp point in the north where it quickly passes under I-10 and then heads south again. To me, it looked like the upside down letters V and C.


Using those as a starting point, I wanted something that evoked some of the roughness of the city. These runners would be going through the bowels of the city, tunnels, homeless camps, trashy washes, vacant lots. This wasn't meant to be a red carpet event where the asphalt was fresh and the lines painted yellow and the name needed to indicate that. I finally settled on the Vicious Circle.



I had never been race director for an ultra before but had worked for several weeks to prepare for this. Each runner signed in on a liability disclaimer and picked up a custom made route map of the city with my route highlighted on it along with a printed copy of brief trail notes printed on glossy paper to help it hold up in the hands of sweaty runners all day long. I installed flagging tape along the first mile of the route to get them to the first bike path along the Santa Cruz River. Later, I realized they wouldn't see the flagging tape in the dark so I also installed glow sticks along the first mile at 3am the morning of the run.

The first to toe the line at 5:07am were Lorey and Ed. They ran for 2 hours before needing to head out to work.
Next, Elizabeth, Geoff and Jenny took off a few minutes later, hoping for a sizable chunk of the loop. Each of them had different goals. Geoff had planned to do the entire loop. Jenny was there to join him for "just 20-30 miles".  Elizabeth jumped aboard with the goal of "going until I can't go any more." I love that goal.

About an hour later the next wave of runners showed up. Brian E., a local engineer who is fairly new to ultra running but shows commanding aptitude shot off at the start at 6:10 along with Mike and Bob, an ultra runner from Flagstaff who just happened to be in town for a family gathering.

Matt arrived about 30 min later and headed out.

With the later start times, the sun was now fully up and Kristi and her friend Heather set out for a 10 mile morning walk.

Last to leave was Benedict, who had made the decision to start later so that he wouldn't need the aid of a flashlight.  Not present in the conversation was mention of the tunnels which don't seem to get any brighter with the sun.

Twenty-four soles of 12 brave individuals began the endless dance of left foot, right foot for somewhere near 68,000 times as they navigated the Vicious Circle.

I asked people to text or call me for two reasons: 1. If they changed course or were stopping and 2. when they crossed under the Interstate for the second time and were on their way back.

The first text came in at 7:13am.

"Brian, this is Jenny. Elizabeth and Geoff and I took a detour, back on track at Snake Bridge. Lots of adventure. Don't worry."

Enter submission for the most understated comment of the year. This trio had missed a critical turn on the route (mostly due to my inadequate directions). There is a railroad trestle crossing a wash and the notes said to turn right out of the wash at this point.  They approached it in the dark and only saw the legs of the trestle which happened to be metal. Only the top was wood which they couldn't see in the dark. So they continued straight when they should have turned. Shortly after the trestle, they came to a tunnel that I knew nothing about. It went for almost a MILE.  It was a labyrinth of side tunnels, forks and options. That's when Elizabeth noticed a message painted on the walls amidst the impressive spray-painted murals. "Snake Bridge this way". As they stood in the dark tunnel discussing the accuracy of a spray-painted message in a tunnel under the city, Elizabeth posed the now famous question, "Come on, when has graffiti ever led you astray?" She was right and they finally emerged in a cage of tall security fencing with pointed tips bent outward. Eager to avoid turning around, they opted to climb the fence and somehow made it over in tact.

Benedict, having started much later, was quite a bit behind them and though it was light out, he also missed the turn at the trestle and entered this much longer tunnel without the aid of a flashlight.  He may have taken a different fork in the tunnel. We're not sure what route he took underground as he claims he was feeling his way along the tunnel with his hands against the wall. When he emerged he was about a half mile east and a half mile north of the route.
Geoff posing at the Boneyard.

All of the others managed to navigate the course without difficulty and as the morning wore on, so did their weariness. Mike, who was facing a series of minor bodily setbacks made it to the east side before calling it in.  Impressively, he told me that when he started out with Brian and Bob, they went out at a blazing clip of sub 7 min miles, or maybe it was 8.. or Mach 2. All I know is it was fast and there was a lot of ground yet to cover at Mile Post 1.65.  I picked up Mike and he and I went looking for other runners. Without GPS tracking, I figured my chances of finding the remaining six runners were impossibly slim, especially if they're spending their morning underground blindly feeling their way along tunnel walls. Someone did show me where you can allow specific people to see your location through the text app on your phone.  I considered trying that for this run as it would have made finding and tracking people a snap, but I didn't want to be creepy about it early in the morning. Maybe for future years of this run I can offer it ahead of time for those that want to participate.

Bob from Flagstaff was the next to head home. He needed to get back north so he stopped on the east side, caught a bus and he got back to his car at the finish in a short time.


Matt emerges from a short tunnel near Davis Monthan Air Force Base
Mike and I drove further east and just caught Matt heading out of a short tunnel near Davis Monthan Air Force Base.  He was looking fresh and sharp and was likely looking forward to his wife who was about to bring him several aid stations worth of provisions as he neared his own neighborhood.





Geoff and Jenny share a laugh at Lakeside Park.
Driving a little further on, we arrived at one of my favorite parts of the course, Lakeside Park. It is a sizable body of water that offers boating, fishing and picnics.  There, we found Geoff and his friend Jenny who were the giggliest pair I've ever seen in an ultra at mile 18.


Matt was cruising up the Pantano tributary. 





Matt carefully navigates a field of ankle killer boulders after passing under another road at Stella and Pantano Rd.


Thinking we were lucky to have found those three, we started heading back to the finish line and luckily ran into Benedict as well. That's when he filled us in on his own tunnel adventure. 

The only ones still on the course that I hadn't checked in with were Brian E. and Elizabeth. I texted her and asked if she needed anything, trying to gently ask her if she wanted to quit. Her short response was a testament to this person's strong will. "I'm good. I think I saw you drive away from the Quik Mart." I didn't see her but she may have seen me. It must have been like being lost at sea and the giant cruise ship doesn't spot you and just plows on by. She was intent on fulfilling her goal of forward motion until there wasn't any!

Back at the Headquarters and finish line, I had been getting regular updates from our leader, Brian E.  He was making great time!  He finished in an impressive course record time of 8 hours, 11 minutes for a GPS distance of 45.66 miles.  

He was hungry when he returned and we fed him with tamales, kale salad, beverages and chile chocolate brownies. 

Next in was Benedict with a time of 8:31. Then Matt with 9:23. And finally Geoff and Jenny, the day's happy pair with 11:45.  

Everyone was eating, laughing and retelling stories from their amazing adventures of the day. During dinner, Elizabeth showed up. She had made it much further than she had initially theorized. She got all the way to the Rillito River before having her family pick her up.  The only reason she stopped was marble sized blisters on the toes of both feet. My camera didn't do it justice but let's just trust me on this one. 

What pleased me most though was how many of them commented that they run the mountain trails all the time on the weekends. They run the city streets on weekdays. They never knew of this other world that was literally, to use the tired phrase, in their own backyard.  That, for me, was the intent of the entire project. Sometimes you don't have to venture far into the wilderness to find adventure and achieve your goals. When we take the time to look hard enough, even if that means 15 years, we may just find what we were looking for beneath our feet.  

Perhaps Matt said it best in a farewell message later that evening, "Thanks again, Brian. I don't live for race day. I live for epic run day. Today was that day."