To our delight, the county has been busy building some new trails since we
were here eleven months ago. Maybe that's one of the reasons park fees
increased and I should quit
There's a short new spur trail off the northern section of the Pemberton
Trail to 150th Street, a shared-use trail to Rock
Knob (shown below) off the Pemberton Trail on the western side of the park
between the Tonto and Bluff trail intersections, and an extension of the Coachwhip
Trail in the southwestern corner of the park.
The new section of Coachwhip Trail conveniently extends the mileage you can do
both inside and outside park boundaries. Look at this close-up of the southwest
corner of the park and the McDowell Mountains:
The heavy lines are the park boundaries in that corner. The park is to the
right, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to the left, and Fountain Hills city
property at the bottom.
See the loop marked CO and DX in the center of the map? Now it's easy to do a five-mile loop off the
Pemberton Trail and/or add in more mileage by including the southern part of
the Dixie Mine Trail, which leads down into the city of Fountain Hills. You can
get even more miles by using the Coachwhip (CO) or Dixie Mine (DX)
trails to access the
Prospector, Windmill, Thompson Peak, Bell Pass, East End, and Tom's Thumb
trails in the McDowell Range. Mileages aren't marked on the trails outside park
boundaries but it appears you can do a a fair amount of distance up there.
I'll describe and show photos of the Coachwhip and Dixie Mine trails in the next entry.
This is the first time I've been on those. We even saw a new
trail called "Sonoran" that branches off from the Dixie Mine Trail; it
isn't included in the new maps yet.
McDowell Mountain Park has a wide variety of trails, from short to long,
smooth to rocky. Because the park slopes several hundred feet from east to
west, there aren't very many flat spots. The terrain is characterized by ridges
and washes that have eroded through time by desert storms and spring run-off.
That means some of the trails undulate quite a bit. There aren't many steep
slopes unless you get into the McDowell Mountain Range, though.
All the trails I've seen here are run-able (or cycle-able) if you're
coordinated. Everything is walk-able even for a klutz like me with bad knees.
All intersections are well-marked; some include mileages. You can pick
up paper trail maps at several trailheads and in the visitor's center.
Runners and hikers can use every trail, including those in the
competitive track area. Cyclists can use all of the trails except two short
ones on steeper ridges (Lousley Hill and Hilltop). There are a few trails like
Wagner that are supposed to be for hiking and biking only, but it's obvious
that equestrians ignore the signs:
TRAINING UPDATE: JIM
Jim has been gradually increasing his running and walking
distance since we left Virginia about four weeks ago. He's had
symptoms of plantar faciitis since July and has been treating
the problem aggressively since diagnosing it correctly in
September. I detailed his struggle with this chronic condition
previous journal entry.
The pain has not increased as he's begun running further --
nor has it diminished. He's decided to just live with it
unless it gets worse.
Three photos: Jim runs along Bluff
Trail toward the Pemberton Trail; Cody patiently waits for me.
Jim continues to stretch his foot well before getting out of bed
and for several minutes at a time during the day. He ices it to
reduce inflammation, does self-massage, uses our ridged wooden
foot roller and portable ultrasound machine, and runs/walks with
the orthotics our chiropractor gave him. He also got two new
pairs of running shoes recently; we were lucky to find
his favorite Asics road and trail shoes for half price at REI.
He has worked up to 40+ miles a week, with his longest runs about
15½ miles on the Pemberton Trail
here at McDowell Mountain Park. Recently he ran one of those
loops at a comfortable pace, then ran 11 miles the next day on a
hillier, rockier section of trail in the park (point to point
from Fountain Hills on the Dixie Mine, Coachwhip, Pemberton, and
Bluff trails to the campground).
Jim and Cody walk along the Wagner Trail on
an easy day; the Four Peaks are in the distance.
Four Peaks from the North Trail -- these
are the mountains depicted on Arizona license tags.
Since his foot didn't feel any
worse today, Jim decided to send in his application for the Run
to the Future 24-Hour Race in nearby Phoenix. The Arizona Road
Racers running club is sponsoring this race to fill part of the
void left by the popular Across the Years (ATY) 72-, 48-, and
24-Hour Run, which is on hiatus this year. Run to the Future
will begin at 9AM on December 31 and end at 9AM on New Year's
One day Jim did loops around the campground
to simulate the
paved and gravel loop at Run to the Future.
Our camper was his "aid station."
The race has no entry limit or
deadline so Jim waited to enter until he was sure his foot
didn't get any worse as he upped his miles. Because his training
has been limited the last three months, he has no idea how many
miles he can run and walk during the race without further
injury. It's a low-key race; he doesn't feel
pressure to accumulate a lot of miles. He can go whatever
pace he wants, for as long as he wants.
About two-thirds of the 15+ mile Pemberton
Trail is smooth and runnable like this. The rest is more rocky.
Although I'm concerned that Jim
might further aggravate his PF (or something else that's not
trained right now to go 40 or 50 miles), I understand his
reasons for entering the race. He hasn't been in a race since
Hinson Lake three months ago. He needs races to motivate himself
to train. It's hard for him to just go out and do long runs by
himself. Even if he runs and walks only 20 or 30 miles at the
race next week, I think it will be good psychologically for him.
He's been very discouraged this fall about his inability to run
as much as he wants. He has the sense to stop before he
Cody surveys the terrain from the southern
side of the Pemberton loop.
For cross-training, Jim has been
using weight machines at YMCAs we visit twice a week. He has not
been in a whirlpool since we left Virginia. The two Ys we've
used in the Phoenix area do not have whirlpools. He has ridden
his mountain bike only a few miles so far; something is
wrong with the gears and he hasn't fixed them yet.
TRAINING UPDATE: SUE
I've been through quite the running
metamorphosis since getting my knee injections in the fall. I'll
talk more about the psychological adjustment to ending my
30-year running career in another entry at the end of this
journal or the beginning of the 2010 journal. For now, let's
just say the adjustment has been faster and easier than I
The other piece of good news is
that the Orthovisc
injections help my knees. I can tell a
difference, and it's more than just the fact that I have been
running less. I wasn't able to run much before the
Yuccas in winter mode
The desert sun is warm, even in late
December; I carry as much water for Cody as for myself.
Very old Saguaro cactus (L) and younger
Palo Verde tree (R) on the North Trail.
The plant life is very lush in this area of
the park, which was untouched by a large fire.
I'm also comfortable using a much
lower dose of OTC pain relievers now for my arthritis. I wrote
earlier about trying to get off
the high amount of ibuprofen I'd been taking for many years. My
primary care doctor and orthopedist recommended Tylenol for
Arthritis. I took two 650-mg timed release pills 3X day as directed
for a couple of months but it wasn't nearly as effective at
reducing the pain in my hands and hips as ibuprofen.
advice of another doctor I saw in November, I tried one 650 mg
acetaminophen and one 200 mg ibuprofen 3X day, a combination
I've never used, and it works great! I was trying to avoid
ibuprofen altogether, but this is such a low dose compared to what I used
to take that I'm not worried about it affecting my kidneys or GI
Equestrians are permitted on many of the
Stoneman Wash has historical significance;
its soft sand is better
for riding horses than running, hiking, or
My mileage isn't anything to write
home about, an average of 24 miles a week of walking (with
a few miles of running thrown in) the past four weeks. This week will be my highest
mileage since the middle of September, about 36 miles.
It's more important now that I protect my knees than run or walk
mega miles, and I've reached the point where I'm OK with that.
The longer I can postpone knee replacements, the better!
I've worked up to several two- to three-hour
run/walks in the past month. It's a little frustrating to see
how few miles I cover when I just walk, but I'm very
happy to still be able to enjoy being out on trails. After about
an hour the endorphins kick in and it's almost as good as when I
was able to run.
hike so far at McDowell Mountain Park is eleven miles. Run/hikes
are shorter. My pace is very slow because of all the stops
I make to give Cody water, take photos, etc. Pace simply doesn't
matter to me any more. Being outside, moving around, is what
Teddy Bear Chollas glow in the low
Close-up of a Teddy Bear Cholla that is
forming early blooms.
I'm still doing a little bit of
running because 1) I love to run (!) and 2) I don't want to lose
all of my aerobic fitness.
The only running I do now is uphill
(easier on knees with little to no cartilage) on fairly smooth
trail for one to three minutes at a time. It reminds me of the
hill repeats I used to do. I gain strength running uphill and my
heart rate gets higher faster. I remember my old running coach
telling me how beneficial it was to rock my heart rate back and
forth between running and walking during speed repeats years
ago. Although I'm not working on speed, hill repeats do the same
thing for my circulatory and respiratory systems. When I do any
running during a workout, I like to do about a quarter of the
total distance this way.
Smooth, gradual trails like Bluff are
perfect for my uphill repeats. Buckhorn Cactus in foreground.
I've always used a hard-easy
approach to my running. I'm doing the same thing now:
after a hard workout one day, I do an easier workout or cross
train the next day (or two) -- or completely rest. A hard
workout right now is a brisk two- or three-hour walk, up to an
hour walk with uphill running repeats in the middle, or a hilly
bike ride of an hour or more. On easy days I walk or ride a
flatter course for a shorter distance and time, and do no
A red-trailed hawk swoops low over the
I came real close to entering the
Run to the Future 24-Hour Race, thinking it would be cool to
run/walk 30 miles next week to celebrate my 30th anniversary of
running (I began running January 1, 1980). I finally decided
that wouldn't be the smartest thing for me to do because I'm not
trained to run or walk 30 miles right now without getting
injured. If it was a race I could get excited about (like ATY),
I'd probably do it anyway. I just can't get excited about Run to
the Future so I'm going to crew and volunteer there.
Now I'm thinking that if I do "just
one more" ultra, I'll train to walk 31 miles at the Delano
12-Hour Run in Alabama in March to celebrate my 31st year of
running. Jim and I were the first runners to enter that race
when it opened last fall -- before Dr. Johnson gave me
the bad news that my knees are shot. If I change my mind I can
withdraw before the end of January and get a refund. It may well
be that Hinson Lake back in September was my last ultra ever.
Fountain Hill's fountain is visible from
much of McDowell Park
when it it turned on at the top of each
hour for 15-20 minutes.
For cross-training I've ridden my
road bike several times a week since we've been at McDowell
Park. The longest I've gone is 15 miles so far; I'm
gradually increasing my mileage so I don't hurt my knees.
Although I don't feel any pain in them after my walks and
run/walks, I do sometimes feel them after what for me is a long
I'd like to get out on some of the trails here with Jim's bike
but it's not shifting properly and I'm not going to tempt fate
wreck in August. For now, I'm
sticking to paved roads with my skinny-tire Terry bike.
Two cyclists on the Granite Trail; the park
is full of mountain bikers on weekends.
I've also been doing weight work on
the machines at the YMCAs we've visited a couple times a week in
Austin, Mesa, and Scottsdale. The two Ys in the Phoenix metro
area are ones we've used on previous visits. We're happy they
have mostly the same LifeFitness machines we have in Roanoke. I
also do some maintenance strength work in the camper for my
shoulders; I had rotator cuff problems last spring. So
far I haven't done any pool running but I brought along my
flotation vest in case I need it.
Next entry: exploring new trails at McDowell Mountain
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil