Ken Young started this series when he moved to Tucson in the 1970s. Here is his account of his own introduction to trail running in Colorado and the genesis of the series (Ross Z)
In the summer of 1972, I was doing my doctoral research at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) which is located on a mesa southwest of Boulder. I started running trails because it took less time than to go down the hill and find a place to run on the flat. Even in the early 1970’s, Boulder had a nice system of hiking trails although not as extensive as it is now. I saw no one else running trails although Frank Shorter was reputed to have run the Mesa Trail (the easy one) occasionally. I started with the Mesa Trail but soon found that too easy and looked for more of a challenge. I found a topo map that showed what turned out to be rather old and unused trails in rather poor condition and eventually ran these longer and more interesting trails most of the time, especially the one up Bear Canyon (west of Boulder, there are bears everywhere which is why there are so many Bear Canyons). When I started trail running, I fell or turned my ankle at least once a run. My ankles were sore all of the time that first summer. I fell three times in one ten mile run. I was cut and bruised in multiple places. But, I learned how to run trails. I ran the Pike’s Peak Marathon that summer of 1972, placing 9th with a 4:54:18. I returned to the University of Chicago in the fall and was lucky enough to get a post-doc position at NCAR for the academic year 1973-74. I continued to train on trails and managed to get some trail running in during the winter I spent in Boulder. I went back to Pike’s Peak and placed 4th in 4:15:07.
The following year, I got a faculty position at the University of Arizona and was able to spend summers in Boulder, running trails and doing research (in that order). The first trail I ran in Tucson was the Phone Line trail, on 20 Jan 1976 (according to my workout log). I’m not sure how I ran it but it took 1:45:30 and was an estimated 11 miles. I must not have cared much for that trail since on January 28th, I ran the Bear Canyon into Sabino Basin and return (15.4 miles, 2:28:00). That was HTE (here, there, and everywhere), looking for a decent trail route. The next time (February 3rd), I ran up Bear Canyon into Sabino Basin and continued west to link with the Sabino Canyon trail and returned that way (17 miles, 2:43:). As far as I know, that was the first running of the Bear-Sabino Loop. On February 26th, I ran Bear-Sabino again, this time in 2:33: and then again on March 2nd with a 2:16:
By April 8th of that year (1976), I was looking for more trails and ran the Mount Lemmon Ascent for the first time (3:34:40). The Mount Lemmon run was with Rick Trujillo (of Pike’s Peak fame) and we got lost several times. After a summer training in Boulder, I ran the Bear-Sabino loop in 2:12:15 (26 Oct 1976), then down to 2:10:40 on 11 Nov 1976, and under 2:10 for the first time with a 2:09:10 on 30 Nov 1976. I ran Bear-Sabino pretty regularly that winter. 10 Apr 1977 marked a milestone; I convinced Blair Johnson to run Bear-Sabino with me (2:08:15), the first local runner to do so. He didn’t come back for more. On 18 Oct 1977, Dennis Stonehocker and Phil Stanforth ran Bear-Sabino with me; we ran 2:05:25 (not a PR). By this time, I sometimes had one or two people with me to run trails. On 01 Nov 1977, another milestone was reached, the first sub-2 hour Bear-Sabino. Dennis Stonehocker and I ran together in 1:59:45. On 20 Nov 1977, four (!) runners did Bear-Sabino, Dennis and I “tied” in 1:56:30 (new record), with Phil Stanforth in 2:05:25, and (?) Stevenson in 2:07:55.
On 11 Jan 1978, I ran Lemmon again, with Dennis Stonehocker. This was a really dumb one since Dennis and I had decided to run to the tops of the highest peak in each of the four mountain ranges surrounding Tucson and had scheduled Lemmon for the first one. It had been a dry autumn and the first big storm came in two days before our scheduled run up Lemmon. When we started, the Santa Catalina’s were socked in but it had stopped raining in Tucson. So we decided to go. We had mushy snow on the trail by Hutch’s Pool, but kept going anyway. By Romero Pass, there was about a foot of snow on the trail and it was snowing with visibility down to about 100 feet. The decision was, 13 miles back to the start or 5 miles up the trail to the top. Five miles was a lot shorter than 13 miles and so we went up. Bad decision. About 1.5 miles up the trail, we were following a ridge line and circled around a rock out-croppping and came upon our own footprints. Bad sign. I said, “Dennis, I think we are lost.” Dennis, who had never been up the trail before said, “I wish you hadn’t told me that. I thought you knew where we were going.” After some thought, I decided to drop down off the ridge since the trail obviously was NOT on the ridge. The problem was, which side? Luckily, we chose the correct side (north) and found a clear shot thru the bushes that appeared to be a trail. We followed that and sure enough, it was the trail. About a mile later, we came upon some hikers coming down from the top so from then on, we were OK as we had footprints to follow. By the time we got to the summit, I could barely talk and I had lost feeling in my arms below the elbows. I banged on the door of the dormitory at the research station, using my elbows (my hands were frostbitten). A guy came to the door and saw two miserable blokes in running gear (bare-legged) standing in the snow, mumbling like mad-men. At first, he was inclined to close the door but he did let us in to warm up and then gave us a ride down to the ski area restaurant where we got something hot to eat (we had pinned money to our shirts) and then bummed a ride back down the mountain.
On 07 Feb 1978, Dennis Stonehocker and I ran the Esperero Canyon loop for the first time, in 3:59. We didn’t get too badly lost although the trail was pretty overgrown. Two days later, I ran the Douglas Springs trail (to the springs and back) and then again on February 13th, exploring for interesting routes. Three days later, Dennis and I ran Wasson Peak (two peaks down, two to go). Since the last two peaks (Mica and Wrightson) were snow-bound, I decided to run over Tanque Verde Peak via the Douglas Springs trail and loop back thru the picnic ground at the monument and finish the last mile on the road. I ran this on February 23rd. I had never been past Douglas Springs and so a lot of this was new trail for me. There was quite a bit of snow near the top of Tanque Verde and I got a little hypothermic. Later, finishing on the road, it was quite warm and I got dehydrated (and maybe hyperthermic?). It was a struggle to finish the last couple of miles on Speedway but I finished in 5:06. The following week, I tried Bear-Sabino again but the course was impassable due to high water so I turned to the Douglas Spring trail and ran the first time to Cowhead Saddle and back on March 2nd (2:30:10). That was a good course and so I started running that pretty regularly, getting down to 2:19:45 on March 9th.
Dennis and I made our first attempt on Mica Mountain on March 23rd. We didn’t take the map and thought we had the route memorized. Unfortunately, we turned left one trail junction too early and headed north around the west side of Spud Rock. When we saw this wasn’t getting us any closer to the top, we decided to bushwack straight up the slope. We got to what we thought was Mica Mountain and then returned (4:41:20). When we got back home and looked at the map again, we realized what we had done wrong and so scheduled the next attempt on April 1st (seems appropriate). That one was successful and we went to the tower and back in 4:21. Three down and one to go.
Dennis and I completed the four peaks on 13 May 1978, taking the long trail up Wrightson. The ascent was 1:14:44 and the descent was 1:02:18. I spent that summer in Boulder, placing 2nd to Chuck Smead at Mount Evans (road race) and pushing him to a new course record, and then winning at Pike’s Peak the following month. I did Wrightson a couple of times in between Evans and Pikes, getting my ascent down to 68:37 and descent to 55:03, still doing it the long way. In September, I ran Lemmon again with a 3:33.
The first actual race of the Tucson Trail Series was the Mount Lemmon Ascent, held on 05 Nov 1978 and the rest you all know. Now you all know how all this got started. And, a side-note to the first Esperero. When I finished that day, there was a helicopter parked at the visitor’s center. The next day, the newspaper had an account of a group of boy scouts that got stranded on Cathedral Rock and had to be airlifted out, most probably from the east shoulder where we had run in the race . They could have followed our footprints.
Thanks for keeping the series going. I have lots of good memories of running the trails around Tucson.