After finishing my first marathon in January, it didn’t take long for me to want to push myself further. When a buddy of mine mentioned the Mesquite Canyon race, it just seemed like the perfect fit. Add about 5 miles to the marathon distance and put it in some gnarly but scenic mountains, not too far from home? Sign me up! And so I did.
After a few longer training runs on South Mountain, I felt adequately prepared – physically and mentally. I knew my legs were capable. I knew how much I had to hydrate. I knew how much I needed to consume for fuel along the way. I was ready.
Come race morning, though, I guess I was a bit of a mess. I mean, I left my house with confidence. But of course, I left my race bib on the counter. And (I’d learn later) I grabbed an old pair of shoes with worn out tread. Whoops. Maybe it’s this same level of aloofness that led to my later mistake.
Regardless, the bib wasn’t a big deal – they simply gave me a new one. Side note, for a moment here – Aravaipa Running puts on a heck of an event, and they’ve really got everything taken care of. Logistics, trail markings (well, I have a bit of a note on that), aid stations + volunteers – it’s all very well done, and it was just really cool to be a part of something much bigger than my usual weekend solo runs. The weather was gorgeous and everyone had a look of joy on their faces as we got started.
The first 6 or 7 miles felt great! I was moving at a pace I felt very comfortable with, and I was going to beat my ‘worst case scenario’ goal of 10 hours, with little problem. Heck, it felt like 8 hours was in reach. I’m not a speed demon by any means, but if I’m back of the mid pack or front of the back of the pack – that’s okay with me.
The problem came right around that seven mile mark, though. I was following a couple of guys, including a guy named Flint who had stories of running with the Tarahumara down in the Copper Canyon of Mexico. I decided to stick with these guys for a while just to listen in. Along the way, we ended up going right when we were supposed to take a left. As it turns out, we were just a few of many who made the same mistake. A group behind us followed for about a mile before turning back. I even heard the race leaders tacked on an extra 2-3 miles for the same reason – they had the pace to overcome the mistake, though. We overcommitted to our mistake, and lost 80+ minutes wandering 4.5 miles off course. Yeah, NEW worst case scenario. If only I had taken a second to look up at the sign when we first passed it – I would’ve realized the need to turn left at Ford Wash, even though it didn’t appear (initially) to be the right way. Up to that point, we had simply been following orange polka dotted trail markers, and there was one next to the intersection to the right (wrong way). It became understandable how we made the mistake, and course markings probably should’ve been more clear, but I was still kicking myself.
By the time we got back to that point, it was rather disheartening, but we figured we’d press on. It was going to be my first 50K, dammit! It became more disheartening, though, as we saw fellow 50K runners returning from the aid station (it was an out and back section) and realizing how much further we had gone and that we may not make the cut off. I didn’t recall exactly what the cut off time limit was, but I figured I’d make it to the 13 mile aid station at Bajada, regardless – so it didn’t matter to look it up.
As I made my approach, I could see it in other runners’ faces. We totally missed the cutoff, but they didn’t want to be the bearers of bad news. Instead, we got words of encouragement, which were certainly appreciated – though, part of me wanted to clarify to everyone why we were so far behind! I got to Bajada, and the volunteer there was really delicate about the matter, but I already knew. He just confirmed it. I was angry. I was sad. But those feelings will only get you so far. I knew where I had screwed up. But I also knew that I would’ve been on a decent pace had I made the correct turn in the first place. I would’ve completed my first 50K, and my preparations were more than adequate. I felt good thinking about that, at least.
I declined a ride back to the start, instead opting to get a few more miles in under my feet since I wouldn’t be allowed to finish the race. It was a nice time to reflect a bit before relaxing with a beer. Next time, I’ll be drinking that beer out of a pint glass that finishers are awarded with!