Last year, I attempted running the Mesquite Canyon 50K as my first ultra-marathon. It uh… It didn’t go quite the way I hoped it would. I linked up with some runners to listen in on some interesting conversations, but we all ended up taking a wrong turn that would cost us the race.
I was confident that would not be a problem this year, and I could focus on battling the trail itself. The race started off rather quickly, as they tend to. I told myself I would just run at whatever pace felt comfortable, and so the first third of the race was faster than I expected it to be. That would back to bite me in the ass.
The descent to Goat Camp is a rather steep one, but I managed well enough. The sun was out and it started to heat up quite a bit though, and I’d guess it was nearly 100 degrees by the time I got to that aid station. I loaded up my bandana with ice and turned around to head back up from Goat Camp. That climb was BRUTAL.
By the time the trail started to flatten out, I was toast. It was the hottest weekend of the year, and it sort of came out of nowhere. There wasn’t an opportunity to do any heat training, and for someone like me – that can be particularly detrimental. My pace slowed down, but I knew I had PLENTY of time to finish the race, though maybe not as fast as I had hoped I would.
It felt like I was wandering through the desert mountains for quite some time by the point where I got to the wash and then the white tanks. Man was that ever a nice change of pace, though! The sand made for not so great running conditions, but it kept me engaged. Then the rocks and the water were just something really neat to see. I scrambled past a troop of boy scouts as well as a few other day hikers and was soon on my way to finishing this race.
By the time I got to the end, the heat was really getting to me. Thankfully, I had some friends at the end who made me sit down and rehydrate / get some ice on me to bring my body temperature down and keep from overheating.
I was happy to get my revenge on this course, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be back for another dose!
Pacing somebody during a race is a heck of a thing to experience.
At the time of this race, I had only actually completed a single ultra-marathon – the inaugural Whiskey Basin 57K. I had planned to run a couple of other ones, but life / illness / injuries would get in the way. When I saw a friend of mine post on Facebook that he was looking for a pacer at Black Canyon, it looked like a great opportunity for me to not only get in some extended mileage but also be a part of something bigger.
Having read multiple articles and listened to many podcasts about races and pacers, I knew it was something I wanted to do at some point. When Chris publicly declared he was looking for someone to help him get his Western States lottery entry, I decided to hit him up!
The day started for me at the Bumble Bee aid station, where I would work all morning with a crew of great volunteers, providing support for runners passing through. It was a different day for this race, as recent rains caused the race director to change the course from a point-to-point to an out and back. Conditions looked to be rough, as we saw many runners come through our tent soaking wet and covered in mud from that day’s rain. As runners kept coming through, I wondered how Chris was doing.
He looked pretty strong, both coming through the first time, and going past us on the way back. I started to get excited to run with him, and I packed my stuff up to meet him at the next aid station down the road.
Once I got into my running gear and had nothing left to do but wait, I realized how cold it was going to be. Just standing around, I started to shiver – and I could imagine how he was feeling at that point, over 40 miles into his race. I’d be joining him with a fresh set of legs, looking to warm up as we moved.
He impressed me in the first few miles – I think there’s something motivating when you realize you’re not out there by yourself anymore. The pace was pretty solid as we trudged through the hills, and things felt great for a while.
The place looked like an infirmary
Then it started raining heavier. And we started getting into rougher territory. By the time we reached the final aid station before the finish (a little over 7 miles out), the place looked like an infirmary. Runners huddled around a single heater at the back of the tent. People (myself included) had our hands in our mouths to breathe life back into numb fingers. Everyone was shivering and considering their options. But we had to push through.
The rest of that race with Chris was something I would never have imagined. It was something I’d rather not experience ever again. But having done it makes me believe I could manage it if I had to. We ran through probably 5 miles of THICK mud. When we weren’t struggling to keep from slipping, we were exerting our legs to pull them out of pools of water and muck. This wasn’t any ordinary trail run – it was a power hike through crummy conditions. Would we even be able to make the midnight cutoff? “Hell, let’s just get through this,” I thought. We’ll sort that out later.
After what seemed like forever, we finally made it back to “nice” dirt roads and ultimately pavement en route to the finish. I glanced at my watch and realized that we could definitely still get Chris his lottery entry, but we couldn’t be lazy about it. I had way too much energy at this point and was ready to push it hard to get there. Chris? Not so much. Can’t say I blame him, though. It was a hell of a long day for him, but I knew he could do it.
It turned into bursts of running and walking – whatever he could muster. We came in with just a few minutes left, and I have to say – it was amazingly satisfying to see him do it.
After the finish, we spent a couple of hours inside the high school gym, making our best efforts to right off hypothermia and return some sense of normal feeling to our bodies. We saw people seeking care from the medic team (those guys are AMAZING, by the way, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the crew Aravaipa gets to come out to their races). After some pizza, hot ramen, and coffee, we finally were able to get our butts up and moving. But not until quite a few war stories, Instagram photos, and hugs from other racers and volunteers.
If I push myself to the point of wanting to run a 100K – this may be a great option for me one day. I can only pray that the course won’t have the look and feel that it did that fateful weekend in February 2017, though.
After last month’s Mesquite Canyon fail, I was determined to get another 50K lined up so I could get that notch in my belt. Of course, the good folks at Aravaipa Running just happened to put together a new race in Prescott. And of course, I already had friends who’d be there. Game on!
First of all, this course was (mostly) fantastic:
Amazing views – coming up on mountain passes was something to look forward to, as you always got a new perspective on Prescott and the surrounding area
Not a ton of steep grades – there was certainly climbing involved, but it was mostly through lengthy switchbacks
Did I mention the views? The finish was at Watson Lake, which itself is a sight to be seen, especially for this desert dweller
Trails were very runnable, with the exception of a rock bed area past Goldwater Lake. I mean, that part could be runnable too – but certainly a bit dangerous. I heard stories at the following aid station of people showing up bloodied from falling over the rocks. But hey, that’s trail running!
I was pretty happy with the way things were going in the first half of the race. Decent enough pace. Leap frogging with some new friends and other runners. Great stuff.
By the second half, I realized I wasn’t taking in calories as I should have. And then IT band issues started up. And then the rock bed came into play, and THAT slowed me down a fair bit. It is what it is. Just kept moving, though, and soon enough I was back on nicer trails and hustling to the finish.
IT band issues and other things will happen. But I can keep training, building in proper recovery time, and doing things like using my foam roller to decrease the likelihood. Nutrition shouldn’t be a problem, though. I had extra gels and other things in my pack I probably should have eaten along the way. I just need to simplify that plan and not just wing it along the way. By the time you realize you need it, it’s too late.
Overall, it’s pretty cool to know that just a few months after logging my first 26.2, I was able to put in 36+ miles on trail with a few thousand feet in elevation gain along the way. The human body is capable of amazing things, and I’m excited to keep seeing what people are capable of in that regard. I’m thankful for the friends I’ve met through trail running, as well as my other friends who I’ve run with over the past year. Next up? A return trip to the Grand Canyon! This time I’ll be bringing my running shoes… Stay tuned.
Here I am while doing a recovery hike the next day. Am I doing it right?