I am sitting on my couch, still sporting the slightly-stiff-muscles hobble indicative of a good tough running effort; in this instance that effort was Aravaipa’s Inaugural Flagstaff Big Pine 54K. The events of the race, and indeed, of the weekend, are still so fresh in my mind that I feel the need to put them to computer immediately. Even though I have other adventures still begging to be written, I feel this one must take precedence.
In the month after my Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim crossing, I took it very easy with my running, just doing a couple of easy miles here and there, letting my body recuperate. So going into this race, I was not as “trained” as I might like, but I knew I could finish the distance.
This running weekend actually began on Thursday, peak-bagging Four Peaks just outside the valley (which I will write about later). Then on Friday Matt and I headed north to Flagstaff (Flag). Neither of us had ever climbed Mount Humphrey’s, the highest peak in Arizona, so we decided to try to bag that, too, while we were in town. Do you see where this is going? Nearly two peaks in two days (we didn’t quite make Humphrey’s), and then a big race on the third day. Sounds like fun to me!
After our Humphrey’s adventures (which I will also write about later) we went to packet pick up and grabbed our bibs for race day. We then headed to the campgrounds at Fort Tuthill, just outside of Flag. We found our friends and talked and enjoyed ourselves until it was time to crash for the night.
My race began at 7:30 in the morning on Saturday. In order to get up as late as possible, I’d already packed my drop bag, and I slept in my running clothes. In the morning, my husband and kids surprised me by being at my race start! I hadn’t expected to see them until later on in the day. I lined up in the chute, along with my friend Kathi, for our race. The 108K racers had already taken off half an hour earlier, (there would also be a 27K and a 13K race starting after our 54K). Jamil (the race director) gave race instructions, the horn blew, and we were off!
The Race: Loop 1
As usual, I started out too fast, knew it was too fast, tried to slow down, but gave up, knowing eventually I’d end up slowing down. The race took place on an approximately 8.4 mile loop in the forest of Fort Tuthill, with an aid station about half way through on the back side of the loop. I rarely get to run in the trees anymore, so I immensely enjoyed this time in the big pines. The sounds of the birds were beautiful, and the smell of the pine needles under my feet was soothing. The wind whistled through the trees as I ran in and out of the sun splashes brightening the forest floor. The path we followed varied from forest service roads, to double track, to single track. Some sections were smooth and easy to run, while others were rocky and made great places to catch a toe and crash. Because I would have access to an aid station every four miles or so, I decided to run without my pack and instead run with just a handheld water bottle. This was the first long race I’d ever done that on, and it worked out really well.
The Race: Loop 2
I felt good when I finished my first loop, and headed out on my second. About 1.5 miles in, my toe caught and I crashed hard. My water bottle caught the brunt of my fall on my right hand, but I also landed hard on my left hand and both knees. To add insult to injury, a few people saw me fall, so my pride was injured. (On a side note, I don’t know why falling in sight of people hurts my pride, but showing the blood after a fall makes me feel badass.) Anyway, I immediately got back up and started hobbling. The pain was intense; I couldn’t use my left hand. I kept the tears at bay for a few steps, but then I couldn’t hold back any longer and I cried and felt sorry for myself for a few minutes. Once I was able, I started running, sort of, again.
That second loop was really hard for me. I wasn’t even half way done with my run and I was in pain with blood running down my leg and into my sock, and blood all over my hand and wrist. As I moved, I took stock. I was still able to run. Other than he obvious bruising and blood, I wasn’t injured, so I decided I didn’t have a good reason to quit. I had to keep moving and I was going to finish my race. Quitting just wasn’t an option if I could still move forward.
The Race: Loop 3
As I came into the start/finish aid station, Andy, my husband, was there cheering me on but when he saw me he said, “Hey! Your knee is leaking!” Thanks for that. I described what had happened as I snarfed down some food. Matt had finished his race (13K) by this time, and he let me know it had gone well. There were some black clouds building so I needed to get out on my next loop. I knew it was going to get colder, which was okay. Even at this higher elevation, it was warm enough on the course that I had stripped down as far as I could. I grabbed my tank on my way out for the third loop. On this loop I began feeling better. My pace wasn’t any better, but that was okay, I was now just in “get this done” mode. The monster storm rolled in and hit me about half way through this loop. It began with wind and huge thunderclaps, lightning, then rain. Then it began to hail. The temperature dropped significantly, and I was running through freezing hail balls in shorts and a tank top. I turned my trucker hat around front to keep the hail out of my face, and thought briefly of hypothermia, but I actually felt okay. I was generating enough heat from running that, while I was slightly chilled, I was relatively comfortable. I just knew I couldn’t stop running or I’d be in trouble. As I ran back into the start/finish aid station, Matt saw me and asked if I wanted my rain coat. I didn’t know, but said sure. He and Andy helped me switch into a dry tank and get the rain coat on. Andy grabbed my trash, Matt grabbed my food. I know between each of my loops they did so much more than I have mentioned here, they were an amazing crew. I was so completely in my one track mind of getting this race done that all I could think about was getting out of the aid station and onto my next loop. I’m afraid I can’t verbalize the full credit that is due.
The Race: Loop 4
Dry tank on plus rain jacket, I began my fourth loop. As I ran, I hopped around the mud puddles and thick soup that had collected from the deluge. The sun came back out, and I very quickly had to remove the rain jacket. I chugged along, figuring that slow and steady running was the fastest way to finish. Again I had just one thing on my mind, and that was to finish. I don’t have much to discuss about this loop other than that within the last couple of miles a second deluge began. This one didn’t have the hail, but it was directly over my head. The rain was very cold, and even though I had my rain jacket with me, I didn’t know how far back the other racers were and I didn’t want to waste any time to put it on. Somewhere in my last mile I began to inadvertently whimper. Then I was at the last turn towards people, then the campground, then the finish line was in sight. I heard people cheering me the whole way, and I ran as hard as I could across the finish line.
The finish is a blur. I was handed my finisher mug, and everyone came over. I started shaking from the cold. Kathi, (who finished the 54K as second place female- my friend is amazing!) completely understood and said that it was funny how during a race we can do whatever it takes, but as soon as we cross that finish line, everything immediately stops. It’s so true. My body was done.
I had a warm shower and dinner and felt a million times better. I had to say good-bye to Andy: he had to get back home, but I stayed to volunteer at the night race, the inaugural Blackout Night Run.
On an incredible side note, there was a unicorn sighting at the race! There was even the tell-tale rainbow poop of a unicorn found nearby. This is very exciting news!
I hung out with friends in the Beer Garden, cheering Kathi’s husband and son out on their race, the night 13K. I stayed up just long enough to see them both finish, and then I had to get to sleep so I could get up to volunteer at three in the morning. I slept well, had fun volunteering and chatting with people. I was there in time to see the last person on the course finish. He was finishing the night 54K, and I have to say, I give him props. I’m not sure I could run that long of a race at night. He did great. Afterwards I went back to sleep for a couple of hours, then packed up and headed home.
This was an incredible event and was everything that I love about Aravaipa events. The course was well marked and the food at the aid stations was excellent. As I have mentioned before, I love the running community here in Arizona. So many of my friends were at the race, some who were there to volunteer and cheer us on, others were there to run, and still others were with us in spirit, unable to make it up for the race, but thinking of us and hoping for good races on our parts just the same.
On a side note, I noticed during this visit to Flag that the elevation did not bother me like it has on other occasions. While climbing Humphrey’s I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. During the race the only thing that really stood out was once I got tired, running up the little hills took too much oxygen. Even that, however, wasn’t bad at all. This is very encouraging to me because in the past I have really struggled to run at elevation.
So did my almost double peak bagging have an effect on my race? Of course it did, but it was worth it. Both Four Peaks and Humphrey’s were amazing, but so was the race. Even with the dual peaks, I still finished Big Pine as 7th female and 20th overall. Probably more importantly however is that I feel great about my effort. I gave it my all and I had a blast!