Monthly Archives: February 2016

Aravaipa Black Canyon 60K Race Report: Why Women have the Advantage when Running in the Heat

I have to tell you that I believe women have an advantage over men when racing in the heat. This is not based on any scientific fact, nor on any studies and is therefore anecdotal in nature and likely entirely erroneous. With these cautions in mind, you proceed in reading the rest of this post at your own peril. Any conclusions you come to are based on this decidedly unreliable information.

So there I was running the Black Canyon 60K. It was glorious, I mean seriously glorious. The start at Mayer high school was freezing cold (I’m pretty sure I can say that literally). We started out our race with a brisk jog around the high school track and then headed off through town towards the Black Canyon trail. Hitting that sweet single track, my head settled comfortably, and with familiarity, into long run mentality. My entire body relaxed.

I have run all of the sections of Black Canyon trail from Mayer to the New River trail head, albeit never at one go. On this day I was only running the first 38 miles. Because I knew the entire trail, I was well aware of how downhill the first 20 or so miles were, so my plan was just to try to not go too fast. I figured if I kept my overall pace at about 10:00 minutes/mile I’d be fine since that was a super easy downhill pace for me. Some miles were faster, some were slower, but overall I held it there pretty well.

I ran along, chatting with Matt, having a great time enjoying the views. It was a different experience having him there with me for that first part of the race. I’m so used to running these longer races in relative solitude that it felt really odd (but nice!) to have someone there to talk to. It was along here that Patchouli Dude first caught up to us.


Me, Matt, and Patchouli Dude Photo Credit: Ron Ceton


I call him Patchouli Dude because, well, he wears Patchouli (totally original, I know). We talked for a little bit- he was from out of town and was really enjoying the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, and not knowing what the trail ahead of him was like. He and I would leap frog back and forth for the remainder of the race.

I blew through the first aid station- it was only a few miles in and I didn’t need to slow down for anything, so I pulled ahead of Patchouli Dude.

As we continued our descent, I could feel the desert begin to warm up.

Coming into the second aid station I refilled my pack with water, grabbed a few bites and moved out. I think I got some sunscreen here too.

I started to feel a little tired in the next stretch, and it was warming up, but all was well, for me, into the next aid station. I was quite happy to see a porta potty here! It was disgusting, and yet, I am always so thankful for nasty toilets when I’m out running. Oddly, it’s sort of a bit of luxury out in the desert. Unfortunately, Matt and I had to split up here. We walked out of the aid station, but I was ready to run again shortly, so I took off.

I’m not gonna lie, the next stretch was hot. It’s a shorty, only around 4.5 miles or so to the next aid station, but oof. I trudged along, feeling every pulse of the pounding Arizona sun. Patchouli Dude passed me. I just kept in mind that it wasn’t that far and I had plenty of water. The aid station couldn’t get there fast enough, and I was so glad to see it! Here I refilled my pack with water again and headed straight for the ice chest.

Remember how I said women have an advantage over men in the heat? Well, here it is. At the ice chest I stuffed my bra with as much ice as I possibly could. The first cubes hitting my skin made me yelp, but I kept filling, getting ice all over and around, ahem, everything. I instantly cooled down. Not only do women usually wear sports bras which easily hold loads of ice, we have greater surface area (read: we have boobies) which allow for more contact with ice leading to better evaporation and cooling as compared to men. See? Women have an advantage in the heat!

I left this aid station with much jostling and rattling occurring between my hooters, however I was no longer even remotely hot. I felt like I was running on a comfortable sunny day, not a care in the world. I ran along, at some point I passed Patchouli Dude, but I don’t remember where.

Somewhere along the trail I fell, though thankfully it was a slightly inclined part of the trail. I had blood running down my pinky and my leg, but it looked way worse than it really was. Somebody called it “trail paint” and I think I will use that from now on! Love it!

Somewhere on one of the awesome downhills I had to slow down because something in my calf was bothering me. I walked for a bit and stretched to try to get it to go away, but it was hanging around for the day. So I tried running to see if it would get worse. It didn’t, it was just there, so I just took it easy on the downs to not make it worse.

Eventually the portable A/C system between my breasts began to disappear. It’s ice and it was hot, so I suppose that was expected (sigh). But just as I was out of ice, the first river crossing came into view! The other times I’ve done this section of the trail it was just a little creek. This was a deep, running river, at least for Arizona. Perhaps for anywhere else it was just a creek crossing. Anyway, as I ran down the hill to the RIVER (I’m sticking with river, it was a river) I chucked my pack on the bank, ran into the middle of the river and laid full out. The water was COLD. I popped back up, grabbed my pack, and ran on up the hill.

That river crossing kept me cool until I hit the next aid station, at which point I was starting to feel hot again, and a little nauseous. I again stuffed my bra with ice and again I felt so much better. I refilled my pack with water for the final miles to the finish.

I ran along feeling pretty good. I felt fatigue in my legs, but overall I felt okay. Coming down to the second RIVER crossing I was again running low on boob ice, but a quick dowse in the water and I was good for the final few miles to the finish. I walked out of this crossing because it’s sandy with big loose river rocks and I was tired. Behind me, you’ll never guess, it was Patchouli Dude! I hadn’t seen him for a little bit. He said, “You have no idea how hard I had to run to catch you!” Aw, so sweet. We chatted and I mentioned that there was now a big hill before the down to the finish. He was no happier about this than I was.

This hill… The first couple of times I ran this route I was unable to run this hill. I was at the tail end of about 18 miles each time and I was tired and the hill just felt so big and so difficult; I always had to walk it. Then one day I was out and just did a quick out and back from the trail head I was now running towards and realized this hill was not as steep as I’d always felt. Bolstered with this knowledge, I did my best to run it, and you know what? I actually ran the hill! Yeah, that’s right! On the last few miles of a 38 mile run, I ran the hill! Ha-ha! Take that, hill!

I crested the hill and I could hear Patchouli Dude behind me. I really wanted to stay ahead but there was a rock in my shoe. Typically I don’t worry about this and just keep running and it’s not a big deal, but this one was under my arch and not moving and was hurting quite a bit. I had to stop to take it out. Patchouli Dude passed me and I didn’t have enough left in me to catch him again. So we ran into the finish line and I cheered him on, “Run Patchouli Dude, Run!” He finished a few seconds ahead of me.

I beat the 8 hour mark, which for this race I felt really good about.  I took 25th overall, out of 64, and 11th female, out of 32. I sat there enjoying the finish line camaraderie while waiting for Matt to finish, and chatted with a new friend (Israel) who I also leap frogged with on the trail, and I found out Patchouli Dude’s name (it’s Todd).


My new friend Israel, Me, and my Trail Paint Photo Credit: Israel

Later I went down to the 100K finish line to get me some free (for all finishers) Freak Brother’s Pizza. I hung out with my buddies (thanks Jon and Erica!) until I’d finished snarfing those marvelous calories. I then headed for home; tired, but incredibly happy and content, with another incredible day in the desert under my belt.

Me and Erica

Erica and I at the 100K Finish Line Photo Credit: Erica

So are you Yay or Nay on icing it up while running? How do you keep cool during a hot race?

Featured Image Photo Credit: Not Me, Maybe Matt?


Smelly Armchair Musings: On Scary Dreaming

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Full quotes, even short ones, don’t typically stick with me. I think, “Oh, that’s nice”, “inspirational”, “funny” etcetera, and then I forget about it. I don’t know where I first heard the above quote, but it is one that has never left my mind. It is also one that I gain a deeper understanding of as the years go by.

I began running and going back to school at approximately the same time. Then, I didn’t have a specific direction, I didn’t know where I wanted to go, I didn’t have a definitive goal in mind. I just knew I wanted…. something. Needed… something. I began running as something that was just for me. It was mine and it belonged only to me. I’d also had babies and I really didn’t want to be fat, so there was that. I’d never been into sports, and had never done cross country, so this was new territory to me. The more I ran, the more I realized what an amazing gift our bodies are, how capable and strong they can be. I started going back to school because I’d always enjoyed school, excelled at it as a matter of fact (except in handwriting- I’m really, horribly bad at handwriting). While I loved my children and our family, I just couldn’t stay at home. Again, I needed an indefinable…. something. There was this ache, this need, there was something I needed to be doing and I wasn’t doing it. I felt like God had gifted me an ability to learn, and I owed it to myself to see where that would lead.

In the beginning, running was not a dream. It just was. I was doing something, and that was all that mattered. I started out running with the plan to just be able to run one mile. It was difficult, but I was able to do it. Then I had a friend who said, “Hey! Let’s run a half marathon!” While life took that friend and I in different directions, I’m sure if you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that those were fateful words; running long distances is now a passion. At the time, a half marathon was a scary long distance. I didn’t know if I could do it; it was well beyond my capacity. Not at all so now.

In the beginning, school and a career were not dreams. Wanting to see what I could do, I first pursued an Associate’s degree, then a Bachelor’s degree. I honestly never thought I’d finish the Bachelor’s. Not because I didn’t think I was capable but because it was intangible to me- you could almost say it was a baby dream. I couldn’t really wrap my mind around it. Then, suddenly, it was done. Of course I knew when I’d have all my credits completed, and I did really well in school, and yet, I was just done so suddenly, I didn’t know what to think.

My husband mentioned once that somehow in me, my running and my pursuit of school and a career are intricately intertwined. This is true.

For me, a long race is all about breaking it down into manageable parts, staying on top of the important things (food, hydration), and keeping a steady pace. School has been that too. I broke that down into degrees (Associate’s, Bachelor’s) and when even those became such big pieces that I couldn’t handle them, I broke it down into semesters. Sometimes, when I was crying in bed because it… was… all… so… very… hard… I had to break it down into individual assignments. Sometimes that was the only way I made it through, and that also kept me on top of the important things. I had to take a little longer than many of my peers to finish school, taking fewer credits at a time, in order to keep a steady pace and be able to finish each semester. Long runs are like this. Sometimes the parts that sounded easy and manageable in the beginning are way too big. When you are crying on the side of the trail because you are puking, everything hurts and is falling apart, and you still have oh so very far to go, you must instead simply become one foot in front of the other. There is no other way to the finish line.

Upon completion of my Bachelor’s, my PhD dreams became more real, and that is when my dreams actually began to scare me. The quote from the beginning of this post is from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of Liberia, from her speech to the Harvard graduates of 2011. The above quote is part of her speech wrap-up, and yet her entire closing is full of impact and meaning:

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. If you start off with a small dream, you may not have much left when it is fulfilled because along the way, life will task your dreams and make demands on you. I am, however, bullish about the future of our world because of you. We share one defining characteristic that prepares us to transform our world — we are all Harvard University graduates. When we add to that the traditional quests for excellence for which we are known, there is no telling what we can accomplish.
Go forth and embrace a future that awaits you.”

Did you catch that? “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.” I’m now scared- pursuing my PhD scares me.

Back in the fall, I entered my name into the lottery for Zane Grey. A little background; coming across the Zane Grey 50 mile trail race was the first time I’d ever heard of ultra-running. This race runs point to point on the Highline Trail from Pine to Christopher Creek near Payson, AZ. The description on the website says, “Regarded as the toughest, roughest and most beautiful 50 mile trail runs in the country.” Running this race has been a dream of mine since I first heard about it, and yet it has never been anything I thought I could ever do. My friend Kathi pushed me, as good friends are wont to do, into entering my name into the lottery (she entered her name too). In order to enter my name and even be considered I had to list my prior ultra finishes. I did so, but felt wholly inadequate, knowing I would not be chosen. I mean, this was ZANE we were talking about, and who was I? Guess what? I got in. I’m now scared- pursuing Zane scares me.

While Ms. Sirleaf’s speech was directed towards Harvard graduates, it is applicable to all people. Not all of us are Harvard graduates, not all of us will become the president of a country, and yet, every last one of us has a dream of some kind. Do you want to be a mother? Father? Astronaut? Engineer? Gardener? Runner? Hiker? Swimmer? Dreams are transforming. I know I’m not the same person I was when I began this journey. What began as an indefinable urge to DO SOMETHING has metamorphosed into definable dreams. My dreams have changed me, scared me, and will continue to change me and grow me. Perhaps as a part of this process I can have a positive, transforming impact on my little corner of the world.

PhD, Zane Grey, these bring a good scared to my soul. They are big to me. Huge. They are beyond my known capacity. What if I fail? There is always that possibility and it makes me want to throw up in my mouth… a lot. But do you know what is even scarier to me? What if I never even tried? That, my dear reader, is tinged with regret, and regret is something I will not willingly choose.