Category Archives: Race Reports

Zane Grey 50 and the Ultra Family that Could

The morning dawned… no, no that’s not right. It would’ve been way nicer if the morning had dawned. No, instead, my alarm went off at 4:05 am. This is not dawn. This is dumb. Anyway…

In anticipation of a stupid wake-up time, I slept in my race clothes, hair already braided. I rolled out of bed, totally grouchy, threw on my hat, watch, and some sunscreen, grabbed my breakfast, and met my friends Jesse, Kathi, and her husband Chris, in the lobby of the hotel at 4:25. We had a lively ride to Pine Trailhead. Poop was probably discussed. I’m not positive on that, but I was involved in the conversation, so it’s likely. Poop: it brings people together.

We arrived at the race start about 15 minutes before the race would begin. I realized I’d forgotten my flashlight. As in, I hadn’t even thought to pack one to bring to Payson with me. Lovely. Well, I run in the black regularly, I could make that work, but I figured I’d ask at the registration table if they happened to have any extra lights. The look on Joe’s face was priceless. I’m sure you can picture the look: “You are at the start of one of the hardest ultra’s in the country…. And you didn’t think to bring a flashlight. We will find your body on the trail.” It was a great moment. My friend Laurie was there crewing her husband, and she thankfully had a light she let me borrow- problem solved!

Race start time- ish. We all corralled. Joe said some stuff about markings and things. Then we started running.

Let me back up just a skosh. Last year I started Zane Grey 50 mile with an injury. This injury flared horribly within the first mile. The rest of my race, until my DNF 7 miles from the finish (over cutoff), was a practice in walking as fast as I could. This has haunted me. I needed to finish this race. This year I did my best not be injured, forgoing all races, and even doing almost no running the last three weeks before the race. My plan for the day was to maintain a comfortable, gentle, (read slow) pace for the first 50k (it’s a freaking long 50k) and then pick it up if possible. Remember child, Highline eats her babies. Don’t go too fast. I’ve run here a lot. I know this. The pace I was wanting would allow me to stay comfortably ahead of cutoffs at the aid stations. All I wanted was to finish Zane. My first mile went really well this year. Then my hands got fat.

No, really, like FAT. I thought they were just cold at first, but no, they looked like Fat Bastard’s hands in Austin Powers, only with fewer dimples and no wrinkles. Weird. I don’t usually have any issues with swelling fingers, at least not very much, and certainly not within the first few miles of a run. Whatever, I could still run just fine.

Kathi and I hung together, chatting and really enjoying our time. We rolled into Geronimo aid, mile 8-ish, just a few minutes ahead of our goal time. We were doing great. We watered the bushes and moved on out.

The next miles into Washington Park aid rolled by. We were both really looking forward to that aid station because our husbands and families would be there. Turns out they only beat us there by about 5 minutes! We were making good time- not too fast, just steady and comfortable. We both felt good. We ate some food, watered the bushes again, and were off again.

I knew from my training runs that the course out of WA Park was much longer than before, but much more runnable, due to trail work and clean switchbacks. Kathi and I trucked along, sometimes I pulled her, sometimes she pulled me. Sometimes we lost each other for a bit. I think it was somewhere in here that I tripped, and when I caught myself my calf cramped. Weird. So I walked that off. Then as I started to run up a hill, my hamstrings cramped. Even weirder. The calf cramp made sense, sort of, but I’ve never had my hamstrings cramp before, and I don’t cramp in general. So I walked for a bit- cramped up hamstrings could completely finish me off. When I got into Hell’s Gate aid station, Kathi was just a little behind me and gave me some Endurolytes. My hands were still all super fat, and that coupled with the start of cramps, I thought maybe I needed something. Still weird, though, because I never use any kind of salt- I just rely on my food for all nutrition.

I moved out of Hell’s Gate and felt pretty good. Just rolled. No more cramping. I ate my food, I drank my water, and then, then I started to not feel so great. I couldn’t name it exactly, just something was up. I kind of felt nauseous. I wasn’t hot, I’d been drinking normally. I’d peed a few times. Not great colored pee, but I was peeing, and I don’t normally pee more than once on a run of that length (you totally wanted to know that, right?). Kathi caught me and pulled me, and shoved me towards Fish Hatchery. We rounded a bend and there was my husband, Andy, standing just at the bend of the trail looking for me. I just lost it and started crying. I had a very emotional spot. I knew something was going on with me, but for the life of me, I had no idea what. He gave me a huge bear hug that I really needed.  

Kathi and I then ran into Fish Hatchery aid station. Everyone was cheering so loudly, I was crying all over the place. There were so many friends there! I got a really great hug from Todd. I probably hugged some other people too. I was in a blur. We had a significant time buffer by this point, so I sat down in the road and tried to figure out what I needed. My ginormous hands were struggling to get things out of my pack pockets, so I readjusted those. I ate what I could, but food wasn’t sounding great. I drank some water, and some sugar and all. My pacer Amy was there and was so helpful, and Andy brought me delicious coke. Kathi got going with her pacer- she had been struggling with an injury for over a year, and needed to keep moving to keep it at bay. The medic came over to check on me- I must have already been looking like a hot mess at that point. I certainly felt like one. I don’t usually have medics check on me.

I finished up and Amy and I walked out of Fish Hatchery. Zane is difficult for many reasons, one of which, in my opinion, is that while the first 30+ miles are difficult, the last 20 miles are brutal. I knew I would be walking a lot. So that’s what Amy and I did. And it was okay. I had enough of a buffer, I knew all I needed to do in order to finish was to leave See Canyon aid station by 7:15 pm. As long as I did that, I was golden to finish. We hiked up the big hill out of Fish, ran the downs. But something was wrong. I just didn’t feel right. I turned to the side of the trail and forcibly launched all my food and water I’d taken in at Fish Hatchery into the grass (That means I puked. A lot.) Now, RARELY puke. Two pregnancies and no puking. Sick with the flu? Maybe I’ll puke, maybe. Sick with food poisoning? Naw, no need to puke. Needless to say, I’d never puked during a run before. Never really even felt particularly nauseous. Add it to the weirdness of the day.

After puking I felt much better. I was concerned about my hydration, so I started taking little sips of water periodically just so my body would have something. We moved pretty well until we hit some uphill (this is Zane, it’s a lot of uphill) and then I threw up again. I would drink a little bit of water, we’d hit a hill, I’d puke. I lost track of how many times this happened. Amy was there the whole time. She moved my hair out of the way (I’d puked on it the first time, and then she handed me a wet wipe and helped me clean up my pukey self), she rubbed my back. She didn’t even gag, at least not that I noticed. I thought, “Well, maybe I just need to go up the hill REALLY slowly, and then I won’t puke.” Or, “Maybe if I sit down on the uphills periodically, I won’t puke.” It didn’t matter. I puked and puked and puked every time. I puked until there was nothing left to puke, and then I puked some more. I always felt better after puking, but then we’d climb and I’d puke again. My body and head felt solid, completely fine, but my stomach just wouldn’t quit. Finally, after yet another puke, I just gave up on drinking. There was no point. Funny thing, that, I stopped puking and I was finally able to haul ass. It was a hiking ass-hauling, but it was strong and felt great. I even peed again, and there was a significant amount and it was good color… What?!?!?! This whole day makes none sense.

  We got into See Canyon aid station about 20 minutes before cutoff. I learned that Kathi had come in and decided to finish!!! I was so glad! As I mentioned, she’d been struggling with injuries for a long time and really was unsure about even making it to Fish Hatchery, let alone finishing. She was out and gonna do it!!!! Strong woman right there. Me meanwhile… I sat down and drank the ginger ale Andy brought me. I nibbled an M & M, a potato chip, I sucked the sugar off a gummy thing. Kathi’s husband was there and gave me a Perpetuem tablet. I managed two bites of that. I was seriously thinking I was going to have to drop here. Again. 7 miles left and another DNF. I’d even joked to Amy on the way into See, “I’ll make further in Zane this year, but not make it any further.” (Last year it was 46 miles at See Canyon, this year it was like 48). I knew the trail out of See Canyon, it sucks even on a good day. On a day where every uphill makes you puke? Inconceivable. I was cold and shaking under a down puffy coat and fleece blanket. My lips were purple. I looked like a salty zombie. It seemed unwise to continue. I’d essentially had nothing to eat or drink since Fish, apparently preferring to leave it all on the trail. But I had a thought. I still had time to leave the aid station, and as long as you leave See Canyon by cutoff, you can take as long as you need to finish. What if I just walked out, and Andy stayed at See Canyon for a little while. I would know pretty quickly if I was going to continue with the puking. If the puking continued, Amy could run back and tell Andy and I would come back to See. If the puking stopped? I could finish. I broached the idea and my crew agreed. I got up and walked out.

The first tenth of a mile I felt horrible. It was slow. I was zipped up in the down coat and the fleece was around my shoulders and I was shaking, teeth chattering. But as we got moving a little, I started to warm up. We hit the first uphill and I didn’t need to puke. I took off the fleece, eventually, unzipped the coat, and booked it up the hill. Still just hiking, but it was a very fast hike. I decided not to drink anything. I was afraid of pissing off my stomach again. I’d had an entire cup of ginger ale at See, and I’d peed just before that, plus it was cold now, I should be good enough.

 It got dark, and there was the flashlight making me think of Laurie. I shined my light on the trail and Amy’s feet ahead of me and I just followed her feet. We chatted. I was so incredibly thankful for everything she’d done for me that day. I knew that I would not have made it that far without her. This entire day was a group effort, all to get me across the finish line. From Laurie giving me a light at the start, to Kathi and I pushing and pulling each other for the first part of the race, to the NUMEROUS friends I’d seen along the journey, leapfrogging with them, laughing, (some finishing, some not), to good ultra friends at the aid stations, to Andy being there and encouraging me and helping me, to Amy helping me puke and pulling me along the hardest part of the trail: I’d needed and was so thankful for every single person there that day. So, she and I hoofed it. At the top of the See climb, the landscape opens up. Looking west, towards where I’d started out the day, I could see a promontory of the Rim. There was a low lying cloud stringing out just below its peak in silhouette, otherwise the sky was clear and the moon was gorgeous. It was beautiful and peaceful. I was grateful I’d made it to this familiar spot on this very hard day.

The next handful of miles to the finish are a blur. I was so very tired. Amy set a strong pace and I just kept up. The dark closed in around me, but Amy was there. Eventually there was a sign saying we had 1 mile left. I was so exhausted, I wasn’t even excited about this, I just wanted to be done. Then Amy said we only had a quarter of a mile left. I just agreed. I had no idea about anything by then. Suddenly Amy stepped aside and said, “You’re there! There’s the finish! Go get it!” So I did.

I crossed that line, my watch reading 55.8 miles (50 miles my ass) and then just sat down in the grass. I didn’t want to move anymore. Andy was there and gave me a space blanket. Somehow I was covered in my fleece blanket again. I was shaking and cold, and tired, but I’d made it. I’d gone 20 miles with essentially no food or fluids except for a cup of ginger ale, but I’d made it. Somehow I was up off the ground and in a chair. My friend Miguel came and congratulated me. He’d paced his girlfriend the last 20 miles and declared Zane, “Efn hard.” I think I agree. Kathi’s husband was there and gave me a gift from Kathi (she’d finished, OF COURSE, but she’d needed to go). Andy put my finisher’s medal, picture, and jacket in my lap. (Just to let you know how fuzzy my head was, after Andy read this blog post, he informed me that Kathi’s husband was not there. Do not trust the ultra brain.)

The medic came to check on me again. He asked me where I was. This confused me. Where the fuck do you think I am? I just finished Zane. I’m at 260 Trailhead. Is this a trick question? He laughed. He asked me how I was feeling: cold, tired, sad, happy. How much detail do you need? He seemed pretty happy with my responses, but asked if I wanted them to take my vitals just to be sure. That seemed like a good idea, and I told him so. He agreed. I showed him my Fat Bastard hands, and told him when that had started. My blood pressure was 113/82, I think my pulse was 88 and blood O2 was 97 (apparently I still had the faculties to remember numbers). He was satisfied with these, and with the fact that I was interacting with and joking with him. He warned me not to blast the heat, or get in too hot of a shower, or I might pass out. Otherwise, I was good to go.

So, that was my Zane. My hands are returning to normal, slowly, my left one more than my right. But they at least have some contours again, so that’s positive.

I’d never heard of, let alone contemplated ultras before hearing about Zane. Once I learned they were a thing, I really wanted to run one, so I did. Then I ran another, and another. Zane was always my bucket list race since it was the first I’d heard of. DNF’ing it last year was so hard, but I learned so much from that experience, and I knew I had to come back and try again. As I think about how I feel, I’m excited. I remember my first ultra, a 50k, and how horrible my body felt afterwards. I feel better than that. I’m stronger, both physically and mentally, than I was then. But being stronger would not have mattered a bit in my goal of finishing this race were it not for every single person I’ve mentioned in this post, and the numerous others I know my blurred ultra-head missed. Thank you, my ultra family.

Featured Image stolen from my husband. Check out his work here: https://afifield59.wixsite.com/dedtekdesigns

 

Kendall Mountain Run – Silverton, CO

Silverton Colorado, my dear one. How can a fairy tale upon which I’ve trespassed only once, and briefly at that, become my heart? How did that happen? It has been two weeks since I visited nirvana, and I must return.

Silverton is a tiny old mining town in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. The train from Durango comes in during the summer days bearing loads of tourists who shop in the shops, eat the local food, and take in the local history. At night, after the tourists have left the town is very quiet and you are left with looming mountains and a bright open sky.

THE VACATION PART

We decided on a weeklong family vacation to Silverton, culminating in mom (that would be me) doing the Kendall Mountain 12 Mile Run. This run begins in downtown Silverton at 9,318 feet, goes to the top of Kendall Mountain at 13,066 feet, and then back down into town. I was nervous about the altitude, but figured I’d have an idea of my adaptability in a week.

After a long tiring drive into town, we arrived at the Triangle Motel which was our basecamp for the week. We’d paid for a super basic room with no kitchen or microwave or anything, and they upgraded us to a suite for free! It was clean and comfortable and we loved it. We all crashed hard that night.

On our first day we hiked to Ice Lakes. I have never seen lakes this color of turquoise! The mountains were blanketed in wildflowers. There were streams flowing everywhere. The hike is uphill all the way to the lake, but it was so much fun! While I didn’t struggle with the altitude (amazing since I always do) our son was getting over a pretty bad chest cold and really had a hard time. So by the time we made it up to the lake, the afternoon storms were rolling in and it was time to get off the mountain.

After finishing the hike we drove the Million Dollar Highway into the neighboring town of Ouray where we walked on the main street just a bit. I’m afraid the Ice Lakes hike killed our son though, so exploring Ouray was short and we just ate and went back to the motel. The mining history visible on this road was incredible and all I wanted to do was stop and explore it all.

The next day I went and explored a tiny bit of the Colorado Trail from Little Molas Lake. From this campground, I headed east on the trail, quickly crossing over Highway 550 and entering a meadow where I had views of Molas Lake and all the surrounding mountains. I just wanted a short run on this day, so after getting to an incredible water fall at about 2.5 miles out, I turned around, stopping to watch deer in the meadow on my way. Turning around was difficult with all of that trail stretching out ahead of me!

After getting back and showering, we visited the Silverton Museum located in the old jail. Again with the mining history- it’s amazing. I don’t enjoy history in general; I REALLY don’t care about all the dates of who did what to who. But this was personal. This wasn’t dates. Walking through this old jail I could imagine the people who’d been here before and their lives. Learning about the bar brawls, the hard mining life, and the houses of ill repute, I could see these young men’s lives. In the black and whites on the walls I could see their faces. Their lives, their stories, were real.

I think it was that night that the real personality of Silverton hit home. We went out to the Rum Bar where my friend Erica was working for the summer and where we found out that another friend of mine, Christian, was in town for the race too. We had game night and had a great time meeting people! It’s all about the people, always the people.

The next day (I think) I got up early and ran with Christian up to the Christ of the Mines Shrine and then a little way out the Rainbow Trail which is a part of the Hardrock 100 course. So fun!

Later, my family and I visited the Old Hundred Mine located just outside of Silverton, for a tour. Again, incredible. The kids had fun “panning” for gold while we waited for our tour to begin. It was drippy and cold in the mine. Our tour guide, who’d been a miner himself, made the lives of the miners real to us once again as he described the evolution of hardrock mining. I was seriously wowed by the ingenuity and feats of engineering that go into something like that.

That night (I think? It all begins to run together at some point) we went out to Avalanche Brewing for dinner and to say hi to Kelly (also in town for the summer) and then to the Rum Bar. We again had an incredible time hanging out with Erica and Christian and met a new awesome friend Jesse.

The next day we rented a Jeep and did the Alpine Loop. This 60+ mile, four-wheel-drive loop takes you on a tour of the surrounding mountains, passing ghost towns along the way. We stopped in the ghost town of Animas Forks to wander through the old buildings. On the way up Engineer Pass we saw a huge herd of sheep and numerous tarns (small mountain lakes). We stopped at the top of Engineer and watched the incoming storms, which eventually hit us as I took over driving. I really enjoyed driving the Jeep and it drove home how badly I need a four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicle! In so many places the road was super narrow with a steep drop off and no barrier, but that just made it more fun! It was wild and beautiful.

THE RACE PART

Race morning came and I felt great. I walked down to the start line which was literally the middle of the main street and no actual line. The gun went off (like an actual gun) and we ran. My entire strategy was just to make it up and back. I wasn’t concerned about my time because I know how much I typically struggle at higher altitudes. So I ran the easy parts and hiked most of the uphill. The lower, easier uphills I ran okay, but that was it.

Very quickly we were in the trees, with breaks looking out over Silverton, which we were very quickly above. Soon I saw the first 11K runners coming back and I of course thought how wonderful it would be to already be on the way down and almost done. But the peak… there was no way I could be this close and not peak it.

Just past the first aid station is where the mountain opened up its glory. There was this expansive, verdant meadow with burbling streams making their way down. I expected to see hobbits and wizards and elves drinking beer and smoking Pipe-weed. I got to watch the front runners come barreling past me- all focus and speed and drive. Runners are amazing people. The best part was getting to see my friends as they made their way back down, all looking strong!

This race runs up a Jeep road, but the last little bit to the top is a loose scramble. That was probably my favorite aspect of the trail. I love scrambling. It was loose and slippery and so fun! I was excited to run back down.

I hit the top and Jubilee was there capturing the looks of “WTH!” on all of our faces, with the Rockies spread out behind us. I touched the giant cairn there at the peak and then bombed back down the scramble. By bombed I mean did a running slide the whole way.

Normally the downhill is my jam, but on this day I got side stitches and instead was managing those the whole way down, but I was okay. I was just… so… happy!

As soon as I hit the flat for the run into town I realized how much gravity had been pulling me down the mountain. My legs were super flat. I rounded a corner and my husband was there taking pictures- he’d volunteered for the race. Our kids were nearby playing in the river. That was so nice! They followed me as I ran into the finish line.

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Kendall Mountain in the Background

Afterwards I hung out talking to everyone about their race. Everybody did so well!

That night there was an after party at the Rum Bar which doubled as a farewell party for Erica since she would be making her way back home. We stayed a little bit late, maybe spent a little bit of money… but what an amazing night.

THE SAPPY PART

“Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.” Henri Frederic Amiel

This quote sums up my “summer camp” in Silverton. My heart was gladdened. I’m going to cheese it up now… ready? From dear old friends from Phoenix to dear new friends made during this dream, you brought light to my journey.

*Muah!

 

 

 

Smelly Armchair Musings: On My Zane Grey 50 and DNF’ing

How do you write about a failure? How do you share it in a way that reflects your true feelings, but that is also palatable to those around you? I don’t know. So I’ll just do like I tell my children and “word vomit”, letting the words fall where they may.

I went into the Zane Grey race with trepidation. I’d injured my calf and I had taken time off to try to let it heal. I had no idea how Zane would go.

The night before I scoped out the start line so I’d know where I was going in the morning. The smell of pines in the air was fresh and wonderful. I walked the first few feet of the trail barefoot and enjoyed the dirt underfoot.

Race morning came and the start was electric. Everyone was excited and talking and there were so many friends there! That was wonderful, but I was very in my head, making it difficult to engage very much.

The race began in the dark, so headlamps bobbed and flashlights weaved. We were tight together on the trail, rubbing elbows, watching out for pine cones. We were an ebbing and flowing stream, slowing and accelerating as one.

My injured calf felt okay until, while still within that first mile I stumbled and caught myself on it. It had felt a little tight but at this point it cramped up and felt rotten, ripped. I tried to keep running and couldn’t, so I moved to the side and started walking. I contemplated going back to the start line. If I couldn’t run, what the hell was I going to do? I tried stretching it. Eventually the raw feeling calmed down and I was able to maintain a light jog.

I recognized the voices of friends up ahead of me on the trail as the quiet grey light of early dawn began to give shape to the forest around us. It was peaceful, incredible, fulfilling, but what was wrong with my body? Calf aside, my body felt sluggish, bonky, and at the slightest incline my heart was racing. In a race filled with uphills, that wasn’t a good sign. What to do? Go back to the start? It was close. Or keep going?

A little back story on DNF’ing. Two years ago I made my first attempt at a 100K at the Javelina Jundred in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It consisted of four loops on the Pemberton Trail, a trail I know well. My first two loops were fine, but my third loop was not. Excruciating IT Band pain hobbled me and I walked the entire third loop. I started out power hiking, but by the end of this loop I’d cried a legion of tears and was unable to bend my knee. 45 miles in and I called it. I didn’t have another loop in me. I DNF’d. But was that my best? Was that everything I had to give? It was evening at the end of that third loop which bolstered the feeling of hopelessness. What if I had slept for a few hours and tried for that last loop? My knee still would have hurt, but could I have made it? I don’t know, and I’ll never know now. That DNF taught me something so cliché, but something I think we each must learn on our own and in our own way; never give up. I was ashamed of this race, ashamed I didn’t finish it, ashamed of the unknown, and so I never really talked about it, and certainly never blogged about it, until now.

And so, as awful as I felt so early in my benchmark race, I would not give up. I resolved to make them pull me off the course. If I was ahead of the cut-offs for each aid station then I would keep going.

I made it into the first aid station at 8 miles doing okay. I think I was thirty minutes ahead of the cut off, so I was doing fine. Plus, a number of my friends were here volunteering. It is such a boost to see familiar faces along the race- I love it!

At some point, Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” began making its rounds through my head.

The whole race ran along the base of the Mogollon Rim. It was incredible and I knew I was desperately, head over heels, in love with this trail. I snapped photos with my phone, moving as quickly as I could. At the second aid station I was greeted by more friends. I was still ahead of the cut-off, though not as far.

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Dang it Meghan Trainor. How many times can one line of a song go through one person’s head?

Third aid station- I was definitely slipping but still ahead of the cut off, so I ate quickly and got out of there.

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At Zane Grey 50 Mile Race

The next aid station was where my husband and children would be waiting for me and was at mile 33.5, just 9.5 miles from the third aid station. But I was so slow. So slow. My body was done. My quads were shot. I wanted to quit. I wanted to just sit down and be done, right there on the side of the trail. But how would I get to my family? I had to keep moving: no sitting, no stopping, no quitting, one foot in front of the other. But I was so slow. Nothing was working correctly. I trudged along, thoughts of Javelina flitting through my head, and Meghan Trainor of course. I cried, feeling sorry for myself, starting to give up, then, “No Amber! No quitting! No slowing down on purpose! Keep going!” Then I cried again, listened to the Meghan Trainor song in my head again, thought about Javelina again, the cycle continued. I refused to look at my watch because I didn’t want to know how slowly I was moving. I was POSITIVE I was behind cut off and would be done at Fish Hatchery.

I came upon a section of trail that looked odd- I was pretty sure I was on track, but I was getting all messed up in my head and hadn’t seen any ribbons. Just behind me were two men who said we were good and on trail still. Then one of them said we were still fine, still ahead of cut-off. What??!?!?!? How??!?!?! I was disappointed because I wanted to be done so badly, but I still had a chance and I really did want to finish. We ran into the aid station. And I burst into tears, there was my family and more friends. Everyone had been worried about me- I was hours behind when I normally would have made it to this point. I had to make a decision- keep going or be done? I only had ten minutes to get out of that aid station if I was going to keep going. Everything hurt, I didn’t want to go anymore, and the next section was supposed to be the hardest of the entire trail. I was a hot mess, but I would not repeat Javelina. I grabbed food and water and got out of there. I asked my husband to meet me at the next aid station, See Canyon, because I didn’t know if I’d make it there in time and because if I did, I needed to see him.

I walked out of the aid station, eating as I went. Meghan Trainor kept up her noisy vigil in my head. I crossed streams, I got passed by other runners. I reflected on the fact that for the first time in my life I was running in the back of the pack, it was a new experience for me. I wasn’t trying to beat anyone, I certainly wasn’t being competitive, I was just trying to finish.

 

More people passed me. Then, the dreaded event happened- the sweeps caught me. They were very kind. They made sure I was okay and then they hung back and gave me my space. I appreciated that because then I cried a bunch. I’d already climbed the big hills, the rest was relatively easy-ish into See Canyon so damn it but I was going to cover it running. Ha-ha, running! It was a running motion, but it was as fast as I could go.

Meghan Trainor ran with me. Then she walked with me when I couldn’t hold that motion anymore- but I did power hike like a crazy white suburbanite mom in the park on a Tuesday morning. The soothing grey of evening began filtering in through the trees, slowly blurring the edges and making the forest soft again. The breeze brushed against my skin. I could hear the people at the aid station, and then I was there. Again, the rushing torrent of tears erupted out of my face as I hugged my husband with my nasty self. About 46 miles in and just 6.8 miles left of the race, I’d missed the cut off by about 15 minutes. I was pulled.

Sitting in the dirt, I cried in disappointment and relief. So close. However, Meghan Trainor was finally gone, thank goodness.

I’d failed. I DNF’d my race. I was angry. Sad. Disappointed. Frustrated. And yet oddly, I was incredibly proud of myself. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’d left every last piece of me out there on that trail. I gave everything that I had and on this day it wasn’t enough. There was peace in that. I’d found a new strength in that which wasn’t there when I began the race that morning. I’d heard many people say that the majority of ultra-running is mental and I’d thought I understood that- I hadn’t. Whenever I get to attempting my first hundred I’m sure I’ll revisit my understanding of the mental capacity required in ultra-running, but for this day I had a new found knowledge.  

So, now you hold my word vomit in your hands, filled, apparently, with a ridiculous amount of tears (what can I say, I’m an emotional person). What will you do with it?

😉

Run on.

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.

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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).

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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?

Aravaipa McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 Mile Race Report: On Running Far, Perseverance, Breaking Down, and Accidentally Accomplishing a Long-Held Desire

What does it mean when you eat a good pizza dinner at 7:00pm, a second dinner at 10:00pm, and then are woken up by your body screaming for food at 1:30am and again at 6:30am? For me it means that I finished my first 50 mile race!

Morning came too early Saturday and I was a bundle of nerves. As per my habit for this Fall’s  Desert Runner Trail Series I had not effectively trained. While I had managed to complete the first two races of the series (Cave Creek Thriller 50K and Pass Mountain 50K) they were not 50 miles, and I had never run 50 miles before. The closest I’d come to 50 miles was my R3 Canyon crossing back in May for which I’d trained. So… nerves. Could I finish? What if my side cramped up? What if I got nauseous? What if my muscles refused? What if, what if, what if?

I had prepared my pack the night before. I know many experienced ultra-runners don’t carry a pack, preferring to stay light with a water bottle or two. From my experience at the Canyon though, I decided I wanted to have my pack with a few staple items in it so I knew I’d have the nutrition I wanted. The biggest thing I learned at the Canyon was “Eat early and eat often” which I planned to do for the race. This way, the aid station goodies would be a bonus! I also had my electrolytes which I seem to do well with when I take one/ hour. I also decided to forgo the drop bags- I couldn’t think of anything I’d really need that would be worth slowing down for.

I arrived at the race about 25 minutes before the start. I knew the day would get warm so even though it was probably in the 40’s, I was wearing shorts and a tank and arm sleeves. I stood by the fire and shivered until it was time to go. 44 of us toed the start line, full of hopes, worries, excitement, and expectations for the day ahead of us. Only 33 of us would finish.

When the horn went off, I did my best to keep my pace down. This is so difficult at the beginning of a race, but I knew if I had any desire to finish, I had to keep it slow. You may remember Karen, the woman who was out for a training run during the Cave Creek 50K, and who I ran with for quite a while there? Well, she was out at the Frenzy, running her first 50 mile too! She asked me what my strategy was for the day, if I had one. My answer, “Just don’t go too fast.” She laughed and said she didn’t think that’d be a problem for her. (Ultra Sign-Up had also predicted that my finish time would be 12:20 and I wanted to beat that at least, if not finish in 12 hours.) This beginning part of the trail, though, is nice and easy rolling. It’s difficult to keep the pace down, as I discovered last year when I ran the Frenzy 50K. We, along with at least one other woman who was also running her first 50 mile, ran together until we hit the first aid station (around 7 miles in, only 43 left!), Escondido Aid. I grabbed a cup of coke (mmm… coke), a bite to eat, and moved out. I would see them all again on Thompson Peak- more on that later.

Rolling up Pemberton Trail from Escondido I just ran easy. This section of trail is wide open, smooth, and gently uphill. I’ve run it many times, so I knew what to expect for next 5 miles to aid station number two, Granite Tank Aid. Coming down into the aid station (12 miles down, only 38 to go!), my friend Jon greeted me and took my picture. I dumped some sand out of my shoes, grabbed a cup of coke, and walked out.

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Coming into Granite Tank Aid. Photo Credit: Jon Christley

The next 6.5 miles consisted of a loop, which would come back to Granite Tank Aid, in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve on trails which I’d never run before. They headed out way north, near some cool boulder formations. The trails were mostly narrow, which I love. I began this little side loop with walking and eating because as I’d been running up Pemberton I’d felt some hunger setting in already. Note to self: do not wait to eat once you feel hungry when running. I’d waited too long to eat, and struggled with the evil Bonk for the next couple of miles until what I’d eaten made its way into my bloodstream. Then I was better and took off again.

I ran back into Granite Tank Aid (about 18 miles down, only 32 left- just a 50K!) and filled my pack with water for the first time. The next 10.5 miles to Dixie Mine Aid would be long and the day was warming up. I’d stripped off my arm sleeves and Jon sprayed me with sunscreen. I was so thankful for this. I’d put on a little bit of sunscreen in the morning before leaving home, but I’d known then it wouldn’t be enough. I downed some more coke and belched in a most trail-lady-like fashion, and headed out.

The beginning of this section again heads out onto trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. These were trails I’d run the year before during the 50K and I loved them just as much this time around as I did then; narrow, winding between boulders, fun! I ran easily along, enjoying the views of Tom’s Thumb and the McDowell’s. Eventually I came down out of the Preserve and back onto Pemberton Trail. Again, I know this trail well and chugged along. By now I was passing by 50K runners. It was nice to see these other people out on the trail. I passed by one girl who was running strong. She asked how my day was going. I answered, “Great!” and she replied with, “Fuck yeah!” Awesome enthusiasm! It made me smile.

We turned off of Pemberton Trail onto Coachwhip Trail, beginning the ascent into the McDowell Mountains. The trail became a little more technical, and it was warm, so I slowed down some, speed-hiking the bigger hills. The views from here are some of my favorite in this area. Climbing up Bell Pass, if you look back behind you the desert is spread out below, with the mountains right next to you. It’s awe-inspiring. Upon cresting Bell Pass it’s a crazy fun, technical, switch-backing downhill until you hit the Thompson Peak road, which then continues downhill into Dixie Mine Aid.

Coming into Dixie Mine (About 29 miles done! Over half way! Only 21 miles left!), my friend Justin greeted me and refilled my pack while my friend Brett got me… can you guess what? Yup, coke. We chatted for a few minutes. Another friend, Bradley, was there resting for a bit during his 50K effort. My left IT band was feeling a little twingey, so I was concerned about that, especially considering that I now had to climb up Thompson Peak.

Thompson Peak. It’s hard. And it’s incredible. The climb up to the towers on top of the peak is about 2.3 miles, with, I think, about 1500 feet of gain. Most of that gain is in the last mile with grades sometimes reaching upwards of 49% (at least according to my Strava). I’ve climbed this mountain a few times before, which I was so thankful for. It would be disheartening to me to hit this climb this far into a race and not have been expecting it. I climbed and pushed and my heart pounded and my breathing raged and my calves burned with an angry fire. I stopped twice, I think, for a couple of seconds to slow my heart down, and then pushed on. I crested the mountain, made sure my bib number was recorded (to verify I’d climbed the whole thing) and ran back down.

On the way down, my IT band twinging turned into aching pain. I managed to find a weird hitching running motion that I could do and did that as much as I could down. One woman on her way up asked me if I had any electrolytes- her quads were cramping. I gave her two. On the last really steep section I came across Karen again and the other first time 50 mile woman- they were looking strong and were all smiles! I hitched into Dixie Mine Aid (50K down! Less than 17 miles to go!) again and refilled my pack. I drank yet more coke, ate more food, and headed out. At this point, the first sign of fatigue set in. I’d set my arm sleeves down at aid station, and left without them. Thankfully I realized this right away and was able to retrieve them.

I hiked the brief climb out of the aid station and then the trail followed a ridge before heading downhill and eventually winding back down to Pemberton. It was in this section that my state of mind become apparent to me. I’d been taking my electrolytes consistently every hour, but now I wasn’t sure if I’d taken the last one, or what time the last one was at. It was just over 5 miles of easy running to the Gate Aid Station, but my IT band was kind of angry. So I ran, then walked for a minute to calm it down, then ran again. I did this the whole way into the Gate Aid (About 39 miles down! Only about 11 to go!). I drank coke at Gate Aid and refilled my pack. The next aid station was only a 5K away, but it was the Start/Finish line. I knew I didn’t want to linger there since that’d make it hard to head back out for the final loop. So preemptively filling my pack was a protective measure against stopping my race early.

I left the Gate Aid, and thankfully the volunteer there saw my arm sleeves, which, yes, I’d set down and forgotten again. I would be coming back to this aid station, but I wanted to hold my sleeves because they were protection for my hands in the case that my increasingly tired feet tripped and I fell.

I covered that 5K as quickly as I could. The woman who’d needed the electrolytes had caught up to me by this point, and thankfully her quads had calmed down and not cramped up on the way down from the peak! We ran together off and on, and I was still able to run pretty well. I was tired, but I felt great.

There’s this last little hill that has to be crested before coming into the Start/Finish line. I power-hiked this, coming up with the most creative curse words I could. I still felt just fine, other than the twinging IT, but I was grouchy. I ran into the Start/Finish line and grabbed some food. My friends Erica, Laurie, Krista, and Matt were all there and greeted me. I grabbed more food, downed more coke, and grabbed some food to go. Matt walked me down the parking lot to where the trail took off out into the desert again. I’d covered 42 miles and I only had 8 left.

It was 2 miles back out to the Gate Aid station and it was easy running. But, my tiredness showed itself and I tripped and fell on a non-rock. Thankfully I’d had my arm sleeves and the damage was minimal. I grabbed coke and pickles at the aid station and moved out. As I was descending a small hill, Karen ran into the Gate Aid above me and yelled and waved!

6 miles left and it was still light out. I had a second wind and ran solidly for a mile and felt good. Then I started to feel a twinge in my left foot. So I hiked a little, but kept running. I was tired, but my muscles still felt strong. But. My. Foot. With about 3 miles left, I couldn’t run anymore, the pain in my foot was so bad. I was angry, so very angry. My muscles were still good! I could run, but for this tiny, horrible spot in my foot! It got dark and I hiked as hard as I could, and sometimes even that set my foot off. The pain made me start crying, then I’d tell myself to stop it, I had to get to the finish line. I’d get it under control and then start sobbing again, then get it under control again. This happened over and over. I could see the lights of the people behind me and I was so very slow. I just knew they were all going to pass me and there was nothing I could do about it.

By now I was hiking in blind faith. I was on a trail, but couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen an Aravaipa flag. I’d get worried I’d gone the wrong way and would start watching closely for a flag, would see one, but would then forget when I’d seen it after I passed it. I kept expecting to end up on a different trail, not realizing I’d be approaching the Finish line from the far end of the parking lot, and this concerned me when I wasn’t seeing what I expected to see. Finally I could hear the Finish line. Then I could see it, though it seemed so very far away. Then I was suddenly at the end of the parking lot and knew I hadn’t gone off trail. Somehow no one had passed me yet. I started unreservedly sobbing, so badly did I want to be done. I hobbled as fast as I could up the parking lot and across the finish line. Immediately I collapsed in a pile of tears on the other side. I’d done it. I’d run 50 miles. Remember my goal of finishing in 12 hours? I’d finished sub-12. I’d finished what I’d set out to do into the arms of my dear friends and family. When I’d come through the first time, Matt had texted my husband who was now there to greet me along with our kids. I was just crying and crying. And then… then someone told me I was third female.

Wait, what?

That couldn’t be right. I knew there were people ahead of me. I’ve never placed in an Aravaipa race. I’ve always wanted to, but I’m not fast enough. My friend Laurie who was doing the timing confirmed it, I’d gotten third female. Me. In my very first 50 mile race, I, of all people, had gotten third. So the sobbing commenced again.

Eventually I calmed down and stood up. I warmed up by the fire while my husband grabbed my change of clothes from my car and ordered my free pizza from Freak Brothers (for all 50K and 50 mile finishers). Then, for the first time, I had my picture taken with the other top finishing, incredible ultra-women.

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My bib, socks, and award

And you know the rest. I now sit here on my couch finishing this blog, still hungry. I am resting. My muscles feel great, my foot is still achy. What are my plans? I will rest for the month of December and allow my body to heal from this incredible effort it just accomplished. I will see how I feel and determine future training based on that.

I will close with this: our bodies are incredible, simply incredible. There are very few living creatures that can cover distances like we can (if you want to have a geek discussion on the physiology surrounding this with me sometime, please let me know!). We can cover incredible distances because we want to. Take a moment to think about that. We can. I can. You can. Many runners have heard, “What?!?! Why would you run that far?!? You must be crazy! I don’t even drive that far!” These things are said in varying forms in regards to all distances ranging from a 5K to a marathon, to 100 miles and more. Many of us have even laughed along with the people saying this, perhaps even joined in the joking self-deprecation. I know that I have. I don’t want to anymore. This ability is amazing and life-altering. It’s not crazy to push your body to see what it can do. It’s not crazy to head out into wild places and experience this dazzling world. It’s crazy not to. It’s crazy to be surrounded by astounding beauty and to purposely choose to never experience it. I will experience this world I’ve been given- who’s with me?

Aravaipa Pass Mountain 50K Race Report: Hooray for Pizza and Coke!

Le sigh. My life is a whirlwind of my own making. I keep telling myself the frantic pace will calm down eventually. I am about 95% sure this is true. Of course in addition to my already frenetic life, I must run far. It’s fun.

Pass Mountain 50K. Honestly I was in no better condition for it than for the Cave Creek 50K, but I went out to finish it. Why not? My longest training run this time consisted of pacing my dear friend Kathi to her 3rd place finish at the Javelina Jundred K– this was about 15.5 miles. While that’s better than my 10 mile long runs for Cave Creek, it’s not much better. Plus, my overall weekly mileage remained crazy low. I think I was doing pretty good if I got in 30 mile weeks. Argh.

The morning of the race dawned beautifully. It was chilly which was nice for a long effort- well, not nice exactly, I prefer warm, but I knew this would help me out. The Pass Mountain races are typically smaller than some of the other Desert Runner Trail (DRT) races, and generally the ultra-distances have much smaller starting crowds, so as my “crowd” of 34 toed the start line, it was peaceful. It felt like a group of friends setting off on a run.

The Pass Mountain 50K consists of completing two loops, 15.5-ish miles each, within Usery Mountain Regional Park. The beginning of the loop is super easy- gentle downhill to flat trail that winds through the lowlands surrounded by cholla and saguaro, with epic views of Flatiron in the distance. It’s smooth trail with no rocks. Easy running. Easy to go way too fast. I settled into a pace that felt good and just decided to go with it. There were two aid stations on this loop, in addition to the finish line. The first was 3.5 miles out, and the second was about 3.5 miles beyond that. Then you had the 7.5 or so miles back to the start line aid. I ran through the first aid station and didn’t stop. I stopped at the second one just to top off on water.

After the second aid station, I knew the trail would require more thinking- it was rockier and there would finally be some climbing. But I was feeling so good. The miles were ticking by on my watch and I felt strong. Aside from one or two particularly steep sections, I just ran. Up over rocks, bombing down into washes, it was all good. I remembered at Cave Creek that side stitches started up around 9 miles, but today, on this glorious day, I had none of that. On the trail up to the saddle of Usery Mountain, you are just running along the side of the mountain when suddenly, BAM! The trail turns a sudden corner to continue following the mountain and out below you is beauty defined, the valley stretching off in the distance. It’s shocking, and incredible.

Upon cresting the saddle, I knew it was pretty much all downhill to the start/finish line. I took it easy, knowing I still had to do this loop a second time. It was such a breeze, and so much fun! It felt great just feeling my muscles doing their thing and moving through the desert. I finished my first loop in 2:53:13. Whoops, a little bit fast for me. Oh well!

I knew as soon as I started out on the second loop that this one would be slower. I argued with myself for the entire first 7 miles. My body wanted to walk and I had to keep telling myself, “NO! This is downhill! This is flat! You are NOT walking a flat or downhill!” So I made myself keep a running motion. It sucked. Using this drill sergeant in my head, I made it to the first aid station where I grabbed a PBJ and a watermelon. I walked out as I ate, and then made myself run the whole way to the second aid station. Coming in, I heard someone behind me and guess what! It was the same guy I beat at Flagstaff Big Pine, and who beat me at Cave Creek (I need to learn his name). I asked him if he was ready to kick my ass today (I was feeling pretty done), and he said, “We’ll see!” At this second aid station, I refilled my water, grabbed some more food, and headed out again. I was frustrated- 5 or 6 people passed me at the aid station. But, I made myself keep running. I told myself that when I got to the more technical uphills, I was allowed to walk those, but nothing else. So that’s what I did. I power-hiked each rocky uphill, and ran and ran and ran. Somehow I started passing people. I have no idea how that happened. My legs were shot. I was dreaming of cold, fizzy coke, and laying down at the finish line. Glorious finish line. And pizza at the finish line. Coke and pizza. Mmmmmm….. And then… I hit the saddle! I’d finished climbing! Suddenly my legs were good, I had a second wind! I was golden! Downhill is my thing, it’s what I’m good at, and I ran with all my heart. Swooping, pounding the trail, sliding the corners, the desert spread out around and below me, and with the finish line within my grasp, I gave it everything. I crossed that finish line at 6:03:56. I was fourth female, and twelfth overall! As soon as I crossed though, all I could do was stand bent over panting. My husband was there to greet me and congratulate me, and tell me about his race. He ran the 5K and did so well! He finished 8th male and 12th overall! My kids were there too, to tell me about their adventures (bees and sticks, oh my!) while I’d been out.  Jamil handed me my finisher’s glass, which I promptly took over to the aid station and asked for ice and coke. I drank three (or was it four? maybe five?) of those before feeling ready to head over the Freak Brother’s Pizza and get my free pizza (for all 50K finishers). I ate my pizza, and drank more coke, and was happy. I’d done much better than I expected, and I felt really great. Oh, and I beat that guy from the other two races. I’m assuming he’ll be at McDowell Mountain Frenzy next weekend, so I suppose it’s his turn to beat me now!

Speaking of the Frenzy, this will be my first 50 mile race. And I’m not trained. It seems this is the racing season of anti-training for me. However, I’m really looking forward to this effort. I get excited at the prospect of a long run in the desert, it’s soothing. I have a 14 hour cut off to get this thing done, so I don’t know how soothing it will be, but, on this side of race day, I’m excited.

Run on!

Aravaipa Cave Creek Thriller 50K Race Report: ALWAYS Pre-Grease Your Butt Crack, and Other Advice from a Tired and Happy Trail Runner

This is a long post. Here are the top 6 essential cliff notes for those of you too lazy to read the whole thing (you know who you are):

  • Always run long when training for a 50K: 10 miles is not long
  • Always go into a run with the mindset that you’re going to enjoy yourself
  • Push through feeling crappy: we all feel crappy at some point in time, it’s not a reason to quit
  • Watch for Desert Tortoises, they’re awesome
  • Always drink Coke in conjunction with running, it’s amazing
  • Always pre-grease your butt crack: butt crack chafing is unpleasant

The Beginning of the Story:

My morning began at 3:40am. I slept in my race clothes, so all I had to do was roll and go, grabbing my coffee and breakfast on my way out the door at 4:00am. Why so early? Aravaipa’s Cave Creek Thriller 50K began at 6:30am, and I still had to get there and get my bib and get on the shuttle to the start.

A little back story since I haven’t posted in a while: I haven’t been running much. Random weird injury, (blah, blah, blah) start running again, weird pains (blah, blah, blah), start running again, weird injury or pains somewhere else, (blah, blah, blah). So I allowed myself to take some time off. That’s what I told myself anyway; it sucked. My longest run was 10 miles, which is nowhere near enough to be well-trained for a 50K. I also really enjoy my long runs out in the desert; they are where I get my head to relax. Ten miles is not enough for that either.

Earlier this year, I signed up for the Aravaipa DRT Ultra Plus Series, which includes a 50K at Cave Creek, a 50K at Pass Mountain, and a 50 Miler at Mcdowell Mountain. There have been a few times I haven’t even started a race because an injury of some kind prevented me from training and I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t want to drop from yet another race. Plus, I kept hearing the strangest things like, “Rest is good for you, you’ll actually run a better race.” And, “I’d only run 10 miles for my longest training and I had my best race ever!” So I figured I’d go ahead and still give it a shot. I knew if nothing else, I could walk 31 miles. It would be miserable, but I could do it.

So, fast forward to the start line this morning. I was nervous about how the day would go, and was afraid one of my nagging injuries would rear its ugly head. I knew I was not prepared, but decided I was going to enjoy myself and give it my best. I was also really looking forward to the effort- It was a long desert run, which I have desperately missed. Plus, the weather was on my side. It had stormed the night before and we still had cloud cover, and a nice breeze.

My friend Erica was also unsure of her abilities this morning, but I had a feeling that she would win (she did).

Jamil, the race director, gave a few instructions, we waited a few seconds, and then it was time to take off. I started in the mid-back of the approximately 50 runners. Erica was gone like a bullet and I didn’t see her again until the finish line.

Anytime I run long, I break the distance down into smaller distances which I know I can do, and which don’t sound so long. For this run, I broke them down by aid stations, which is what I usually do when running a race. 9.1 miles to aid station 1, (I can run that far, that’s fine) 6.9 to #2 (so totally got that), 6.1 to #3 (psshh, piece of cake), 5.8 to #4 (what? That’s so short!), and 3 miles to the finish line (less than a 5K, total breeze).

To Aid Station #1: 9.1 miles

The beginning of the race consisted of my usual attempting to settle into a pace that was comfortable for me and which I felt I could maintain. I did so pretty quickly and felt great. The first few miles had a few little rollers here and there, but nothing major. Along the way, I heard burros braying and saw their little footprints on the trail! Mostly this whole section was all flat, which was great for me and my super non-training.

I breezed through aid #1. I was feeling really good, and loving the flat terrain, which was slightly soft underfoot from the recent moisture. I was also loving being out running far. I stayed on top of eating, and drinking, and salt intake. All was amazing. Then, it wasn’t amazing anymore.

To Aid Station #2: 6.9 miles (16 total)

First, the stitches started in my side. Normally this happens when I’m not running with very good form, and straightening up fixes the problem. It mostly did in this case. Then… well… I had to make a pit stop. Thankfully I had toilet paper. All better. I ran okay for a mile or so, then just started to bonk hard. I felt tired and heavy. Next, some nausea set in. The only other time I’ve ever gotten nauseous on any kind of run was at the Flagstaff Skyrace last year, and I think that was due to exertion at elevation. I have no idea what to do with nausea, and no idea why it occurred. I’d been doing great on my food and water intake, and not overdoing it. Ugh, whatever. Then the stitches came back hardcore. There was no more running, I was slogging, even though the trail was still flat.  When the stitches lessened, I ran again until I couldn’t (either due to stitches or nausea). Part of this race went through a desert corridor passing through Anthem (north of Phoenix). There were shops here, and the bane of my existence: fast food restaurants. Fast food makes me feel ill on a good day, which this desperately was not. Keeping my gag reflex in check, I managed to make it through here, and I walked into aid station #2. There I saw a couple of my friends (Jon and Thomas) and chatted a bit, while drinking the sweet nectar of the running gods; Coke. I was so excited to see this!!

To Aid Station #3: 6.1 miles (22.1 total)

I walked out of #2 and the nausea slowly began to subside. I ran off and on, as I could. Somewhere through here, I picked up a runner who was not racing. Her name was Karen, and we talked a little bit. She was out on a long run (20 miles) and was training for the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 Miler! I actually was able to keep pace with her for quite a while and I started to feel much better. Right around where she joined me (maybe a mile or two outside of the aid station?) is where some climbing began. We walked the uphills and ran everything else. Eventually I needed a quick break, so she took off. I really appreciated her being there, she helped me out so much.

The views along this part of the trail are really pretty- there are mountains ahead, and it’s exciting to see them getting closer and closer. Somewhere in this section is where the cloud cover began to dissipate somewhat. The sun was definitely warm, but nothing overwhelming. Plus, I could see some clouds that looked a little heavy not too far off.

I was able to run into aid station #3, to where my friend Brett was volunteering. I suppose I was looking a little rough. But I was feeling so much better. Another friend, Greg showed up here to say hello, he only gave me a minimally hard time for hanging at the aid station for a few minutes. Again, Coke was to be had, so I had it. And I was off again.

To Aid Station #4: 5.8 miles (27.9 miles)

This was probably my favorite section of the whole race. The views are so pretty. Plus, that cloud cover I’d seen showed up, and showed up with a vengeance! It began to rain. I love running in the rain! As I crested a hill, I was able to look back over where I’d just been. There was a light mist from the rain; the cacti were super green, but the ground and rocks were black from the moisture. Absolutely gorgeous.

I was still feeling pretty good, considering a whole lot of fatigue, so I ran. I needed to walk occasionally, but all was well, I was even able to run some of the easier uphills.

I saw a Sonoran Desert Tortoise hanging out on the side of the trail! This is only the second time I’ve ever seen one of these, so I stopped for a couple of minutes to watch it.

There was a lot of downhill to the next aid station, so I ran mostly solidly. I was very excited because other than fatigue, I was feeling really good, and I knew I was almost done and would be able to finish. I ran into this last aid station, grabbed a few things (Coke!) and walked out.

To the Finish Line: 3 miles (30.9 miles)

While walking, I rounded a corner and saw the photographer. Agh! It was uphill so I was walking… crap. I didn’t want my race pictures to be of me walking- I had to run uphill! So I did, and smiled and waved, and then walked as soon as he stopped taking pictures.

Mile 28!- Photo Credit: Ron Ceton

Mile 28!- Photo Credit: Ron Ceton

It was a pretty good-sized hill, considering my fatigued state, but I was able to run a few small sections of it. At the top, I knew I only had two miles left and that it was all downhill. It was time to turn on the burners, what was left of them anyway. I ran as hard as I could. The side stitches reappeared with a vengeance, but I wasn’t going to stop. My heart rate must have been through the roof, I was breathing so hard. I gave these last two miles everything I had. I could see a guy ahead of me who’d passed me when I was feeling really bad, and I was out to catch him. He, of course, heard my freight train breathing, and was not about to let me by. With half a mile left, I’d severely closed the distance, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pass him. I, however, wasn’t going to let his finishing ahead of me be easy. After the race he came up to me and thanked me for that push at the end. As it turned out, at the Flagstaff Big Pine race, I’d passed him not too far from the end and he wasn’t able to catch me then. He wasn’t about to let me pass him again this time!

I crossed the finish line to my friends Laurie, Matt, and Kathi, and my husband was there too, with the kids! Erica had been in the beer garden, and she came over to congratulate me on my finish, and I congratulated her on her win! Crossing the finish line to your friends and loved ones is undoubtedly the very best part of any race. I had to just stand there for a few minutes to catch my breath though, then I went straight to the finish line aid station and drank Coke. I also ate my wood-fired pizza, provided free by Freak Brothers Pizza with my 50K race entry, and sat around talking to everyone.

Erica's Trophy! -Photo Credit: John Coleman

Erica’s Trophy! -Photo Credit: John Coleman

Remember how much I love running in the rain? The only downside to running in the rain, was, as I discovered upon my finish, butt crack chafing. If you have never had this, consider yourself incredibly lucky. I lubed up all of my normal chafing areas with an anti-chafing stick before the run and they were all fine, however I did not perform this preventative treatment on my crack. My legs were tired and a little stiff, but the thing that hurt the worst was my butt crack. ALWAYS pre-grease your crack.

I have to give a shout out to my husband- he recently took up running, and he ran his first race today, the Thriller 5K! The Cave Creek Thriller 2011 was actually my very first trail race, and I think it’s so exciting that his first trail race is the Thriller, same as mine! And he didn’t pick an easy one: it was a tough course, with a good amount of climbing. He did really well, and I’m so excited for, and proud of, him!

I ran the shortest distance offered at Thriller in 2011; it was hot and I remember how hard it was. It was so exciting for me to get to run this race again, this time the ultra-distance. So much has happened, I’ve changed so much since then. At that time, I never thought I’d actually be able to run this far, and yet, I’ve now done it multiple times. Going into the run, I wanted to finish in 7 hours if I could swing it; I didn’t think I could. My watch read 7:00:51! I will take it! While certainly not my best 50K time, considering my complete lack of training, I feel really great about this! While a 50K can be run on no training, I don’t really recommend it.

My first trail race, Cave Creek Thriller- Photo Credit: Aravaipa Running

My first trail race, Cave Creek Thriller

So, I finished. Even though I struggled with a bunch of different issues during my run, I had an epic time and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Apparently enjoyment is a frame of mind: who knew? I will now take a few days off, and probably do a few days of easy hiking, and maybe a few easy runs to shake things out and see what’s in there. Next? Pacing my friend Kathi at Javelina Jundred for her first 100K effort, I hope (assuming no injuries pop up again) in two weeks, and then, DRT #2, Usery 50K. Can I runanother 50K on so little training? I don’t know. I’m hoping I can get back to regular runs, but if not, I plan to go out and give it my best.

 

(Featured Image Photo Credit: Andrew Fifield)