Tag Archives: Cave Creek

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)





Skull Mesa Trail Fun Run

“…I realized and admitted to myself that I was not a being of comfort and complacency, that only by the wind on my face, the trails beneath my feet, and the adventure along the road could I truly be happy.” – Drizzt Do’Urden

Sun kissed mountain tops greet the day as Matt and I pulled into the parking lot at Spur Cross Ranch to meet the Aravaipa Running Tribe for the Skull Mesa Trail Fun Run. What is that you say? A 16.5 mile fun run? On something called the Skull Mesa Trail? Sounds epic. Count me in!

Sun kissed mountains

Sun kissed mountains

Just before setting out, Jamil pointed to a mountain off in the distance and said, “We’re going up there.” It was much higher than we were. We briefly looked over a map of our route. After my usual checking out the bathrooms (nice, clean porta-johns), the twenty-ish of us got our run on. We cruised down the early hills, soaking up the cool morning air.  We hadn’t been going long when we hit our first creek crossing. We crossed this creek a few different times, either on rocks, a board bridge, or just by splashing through. This was my first time splashing through a creek on a run, and I must say, I loved it and will probably do it from now on. I’d heard horror stories of hot spots and blisters from running with wet feet and so had always been reluctant to try it. I did not have any problems at all. Glorious!

That's where we're going

That’s where we’re going


The desert at Spur Cross is exceedingly lush (think cottonwoods along the creek and dense vegetation everywhere else) and because of this, we ran on tight single track. Sometimes it was so tight that we got a little scraped up, but somehow, oddly, a little bit of blood on a run just seems to add to the fun of the experience. Sharing our cuts with each other afterwards is like a badge of honor. Once we left the lows of the creek we began our meandering ascent. We climbed and descended many rolling hills, always getting a little higher before dropping, to climb once again. Our destination mountain was always in sight. Slowly the vegetation began to change as we got higher.


Tree Climbing

I just recently finished reading “The Summit Seeker” by Vanessa Runs (I loved the book, by the way. Frequently I felt like she was describing me.) In her book she talks about stopping to climb trees while out running. When I was little I loved climbing trees. I remember climbing to the top of an alder tree once on a windy day and sitting there as the tree and I were blown precariously in the breeze. Living in the desert, I don’t have much of an opportunity for tree climbing, so when I saw one that lacked thorns, was clear at the bottom so I could watch out for snakes, and had a branch I could get to, I went for it.

Epic Arizona tree climbing

Epic Arizona tree climbing

The Final Ascent

Crossing a fence line and standing at the “base” (I say that in quotes because we had already climbed quite a bit just to make it to this base) of Skull Mesa and staring up, I could see I had a beast ahead of me. It was at this point that we came across Tom, another member of our group, and together we managed to stay on the trail and climb. Tom pointed out a petroglyph on a rock that I would have completely missed because of the direction it was facing!



The final climb to the top was a study in switchbacks. Matt is much stronger on the uphill’s than I am, so he powered on ahead. Tom kept me company and kept me encouraged as I dug into the burning in my glutes, hamstrings, and calves, pausing now and then to pant for breath. We were quickly up above everything else around us, the valley floor far below.

Yup! That's where we went!

Yup! That’s where we went!

Coming out of the switchbacks at the top, I was greeted by the rest of the group. We went to the side to get pictures on the edge of the cliff (of course!) and were surprised that we could see Weaver’s Needle way off in the distance!

Standing on the edge of the summit

Standing on the edge of the summit

After our brief rest we continued on, the whole group together, across the top of the mesa. We were up so high that around us was all grasses and juniper, with some cactus thrown in for fun! The trail was very faint, and sometimes we may not have been on it, but it was wonderful to be running so high.

Traversing the top

Traversing the top

The Descent

The difficulty of any climb is always fully rewarded in the descent. As we dropped off the top of the mountain, it was time to fly, and fly I did. Arms out and smile on, bring it on mountain!

Dropping off the mountain

Dropping off the mountain

Damn Snake

The dense vegetation and especially the grasses made it difficult to see trail at times, and occasionally we lost it. However, I don’t mind trail finding like this- it adds to the adventure. We were always quickly back on the trail. At one point, as we were going through fairly thick shrubs, there was the dreaded (for me) call of “Snake!” Thankfully it was just a gopher snake. After my close call last fall at Usery Mountain Regional park where a Western Diamondback actually struck at me and I was probably within an inch of being bitten, I have not gotten over my fear of venomous snakes.

Some More Ascent Followed by More Descent

Did I say “The Descent” up above somewhere? Silly me. For some reason, I thought we would climb up to the top of the mesa, and then it would be all downhill back to the parking lot. It was not.

We did go down to a dry wash which we ran through for awhile, but then we went up again. And down again. And up again. And down again. (According to Matt’s Garmin, we had 3,241 feet of total elevation gain over the course of the entire run.) We went along a little creek with a dry tank and cottonwoods. And up again. By this time I was starting to really feel the food poisoning from two days earlier. Oh wait! Did I forget to mention that? Yes, I had a fairly severe bout of food poisoning that knocked me down for a couple of days. Up until I actually got out of bed on Sunday morning, I was still not sure I would be able to participate in the run. My stomach felt raw, angry, and tired on Saturday. On Sunday morning it just ached uncomfortably, but as soon as I started running, the pain went away. However, the weakness left behind after being drained by such an illness, the inability to eat much for a few days, coupled with some dry desert heat (only in the 80’s, so comparatively not bad), left me wiped. As in any run, though, the only way out is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, so I did.



The wash

The wash

I brought 70 ounces of water on this trip and I ran out. I was thankful for the member of our group who shared some of his water with me; I never got his name though. If you happen to read this, thank you!

When I started to see lots of hikers, I knew we were getting close, so I picked it up a bit and finished strong. It was hard and I was exhausted, but I finished at a solid steady pace and felt great about the accomplishment and experience of the day.

There was a hangout at the house of one of the group members’ after our run, but it was getting late and there was a long drive ahead of us, so Matt and I headed home. I was feeling completely crappy and Matt was hungry, so we stopped at Chipotle for lunch. All I wanted was tortilla chips, and let me tell you, the metamorphosis from zombie to human by just the ingestion of some carbs and salt is fascinating. After that, I was solid and drove home feeling great!

And so, another adventure ended. Another run spent basking in the beauty of creation, wind and sun on my face, while surrounded by good people. The trail called her siren song to me and I followed her. And I was truly happy.

Crown cactus

Crown cactus


Red mountainside

Ocotillo flowers

Ocotillo flowers