Tag Archives: Joy

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!

 

 

 

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Aravaipa Mesquite Canyon 50K Race Report

My excitement was through the roof on Saturday afternoon; I had just peed, and my pee was an excellent light yellow color! I was all ready to crow about this to my friends until I realized where I was: at a Luau party in a beautiful home with people who don’t particularly enjoy running. Note to self: not an appropriate environment to discuss bodily functions. I calmly walked out of the bathroom, oddly still wrestling with the desire to boast about my urination prowess. The struggle is real, folks, the struggle is real.

Why was I so exultant about my ability to pee and its color? At 7:30 that morning I toed the start line for the Mesquite Canyon 50K, the finale for the DRT Series put on by Aravaipa Running. After any long run, especially if it is also a warm run, my goal afterwards is to drink until I start peeing. If I also pee during the race and/or directly after, all the better. So, my ability to urinate at my friend’s party (some giggles here, this is funny) had me extremely proud of myself.

My main thought at the start of this race was how ready I was for a long run. More and more frequently I find myself craving this familiar, quiet, settled-in frame of mind. I was ready to go.

The race started out fast and easy along the base of the White Tank Mountains at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, before running through the first aid station (at mile 2.4) and then turning right up into the mountains. I was quite familiar with this first switch-backing climb, having completed it a couple of times before at other races. It’s steep, but I had a good power hike up and before I knew it, I was up and out.

I was quickly at the second aid station at Mesquite Canyon and again, rather than stopping I merely made sure they had my number (they were checking runners in and out of the aid station) and kept going. As I hiked up the hill from here I reflected that this was probably going to be a very slow race because I was hiking so much of it (lots of uphill).

When the grade wasn’t too steep I ran, just working on keeping moving at a steady pace. I ran for a long time with my new friend Jonathan, discussing trails and trips. Eventually we hit trail that was brand new to me and I was enthralled. We were just a little below the towers, and the views out over the valley from these mountains were stunning, not to mention that we were running on single track and the luscious desert landscape that was closer in was simply begging to be gazed upon.

I knew that sometime soon I would be coming upon the first of two gnarly hills in this race, “Goat Camp”. After swooping along comfortably for miles, I rounded a corner and the trail simply dropped into a pristine example of divine, rocky technicality. My heart soared as I picked up the pace, arms flung wide for balance, allowing my feet to fall and slide down the slope. This dance I can do, I know it well. There was no time to think, I simply ran with gravity and we were one.  

Once the hill flattened out, I could feel the fatigue in my quads from my fun. I also needed a bathroom. Like really bad. I was desperately hoping for a toilet at the Bajada aid station, but just in case, I started eyeing the wash I was running next to for likely relief locations. Thankfully there was a toilet and I didn’t need to use nature’s litter box.

13.3 miles into the race and I felt great. The day was proving comfortable. Beforehand I’d been concerned about the heat, but that was not even an issue on this day. I refilled my pack and headed back out. I now had to climb UP the magnificent hill that I’d just bombed down. I ran along easily on the lower portions which were a gentle incline and then hiked the rest. I was up quickly and gone, back towards the Mesquite Canyon aid station.

I was feeling good until I started to feel my usual beginning twinges of side stitches. Why? Every. Single. Time. So frustrating. I had to slow down periodically because they’d get really bad, but when I was able to run through them, I tried to figure out what was going on. I tried breathing out when the foot on the same side as the stitch struck the ground. That sort of helped, but then what do you do when it spreads to both sides??? So, nope. I tried tightening my abs. Nope. Relaxing my abs. Nope. Then I tried just relaxing my whole body, especially my shoulders: “Ahhhhh.” I started to feel better! These stitches have become an issue on most long runs. They tend to eventually go away after a handful of miles (usually six or so) but I’d rather not deal with them in the first place.

I was able to pick my pace back up into Mesquite Canyon aid where I refilled my pack again. I was starting to chafe so I lubed up. I also snarfed a bunch of food and reapplied sunscreen, forgetting the small of my back. Oops.

I was off again to climb the hill out of this aid station for the second time that day. But this time I would be turning away from Bajada aid and towards the final stretch of the race which included the second gnarly hill in Ford Canyon. I only had about 8 miles left and I was done.

The trail up to Ford Canyon was fun; slightly technical, single track, pretty sights. I chugged along until the trail crested, and then it was a super fun bomb down the hill into the Ford Canyon wash. The wash was, well, a wash. Nice thick sand to slog through, with no clear trail per se. But it was pretty obvious that the wash was the trail, and the black polka-dotted orange ribbons placed as course markers simply confirmed I was going the right way. At a couple of places the wash was interesting with white rocks I had to scramble over (I love scrambling). I had assumed the entire Ford Canyon was in the wash, but suddenly, the trail veered up and to the right, out of the wash. I rounded a corner and there was this huge white boulder cliff face that, if there’d been flowing water, would have been a magnificent waterfall. I was exclaiming and hooting as I ran down the Ford Canyon trail. It was all filled with big rocks and again I was hopping all over and having a blast! I rounded a corner and suddenly, there was the Ford Canyon aid station. I took a second to eat a few bites, but then was off, having only about 2 miles left to the finish.

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Coming into Ford Canyon Aid Photo Credit: Matthew Hinman

I pushed these last miles and did my best not to walk. For the final mile I picked up the pace. My breathing was ragged but I knew I was almost done. I kept seeing the finish line tents in between the bushes, but I never seemed to be on the final stretch, until I was, and then I was done.

My friend Benedict was at the finish line taking pictures and he gave me a sweaty congratulatory hug. I was given my finisher glass which I filled with coke, and went and talked to my friends, who were either there giving congratulations or had had good races themselves. I also claimed my free pizza from Freak Brothers (nomnomnom) and relaxed, waiting for other friends to finish their races and for my husband to come and pick me up.

Remember how I’d been concerned that this would be a slow race? Well, I finished in about 6 hours and 30 minutes, which for me was phenomenal and I felt good about it. I was 7th female and 25th overall.

I also finished this race with some beautiful examples of excoriation (chafing- cool word, right?) and bright red sunburn (this on my lower back where I forgot to reapply that sunscreen). The stinging upon contact with hot shower water was exquisite (said with much sarcasm).

This race is by far my favorite of the DRT races. I’d wanted something with some climbing and technicality as training for Zane Grey and this delivered. My watch gave me somewhere around 4700 feet of climbing and as I’ve already said, this had some really fun technical stretches. That combined with the scenery made this race an epic way to end the DRT series and one that I can’t wait to run again.

And now my tale has come full circle. From the race I went to my friend’s Luau party and you know the rest!

Run on.

Featured Photo Credit: Matthew Hinman

Smelly Armchair Musings: On the Beauty of Being Yourself

“Just follow her feet. Just follow her feet. Just follow her feet. Oh god, where is the aid station?”

On this day, February 9, 2013, I ran with my friend Dawn at my first ultra, the Pemberton 50K. I’d wanted to “be an ultra-runner” for a while, and on that day I’d set out to try to earn that badge. I was a newb.

Dawn; she is amazing. She’s run numerous races, ultra and not, all over the place. She is kind and always has a smile and a word of encouragement for everyone. She loves her family, loves her friends, and loves the trails. This woman exudes calm, acceptance, generosity, kindness, humbleness, and grace. She taught me so much about myself, and all while simply being herself. She probably has no idea of the impact she has had on my life (well, perhaps until now).

Up until the Pemberton 50K, Dawn and I had been on group runs together. Just talking, chatting about whatever. We were friends and I enjoyed her company.

So we ran the Pemberton 50K. This race consists of two loops of Pemberton Trail at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It’s a good first ultra because it has minimal elevation gain and is relatively smooth running.

For the first loop, being the newb that I was, I ran too fast, I know that now. But at the time, I felt great, the pace felt fun, I was having a good time. Dawn was behind me a little bit. We came into the Start/Finish line aid station and Dawn, being much wiser than me, took a moment to stop and eat. I kept going.

As soon as I started on the second loop I knew I was in trouble. The flat course no longer felt flat. I couldn’t run. Everything hurt and my legs wouldn’t move. Dawn caught up to me while I was walking, and she was still running strong. I don’t remember now all of the words that were exchanged- I remember seriously hating life and hating the “hill”. She was kind and cheerful, as always, but not in an annoying cheerleader way, she was just herself. I ended up following her feet; she pulled me in this manner for miles (5? 6? 7? I don’t remember now.). All I remember of this time is her solid feet, consistently covering trail, and my struggle to keep watching them and not stop. It hurt. Eventually we came to a remote aid station and I just couldn’t run anymore. I told her to go ahead. I still had a bunch of miles (5? 6? Again, I don’t remember) to go to reach the finish line, and I needed to walk for a while.

So I walked. And felt sorry for myself for walking. One person passed me. Then another. I was still walking. Eventually enough people passed me that I decided that was enough of that, I was going to run again. So I did. It was a shuffle, really. Every little bump in the trail felt like I was climbing a giant mountain. My legs wouldn’t lift, but at least I wasn’t walking anymore.

Eventually I made it and I crossed the finish line of my first ultra. And Dawn was there and she congratulated me. I felt awful. I was cold. I remember leaving there and going to Starbucks to get a huge hot chocolate to drink- I was dehydrated, and hadn’t eaten well, and was a mess.

And that’s my experience of my first ultra, but this is about so much more than that. Every time I run any race, at some point the going gets hard and ALWAYS Dawn’s voice is there: “Just keep moving. One foot in front of the other finishes.” On my “Adventure Runs” (My friend Miguel calls these Amber Adventures) that I pursue in the desert, again, Dawn is always with me. This beautiful woman gave me so much more than she will ever know. These words don’t describe the impact she has had on me. I look up to her.

So why write this? Trail running is about community. We need each other, or at least, I do. Dawn never knew the impact she had on my life, she was just herself and she helped me to become the person I am today because of it. Perhaps this is a reminder to me. I don’t know, and will never know, my impact on the lives of those around me. How does my mere presence affect them? What about my words? My actions? I don’t know. But I love my community- I will choose to be there for them, to pour into them, as I have been poured into, because this is who I am. Perhaps there is someone out there who will always hear my voice on their runs, just as I always hear Dawn’s. Perhaps not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is my choice to love those around me while I am here simply because I can.

Thank you Dawn.

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!

A Ramble

“So how does a 50K work?” I was asked this question the other day and it completely confused me; I didn’t understand what was being asked. “Well, I mean, you don’t run it all at once right?” Oooohhhhh. Me: “Well, yes. You do.” I think there was confusion on their face.

It’s mind-boggling to me that there are people who haven’t heard of ultra-marathons; it is what I breathe. All I seem to be able to talk about is either geeky immunology or microbiology (or some other “ology” entirely), or running ultras and the best trails. Everybody I know is the same… well, at least regarding the latter part. I’m always wanting to hit that next trail, it’s constantly on my brain.

Perhaps this is the beauty of the trail running community here in Phoenix. We actually are a community. There are so many people who love the same dirt baths that I love, who aren’t afraid to push their bodies and indulge their curiosity to see how far that trail goes. Every day I see posts on Facebook asking if anyone is free for a run at this trail or that trail, or at a completely new trail. Any time, day or night (more nights as the temperatures begin to climb) people are usually able to find someone who is willing to hop on the trail with them. There are people here who want to be a part of what I love to do, as much as I want to be a part of what they love to do.

There is something incredibly freeing about running long. I know my body now better than I ever have. I know how to fuel it and hydrate it so I can keep going strong. Running long has given me confidence in my physical abilities, and given me reason to believe I am capable of many other things as well. I am seriously incredible. No really, you are too! Look at how our muscles all work together to propel us up a trail. It’s amazing: the brain is firing, the heart is pumping, feet are carefully placed, muscles strain, and sweat flows, all in perfect harmony that feels like agony that is beautiful. Incredible.

As I pursue my dreams and try to encourage others to pursue theirs, I often hear, “Oh no. I’m much too old for that now.” Wha…?????? How is this a thing? I desperately hope that I never, ever find myself in a place where the only reason I won’t pursue a dream is because I believe I’m too old. Too old to climb a mountain? No. Just… no. There is a difference between age and physical capability. If I am unable to climb a mountain because some part of me doesn’t work anymore, or is otherwise not well enough to do so, well then at least I climbed as many mountains as I could while I was able. But to forgo climbing a mountain only because of my age? This is absolutely not acceptable. The same with any other dream- to skip it only because of a strongly held belief that I am too “old”? Again, no. Something I have learned is that our beliefs shape everything about us. They shape our outlook on life, how we view others, how we view ourselves. All of this is simply a belief. When we change our beliefs (No, I’m not too old) our whole world changes.

So this ramble of a blog begins with consternation at the idea of running a 50K, moseys along into my amazing, local trail running community, and culminates at pursuing dreams. How does all of this tie together? Running long is not everyone’s dream, in fact, it’s not most people’s dream (weird, I know). And yet, we all have dreams. Some we have left behind for whatever reason, some we set on a back burner as life rushes by. Running long is how I grow in strength and confidence. It is my foundation for pursuing life. I fully believe I am meant, we all are meant, to pursue life. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s really not, but give me my long run, and I can promise you, I will live this life to its fullest. You should join me.

Superstition Mountains: Massacre Grounds Trail

I enjoy all kinds of trails, but one of my favorite kinds of trails are destination trails, even when (sometimes especially when!) these trails are in my own backyard. So what would make a local trail a “destination” trail? One that has some kind of really cool and unique feature that you look forward to appreciating during your time on the trail. Massacre Grounds Trail is such a trail because it goes out to a bluff and a (seasonal) water fall, and as any of us who live in Arizona know, anything with water is a cool place to go and see!

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise - By Matt

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise
– By Matt

Parking for this trailhead is located at coordinates 33.471412, -111.469378, and is in the same parking lot as the Jacob’s Crosscut Trail. Jacob’s Crosscut leaves the parking lot to the right towards the Siphon Draw trail, and is the route that most people take. This of course gives Massacre Grounds Trail a pretty high solitude factor. Massacre Grounds Trail leaves the parking lot on the left. There is a new, marked opening in the fence allowing easy access to the trail, and it is signed. The trail quickly enters and exits a wash, and then begins steady, though not steep, climbing all the way out the 2.9 miles to the waterfall.

Superstition Mountain from the Parking Lot - By Me

Superstition Mountain from the Parking Lot
– By Me

Trailhead Parking Lot - By Me

Trailhead Parking Lot
– By Me

When I left the parking lot for this run, mine was the only car there. I headed out into the early gray of dawn, looking forward to the quiet ahead of me.

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise - By Matt

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise
– By Matt

The lower part of the trail is very clear and easy to follow. The plant life through here is interesting and beautiful; different wildflowers, shrubs, and cactus edge the trail. Because the trail climbs immediately, you quickly begin having views out towards the valley behind you (if you stop to look). Most of the climbing on this lower section is at a very easy grade with some small rollers, and the trail is very smooth and clear of debris. There is one micro-hill shortly before the trail pops out at an old parking lot that is no longer in use. Keep right here, sticking close to the fence, and you will see the opening where the trail crosses the fence and continues on.

After the fence crossing, parts of the trail become intermittently rocky. Climbing the hill just past the fence crossing can be somewhat challenging because of this. After reaching the saddle there, though, the trail continues on to cross some tight washes with tall myrtle shading your path. The trail also performs some seriously fun twists that make a run incredibly fun. After climbing out of the wash area you come to a saddle that looks out towards mountains to the north. As I went through here the mountains looked like a painting; they were so regal and calming.

Continuing my climb after the couple of wash crossings, I reflected on how I’d been clearing spider webs from the trail with my face. It’s unpleasant, but it made me happy to know that I was the first one on the trail this morning!

The trail after the wash crossings becomes much rockier and a little steeper. It is here that you will want to ensure you are watching the trail as sometimes it can become a little unclear. However, it is much more clear now than it was in years past, and is well marked with cairns. As long as you look up and watch for them, you really shouldn’t have any issues following the trail. One of my favorite parts of this trail is actually just after this super rocky section- the trail goes up some smooth granite. It’s just an interesting formation that I enjoy running on.

Just after the smooth granite you will have almost reached the end of the trail. The trail forks and you can go left to look out over the bluff, or go right and head up to the waterfall. Both are very close at this point and it is worthwhile to do both if you have the time. The bluff is a great spot to sit and have a snack while looking out over the valley below. I, of course, like to dangle my feet over the edge- but I understand this is not for everyone. The trail up to the waterfall used to be difficult to follow, but it’s quite clear now. When I was there I could hear the water coming down over the rock from down the hill a little ways. Its shining black glimmer stands out against the red-brown rock and makes it very clear from far down the hill where your destination is. The area around the waterfall is fun to climb around in, with lots of boulders and bushes to play on.

Different Day: View from the Waterfall - By Matt

Different Day: View from the Waterfall
– By Matt

Different Day: Sitting in the Waterfall (it was dry) - By Matt

Different Day: Sitting in the Waterfall (it was dry)
– By Matt

My run back down was, of course, much faster since it was all downhill. I flew along, enjoying the twisting, technicality of the trail and feeling of my body negotiating its intricacies. Upon arrival back at the parking lot, mine was still the only car there. It was a great day for a great run.

Notes:

  • My Garmin gave me not quite 1200 feet of gain over the entire 5.8 miles.
  • This is an excellent trail to take children out on! I have taken mine here and they absolutely love that they are hiking to a waterfall and a cool bluff! My son especially enjoys climbing around on the boulders back by the waterfall.
  • If you want to show people some Arizona desert, this is a great trail to take them on. They will get some great views and will get to see how lush our desert really is.
  • The only amenities at this trailhead are numerous bushes for all of your call of Mother Nature needs. There is no water.

Whether you hike it or run it, this trail is a good time for whatever level you, your friends, or your family are at. Because it’s out and back, if you feel that the distance or climbing is too much, you can simply turn around and save the bluff and waterfall for a different time.
Depending on the weather, this is also a great trail to see wildlife:

Different Day: Tarantula - By Matt

Different Day: Tarantula
– By Matt

Different Day: Millipede - By Matt

Different Day: Millipede
– By Matt

Different Day: Toad - By Matt

Different Day: Toad
– By Matt

Different Day: Baby Rattlesnake - By Me

Different Day: Baby Rattlesnake
– By Me