The King of Ignorance
Why would someone run a 50K a week after a 17 hour 50 miler? I don't know either. I'm going with a case of self diagnosed FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I ran Mesquite last year as my 2nd 50k ever and this would be my first chance to see what I could do against a previous time. Is that a good reason? Would I have ANY chance of beating last years time after the destruction of my body in the Supes? No, it's stupid in every way you think of it...so I did it anyway.
IRun...for Taylor Paige
So we started off. Already tired. Great start.
I fell in behind a few WMRC'ers Mark Cosmas and Grandpa Jim Fowley. Paulette was up ahead and my goal was to simply keep her in sight as she'll pull you up the mountain if you just keep your head down and bear it. I wasn't sure my body was ready for a full on Paulette day so I decided to just keep her in eyesight and try to catch her by Goat Camp, mile 13.1. Until then I fell in the first 20-30 people and ran behind Mark Cosmas from WMRC for a while. I jogged along the beautiful, clean dirt trail surrounded by green and cacti staring at the back of Mark's shirt, his tech shirt for his upcoming opening of his new running store IRun. I only recently heard about it and thought it was a pretty self explanitory name for a shoe store. I get it. Cool logo. Nice shirt. I'll stare at cactus or maybe I'll get my headphones out. But then I notice his shirt and see there is more to the shirt...for Taylor Paige right below it. Without getting into the sadness of it all I thought it was really special and it suddenly made sense to me. He's got me locked in for his store without a doubt.
I Feel Good-Which can only be bad...
Headed up one hill after another I started to get more loose and my legs started to feel better. I was still a little heavy in the legs but at least the running was coming a little easier. I started to pick up the pace and was following a woman who was wearing La Sportiva Crosslites. I only mention this because A) It's rare to see other people wearing them and B) They are men's shoes. I ran behind her for about a mile and decided she was too slow for me and made the risky decision to move past her up the hill and push on past a few more people in my quest to keep Paulette in sight. Up ahead there she was, just a couple switchbacks ahead of me wearing her Wonder Woman shorty shorts. No coincidence there were a few guys trailing right behind her up a few switchbacks. Weird. Grandpa Jim was right on her all the way up those hills, I tried to warn him that he's going to get beat up keeping up with her but he just thought I was kidding. Not kidding.
Heading through the first aid station, said hello to Boone and headed up the ridge. He killed Old Pueblo 50 last week with a 4th place finish in only 8:35. Clearly he's smarter than I am and sat out this weekends race. Then I randomly ran into a couple buddies who were out on the trail mountain biking and pushed on for the next five miles of mostly hills. The trails are great rocky singletrack though and very runnable as they switch their way up the mountains and run along the ridgeline.
Does Downhill Thrash Legs? YES.
At the top of the ridge before dropping down into Goat Camp I stopped to take a leak and thought about where this race was going? Am I going to keep running this pace and just cruise to a time to just say I did this race or am I going to try and beat last years time and say to hell with the fatigue and bruises and nagging injuries from last weekend? I chose the latter and with that I took off down the ridge. Non-stop thrashing with zero regard for my quads, or my quads feelings as we jumped, leaped, and flew down the rocky, jagged and downright dangerous trail. Slowly I started to get closer and closer to Paulette and Grandpa Jim, still a solid half a mile away but visable by the long off switchbacks either up the ridge, down the ridge or across the ravines. I pushed harder and harder running every single step of the uphills, downhills, and flats until the extremely rocky section slowed everyone else down as they traversed the loose rock and found their footing. I didn't. I kept going and feeling confident on that technical rock I just kept going and passed one person after another, not one of them where I didn't think, "Bet they pass me in an hour when I've BLOWN UP." Sure was fun flying by them then. Finally, Grandpa Jim shows up around the bend. I'm close. I come up on the other woman wearing my man shoes and pass her as she tells me, "I don't want to pass her yet" and then come up on Paulette. Mission Accomplished.
It felt great flying down the ridge and felt great knowing that I caught up to Paulette but after a couple miles with her I knew that after only seeing 9 other people head the other way back up the ridge that i was in front of WAY too many people and yes, I was indeed going to fall apart in no time. So at the 13 mile aid station I made sure to pound a lot of food. A full banana, gel, trail mix, two waters, gaterade and even a mountain dew. Jon Roig came in as all the people I passed came in and left and Jon and I headed back up the long, steep and neverending downhill we just came down. Jon wasn't in a major hurry either as he put in the Old Pueblo 50 Miler the previous weekend as well so we plugged away the next chunk of miles together in what was the worst part of me entire race last year. Climbing out of Goat Camp.
It's not that it's so steep its just that it's so damn steep and long. You just keep climbing, forgetting I guess how long it was as you ran down it just an hour before. Last year...wow...I was hurting bad and it is only 15 miles in by the time you start to climb. I made it of course and this year Jon and I together put in a decent attempt at the climb and he pulled away after one of the last ridges as it became more runable. I let him go (meaning he's faster than me) and used Jon as my lead guy I was going to keep in view. He plugged along a good 5-10 minutes ahead of me as I put the headphones in and tried to keep a steady pace down the ridge. I knew it was still several miles until the 22 mile aid station and all of it runnable so I needed to put in some good time if I was going to have any chance at breaking last years time or even 6 hours. It was already getting hot by now and I could feel it. I kept Jon in sight for another couple miles before starting to feel a little better, little more hydrated as I tried to drain my pack knowing the aid station was coming up.
I passed a couple guys catching up to Jon and finally ran into him less than a hundred yards from the aid station where once again I caught Grandpa Jim. We ran in there together and started filling up our packs. Boone comes over and checks on us and asks how we are doing. I definately was feeling the fatigue at this point and while feeling great not 3 minutes ago that disappeared immediately as I stopped for food and water. Not 30 seconds later Michael Miller comes flying down into the aid station right behind us. Where the hell did he come from??!!
Final Climb - Quiting is Underrated
Back down to the dungeon I go. Leaving mile 22 Aid Station I really was not interested in this race. Usually in the past right around this point I start to feel really great and push through some really fast miles but I just did not feel like it at all right now. I left the station with Michael and Jon and we hiked up the ridge on the second to last climb. It's the second time for us through this section and once it leveled out Jon, Michael and now Grandpa Jim took off and started running. Me? I walked. I didn't care right about then. Dungeon. Pity party. I was having such a great little pity party I thought clowns and balloons would start showing up. No clowns ever came but I did my best to stay hydrated in the heat, take some s-caps, eat some trail mix and just walk until I felt better. Unfortunately that ended up being the next four miles...
Pity Party Over- I'm sick of the heat, let's RUN!
Despite the legnthly section that I walked I didn't lose sight of Grandpa Jim so I at least knew I was relatively close and at the top of the final climb on Ford Canyon I knew there was a very step, long, technical, rocky downhill that I could bomb down and make up time on. I did my best to hike harder as I got up to the ridge and then started the fast decent in attempts in catching someone, anyone. I spotted Jim as I neared the bottom of the downhill and passed him shortly after. He was cramping a bit but otherwise was doing ok. I thought about walking with him but dropped down into the sand and just kept running.
Ford Canyon is a Race Directors dream and a runners nightmare. It's a wash essentially, a dry river this time of year. So you run on mostly deep sand among the large river rocks and towards the end there are massive sections of rock you have to stop and downclimb. You cannot run this. You are forced to use your hands, slide down, crawl down or jump down. It's a really awesome section in reality just at mile 27 you feel less than excited to do it. I kind of like it though as it forces you to bend your legs and stretch it out. I'm just always a little freaked out there are rattlesnakes hiding in the nice cool sand under the rocks you are dropping down to.
So having done this section three previous times I know the best way to get through Ford Canyon is to run every step of it. Stay on top of the sand and keep moving. Hiking it your feet sink into the sand more, it takes forever and the sand reflects the heat which at this point feels like 95 but I know is probably nowhere close to this. So i kept running and held onto the magically dream of breaking six hours. I had already given up on breaking my time last year. Four miles of walking runnable trail will do that to you but if I can win the consellation prize of a sub 6 hour race I'd be happy. Of course I have no watch so I have no idea what time it is as I climb out of Ford Canyon, over the technical, super steep down climbs and back onto runnable singletrack. I know there is one final aid station coming up and that is 3 miles from the finish. So close. I'm exhausted. I think I have a bone spur. I'm sick of gels. I don't want to eat. I'm just going to run.
Finish Strong. No Matter What.
I came into the final aid station and asked the time. 12:35pm they said. Six hour mark is 1pm which means I have to run the last 3 miles in under 8:20 min/mile pace. I do not have that in me. No way. The aid station volunteers say, "You can do it! It's all flat from here. You're doing great!" I replied, "I did this race last year and I know there are two hills left!" They all laugh in agreement and I headed out.
My body kept telling me that I had no chance of running anything less than 10 minute miles. I felt like just accepting the time I get and not even worrying about pushing it these last few miles. That worked for the first 200 meters after the aid station and then my competitive mind took over.
I started pushing it harder and trying to take bigger strides so it at least feels like I'm making progress. I can't believe how freaking tired I am. Far more tired than I ever have been at this stage of a 50k. I take the first hill on and thank GOD there were two girls hiking down the hill. Enter Super Strong Runner Mode to impress the girls I have no interest in, have no interest in me or will never see again. Yet it happens every time. Some would call it machismo. I call it stupid. Either way I ran the entire hill and at the top of the ridge I gathered myself back up, held in the vomit and pushed down the short hill before the last small ridge. After pushing up that one I came down the downhill into the furnace.
The last 1.5 miles of the race course always feels so freaking hot. This year it felt so much worse. It's not even that hot either. In two months we'll be DREAMING for 90 degrees to run in but right now, in March, I'm not quite used to it yet and my body was cramping, my tongue was dry and I was fading fast. I didn't have any juice to keep up the pace. Luckily, more people started popping up along the trail. Re-enter Super Strong Runner Mode. Have to impress the people I'll never see again afterall.
The last section of any race I can rely on nothing more than the thought and cheers of people as you approach the finish line and sprint through the chute. That thought alone gives me arush of energy and keeps my legs pumping the last mile to the finish. I rarely ever see people sprint across the finish line in an ultra. I'm usually not there for the super fast guys to finish so maybe they push it in but most people are just happy to be done. Not me. I want to make sure every single last drop of energy is gone when I'm done, and so I sprint every single time.
Today would not be any different. I was breathing down the neck of a 6 hour race and I knew I was going to be close. I didn't have watch to tell me I had an extra minute or I was already over the time so I had to run with the assumption that I still had a chance at the mark and if I kept running hard I could get there in time. I rounded the last turn towards the finish and the last 1/4 felt like three miles until I finally came out of the cacti and saw the finish line. I had already started to pick up the pace but that instant that I see the finish I get a burst of energy and my turnover is doubled or tripled as I fly by for the best part of the race. I turn off my music and sprint as hard as I possible can at that moment until I hear the beep and feel the rubber matt under my feet as I cross the line. 12:58:44. Just over a minute to spare. Under 6 hours. Thank Goodness.
Just as I crossed the finish line a volunteer hands me a finishers award and I have to tell her to hold on. Seriously?! Did you not just see me run full sprint the last 150 meters at the end of a hard ass 50K? I can't even see straight and my legs just might give out completely any second as I hold back from vomitting in front of everyone. I did my best to be polite in saying I'd be back to get it and hope she didn't think I was being rude by telling her to hold off. I promptly went over and collapsed on the concrete floor. Glorious.
Memory of a Hamster
Grandpa Jim came rolling in shortly after me with really solid time just over 6 hours. Jon in the end only beat me by a minute or two which is pretty amazing considering I thought he was long gone and he thought he had left me way behind in the end. Paulette ran an amazing race and won the Women's race with a 5:16 or so and beat that La Sportiva woman in the last couple miles to extend her win streak to two years! To top it off that woman was Keira something who won Angeles Crest 100 so it's even more impressive.
As always happens I forget about the dungeon moments of the race within one bowl of soup post race and a Snickers bar. I cross the finish line and sit around recapping the race with everyone that you went back and forth with, not against, but with all through the race. That's what really makes the races fun and it makes it that much better on a course as tough as this and as beautiful as this. Better yet, we'll all be seeing each other soon enough as most of the people are also running the Zane Grey 50 in a few weeks. Game On.
http://www.aravaiparunning.com/ for next years race!
First Water Trailhead- The Beginning of the End
This wasn't ever going to be a race. This wasn't ever going to be a speed run. This was never even going to be a twelve hour run. But I don't think I ever really imagined it being as long, brutal, exhausting, unrelenting as it turned out to be.
At 5am the three of us set out from First Water Trailhead in the dark. Nobody else out there, quiet as possible, it was a new moon so there were a billion stars over our heads as we ran down a nice stretch of wide, packed, clean dirt doubletrack weaving our way through a forest of teddy bear Cholla. Our headlights bobbing up and down as we climbed over the rock faces and back onto the nice stretches of clean trail. It wasn't but two miles before our group leader Jeff Jones took a fall and cut his hand up. Nothing major but a sign of things to come and certainly not the last to draw blood. Then we were off to the Boulder Canyon trail. The word "Trail" may be a little exhaggerated so maybe something more like Boulder Canyon Cairn Search would be appropriate here. Crossing Boulder Canyon again and again, slow going through cat claw our pace dwindled quickly. From Boulder Trail we made our way to Calvary Trail which wound it's way through Marsh Valley, (picture below) a beautiful stretch of singletrack surrounding by high rock walls and giant cacti surrounding the winding trails.
Marsh Valley was a nice section of runnable trail that kept wandering its way through an assortment desert plant life and cacti. Being March the desert is just now starting to come alive with faint patches of grass growing and the beginning stages of a bloom on some of the ocotillo and palo verde. In a couple weeks this area is going to be National Geographic pretty. Seriously. The desert in bloom is as beautiful a sight as any autumn in Vermont or summer in Colorado.
Marsh Valley hooked up with LaBarge Canyon on the Dutchman Trail. This stretch I had previously been on a couple times and is really pretty as it winds its way down the canyon surrounded on both sides by massive red rock walls. As the trail converges with the elevation of the river the area is overgrown with Cottonwood trees and leaves scatter the ground. Which of course is always a welcome sight to the desert runner who only gets the thorns, cacti, cholla and snakes at your feet. Rarely leaves. +5 points. Add in it's a very runnable stretch and we were running and having fun as we neared the intersection with Peter's Trail...
Up to this point the run is beautiful but nothing difficult or unusual. Of course there's a reason I just wrote that. Enter Peter's Trail...
I don't know you, but I don't like you Peter- Miles 8-16
Whoever Peter was that this trail was named after...well...he needs to talk to someone about his trail. It sucks. BIG TIME. Right off the bat you climb this nice ridgeline that again really wasn't even a "trail." The trail consisted of the area you pushed the holly and catclaw away from you as their accomplice's at your ankles dig their claws into your flesh. Over and over and over again. The "trail" wound it's way to the top of the plateau where for the first time I could see into the Wilderness Area to the East. All of this was untouched to me and all new so I was excited to see what the central corridor had in store for us. Apparently it was more catclaw and holly...in reality though this is what makes running trails so much fun. When I see a mountain range I don't think "oh, another mountain range," but instead, "What's on the OTHER SIDE of that mountain range" or what's inside that range, I wonder what water is out there, wonder what trees are growing there. Driving around Phoenix you can always see Superstition Mountain, the western most edge of the Superstition Wilderness and I've always from Day 1 living here wanted to see what lied inside that area. Today was my chance.
We ran along the top of the ridge through some very sparse vegation minus a few agave and low lying cacti. Crusing along we hit the edge of the cliff that stood a good five-eight hundred feet above a river. Under normal circumstances this cliff would have led me to search around for the way down but Jeff found what looked to be the way down and of course it was straight down the rock face. We soon got the good news though, the overgrown cat claw was sufficient in keeping our speed down. At the bottom of the canyon we regrouped and took off again for what was arguably the worst stretch of the entire 51 miles. The next 3 miles was at a miserably slow pace picking our way through a severely overgrown trail. Every step was a scratch, cut, pull, tear or some kind of curse waiting to happen. Clearly everyone else felt the same way as nobody was talking. Finally after not being able to walk any of that entire valley we make a good sized climb out of the canyon to a nice vista overlooking yet again another valley. Powering down through the prickley pear and then right back up the other side I started to feel good just being able to run again. We bounced up and down through one small valley after another until we reached a large downhill overlooking what would be the Mile 17 Trailhead. Disaster overted. Peter's Trail, the worst is past us....
Search & Rescue Teams...That's a Good Sign...
Coming down Peter's Trail was a lot of fun. Jeff and I came down the big hill on some seriously loose rock with sharp corners and unforgiving corners until halfway down we came up on a search party with the Superstition Search & Rescue Service out gridding out locations for a missing Utah man from late 2009. They naturally were interested in the three people running down the steep, rocky mountain face out in the middle of nowhere.
"Where are you coming from?"
"First Water Trailhead" Jeff said casually...
Eyes got wide quick as they all realized how rough the 15 miles were just coming from First Water over the stretch we just covered..."How far are you going today?" they asked.
"Back to First Water Trailhead. After we take the loop around. Should be about 50 miles and be back around dark."
After more discussion on how they found the three missing Utah miners last fall (one of them less than 3 miles from First Water Trailhead...) and that we were welcome to help ourselves to the water at their vehicles at the bottom of the mountain we pushed on and said goodbye. Down the mountain and across the river a few more times we met with their vehicle team, had a good fresh bottle of water and moved on to the JF Trail.
11:30am and only 17 miles deep...
Where the F*** is Paul??!!- Miles 17-25
Taking off from the end of Peter's Trail onto the nice dirt road was a godsend and while it only lasted for a quarter mile it was great to be able to cruise along without anything slapping at your legs and arms. The JF trail is long and travels North to South generally through the central part of the Wilderness. It starts out with us on a single track on a high plateau with great views of Four Peaks back view, rugged range of mountains and canyons to every direction. The trail itself was incredibly rock (see picture below if you don't believe me...) and was a non stop climb for what seemed like hours and hours. Less than 20 miles in and I started to have doubt creep in already that I was not ready for this level of running. This was kicking my butt. We were already over 6 hours on our feet and less than 20 miles in?? Bad sign. Yet there wasn't an area we could have gone faster, the terrain was just brutal and was really beating us up. Add in the rising temperature and it was getting very, very challenging. Head down, time to step it up. Just keep climbing.
One climb after another we made it up to the top, great view, then down a short steep decline that wasn't runable for more than 25 feet before a block in the trail forced you to a crawl. Then hiking until it opened up which lasted for only 20 feet before again...crawling around a bush or cactus or massive rock. Some parts of the trail would just straight up disappear and leave us searching around for another cairn before resuming our breakneck 3.0 mph pace. Plugging away though we kept climbing, kept finding the trail and kept moving until we finally made it to Tortilla Pass, the start of a long 3+ mile downhill. Under normal circumstances this would be an opportunity to pick up time and race down to the valley below, strech the legs a little and make up some time. Not here. 3+ miles of downhill on the JF trail means risking your life or limb or both if you chose to open it up on the trail through so many thick bushes and cacti. After the worst of it I trailed behind Jeff as he pushed the pace headed down the mountain. All of use are out of water and in great need of a refill. The last five plus miles have been in the upper elevations and without any springs and we needed access to something soon. So our motivation became reaching the next water sooner rather than later. I pushed the bushes as best I could and kept up behind Jeff as he did a great job keeping us moving. Paul was somewhere behind us as he usually is and would surely be there soon after us. Jeff & I bounded down the switchbacks that overlooked vertical drops into areas no helicopter would ever discover until a few miles later we reached a small river with a few pockets of remaining water. None was particularily inviting but with a few minutes my UV filter fixed up the water as best it could and I refilled my bladder and started chomping on a PB & Honey sandwich as Jeff filled up on water. A few minutes later Paul had still not arrived. I kept eating and drinking. A few more and Paul had not arrived...then a few more...
...Then a few more...
...until it had been 30 minutes...
...then 45 minutes...
Jeff started back up the trail an started yelling for Paul. No response. He goes up farther and starts yelling again. No response. Something must have happened.
I get my gear back together, packed and on my shoulders and start back up the trail to help find Paul. Right now we are 6-7 miles from where we left the Search & Rescue team. But that is easily a couple hours away and they were leaving at 3pm and it was already after 1pm. The road to Woodbury cabin is a couple miles away to the South and that's not easy ground either. Not to mention the road itself is never used and it would be a miracle to come across a vehicle to help. Even worse I left my SPOT GPS messenger at home. Stupid. Dumb. Moronic. One button on that thing and we'd have a helicopter rescue. They'd know exactly where we were and we could sit tight until they came to help if Paul broke something or worse. Now we are going to have to build a splint out of an agave trunk, I only have 3 feet of rope in my pack, I guess I could cut my shoelaces...at least I brought a first aid kit..
Headed back up the mountain with Jeff we were quiet. Both certainly thinking the worse because at this point nearly an hour after we both had reached the bottom there was no reason Paul would not have come down the mountain. The route was skinny, very, very rocky and each corner overlooked a steep precipice. He easily could have rolled an ankle and slipped down the ridge, hit a rock and broken a leg or worse. As Jeff and I clamber up the ridge exhausted we quietly peer over the edge looking for any sign of Paul's colored shirt or pack, hoping to God we don't see anything. Climbing further and further we make it about halfway up the mountain and suddenly Jeff yells out, "There's Paul!!" Sure enough...there he is running down the trail.
He did fall. Fell and got up and somehow thought he had passed us so when he went down the hill and didn't see us he turned around thinking maybe he went too far and possibly missed a turn. So he started climbing back UP the mountain while Jeff and I were sitting down at the river bottom waiting for him. It wasn't until he was part way up the first set of steep switchbacks that he realized he was wrong and turned back around and went back DOWN the mountain where he soon ran into the two of use headed up to find his body. Relieved that he was alive but seriously upset that we had just spent the last 30+ minutes thinking we were going to find Paul's body in a ravine we made our way back down the mountain. Live and Learn. At least he was ok.
Are we done yet? Miles 25-33
After that episode I was really no longer interested in running. My body felt like I had finished 50 miles already. My stomach was revolting in the heat and from being dehydrated during the JF trail section with no water. Emotionally I was still realing a little from the thought of Paul falling off a cliff. Although honestly not so much about Paul but far more selfishly that if Paul got hurt or worse...I knew I would never be able to go on these kinds of runs again. Everyone that cares about me would all but ban me from anything outside of a track. They already think it's "dangerous" to do trail races so this would only support their stereotype. Aside from my typical mid race downer I was happy to get to the second half, past the worst sections of the trail and into some runnable and more familiar sections. Unfortunately that wouldn't come for some time...
Woodbury Trail to Coffee Flats was a lot of wash running. In and out of river beds finding the trail, losing the trail, running/walking down deep, sandy river beds until climbing back out to a narrow trail that led us to Coffee Flats. Coffee Flats was half terrible/half best running ever. First half sucked and was a major low point for me. We were making such a slow pace, less than 3 mph that all I could do was punch the numbers in my head and predict the finish time which was hours past the time I told my fiance I would be home. Knowing this I knew she would only start to worry after I was an hour or two late and that quickly started to dominate my mind more than anything my legs or stomach were telling me. Obviously this was something that Jeff had been thinking as well and he responsibly asked our opinion on cutting pieces of our route short to get to Peralta sooner and use a hikers phone in the parking lot to call his wife so everyone would know we were behind schedule but ok. We decided to cut out the Red Tanks Trail>Whiskey Springs>Dutchman Trail and instead stay on the Coffee Flats>Dutchman>Peralta which was more of a straight shot and allowed for more running miles and hopefully a faster time. I'd wanted to see the Red Tanks Trail but had no issues with the change if it meant that people would worry less.
Once we started to get 5-7 miles away from Peralta you could tell as more and more hikers were making their way up the river to campgrounds. The trail cleared out for the first time in over 15 miles and we were able to run through some beautiful stretches of grass covered desert with nice tree cover. The sun was starting to come down as we came upon a water tank for cattle. The guys filled up as I ate some trail mix, passing on water as i had a 100oz bladder i filled up only 5 miles ago. We headed off running and collectively feeling better as the trail continued to be open, winding and absolutely beautiful in this massive open valley of giant Saguaro cactus and towering cliffs. I felt great through this entire stretch. Even my right knee which I tweaked on a rock a few miles back and was seriously bothering me all along started to loosen up and was less of a concern. At one point I was seriously considering dropping at Peralta because of my knee but by the time we reached the pass leading into Miner's Needle and when Peralta was nearly in sight I was feeling great and we were all off and running.
I always find it interesting in ultra running how short term my memory really is. Just a few hours ago we were hiking through some ridiculous terrain that mountain goats probably bitch about when they go over to see their inlaws for dinner at night. Broken, twisted, tearing, disappearing, menacing trails. Yet, here I was just a few hours later, a few handfuls of trail mix, some cold water, a washed face, setting sun over some incredible Saguaro, rock faces and generally perfect and every way mountains I couldn't help but think..."Totally worth it." Right there, right then. Already forgot and the entire Peter's Trail, JF trail and Woodbury trail were forgotten by this perfect trail winding it's way up and down and around these massive Saguaros. Everybody I know runs for a reason. This is mine.
Peralta Trailhead- I Love You- Mile 40-13 Hours deep...
Coming into Peralta felt like dropping down the ravines in Zane Grey at their aid stations. Coming down the ridge you can see cars in a parking lot, as you get closer you start to see people moving around and hear their voices. Except you get there and there is no water. There is no food. There is no cheering. There are no chairs to sit in as someone fills your bladder. It's amazing the effect aid stations do have on you. That moral support, that genuine care and encouragement that the volunteers put into you at those little in between marks at a race. Invaluable. I love that about the Zane Grey race. Awesome volunteers but also that you can see them for some of their aid stations as you come down off the mountain. It's like taking 5 gels at once and always bumps me up a dozen notches. I could have used it at Peralta. And some water as I'd been out of water for the last five miles and we ran nearly all of it. Thirsty wasn't even the start of it.
Jeff asked a reluctant hiker to use his cell phone to call his wife to let her know we had ten miles left and would be later than expected. For some reason the hiker didn't seem to want to let us make this one phone call that cost him no money. At least he helped us but really didn't understand the reluctance. As we started up the Peralta trail, a nice 2-3 mile climb with over 2,000 feet in climbing to the Freemont Saddle, Jeff thought ot ask a woman who just finished if she would spare a bottle of her water for me. She graciously (see..she gets it!) offered me a full 16oz bottle (REI shopper...+5 Kharma points) and we thanked her several times and started up the last major climb of the day. It was already getting dark around 6:30pm and we still had 10 tough miles to go. The motivating part of it all was we had all three done this strech before and could do it in the dark. Only ten left. Time to knock it out.
Underestimated this climb...BIG TIME...
I couldn't believe how long this climb was. I had it in my head it was like hiking Camelback Mountain and we'd be up it in an hour. Yeah...not even close. It just keeps going and going and going. I stubbornly just kept going up as it got darker and darker. I was determined to keep my headlamp tucked away inside my bag until I made it to the Saddle. Had we not talked about mountain lions for the last 14 hours of the hike I might have made it but I was freaking myself out as I climbed up the rocks that I was going to get jumped from above by a giant mountain lion that was out to eat my heart. I hiked past a giant rock overhang, talked myself into thinking it was a den full of mountian lions, scrambled ahead a few feet where there was a pool of water and got my headlamp out immediately. A minute later the guys caught up and said, "Good, you found some water. Let's take a break and fill up." "Yeah...umm...that's what I was doing...good plan." I said.
So we filled up for what would be our second to last time on the edge of this cliff with a trickle of water coming out of the rock. The UV filter works amazing at night as you can easily see it working (we hoped) in the dark and we knocked out a few bottles for everyone so we didn't have to wait unti the iodine drops Jeff had been using worked. I dug out my long sleeve shirt that I almost didn't even bring and threw on my gloves, downed another PB& Honey sandwich, a gel, and we were ready to push through the last 8+ miles. It was dark now and the mileage wasn't coming quick. We got up slowly and stiffly and made our way back up the ridge. At the Saddle we stopped for just a second and started down the long, steep switchbacks of the Peralta Trail towards familiar territory in the Dutchman Trail. This section is one of the most beautiful in the area I think so it's a shame we got to it so late and in the dark. Most of the trail is along the ridgeline on bedrock where you have incredible views all around on every side and one step either way and you're going for a long ride down the cliff. In the dark though, it's just a trail with a big white circle. To be fair, I'm not sure how much I really would have cared at that point anyway.
Down Peralta we made it FINALLY to the intersection with Dutchman Trail. We filled up one last time in a pool of water and started off running down to meet up with the First Water Trailhead. I led the group and darted down the path now only 5.2 miles from our vehicles. My mind takes over my body at this point when I know the finish is only a matter of minutes away. In a race I simply imagine the cheers as they see you approach and I get excited with the sheer thought. I can conjure up that image at any time now and save it for these moments when I'm really tired, really beat, and caffine is just not working, music is not doing it and I'm just tired of being on my feet. The image of the finish line works every time and it worked this day. I ran like I just started out. The temperature dropped drastically as it does in the desert and suddenly we were seeing our breath, my nose was dripping and my ears were cold. I slowed up for the guys to catch up a couple times again not wanting to get attacked by a cougar because I seperated myself too much from the group (this is called self induced paranoia...). I really did feel so much better and caught myself several times running long sustained rocky hills as we climbed up Parker Pass. It was really encouraging to feel that strong at that point but didn't want to put too much distance between the group. Moutain lion attacks aside we were running as a group, ran as a group and should finish in the same couple minutes. Mile after mile we jogged, ran walked sections seemingly always right around the corner from the trailhead but never really quite there. One ridge after another until finally, FINALLY we hit the intersection with Second Water Trailhead. .3 miles from First Water Trailhead. I ran that final uphill without reprieve until I reached the trailhead. Non stop, uphill, full speed with the cheers of volunteers ringing in my head with every step.
Most Challenging Run Ever
Despite how hard I felt I ran the last third of a mile up the hill I was happily surprised to turn around 30 seconds later to see Jeff and Paul flying up the hill right behind me closing out an incredible run strong. Immediately my first thought was to let my fiance know we were ok as we had just finished 51 miles in 17 hours and 35 minutes. We were expected to be back about 2-3 hours ago. She was worried but happy to hear from me and after an hour drive home I'd be in my living room. Exhausted. Destroyed physically. Changed.
There are a few times in everyone's life when something happens to you that leads you years later in life to look back and say, "I can't believe i did that. I can't." A couple days later after this run and that's all that goes through my mind thinking about this run.
People have run 50 miles before. That's not new. People have run 100 miles, 200 miles, people have run across deserts, countries, you name it. To me though this run was more than just a 50 mile race, run or hike. This was something else. The solitude, ruggedness, route finding, climbing, the sheer number of rocks on the trails and cactus covering trails makes every footstep harder than anything I would have expected. Incredible doesn't even start to begin to describe this day. To be able to share it with such great runners as Jeff Jones and Paul Rondeau makes it even better. Fun guys, great sense of humor and always entertaining and supportive. As it always seems to be the case, it's the people you run with that makes the day, not the trails, scenery or running itself. That certainly was the case with this adventure.
Here it Comes
It's amazing how quickly perceptions can change. A little over a year ago my idea of a weekend was hanging out with friends, housework, going to coffee or breakfast, maybe taking a trip somewhere. While I still like to fit all of that in it's certainly taken a dynamic shift in how I spend my weekends.
This weekend would be a great example. The Plan? 50 Mile "Fun" Run.
I remember last April when I signed up for the Copper Basin Fun Run 50K how I thought "why is it called a fun run if it's 30 miles..." only to then realize later it's simply denoting the fact that it's not an official race, just an organized training run so to speak. At the time I remember thinking how idiotic that was, how crazy to think of just going out to run that long and you don't even get a t-shirt or credit for it on Ultrasignup.com or some kind of prideful boast to show you completed it.
Now? I LOVE the "Fun Run." Don't get me wrong. I LOVE gearing up for a big race, starting off the race knowing i'm going to have to run hard all day and with every person I pass I'm that much closer to first. (not that i ever get that close but you get the point.) With a Fun Run though you are usually able to go out into areas that you cannot have an organized race due to it being in a nationally recognized protected area, a reason that many trail races have gravel roads, fire roads or even pavement sections. You just can't have a great trail race in the great wilderness areas out there. It's great on one hand but disappointing when you look at how absolutely incredible some races would be in the right areas. Like the Superstition Wilderness Area near Phoenix, Arizona.
Most Beautiful Place outside the Grand Canyon???
The Superstition Wilderness Area is a protected collection of desert mountains, canyons, rivers, slots, and diverse vegetation ranging from 2,000 ft to 5,000+ in elevation. It's in Apache Junction, Arizona an eastern suburb of Phoenix and part of the cities surrounding skyline.
The Wilderness area is unique for many reasons and more so for the reasons pertaining to trail races. One is it's just so diverse in it's terrain. You have massive saguaro cactus, forests of Teddy Bear cholla, buckhorn cholla, prickly pear, and every variety of cactus out there. You'll run across white rock bedrock, past sandstone cliffs, massive pillars of rock, slot canyons, forests of cottonwood trees and all along a perfectly rocky, rugged, ruthless stretch of singletrack that goes on...and on...and on...in a collection of trails over 140 miles long.
As it is already the area is set up perfectly for an organized race. First Water Trailhead is large enough to hold the vehicles for parking, restrooms are there already, overflow parking is available. The trail is wide in the start, major trail intersections are already marked with fencepost. One major trail, The Dutchman, travels all the way across, North to South, and meets with the Peralta Trailhead. Peralta is also home to a large parking area which is perfect for setting up aid. The trip back to complete the loop includes the 1,500 ft climb in the two miles up Peralta to a spectacular view of the area and the majestic Weaver's Needle. Coming down Peralta is a dream trail. Ridgeline running while overlooking massive canyons, red rock singletrack on the edge of the drop off, flying down the ridge on what feels like a magazine cover for National Geographic.
50 Miles of "FUN"
Knowing all of this through the Superstition Wilderness 50K I put on back in Janaury for some friends as well as other hikes and runs I've done out there I'm even more excited to see what a 50 mile trip through the Wilderness will hold this Saturday. My friends from the East Coast make the argument often that there are no "wilderness" areas in Arizona when you don't have forests. Conventional wisdom may say that to some but when you get out into the desert in those lonely canyons you suddenly realize you can't possibly be in anything more "wild" than where you are right then. Some of those areas in the 'Supes are so remote, so untouched, so wild people get lost, bewildered and in a heck of a lot of trouble really quick. It's as wild as it gets regardless if there are little trees.
Training for this run was going great up until last week when I slid into second base playing softball of all things and destroyed the first 2.3 million layers of skin on my left shin. That perpetual pain left me with a massive road rash on my leg, major swelling for a week on that leg and ankle and a 101.2 degree tempature the following night as my body continued with the internal mantra of "You are a moron Jeremy. You are a moron. Look what you did THIS time." So due to that slice of luck I was not able to run a lick all week long. I hiked 4.5 miles in the McDowell Mountains Sunday morning for the first bit of exercise all week. Felt ok so I played softball again Monday night with no issues minus another slide on the same leg (luckily wrapped this time but no less painful...and no less stupid). Wednesday morning I ran with the WMRC group which was the first trail running I had done since the Cave Creek Fun Run Marathon 10 days prior.
So you could say I tapered. I had a great base going into last week after completing the 25 miles of rough Cave Creek run last Sunday and feeling absolutely wonderful afterwards. So I'm feeling ok that I didn't get to run last week and should be fine for Saturday. Knowing the 'Supes I'm sure there is some hiking involved as we push our way through Ironweed and catclaw as blood drips into our socks.
Harder than Zane Grey?
So come Saturday we'll see how in shape I really am. My real goal of course if Zane Grey 50 on April 16th which I was fortunate enough to complete last year in my first attempt at a 50 miler. I'm really looking forward to tackling that course again this year with a lot more miles and a lot more experience under by belt. My one thought though is...what if Zane Grey isn't even as hard as the Superstitions??
Very possible. We'll see.