82 Days and counting...
After the Tucson Marathon deflating defeat I went on vacation.
I was beat. I was working every day, long hours, and hours that never really ended with the phone, email and responsibilities tethered to me like a fish on a line. So getting back to Vermont, my home state, for Christmas and without access to phone and email was a dream.
Then I remembered that the weather there is absolutely terrible. This whole "winter" thing was quickly jogged back into my mind and I remembered that people owned coats and gloves back there. Twelve years in the desert does that to you but nonetheless I got out and ran. My first run was a 35 degree rain shower where I ended up running stronger, faster and easier than I had in months. I had nothing to worry about except finding my way back to our rented house. I absolutely hammered that run, every bit of it. Running through the rain and sloppy wet snow was more fun than I remembered. It was the single most fun run I've had in the entire year in running.
A week later I set out on Christmas Eve at 4:30am in 8 degrees. 8.
I ran 11 miles of trails with 3,500 feet of climbing, got lost, bushwhacked down the ridge, found the trail and flew down the mountain with a reckless disregard for my own safety only a drunk can appreciate. I finished down the grassy hill past a llama barn and my watch read a 3:43/mile pace for the max pace. Clearly my Garmin is broken...but again...one of the most fun runs I've ever had.
Those two runs in Vermont gave me hope that running could again be fun. For months it's been almost a chore getting training in. Partly because my work schedule has drained me so getting up at 4am for mile repeats on a track isn't exactly like someone just gave me Superbowl tickets. Doing it three mornings in a row doesn't add to the appeal either. Throw in a toddler who wants/needs attention as much as I want to give it to him and a wife who is wondering if I ordered a cot for my office or if I'm actually coming home from work one of these days. To say I've succumbed to "Runner's Guilt" more than my fair share of times is an understatement. It nearly killed me at Javalina Jundred when I went into that race averaging 33 miles a week of training, then Tucson with less than that.
Track on Tuesdays and then long runs on Saturday's does not equate to successful results in racing...
Fortunately I hate quitting as much as anything so instead of hitting my goals I instead just spend the middle of every race thinking about how I should just focus on my hidden talents in landscaping and bedtime stories and save the legs for carrying babies up our stairs. Then I get passed that dreaded wall, finish the race hard and magically forget how miserable I was and sign up for another race...it's a vicious cycle.
So I went into 2014 with another near empty training month to close out the previous year but with some great, and more importantly FUN, runs. With the turn of the new year comes the start of training for the most important race of the entire year.
The Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Race.
My "A" Race. My only race.
Everything else is just filler.
Last year I set a more than ambitious goal of breaking ten hours. My previous high was 12:26, followed by a terrible 13 plus hour finish in 2011. I skipped '12 to volunteer and in 2013 I finished in 10:36, 13th place overall. It was disappointing to not hit sub 10 but very gratifying knowing I gave it 100% from start to finish and didn't leave anything out there. I ran steady, strong and was passing people every segment of the race while never once getting passed by someone I didn't ultimately beat to the finish. I learned a lot about pushing past what you think is fatigue. Jay Danek paced me the final 17 miles and he pushed me hard to the finish. We'd come around a corner or over a ridge and spot a runner up front and he'd just give me a look over his shoulder and then immediately take off for the guy. We'd push a solid pace right past them and give a polite hello and speed on by. All the while my mind raced and prayed that they would just give up and not give chase because I could only hold that pace for the 40 more feet to the next bend where we could walk again...
We came across the finish line with more daylight left than any previous time I've ever run it. I was proud of that finish but it only left me wondering how in the world I'm going to take off 37 minutes next year and break 10 hours???
Race, you just have to race
I think the key for me is consistency and that's no small task. Already in 2014 I'm down 55 miles in January to what I ran in January 2013 and putting in the miles continues to be a real challenge. My time is so limited right now that heading out for back to back long runs on the weekends after working 60+ hours during the week is a tough sell with the wife.
And it should be. Ultimately running is down at the bottom of the food chain in our family, despite how important and prevalent it can be at times. Given the option of doing something with my little boy and my wife on the weekend, that always trumps a 5 hour run in the mountains. So instead I have to get up earlier, run faster, and get home sooner. Its certainly not ideal, I look back longingly at the weekends where I could just get up and run 8 hours and be back whenever I happened to finish.
Now I have to make every run count because it's a common occurrence that work or life will interrupt my scheduled runs and there won't be an opportunity to replace it. You can't run Zane Grey on borrowed training hours, it just doesn't work. I tried that in 2011 and it broke me in two.
February is a key month for me. I'm focused on a major event this week in Grandpa Jim's 12 Hours of Camelback. A fundraiser for Sunshine Acres (www.sunshineacres.org) where we will hike/run up and down Echo Canyon non-stop until 6:30pm. 1.3 miles up, 1.3 miles down, 1250 in climbing. The record is 12 roundtrips and my goal for the day. That would end up being a 15,000 foot in climbing 50K. My knees are already destroyed thinking about it...but it will be great training for the month and assuming it doesn't wreck me long term will get me back on track.
I'm planning on tackling Elephant Mountain 35K again this year after having a lot of fun out there in the inaugural running. Mountain to Fountain 15k is March 9th, a great local road race that involves beer, running on the Team RWB team and beer. Hopefully this year I cross both timing pads and not stop at the first one like last year...1:00:02.
Mesquite Canyon 50K in late March will be my last race tuneup before Zane Grey and will be my fifth time at the race, every year its been run since Aravaipa Running started their race series. I ran a 5:07 last year there, good for 4th place, but really want to be sub 5 hours this year after missing it last year. It's a tough course but perfect Zane training with the rocks, exposure and climbing there.
If none of that gets me where I need to be, well, then I'll be in Pine anyway for the start of Zane. I mean, what's the worst that can happen on the Highline when you're unprepared??
Tucson Marathon Epic Fail 2013
So it begins...
Its amazing the things you can talk yourself into.
Everything is a great idea until you're smack in the middle of it's misery. Like childbirth, hangovers and road marathons.
I ran the Tucson Marathon in 2009 on one 16 mile run through downtown Phoenix and a 20 hour R2R2R hike as my training. Nothing else. I finished in 3:53 on the help of 1600mg of delicious NSAID's and spent the next 8 hours on the Omni Tucson's tile floor with my arms wrapped around the toilet hoping someway, some how the ceiling would cave in and end my misery. Of course I wasn't that lucky and instead...was on the start of new obsession.
A month later I ran the Mountain Mist 50K in Alabama for my first ultra. I wouldn't run another road race for four years while running 30-40 trail races over the same span. Why would I? Road races were painful. My mind had etched in memories of that bathroom floor. That wretched feeling in my stomach. That horrible pain. No WAY was I going to run a marathon again. Instead I started running 24 hour loops, 100 mile mountain races, and horrible abusive runs in the Superstition Wilderness area. Because that was SOO much better for me...
Over time I started to get a little quicker and with that I wanted to see what I could now do on the same course, several years later.
I was going to run a sub 3 marathon. I was going to do it.
Because running 6:51/mile is super easy.
Jay Danek and I planned to run the race together in whatever way we needed to that ended with one or both of us hitting 2:59:59 at 26.2 miles.
Miles 1-5 - I better not feel this way in ten miles...
My toes were frozen and my pace was uneven. I couldn't tell if the steep downhill at the start was causing a silver dollar blister this early in the race or if I simply couldn't feel my feet. At two miles in I thought, "Please let this just be the cold...I'll feel better in a couple miles. I know I will."
Miles 6-10 - This isn't so bad...
10K in and we're right on pace, even 30 seconds ahead. I don't feel great, certainly not loose and certainly not strong. But we're holding on, sticking with our pace and going with it as long as we can. We hit LONG stretches of open desert, running along the side of the road clipping off the miles. Doubt starts creeping in on how long I can hold this pace and that Gatorade at the start is really starting to be a major regret. I have to piss but I can't stop. This is no bueno.
Miles 11-15 - I'm done...
We hit the turnoff for the Biosphere turnaround spot where the half marathoners start and for the first time I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to keep up. We climb one hill after another and Jay gaps me. I push on up the hill and I can't fill the gap. I catch them at the turnaround and we run together, both feeling less than awesome, doubt crushing both of us but still optimistic that we can hold on now that we are past the half way mark. I talk two gels in 2 miles to try and get something out of my body. My quads are extremely tight, my feet feel bruised somehow and I can't get my legs under me. I'm trying to run but am wobbly, clumsy and can't get into a rhythm.
Mile 16-20 - How bad can a car hurt you?
Mile 15 was rough. The rough miles where you stare at your watch thinking you are 15-30 seconds ahead of your pace but instead are 30 seconds behind and you want to just quit right there and sit down and pout. Full pity party, balloons and everything. Already exhausted, beat, broken, demoralized and a full mile later and barely hitting pace?? How in the world can I hold on for another ten miles??
I was hurting.
I was losing ground. I wasn't going to catch them.
I stopped, took a leak finally and when I got back on the road, they were gone.
That's just perfect...
And then the wheels really fell off. Not just fell off but the whole damn vehicle exploded.
Why a failure?
A lot of people would be excited to run a 3:16 marathon. I know I would have been years ago. But even though that's technically a 36 minute PR on the marathon, that means little to nothing to me. I set out to break 3 hours and I didn't do it. So to me, it's a failure.
Cave Creek Thriller 30K
Our summer is over and the race season is just beginning. Another October is upon us and I've already been completely taken over by the incredible weather and forgotten completely that it was 110 degrees just a month ago.
What miserably hot summer?
It's perfect out.
And running has never been easier.
No water bottle.
No dry mouth.
No getting back to your car after the run feeling destroyed and then five minutes later your body catches up and sweats through the cloth seats.
No more strategically planning your week of training around the sunrise because once it comes up it's like the Chronicles of Riddick...it's overbearing and ever present in the rest of the run. A monkey on your back waiting to pop you in the ear with those stupid symbols (that can't be spelled right....) I can run in the heat and I know many that actually enjoy it. Many go out at noon in August. But that doesn't mean it's smart or fun. In fact...I hate it. It's bearable through mid-July but the last month plus is always rough for me.
Now, you can run at any time of the day or night and it's perfect. I ran this morning at 5am without a shirt on, just a headlamp, shoes, shorts and the Disco Biscuits. It was incredible. Running up hills I've always walked in the past, cruising along at a solid pace without the interruption of walking to get my core temperature down to under 201 degrees. Running the the fall in Phoenix is a rejuvenation.
To test the rejuvenation I'm running my first race since the Mesquite Canyon 50K way back in March. March. Seven months ago.
It seems odd that I haven't raced since then, but I skipped Zane Grey this year, didn't run a 100 all summer and was focused on the Monster up until a few weeks ago. I ran a ton of marathon or longer training runs on the Mogollon Rim and a 85 mile jaunt on the Mogollon Monster course in May but nothing with competition.
So this will be fun. 18 miles up in Cave Creek Regional Park at the Cave Creek Thriller 30K, the first of the Aravaipa Running DRT Trail Series here in the Phoenix area. It has some trails I know, some I don't. But it's 18 miles and it'll be a good test of my fitness after putting in a couple decent runs the last couple weeks and one strong week last week. I'm still way short on training and being where I want to be in having a focused training plan but comfortable enough that I'm ready to head up north, run a few trails and hang with the fast guys. We'll see how long it lasts. Bret Sarnquist, Jay Danek, Tony Delogne, Jules Miller, Jeremy Schmuki and as usual in running and ultrarunning...a whole bunch of people that will come out of the group and crush a bunch of us. It's not a Dark Horse in running, it's a Dark Herd. So many unknowns that can pop up and put down a fast time. Which is part of the intrigue in running a race, especially one where it's around 50-100 runners. Just enough to know who is going into this with you and not so many you have zero chance of competing for a respectable place.
So I'll for the first time give it a shot up front of the pack and see where that takes me. I'll shoot for a spot in file behind Jay Danek as I know he's in the fastest shape of his life and after 10 miles see where each of us are and go from there. Eighteen miles is a perfect distance but I've never ran it without thinking I had another 13 to go. But as my races typically go, 18-20 miles is usually where I have a low spot before rebounding for the last ten miles of a 50K. Maybe for 18 I can hold a much faster pace and remain up front. If not...
I'm sure my ego will survive it.
R2R2R - 2012
November 2nd I'll be taking another trek down to the Canyon for a Bright Angel>North Rim>Bright Angel Double Crossing. I haven't done it since last fall and aside from a trip this February for a 50K route off the Tanner trail I haven't seen the Canyon since. So I'm totally oblivious again as to just how difficult and challenging this trip can be and always is. Jay Danek is going for his first go of the Double Crossing and of course Honey Albrecht who always makes it when it involves the Grand Canyon. It'll be my 5th double and probably Honey's twentieth or something. It's great to have done it and a once a year trip. Not sure I'd be up for multiple attempts in a calendar year. It's a lot like Zane Grey. Always sounds like a great idea until you hit about 30 miles and you're staring down 8 miles of switchbacks...
Either way...really looking forward to it and starting out at night Friday night we'll be up over 24 hours before we even start climbing back up. And we'll catch the sunrise which is worth a thousand gels.
Around we go...
The Zane Grey Obsession Continues....
The Mogollon Rim. Photo by Andrew Pielage- www.apizm.com
It's easy to be lost sometimes. Buried amidst a world of high speed activity, stress filled lifestyles and the ever climbing necessity of improvement, being lost is sometimes natural.
We go from one thing to the next. Thanksgiving to Christmas. Spring Break to Summer Break. Empty checking account to pay day. Starving to bloated. Happy to sad. Every day brings a new day and with that new challenges, new changes, and new views of what needs to happen.
For nearly two years it's been a non-stop whirlwind of change. Married. Honeymoon. Rented a house. Said rental went into foreclosure. Auction owners tried to evict us. I extorted them for payment to break our lease. We get pregnant. We buy new house. Start a new website with John Vaupel & Jay Danek. (www.trailrunningclub.com.) We have baby. We prepare for Mogollon Monster 100. We direct Mogollon Monster 100. We still have baby. Still have house. Still working all the time. And apparently I still have a blog.
Yet the Monster has come and gone. And the void that remains leaves me lost in what to do next. Immediately I volunteer to motivate and train our hotel staff to run the P.F. Chang's Half Marathon, something I'm passionate about but realistically didn't have time for. When I should be putting a hold on my ambitions to focus on traditional household husband things like siding, lawn care, organizing shelving, etc. I'm out signing myself up for more time consuming projects. Yet I can't help myself. I don't have ADD but I cannot just sit around. As great as that can feel sometimes.
I need to be involved in something.
I need goals.
I need ambitions.
To fill a part of that void I signed up for two races the day after the Monster finished. The Cave Creek Thriller 30K and the Zane Grey 50M a ways off in April 2013. I haven't run hardly a lick since my son Dean was born but now with the race behind us (for now) I should have more time... My training "program" the last three months consisted of a 30 mile training run on the Mogollon Monster 100 course on a Saturday.
Rest for 6 days.
Repeat on a different section the following week. I would run 20-30 mile long runs every weekend for 8 of the 10 weekends of August/September in preparing for this race in both training runs and course marking. Some went well...others were miserable death marches.
Yet somehow, towards the end of the summer, leading right up to the race I started to feel stronger. Not strong, but stronger. Last Tuesday I covered 16 miles on the Highline Trail for course marking for the race and on the return trip I pushed the pace, hammered the hills and came back into Washington Park feeling great. I drove up to the top of the Rim and ran another two miles along the General Crook Trail marking it along the way and somewhere on the way back, as the sun was coming down, still slightly poking through the tall Ponderosa's I felt like I was cruising down the trail on a bike. Nearly 7,500 feet up, it felt like sea level and I was off. It was short distance but a big boost to my confidence. Running hasn't felt that "easy" in a long time.
So the race is over. Planning for next year is ongoing and constant. Ideas flood into my mind in an ever rotating display of improvements and projects. Never submitting to mediocrity, my aspirations always at least reach for something greater. That will never change but leaves me pulled in another direction, a constant tidal pull bringing me back out to sea every few hours, every few days. As welcome a distraction as unwelcome. Focus on one thing, one specific goal has become very challenging with so many aspects of the race I'd like to change while also focusing on work, family, and training (not in that order necessarily...)
With the race over though it does allows me to focus on running again. My son is three months old now, bigger and stronger and stroller ready. We can train together and focus on the Zane Grey 50M in April and get back to running with Jay Danek. I've missed our reckless descents down Bell Pass at breakneck speeds and the much faster pace Jay trains at than I would running solo. His big ambitions, goals and training regimin rub off on me and I need to get back to that.
I have big plans for Zane Grey, my favorite race to hate in all of running. Yet ultimately...my favorite race. My brother distinctly remembers my putrid attitude following my horrible experience back in 2011 where I suffered through a death march the final 17 miles. All of which were self imposed through my own stupidity, poor planning and newly found arrogance.
This time around though, I'm smarter, I'll be stronger, and I feel like that's my home turf now. I've run the Highline so much now in preparation for the Mogollon Monster I know so many of the in's and out's of the trail. I know it's a whore of a trail. An unrelenting beast waiting to eat up the first runner that succumbs to the heat, elevation, exposure, manzanita, or those few rocks out there. The last time I was arrogant. I had been running 50K's like they were 5k's. The 50M was a near regular event for me, at least once a month. I had run a wickedly hard and vicious Superstition Wilderness 50M the month before and felt that Zane Grey was just a stop at the ice cream shop in comparison (incidently, during that delusional Superstitions run the first seeds of the idea for the Mogollon Monster we laid).
I made a cardinal Ultrarunning sin. I did not respect the distance.
Zane Grey is one of the toughest 50 milers in the country. I don't care which one you compare it to. There may be "harder" ones but there is no debate that this is towards the top of the list. Nobody leaves the Highline saying, "That was easy." Nobody. Most leave in a near crippled state saying, "I'm never coming back."
Which any Zane Grey veteran likely say's in their head, "See you next year."
I'm not overlooking the distance this year. I'm focusing on this race and this race only. I'm not going to go out and do all these fat ass random runs through the desert. My off course adventures that end up eating up every ounce of my energy. I'm training for speed, stregnth and endurance. I'm not just looking for an improvement over 2011. I want to knock several hours off it.
I want to go sub 10 hours.
At Zane Grey.
I know. Ridiculous right?
Anyone just ultrastalking me can look at my past results and will be wondering, "How in the world are YOU going to run sub 10 hours at Zane Grey??!"
It's 2:24 better than I ever have run there. Ever. I have zero statistical data to back up that kind of time. My fastest "official" 50K on there is 4:54. I barely ran 10 hours on a flat,loop course.
BUT...I know what I can do. I know what I'm capable of. I know I've never even gotten close to pushing boundaries on speed or training. I've always skirted by with just enough training to keep it from being a full on death march. I ran Cascade Crest 100 last year topping out at a 52 mile week. I get by because I'm a strong hiker and I can run downhill. I've always been weak on the flats and actual "running", as ironic as it sounds, and that is what has kept me plateaued, just off the cuff and from taking that leap to the next level.
My problem has always been that I could hinge back on the "I don't really train excuse" for my less than stellar times at races. It's always been a side joke with my running friends but ultimately it's just an excuse. I'm capable, I can make the time, I just have to put the work in.
So I will.
And when it comes down to the line, come April, on the Highline, I'll really see where that takes me.
And if sub 10 hours doesn't happen at Zane Grey...well look for me at the finish line. I'll still make it there. It just might not be as pretty.
San Tan 50K - February 4th, 2012
Am I even wearing shorts here??
My first "race" since the Cascade Crest 100 last August...I've been running but haven't raced anything since then. With this race being the only race I've ever dropped from I didn't want to miss it and going into it I felt really strong, fast and ready to "race" a 50K versus simply finishing through a dismal last ten miles suffering to the end. Jay had me convinced to shoot for a 4:30 finish despite never beating 5:36 in a dozen previous 50k's...so that's what we went for.
That's a 4:37 min/mile pace photo...that's called "proper pacing."
Three ten mile laps make up the course with a steep out and back on each one totaling 4,300 feet of climbing total. We shot for a goal of 90 minutes per lap and after one lap we were 3 minutes ahead of pace. Wearing the Minimus 110's for the first time for a run over 20 miles (see: stupid) the second lap was less fun and my feet really started to feel the pounding after 15 miles. Luckily I had my La Sportiva C-Lite 2.0's ready at the start of lap 3 and I told Jay to go ahead as I changed my shoes. I was still on pace going into lap 3 but running solo I struggled to maintain a 8 minute mile pace and was soon passed by Paulette (this is the last time she passes me I swear...ok, I can't back that up. She's fast) and then Chris Fall from Tucson. Getting passed when you're feeling down always sucks, drags you down but at the same time brings me back from feeling like garbage because I got so pissed Chris passed me I picked it up going into the last climb. My feet and calves were trashed from the 110's (extremely regrettable choice) going down the last two hills but I got a boost seeing Jay and the others on both the out and backs and knew that I was assured at least my place in the top ten and finished the mile strong, albeit cramping so bad I nearly collapsed at the finish.
Is that a Mogollon Monster 100 Shirt? Yes...yes it is.
In the end I finished in 4:54, a personal best in the 50K by 42 full minutes. I guess I could be disappointed by missing my "goal" by 24 and really struggling the last lap but it's still a good improvement and gives me at least an idea of where I stood and stand before Mesquite Canyon.
The event itself was a lot of fun, much more fun than last year when I was sick. I really like the course itself and realize more and more how much I love out and back courses and seeing other racers on the course while you are running. Often, especially on one big loop courses, you see the same 3-10 runners the entire race as you all switch positions. With a course like San Tan I saw every single person (almost) the first couple laps and knowing many of them it made it so fun to cheer each on and hear them cheer us on. I don't think I will miss this race again, it's a classic to me.
It was also fun to meet Jerry Armstrong from Boulder, CO who contacted me on Dailymile.com and asked for a ride to the race. I picked him up and got to hang with him pre-race and he went on to run really strong and capture 3rd place as he passed Jay & I on lap 2. Great runner, puts out some cool video's and always fun meeting fellow runners from other areas. He wrote a great race report on is blog here: http://www.jerryarmstrong.blogspot.com/2012/02/san-tan-scramble-50k-race-report.html
Grand Canyon- Tanner Trail Route - February 11th, 2012
Tanner Trail...you have to look hard to see the guys...
I was really excited for this one. Four times I've been down in the Grand Canyon, all four times running or hiking the R2R2R trails. While that is an incredible trip each and every time I was excited to see a different part of the Canyon. I had this opportunity when a few WMRC members invited me along for a 30 mile route that was to take about 10 hours...I didn't need to hear another word. I was in.
Colorado River along the Escalante Trail
Andrew Heard, Art Bourque and John Pearce started out with me on the Tanner Trail head on the eastern edge of the Canyon. The trail was steep, icy and covered in snow at the top and it switch backed its way all the way down until the Colorado River came into view. Writing about the Grand Canyon is hard for me, it takes someone with real writing talent to be able to fully encapsulate what really "is" a run in the Canyon. The walls pull you in, the Canyon goes from narrow and claustrophobic to massive and belittling. You lose control of what you previously thought you had control of. You become a part of it.
Art lead us along the Escalante Trail all morning, dipping down to the Colorado to refill bottles, then seemingly back halfway up the Rim towards what for miles looks like a dead end straight into the walls of the cliffs. Running along the ridge, the Colorado a thousand feet straight below, you look up ahead trying to see where the trail possible could be going. Not until you reach the cliff wall do you realize that it does in fact scale the cliff all along its edge, precariously close to the edge, drawing up the details of your life insurance policy you hope to God you kept paying.
Boucher Point starts the downhill towards the Colorado one more time before entering Seventy Five Mile Canyon. Art describes a story when he was 33 and on this route alone, in 105 degrees, and completely lost. Having already passed a dozen spider trails off into the unknown, unmarked, I can see how easily someone can be led astray. Art takes us up the canyon and right away we climb above what becomes this majestic canyon, twenty feet wide but fifty feet tall, taller with each step deeper up the canyon. Art purposely leads us up the trail past the real turnoff, a scree trail down into the depths of the slot canyon, nothing remotely resembling a trail but more of an avalanche zone. No human rightly would have left a worn path for that. Nobody.
Art leads us down the precipice, down climbing our way down the hundred feet to the canyon bottom, an ant among the giant walls. Running down this dry riverbed, the walls tight around us, hovering high above us. It was like nothing I'd seen before and it would only truly be the beginning.
Andrew stirring up the spirits in an Anazazi ruin.
The trail continued it's steep ascents and descents, rock climbs up Fifty Foot wall, passed along the Colorado several more times providing for ice cold foot baths along the way. Continually the trail would wander random directions, running in random directions to go in the direction we needed to travel. We took the Grandview Trail out of the Canyon that day, a 4,000+ foot climb up the Rim that went on for a couple runnable miles before turning into a staircase leading straight up the chute, a leg burning, energy sapping assault on some of the steepest, most aggressive trails I've experienced. Art hammered the climb like it was his last climb of his life, absolutely crushing Andrew and I, leaving me sapped for the last three miles and 3,000 feet of climbing. Up to that point I felt great, strong and capable. That quickly turned into weak, wobbly, possibly the next victim in a Grand Canyon fall to his death. The trail narrowed, the elevation climbed and in turn the terrain became ice, snow and rocks covered with ice and snow. Climbing up the pace went from a reasonable 20min/mile to the dreaded 30min/mile to a few minutes later...58. Never...I'm using the word "never" here...have I ever wanted to just plain sit. Sit down. In the snow. And just lay there. My legs didn't hurt. My feet were fine. Everything was fine. There was simply nothing left in the tank. I was so tired, the trail so slick with ice, every imprint of a shoe with Yaktraks on it I wanted to scream. Wouldn't those be convenient right now...
I've been in this mindset before and never stopped but plodded along until I found a good section of untouched snow. With Andrew behind me a bit below I knew he would be struggling just as much in this snow with the footing being so slick and wrote, "This Blows!! :)" in the snow. Just writing it made me laugh thinking of Andrew coming up the trail and seeing that. I headed up the cliff, found a seat on a tree branch and regrouped. Put down my last gel, put a long sleeve back on, gloves and hat now that we were back in the upper elevations and waited for Andrew to come on through. He wasn't far behind and within a couple minutes he was there and we pushed our way to the top where Art was waiting for us with a big smile on his face, standing among the tourists there for a view of the big "Hole in the Ground."
John would come on through about 45 minutes later on his own. He had taken a wrong trail, back tracked, found the trail but spent a few nerve racking moments working through the fear of being lost in the Canyon. A veteran of the area he ultimately made it out, with a story, but made it out.
Two weeks later I'm still thinking about this route, the Canyon and the great time I had with Art, John and Andrew. It's never just another run up there, it always have me leaving thinking grander thoughts, bigger dreams and totally blown away and waiting for the next adventure there.
Grandpa Jim's 50K - February 18th, 2012
Jay on the 8B...still complaining about his knee. "I don't care if the bone is through the skin. We have 28 more miles to go. Eat a gu or something..."
Yes...this is my third 50K in three weekends. Just the way it panned out on the schedule and I didn't want to skip any of the three. Grandpa Jim's 50K runs through my backyard, literally, and covers some serious climbing along the way so I wanted to make it, donate some money to the cause and see how it goes.
Atop of Squaw Peak, Jay complaining about his compound fracture. Cry baby.
I could go into a full on race report here but this post is long enough already isn't it? I agree. I'm taking the lazy way out. So go read Jay Danek's race report, we ran the whole thing together and finished in 6:32 tied for 2nd place. If there is such a thing as "placing" in a somewhat unofficial race. Either way I count it and it continues my domination at Fat Ass races that don't count with very few runners in it. Yeah, I'm really good at those kinds of races. Borderline elite really. (see: 1st Place at Tom's Thumb 50K, 5 total entrants. Still wondering when La Sportiva is going to start sending my free shoes...)
Sean, Jay and I at the Dreamy Draw aid stop halfway through.
Jay coming down North Mountain after we got our fix of radiation.
So in the end...three 50K's in three weekends netted 93 miles, 21,000+ feet of climbing and 21 hours of running. In between each week I ran a whopping 50 miles in the other 18 days...I'm getting dangerously close to a full sponsorship from WalMart or Wendy's. It's a battle right now, really just the paperwork that needs to be worked out at this point. If nothing else I should earn some kind of special shirt for "Laziest Training Program in Ultrarunning." The week leading into Grandpa Jim's 50K? Two miles pushing a stroller.
Eat that Anton.
Top of Shaw Butte. We started that morning on the other side of the far peak that morning. True story.
Next up...Mesquite Canyon 50k on March 11th. I'm going for a 4:30, I don't care if that's 66 minutes faster than I've ever done it.
Limits are for cowards.
San Tan Redemption
San Tan 50K- Rolling flats, great desert trails
Last year didn't go so well. I started out and went the first full lap up and over the hill and started out the second lap of the course. I felt really sick and I was really struggling with my breathing. I made the painful decision at the intersection for the second hill climb to head right (Quitters Lane) and DNF after 25K. Horrible feeling, hate it. Not sure I could ever bring myself to do it again. I had more concern for the Superstitions 50M that was two weeks after last years San Tan but nonetheless...it still eats at me.
Run the Hills, Hammer the Downhills
The long downhill/uphill at San Tan. Ran once each of the three loops it adds to the fun for sure.
With nearly every race I've entered in the last two years I've entered with the expectation of simply participating, pushing hard for a solid finish but never with any real thoughts of contention. I've never "raced" an ultra. I simply run when I can, walk when I can't. If I can't see the top of a hill, I walk.
Yet something happened in the last four months. Something changed. I don't know what it was, but I'm running so much faster than I ever was before. I'm recovering faster, running harder, climbing without half the trouble I used to have. I hit the same hills I used to struggle on just six months ago and now I'm barely breaking stride on them now. Lighter on my feet, quicker on the flats, smoother on the turns. I'm not breaking records, I'm not suddenly the guy that's going to start winning ultras, but certainly having a lot more fun on the trails now.
I know a big part of any improvement I have made is simply running with my friend Jay Danek. The guy guts out a run every single day, not just a mile, but FOUR, every day. He does on average 700 feet of climbing every day of the week and runs just about everything and absolutely HAMMERS the downhills with a blatantly reckless disregard for his own personal welfare. You can't help but laugh following him in the dark, going so fast your eyes are watering in the wind, and tears start flowing down your face. For the last two years of running ultras I've always been told not to go too fast on the downhills or you'll regret it later on in a race. Jay's blown that theory out of the water and I'm following suit. I'm going to hammer every downhill from now on.
So come race day this Saturday I don't think I'm going to stick to the middle and settle for the same time I always get on 50K's. My PR on a 50K is my second ultra every, Mesquite Canyon's inaugural year with a 5:36. I think I can take an hour off that and hope to this weekend. Bold? Yes, but I'm humbly confident (is that possible?) that I can hang with the fast guys and if not at least I'll know where I stand. So the San Tan 50K will be a test in running the hills, hammering the downhills, contrary to everything I learned the last two years.
McDowell Mountain Madness
NB 110's make you so fast you can take a break while everyone catches up to you. (New Balance- you can use this photo. I don't mind.)
Twenty miles. 5,300 feet of climbing. 3:44. Thompson's Peak some great downhill running, some on trails, some on some sick disguise of a trail covered in prickly pear and cholla. Half of which is still in my left leg. Brutal but super fun and very beautiful with the desert floor getting it's green "carpet." The McDowell's are so beautiful as it is, no matter how many times I've been out there, it's always fun. Ok, not so much in July...but still a great training area. Especially given it's 10 minutes away. It was also my first run with New Balance 110's. I usually run in Cascadia's or La Sportiva Crosslites or Crosslite 2.0's. C-Lites are 13.2 oz each...110's are 6.2 each. So right away it felt amazing to have so little on my feet. My calves and Achilles were KILLING me the first three miles climbing Bell Pass but after a screaming fast downhill everything was loose and went well. Coming straight down Thompson Peak was a little rough, possibly have a size too small but I just felt so much faster than ever before. Today, the day after, my feet are definitely tender on the bottoms from the lack of protection they've been used to but overall feel great. Excited to use them this weekend at San Tan and see how it goes for 31 miles.
Camelback...You're on Notice
Camelback Mountain, Arizona
Allegedly the ascent record is 15:28 by another ultrarunner done sometime in the past. Records are all very vague and for some reason used to be even recorded from the top of the steps, not the ramada. Which is similar to hitting a homerun from second place, not home.
Either way, I'm coming after it. Bring it.
I Am the Worst Blogger Ever
I say that because I'm always so far behind on updating this. So much happens, so little talked about, so much missed. Or is it? You tell me. Did you miss me? Didn't think so. Funny thing is, I started this website and wrote in it for months and months and never even told people I had it. It was an outlet of sorts, a place to consolidate my thoughts, my aspirations, my frustrations and a place to dream. It still is but as life piles it on more and more with each passing week I feel more burdened by the internet and all it encapsulates. Good and bad.
So for the sake of my dozen loyal readers...ok, just my Mom. Here is an update on the Arizona trail scene, my unrelenting mission to run myself into the ground, and why Monsters are better in the form of mystical beasts than in aluminum cans.
This is going to be very random. Probably weird. I can't guarantee you'll enjoy any of it. But you clearly have nothing else going on right now or you wouldn't be reading this. Buckle up. I just slammed a Mountain Dew.
Running Circles Around Monotony
After running Cascade Crest in late August I didn't make it to another race after that. I missed Man Against Horse, skipped Cave Creek Thriller, passed on Pass Mountain and bailed on McDowell Mountain. All races I planned on running going into the very week of the race but never actually signed up. Why? No idea. One is definitely spending the money on a race I wasn't totally thrilled about. Sure, the guys always have great shirts but I have dozens of race shirts. Running 31 miles just didn't appeal to me all that much and I was becoming more and more interested in the 25-30K distance. So with each passing day I'd gain more confidence and yet never actually test it. All the while I was training for the Mogollon Monster 100 test run on December 10th. After that was snowed out and postponed until May I was really bummed. So how do you go from running a mountain 100 to two weeks later signing up for a 24 hour race on a flat, 1 mile loop? Again, I'm compulsive...and I like to try new things.
Across the Years is a classic of classics. Lots of history, lots of extremely talented runners. A totally different breed of runners than what I've come to know as "ultrarunners" but no less talented or unique. So how was running around in circles for 24 hours? No idea. I made it 7 miles before I knew I had doomed myself into a full day of boredom. I hit 22 and thought maybe I'll just jump into the little trail side lake and drown myself. Mile 34 came around and I started walking just to talk to someone new that I was coming around the circle and hadn't yet met. By the time I reached the 45 mile mark I had lost every ounce of motivation to continue. I'd walk it in with my good friend Honey and I called it a night. 50 Miles. 10 hours. That's enough for me.
Physically I felt great and actually felt even better as I reached the 50 mile mark. I simply did not have the heart to continue, I had no goals, signed up for the race that morning. It was fun, I met some great people and would certainly recommend the race to someone else that likes the flatter courses or loves timed courses. Me? Probably won't do it again for some time. Like next year.
Castle Hot Springs 22 Miler- Jan 7th
Paulette cruising down the road
Another race in the series that Arizona Road Racers puts on along with the Mazatzal 18 Miler. This one is 22, all roads and circles through a remote area of central Arizona and one I'd not visited yet. It was a small group but not unsurprisingly the same 40 people I see at every trail race or ultra. I was excited to see how I would handle actually "running" 22 miles straight and with the 2500 feet of climbing it did add another element of difficult to it. I finished it in 3:16 or so with Paulette which was good for 7th or 8th. It's a pretty low key, non-competitive type race so not sure anyone was racing, I know Paulette and I weren't. Just a nice day out in the desert. A classic Arizona race, I'll be sure to make it next year as well.
Superstition Wilderness 50K - January 14th, 2012
Weaver's Needle coming up to Parker Pass
I love the Superstition Wilderness. Just on the eastern edge of the Phoenix metro area its so accessible and visable for many residents but nearly everyone is clueless in what is held behind the mountains hovering over the city. Behind that wall of rock is a 180 mile network of wilderness, completely replete of people, as inhospitable an area as you can find in this country and as unforgiving as it comes. Yet with that comes a beauty that isn't matched by many places either. The rock formations, the varied vegetation, the sunlit canyon walls as the sun rises over the mesa. The desert is a beautiful place if one just gives it a chance, opens their eyes and welcomes the experience.
This year we had a group of nine taking the loop around the western and most frequented (see: Runnable trails) trail systems. The course climbs a total of 4,500 feet in exactly 31.1 Garmin miles while passing several ridges, steep descents, big climbs and fast, winding, single track.
We had the National Trail Champion David James, Angeles Crest 100 winner Paulette Zillmer, stud thru hiker/ultrarunner Anthony Culpepper, fresh off his 5,000 mile/9 month loop from Arizona to Montana and back. My friend Michael Duer from Tucson, who I ran with in our friends 50 miler up Mt. Lemmon last year made the trip with his friend Sarah, both great, fast ultrarunners. Jon Roig returned again, always up for anything unreasonably difficult, with so little apparent effort it makes me want to double my monthly mileage after every trip with him. Jeffrey Bryant, the "old guy" of the group who claimed he would be falling behind but was always right on our tail. Then my brother Noah who put in 5.5 miles of running since August came out and ran the 25K first half. Pretty standard for him, knocked it out and kept up with us the entire time. Always impressive no matter how many "off the couch" adventures he does with me.
We all finished in about 30 minutes faster than last years time, all smiles and only 9 of us were bloody when we finished. The rocks are unavoidable, catclaw your worst nightmare and you can't get away from any of it. This year felt a little less overgrown, maybe less rocky? I could be delusional though as I run on rocks every day and I'm more used to them than most. Usually when I take people to the Superstitions they love the utter beauty of it but can't wait to get done because the area is so technical. It's Arizona. What's NOT technical here?
Old Dudes Rule
Like how I snuck Scarlett into this post? She's always relevant...
STEFAN BEHR 71
RICHARD BUSA 73
ROBERT CALABRIA 70
JEAN-JAQUES D'AQUIN 71
EDWIN DEMONEY 73
JOHN DEWALT 73
EDWIN FISHMAN 71
WOLFGANG GEISTANGER 72
AARON GOLDMAN 74
RALPH HIRT 71
SHERMAN HODGES 70
GRANT HOLDAWAY 75
BILL HOLLIHAN 73
DON JANS 71
LOU JOLINE 71
BUDDY JONES 72
DICK KAMINSKI 70
RICHARD LAINE 70
LEO LIGHTNER 70
LINK LINDQUIST 70
CHRISTOPH LUX 78
ROBERT LYNES 72
JERRY McGRATH 70
FRED NAGELSCHMIDT 70
STUART NELSON 70
DAN PIERONI 70
RAY PIVA 74
JOHN PRICE 71
EPHRAIM ROMESBERG 75
SAM SOCCOLI 70
KARSTEN SOLHEIM 73
BERND SPRING 70
WALT STACK 70
OJARS STIKIS 72
BEECHAM TOLER 70
MIKE TSELENTIS 71
DIETER WALZ 72
ROSS WALZER 71
JONATHAN WILLIAMS 86
EDWIN WILLIAMS 70
TOM WOLTER-ROESSLER 78
CARL YATES 70
IRIS LEISTNER 78
HELEN KLEIN 75
BARBARA MACKLOW 74
ELDRITH GOSNEY 70
Know what this list is? This is a list of everyone over the age of 70 years old that has completed a 100 mile race. It's an unofficial list compiled by ultrarunner Dan Baglione whom I met and ran with (walked...) at the Across the Years race. One of the many interesting guys and girls out there with a massive running resume that makes you want to quit your career, and become a running vagabond to try your best to catch up to his accolades by the time your his age. He's one of the many guys like Karsten Solheim, and others that are over 60 and still rocking it hardcore. The beauty of Across the Years is the depth of dedication these people have. I met a guy from Washington, Fred Willet, who has the body of a 57 year old (his age) as you would expect. A nice round belly he's worked hard in earning yet he was pounding out the miles with a consistency anyone would be excited about. After a while of running laps I saw Fred, shirtless, in the mid afternoon of his SECOND day and sparked up a conversation with him. He's 57 and he plans to run a sub 3 hour marathon when he turns 60. Amazed and honestly a bit surprised based on his outwardly non-in shape appearance I asked what his current marathon time is.
"4:20 but I walked a bit so I could practice for this."
Somehow after a few more minutes of running and talking with Fred I no longer had a shred of doubt that he would accomplish this. One story after another I hear from one person after another about determining something they want in life, setting that goal and by God, sticking to it until they reach it. I know Fred will do it, he's just that kind of guy. Later that afternoon, several hours later I was running past Fred and as I passed him I said as I tired, "Fred! I'm fading here!"
Fred's reply? "The HELL YOU ARE!" A command with such a definitive tone you can't deny it. You're right Fred. I'm not tired. To hell with fatigue. I'm going to go faster.
It was worth another five laps of effortless running.
Many people I work with or I know use age as an excuse or reason for being as out of shape, unhealthy or incapable of certain things. They can't do this or they can't do that because they are "old." Which often or not is late forty's or fifty's. Hardly old.
"Oh to be young again."
"I remember when I was young and could do that."
All of it.
I do half my training with a 52 year old mother of 3 that has run Hardrock and races ultras all the time. Dave Mackey is the 2011 Ultrarunner of the Year. Older than almost every other Top 5 runner out there by a decade. Karsten Solheim (on this list) is still hammering out 100's and he was born a year or two after Moses. My point is, I'm not skinny because I run and my coworkers aren't fat because they are old. I'm fit because I train not because I'm skinny and my coworkers can be every bit as in shape as they want to be. Nothing is stopping them but themselves. Age is irrelevant. This list proves it. These people aren't "crazy," these people are living their lives as they want to, as they should and as they deserve to. Good for them, I hope to be in their shoes later in my life.
The Mogollon Monster 100
Kind of nuts that the trail is kind of like this...
I'm going to go out on a limb and make the statement that directing a 100 mile race is harder than RUNNING a hundred mile race. It's a lot of logistics, planning, organizing, budgeting and bureaucratic nonsense.
And I love it.
As much as it takes, the hours of planning, I know this race is going to be something special. The trails are amazing, views incredible and I'm confident the pieces are going to fall into place. I was disappointed after we had to postpone our trial run in December but now look forward to the May 5th running in weather a good bit more similar to the September date. Prior to that I plan to make several trips getting video of trail sections, additional photography, marking and planning for the coming race. With each big 100 selling out, going to a lottery, I think it's going to help the Monster fill to it's 100-125 capacity the first year and give everyone a good sized competitive field. There is a lot of interest, my email inbox remains filled and the offers to volunteer keep coming in. Check out the race website www.mogollonmonster100.com for more info. I'm the proud owner of a GoPro Here 2 so look out! Video's coming soon!
So What's Next???
Training buddy Matt dominated with a 4:24...he's a road runner my ass.
I ran this race last year with a wicked cold, 103 degree temperature and bailed after the 25K mark. My only DNF. Ever. Kills me to this day. I have to return. I'm going back. http://www.getoutgetlost.com/1/post/2011/2/san-tan-scramble-race-report.html
Next after that the following weekend is the 12 hours of Camelback, a maniacal redundancy up and down Echo Canyon for 12 hours or until you fully tear each ACL. So I'll try to make it to that...
Following weekend is the Grandpa Jim's 50K. Up Cholla, down Echo. Over the roads to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, up Squaw Peak, around Circumference Trail and across the Trail #100 to the North Mountain Visitor Center. My home ground. My trails. My Mountains. If I don't win I'm going to become a professional badminton player. Ok, I won't do that but I train on these mountains, can hammer the super, super technical descents and hope to do really well at this event.
Two weeks later I'm running a 55 mile backcountry Superstitions run with Jeff Jones and a few other brave souls. Repeat of last years run plus a few miles to retain the original route. I have my reservations about a few of those sections and repeating them again but ultimately I just love the Superstitions too much and have a hard time saying no. It's my heroin.
The following weekend (I can see my overall times plummetting about now..) is the Mesquite Canyon 50K. This hopefully will be my third straight year running it, lots of climbing, great collection of runners. Competitive, hilly, technical, hot, snakes, boulders. Should be just as exhausted at the start as last year following a Superstitions run but I don't want to miss it so I'm already signed up.
After that? Who knows? A beer under the sun at a Spring Training game?
Let's hope so.
The Javalina & The Jackass
My friend Jay Danek asked me to write about my experience at the Javalina Jundred last weekend. I've been moving, buying a house, and generally just very busy but finally got to it yesterday and it's posted on his website if you are interested.
Javalina Jundred countdown continues...
We are down to less than a week before the Javalina Jundred starts. This year there are almost 400 runners are taking their costumes out to the Pemberton trail looking for their first, second or who knows how many finishers. Last year I spent the entire race out there volunteering, crewing, and pacing and it was one of my favorite ultrarunning experiences I had last year. I loved being out there at the aid station helping people, cheering people on, meeting new people. The energy at JJ is different than other ultras, less serious but still with that driven attitude as runners are still put to task trying to run 100 miles. But when you have people dressed as Spiderman, Jester, and Naked Woman it's hard to take it all too seriously. Charlie Nickell did a great write up in Runner's World after last years race.
This year I will be at Jackass Junction Aid Station again for the first 8 hours of the race then marking the course for the night time and finally pacing one of Arizona's hopefuls, Michael Carson, in his first bid for a 100 mile finish. I've met so many more people in the ultra community that are running or volunteering at this race it's almost like a giant family reunion. From the Tucson Trail Runners Dallas Stevens, Michael Duer and Renee Stevens to the WMRC runners like Jay, Deron, Grandpa Jim among so many others. I can't wait to see Michael Miller out there shirtless (that sounds weird...) on his last lap, yet again cheering other runners on despite how he may be feeling. Javalina is a very unique ultra, the costumes, the trail, the RD's Jamil & Nick Coury, it's just something you can't find anywhere else. So while it is a "loop course" that may turn off some of the mountain runners, it's not easy, it's not flat and it IS beautiful. Fountain Hills has some of the best desert views in the area, it's a great place to see the Arizona desert and sets the bar extremely high for any ultra with it's organization, design and how much damn fun it is. I'm excited and I'm not even racing it!
If any Dragon's show up I know who to call. We're Facebook friends.
If you are interested Jay Danek asked me to put together who I thought would be the Top 5 Winners for both the Men's field and Women's field.
Picking ultra winner's is tough as it's not like you have Baseball Reference or some large data bank to reference. Running is filled with dark horses, people that have been training their ass's off and you've never heard of them. It's part of the beauty of it so if someone was left off the list, please don't get offended, it's just for fun and hopefully sparks some conversation.
Here's the link: http://www.mcdowellmountainman.com/
Elizabeth Howard gets my humor. Let's hope there are no dragons. I don't think the Coury's liability insurance for the race covers dragon attacks. http://www.lizahoward.com/2011/11/dragons/
I have a point to this. But first, Google "Cyborg" and take a look at the f'd up world out there (look at the images). Holy shitballs. What the hell is that??? Whoa. I just have to take a step back for a minute...
The point is I have since decided after Cascade Crest to run the Mogollon Monster 100 course in December, self supported, in winter. It's a challenge that I'm looking forward to in both to see the course as I'm expecting others to see it but also for the sake of running an extremely tough course and moving forward with this project once and for all. With the pace the National Forest staff works I expect the permits to be approved sometime around 2019. Just kidding, hopefully this month but it's quite a process and not one steeped in examples of a lot of efficiency. I'm pretty sure I'm bottom of the pile for them. Luckily I'm extremely persistent and it WILL happen. Until then I'm training hard to survive that contest in self will with no buckle, no fans, no "grand finale" to the run. I know already it's going to be one of the toughest challenges yet. I'm ready for it.
In between then I've signed on to pace my friend Michael Carson at the JJ100. Mike's wicked fast, like 7:30 50 mile time at Leona Divide. It's a little out of my realm but I know I can keep up with him for 15-30 miles (when he's been running for 60 miles...) My fear has been not being able to keep up with him so I'm been actively trying to hammer out some fast runs on the trails and last night I put in such a great run I was left sprinting down the mountain, at dark, full speed wondering if somehow my Mom lied to me and she conceived me with a night on the town with Chuck Norris (sorry Dad...). There's no other way to really explain how I was running so fast without being the lifeblood of a Legend like Norris, up every hill full speed as if there was no incline at all with no fatigue and did so for over 2 hours. I felt incredible, like my feet were barely touching the ground, smooth, fast, even steps up and down and in every which way. For those two brief hours I felt like a Cyborg. A machine. One of those "fast guys." Whether or not I could maintain it for a full 50K i'm not sure but I'm not sure I'm ready to say I couldn't have last night. It was one of those runs that wipes out the last ten disappointing runs and instills that sense of confidence for all the future ones. I dare Michael to try and drop me out there. I'm so excited to help him push harder on the course, help him through some rough spots, help him stay on target and just encourage him along the way. The multiple facets of running never seem to be confined to just running down the road. The more I run, the more I engage in the ultra community I realize that the physical aspects of running are really just a small part of it all. The mental aspect takes hold of so much more, and the person to person interaction holds a lot more meaning than expected, so much that in the end I find myself forgetting about physical pain and only thinking about the personal relationships I made out on the trail.
Running is something I am very passionate about but helping someone reach their goal is something that cannot be compared with anything. Last year pacing my friend Matt, closing out the last full lap, watching Matt dig so deep, push so hard with so much passion and then finish, inside his goal, was really incredible. You can't help but respect that drive, that passion and to be surrounded by it with SO many like minded people all concentrated in a 15 mile loop, is an incredible experience I wish more people would expose themselves to. I'm excited to be a small part in Michael's experience and everyone else on the trail. If you are running JJ100 let me know and I'll be sure to cheer you on! Either way, I'll be the guy cheering you on even if I don't know you...
..Most likely hopped up on Mountain Dew. A LOT of it.
Tom Thumb 50K
That pretty much sums up my experience as a runner. Crash & Burn. Otherwise known as the "bonk." I've mastered the bonk. I could run a clinic on bonking. I've bonked on purpose. I've bonked trying to avoid it. I'm just plain good at crashing & burning.
No better example than the Run Toms Thumb 50k in the McDowell Mountains of Scottsdale. Being an area I do a fair amount of my running and training I thought it would be interesting to be in an "race atmosphere" on trails I knew so well.
"Race Atmosphere" quickly turned into five people. Not five people plus me. Five people.
So off we went up the Pemberton Trail, jogging along the bearded runner John who was jumping into his first ultra.. He picked an ultra with 5,200 feet of climbing for his first one. I like this guy immediately.
Unfortunately I would barely see him again as I passed him as we hit the turnoff for Dixie Mine Trail and he would stay behind me until the finish, as would everyone else. It was a lonely 28 miles after this.
I made it all the way up Bell Pass, down Bell Pass, up Tom's Thumb and down East End feeling pretty solid and well on pace to break Paul Bonnett's course record of 5:34. I was feeling great and at mile 19 I had 124 minutes to finish the last 12 miles, just one climb back up East End from 128th street, the downhill to Prospector Trail and then the long slog back to Pemberton, albeit a mostly downhill one.
Enter the Darkness...
Climbing I can do. I can do it exhausted. I can do it fresh. Doesn't matter, I'll keep going up. The downhill of East End however was a brutal, motivation crushing downhill where not only did my perverbail "wheels fall off" but they then went bouncing down the cliff, and burst into flames. I was toast. Done. Exhausted. Just like that I was staring at an incline to Prospector like it was the last hundred yards to Camp Four on Everest.
Prospecting for Pemberton
The heat was on. 85+ degrees, 24 miles and over four hours in my head was baking. I was completely exposed and I couldn't cool down. I doused my head, arms and legs in the ice water refill at the 19 mile aid station. Thank Jesus Melissa suggested ice in my bladder or they'd have been helicoptering me out. How would that be for irony, getting evacuated out in Phoenix when it was not 114 but 85. I'd never step foot on a trail again out of sheer shame.
With the course record still in tact I hammered some water, cooled off and headed down Prospector, trying my best to push the pace, open up the legs and hope for the best. It worked for about 30 seconds where I felt amazing, ran the hills, powered the downs and was picking up the pace considerably. I was probably doing 7 minute miles but had I been wearing a Garmin I'm sure it was really more like 9 or 10's but it's more about the mental thought than the actual pace. It didn't last long though and before long I was walking the hills, walking the flats and cursing the downhills. I'd worn myself out, burned my legs, ran myself out of this race. I was done.
I reached the water station with 6.7 miles remaining and realized I had to run the last 7 ish miles at 8 minute miles to break Paul's course record. I gave up. Who care's about this stupid record. My mind wandered between disgust, disdain, and feelings of utter failure. I felt like I was Anton and Roes had just passed me at Western States. I was in the lead all day and now when it mattered most I lost it.
Pushing on to the last 3.7 miles of Pemberton I did the mentally taxing pacing method of running 3 minutes, walking a few, running to that bush, walking to that cactus. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And through the course hope that 3 minutes turns into 6 which turns into a solid 15 minutes of running. It was getting hot and I was only interested in finishing. So I did, finally in a solid finish running the last 1.5 miles and the last part from the road crossing to the finish. I could see the tents up ahead, imagined the fan fare, the cheering, the cold drinks, food, and sprinted through the last few rolling hills, into the Pemberton parking lot, along the chalk lined "finisher's chute" and crossed the finish line in 5:55.
Nobody even so much as looked in my direction. People went about their business at the tents not related to our race, kept talking, kept milling about. Weren't they curious why the heck this salt covered, sweaty mess of a guy was sprinting for no apparent reason? Apparently not.
I made it back before everyone else did, considerably so, by over an hour. There were not any other "fast" runners though like the Michael Millers, Jay Danek's, Michael Carson's that would torch that course and the course record but I'm still claiming it as my first ultra win. I ran harder and longer than I have in any other ultra with more climbing and overall elevation gain. I simply got beat up with all the hills, probably should have walked a few more of them and done more to keep the heat from getting to me so much.
It was a fun event though, great course, and hopefully next year being later in the season it attracts more runners than it did this time. It deserves to be more than a 5 person race. Race Director Donovan Sarka does a great job putting it on, puts a lot of effort and it should be a staple race on everyone's race calendar. www.runtomthumb.com
Hopefully next year. By then I should have my doctorate in Bonking.