I've wanted to explore the side canyons of the Mogollon Rim for years now, and after this last trip, I know I'll be exploring them for years to come.
No trail, no route. Simply following what game trails can be found, pushing your way through thick manzanita, berry bushes and everything else that comes your way. Down and out steep ravines holding to themselves their own secret kingdoms of life, then up the steep cliffs to the rocky outcroppings that top out to the 8,000 ft Mogollon Rim. I saw more elk than I could count, came upon a newborn even that scurried off. Had it not jumped up four feet from me lying at 7,000 ft in the sun, I never would have seen it. A bald eagle soaring above me, an Arizona Rattlesnake I nearly stepped right on top of. Everywhere I looked wildlife was there, alert of my presence, but generally not caring. After several hours the elk had seen me working my way across the valley and canyons, and just kept a few hundred feet away, and eventually they became my guide to the only remotely accessible ascent to the top.
I ran .6 miles on the Highline Trail before I took an unexpected left turn into the woods. I wasn't planning on it, I just did it and almost 4 hours later I was on the top of the Rim, but had only covered a little over 3 miles.
I spent the rest of the day wandering through the forest. Quite literally, with no intent on mileage or direction, just walking through the woods alone. I came back out to the edge of the Rim and found another elk trail leading down the face of the Rim towards the railroad tunnel. What started out as a well used trail turned into a "how in the hell do elk go up or down this????" trail. Eventually I made it down the rock pile and then went on the Mogollon Monster course for about 100 yards under the powerline before breaking off into the woods again to follow the river downstream to the Washington Park trail head where my truck was. I found a game trail, and then a more worn trail that pushes through marshes and small streams before opening up into a beautiful field of waist high ferns.
One of the most incredible routes I've ever done.
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??
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.
I'm so close. I know they are too. Right on my tail, looking down at my watch, trail crunching beneath my feet.
I'm doing it.
I'm out in front and nobody is going to catch me.
I look down at my watch to check my pace and see it ticking off at 6:37 minute miles as I feel someone coming up from behind me. He's making his move.
There he goes.
My lead has disappeared, my single greatest moment in my ultrarunning career. My first lead.
All 0.87 miles of it.
I should have quit right there.
I went into Mesquite Canyon for the fourth year, every year since it's started, and I wanted to put my training to the test. My last 10 weeks of hard track workouts, higher mileage, more climbing, faster paced long runs.
I was ready to see what I could do and I wanted to do so much better than I had before. I wanted to take a full minute off my overall pace, down to 9:28 minute mile and under 4:45.
Granted I've never ran a 4:45 50K, or at least at a race, and this wasn't an easy one. Mesquite Canyon has 4,700 feet of climbing and some rugged, rocky technical terrain. The climbs are long and sustained as the downhills are but very little flat running, maybe six miles total. Add in a couple tough sandy miles in Ford Canyon around the marathon mark and it's a very challenging course. A fact I conveniently forget every year.
In the end though, it was a PR for me with a 5:07, about 6 minutes faster than last year. I ran all but 1.2 miles of it. I wasn't sick, I wasn't overtrained, I just didn't pull it together on the goat camp climb and put in some terrible miles. I used to get away with that when I was going out there and putting in a 5:30-6:00 hour 50K time but when you run one mile in 19 minutes followed by a 16 minute on a climb...that hurts your overall time and I just needed to hammer that and I didn't have anything in me.
I still went from 8th to 4th in the back half of the race and ran nearly the entire course, something I was hoping to do to see where my real fitness level came out to. As tired as I was throughout, I was still able to run a solid pace and that's at least encouraging. I'm not going to dwell on the disappointment of it all. I have 4 remaining weeks to take from this race what I need to and dial everything in for Zane Grey.
Huge congratulations to Bret Sarnquist for winning the 50K. He passed me heading into the bottom of Goat Camp around mile 12 as I expected and went on to pass everyone else including what was the leader in the final stretch into the finish. He's a huge finisher and if I'm in front of him at Zane Grey early on...I'm doing something wrong.
That's me in first place....yup. First place. By default really because nobody wanted to start the race out front...
Mountain Lions...in the White Tanks
Look at this photo? Yeah...cool except for the deer. This is a water tank that is on the western slope of the White Tanks put out there with a motion sensor camera. It has captured a good deal of mountain lion activity over the years (this photo is somewhat old), and not the most healthy looking of cats. Although would you really care if it was healthy or not biting into your neck? Me neither. But it's interesting to see the documentation of their presence even though I knew they are out there.
There aren't many times I'm in the Tom's Thumb rock formations at 4:30am thinking I'm alone...there always seems to be something lurking in those rocks and being that I've seen deer all through the eastern slope of the McDowell's, I'm almost positive they are up there. Add in some photos from last march at the Boulders Resort (just a couple miles up the road) where a female and her two yearlings were hanging out on the golf course.
So that's pretty encouraging. I wonder how long before a runner comes across one up there? Between the White Tanks, McDowell's, Spur Cross, you'd think there would be more sightings, even for a very reclusive cat such as the cougar. Or maybe I've been readingthis site too much...(Warning: It's quite disturbing and you'll never want to go to British Columbia after reading a few. Or at least Vancouver Island...)
Spur Cross Trail - Elephant Mountain 35K
The training has worn on my but the progress is there and as the race inches closer and closer I continue to get a little faster, a little stronger and a little bit closer to my goal.
Dominating the Highline Trail on April 27th.
In itself it's a stupid goal. Nobody really "dominates" that trail, they just more or less survive it at less visible rates of misery. But I stated my goal, I'm sticking to it.
Sub ten hours at Zane Grey.
The closer we get to the date it is both more daunting and more conceivable with each passing training day. I'm logging more miles than I ever have and on a heavy work schedule with limited time for actual running. I've been creative in getting the runs in and sometimes I've just outright had to miss some key workouts, workouts I hate missing but time is simply at a premium at my house.
One big test for me was the 35K at Elephant Mountain, a new Aravaipa Running race. I wanted to run this race as soon as Jamil Coury, one of the two founders and race directors, told me he had it in his plans for the upcoming DRT Series. I'd run the Spur Cross trail many times and twice had run out of the Spur Cross Conservation Area across the Maricopa Trail to the Cave Creek Recreation area. One in particular in mid-summer where I ran out of water 5 miles from the car in 100+ degrees and was sucking on a rock barely running the downhills as my kidneys were screaming F-bombs at my stupidity...
Aside from that the trails are stunning, runnable and fun as any single track gets. I knew it would be a fast but challenging course and a great one to test out my new found fitness, if you can call it as such.
My goal was to break 3 hours and hit 2:55. It's 21.7 miles with 2,300 feet of climbing. I ran the Cave Creek Thriller 30K back in October on some of the same sections and did it in 3:04 for two less miles and the same climbing. I wanted to run every step, skip most aid stations and remain up front the entire race.
I hit the turnaround in 8th place in 1:29. I had just passed the first 7 guys and saw Bret Sarnquist saying to his buddy ahead of me to push it hard on the way back. I hit the turnaround and ran up every hill, seemingly never catching anyone, getting more and more frustrated that somehow I'm running a 9 minute mile uphill and NOT catching anyone??
This doesn't happen in the middle of the pack. I'd be passing everyone by now. We're in a new world now.
I watched the runner in white up ahead, a double switchback ahead of me and I wasn't gaining any ground. I pushed on and as we crested the Spur Cross trail I knew we had a long, gradual downhill for several miles. I planned for this downhill, knowing we were at a good mileage where my body always feels good and I thought I could push sub 7 minute miles. I pushed on as soon as I hit the decline and within a half a mile I caught him and once we hit the flat I made the pass and went on barely stopping at the aid station to fill up water.
In every other race I've ever run I'd have stuck behind that guy and played it cautious, fearful I'd be passed right back.
Not anymore. I passed that guy like he was standing still and blew by the 50K'ers and everyone else on that long, steady downhill. People were barely trotting on and I was off in the bushes trying to pass them and maintain a pace where I could catch the guys out in front. I knew Jeremy Schmucki, my arch nemesis, the Jeremy I've never beat in ultra running. Bret was somewhere up there and I wanted to get as close to him as I could, if at all.
I kept plugging away, surprised I wasn't fading at all and came up on Jeremy walking up a small incline. I knew something was wrong and sure enough he was having a bad cramp on his toes. I asked if he needed water or anything but he was fine and just walking it off. He'd come in much slower than he normally would so I won't count this one quite yet.
I started to really struggle once we hit the road and even though it was flat (ish) I couldn't keep the sub 8 minute mile and started to fade. I needed food, some kind of nourishment and within a couple minutes I hit the last aid station. Half a banana later I started up the final climb to the big descent into the finish, the finish I dream of throughout the entire race, every race. I dream of coming down the hill, passing by everyone in a full sprint into the finish line with an insignificant time but one that I worked hard for and finished as hard as I could. It pumps me up throughout the race and keeps me motivated. I wait for the final miles, suffer through all the others, just for that moment. I left that aid station amped to catch the guy in front of me.
I didn't care who it was.
I didn't care how far up front of me he was.
I was going to catch him.
So I set off running up the mountain. One switchback after the next I plugged away. Hikers were coming down the mountain, my head was up and I was running with a smile. I was going to pass that guy.
I made it a half a mile before I first saw him. And he was not close to me at all. I looked at where he was when I spotted him and then clocked it until I reached that same spot...
.67 miles away...
Two miles left.
No matter. Big goals just mean you have to work harder.
After several more climbing switchbacks I knew I was gaining on him. If I could reel him into a quarter mile with the final descent left he wouldn't stand a chance. He can't possibly run downhill as fast as I can.
So I hit that downhill with a reckless abandon I can't remember in a race since Jay Danek and I crushed the hills at San Tan 50k last year. Just absolutely smashed the hills to the point I couldn't make the turns on the switchbacks without coming to a complete stop. Hikers slowed me down and as I descended the mountain I could see him out in front.
He's getting close.
This was going to come down to it. It's going to come down to me pushing my body to the max the rest of the way and to the very last inch of this course.
I geared up mentally, took a few deep breathes and as I reached the flats I pushed on hard, getting ready for a full sprint last couple hundred meters.
The guy was nowhere in sight, I turned the corner along the road, a hundred meters before the final right hand turn leading to another hundred meters to the finish chute.
He was about to hit the right turn.
I didn't catch him.
I deflated a bit, slowed and looked down and took a deep breath.
A few feet later I see him out in front of me. Trotting near me from the other side of the turnoff. He'd gone the wrong way and was coming back to the turn.
We reached the turn at the exact same time. I could have easily turned in front of him but put my arm out signaling him to take the lead and finish it out.
I wasn't going to beat him anyway and we trotted it in together for a finish time 1 second behind his.
It would go down as my only race...ever...in my life...hat I haven't sprinted to the finish. 5k, 50k, 50M, 100M, whatever it has been I've sprinted to the finish. I look forward to it, gear up for it and really enjoy knowing at the end of a race I put every ounce of remaining effort into it.
Trotting into the race chute and seeing that 1 second difference continues to eat at me. Maybe because the guy never said anything to me afterwards or maybe because I'm not going to ever let someone beat me at the finish in a sprint. But it does and continues to.
Overall, it was a solid race. I did run the entire 21.7 miles and ran at a faster pace than any other trail race I've done. I ran a bit conservative not knowing how my body would respond to the pace so it's encouraging to know I could have maybe knocked a few more minutes off with a little more experience "racing."
Aside from the Elephant Mountain race I knocked out a 50K in the McDowell's mostly solo on Saturday. Grandpa Jim Fowler met me for the first 9 miles but he had to head home and I finished up the remaining 4 hours alone in a 5,600 ft 50K in 5:30. It was a tough run solo but mainly because I wanted to try a full 50K without any caffeine.
It's my last 50K without caffeine.
This weekend I'm running my first road race in 4 years. The Mountain to Fountain 15K. It's a 9.3 mile road route from the McDowell Mountain Regional Park into the town of Fountain Hills. 900+ are scheduled to be there on the course and my coach has me pegged for a sub 60 minute time.
That's a 6:26 pace.
For 9.3 miles.
Which would be the fastest I've run.
I think I can do it, it's just going to be very hard. I've hit faster times at track, had a relatively "easy" time at track at fast paces but that's going to be a real challenge.
March 23rd I'm in for my 4th year at Mesquite Canyon's 50K. It's a very challenging course that last year I ran in 5:14. I'm shooting for a 4:45 or under this year knowing that I can run a lot of what I walked last year and really can just push the pace much faster all the miles without as much concern that I'm going to be worn out later on. Whether that actually happens is another story but I'm big on goals that are outside my comfort zone.
Crown King 50K on April 6th is up in the air. I hope to make it to that race but also need to get up to the Rim for some Highline Training and have limited time to do both. I'm also not sure I want to run a fast, uphill 50K 3 weeks before Zane Grey. We'll see.
Until then, I'm excited to see where this will go and as each day passes I'm one day closer to starting out on that trail in Pine, Arizona.
In the cold.
In the dark.
Setting out on what will almost certainly be my most challenging physical feat to date.
Dean Dougherty at 7 months old!
I'd sacrifice a run any day to hang out and build some Lincoln Log mansions with Dean or chew on some wooden blocks (sometimes allowing Dean to play as well), knock some cars around the play room and rock out to some good tunes while he dry humps the obnoxious plastic toy he uses to stabilize his wobbly legs. So while being a father comes with its sacrifices, you sure do learn a lot. Here are a few things I wish someone had pointed out to me for a fair warning:
1) Baby clothes are designed to make it as difficult as possible to get the kid in the outfit. They come with 200 buttons instead of a single zipper. I'm not sure why, but everything has buttons. So without fail...the diaper is showing somehow despite it being a "onesie" and once again I didn't line up the stupid buttons. Dumb...I'll take full zippers until 5 years old please. In fact, lets just make all outfits come with zippers. Thanks.
2) Why are the head holes so dang small on so many outfits? Some have buttons on the back of the neck to let the head get through but even though the rest of the outfit fits Dean I feel like getting a shirt off his body is like pulling a golf ball through a garden hose. And I think he feels the same way sometimes....
3) I watched the movie "The Changeup" with my Man Crush Jason Bateman and scoffed at the ridiculousness of the poop and pee scenes. I'm not scoffing anymore. I haven't had this much urine on me since '99. A baby boy with a diaper off is like a loaded weapon without a safety. That thing can go off when you least expect it. I've used a variety of objects to block it. I've since learned my lesson but there were many a day where I was left totally baffled at what just happened. Like the time before he could move around I went around the kitchen counter to grab a diaper. I turned my head, bent down into the drawer, grabbed a diaper...
...and there it was...
...a beautiful Fountain of Urine shooting straight up in a perfect little arc onto the floor. Normally funny in of itself until I walked over in a haste and realized that the perfect little arc was creating a puddle of urine directly on my cell phone.
So now I talk on the phone and think of Dean.
4) Don't play rough. I'm not a coddler. So I tend to be a little rougher with Dean than my wife is and it's certainly backfired in the early days. I've always dreamed of being that dad with his son on his shoulders at the county fair or wherever, so I was excited to first try it when Dean was strong enough in the neck to not go limp and fall off my shoulders into a pile. So after I hit his head on a few light fixtures we worked out the kinks in what should be a pretty simple task of walking around the house. As time went on Dean got stronger and we'd run around the living room. I'd grab him and flip him around and then just like that I had four ounces of spit up filling up the cavity of my ear drum.
And Dean would just smile like he just hit a home run to win the game.
And I wouldn't even care.
The Law of the Land - Zane Grey 50M Countdown
Less than three months away from my 3rd running of the Zane Grey 50M race in Pine, Arizona. I've written on here before that I'm determined to hit sub 10 hours at this race, a time that is far about and beyond anything I've done before (it would be a 2:24 PR, as in 2 hours and 24 minutes) on this course but something I feel I'm fully capable of doing.
So I will.
To get there I'm certainly pushing the envelope on what I've done before in training.
As in...I'm training.
I have a scheduled workout plan each week and I've now gone to track workouts four straight weeks. Insignificant to many but given I've been to the track maybe four times in five years...it's significant to me. They've been tough workouts but the sustained high pace each week will definitely make me stronger, and faster, as a runner.
I'm putting in what would be "low" miles for many an ultrarunner but a steady investment in time and energy for me. I've hit 60 miles a week once before (without a race) and only done back to back weeks of 50 miles once before. I trained for my first hundred with one 50 mile week and a ton of really hard 50k-50m races or training runs. It's worked but I've never been one to be up front.
That will have to change at Zane Grey. In the 23 years the race has been around, only 82 times has the course been run in 9:59:59 or faster. It's been a sell out for several straight years and while it was a very small race the first several years, it's still been a lot of times out there so sub ten hours is aggressive. Only six runners out of 126 starters broke ten hours in 2012. Karl Meltzer ran 9:25 and that was 3rd place. This year is packed with even more fast men and women than previous years, a group of two dozen that have run that fast before at tough races.
But I don't care about any of them. At all.
In fact, I don't care at all about what place I end up in. Just finishing and then breaking 9:59:59. It has nothing to do with ego and everything to do with setting a goal, and reaching that goal.
Any goal worth reaching easily wasn't a goal worth setting in the first place. This is going to be hard and I'm going to have to work to get there.
"Run when you don't want to, walk when you can't."
I was thinking about this out on the trails on Saturday at South Mountain. I run almost all my long runs with someone else, mainly for the company and to pass the time on the trails. This past weeekend I wanted to go out and put in a four hour run with a ton of climbing. There were many times I didn't want to run but knew I needed to and would starting jogging back up the hill. After a while I looked down and realized I just ran the last 2 miles without stopping and climbing 1200 feet. And I started to believe I could do this.
I started running ultras four years ago and my brother in law said to me,
"Run when you can, walk when you can't." - Brett Addington
It was sage advice I took and used at every training run and race for the next three years. Yet, a couple weeks ago on our monthly Bell Pass Out N' Back 8 Mile friendly race I had a new theory as I trudged up at a steady jog the 1,800 feet in the couple miles to Bell Pass. I was running what I for years was walking, and I was running it hard. I didn't want to, I knew I didn't want to, I knew I wanted to walk, power hike this section and settle in to the top.
But I didn't and I kept running. So something changed for me and I started thinking;
"Run when you don't want to, walk when you can't."
So I'm going to keep running, even when I don't want to, until I get to that finish line at Trail head 260.
I've been using Strava.com as a training tool for my running for the second half of 2012 and will continue with is through 2013. I wrote a piece for www.trailrunningclub.com on why. Check it out here:
Another year, another beautiful trip through the Superstition Wilderness to start the new year.
This was the third year we've had this run, a Fat Ass the first weekend of January. I've had a bit of an obsession with the Superstitions since my brother Noah and I started out here hiking up Siphon Draw trail up the Flatiron. All those times I had always wondered what was out beyond those rocks and ridge lines, going on for seemingly forever.
So one day I bought a map of the Superstitions and I started to find out.
And what I found was incredible. A world of side canyons, springs, trails, cactus, trees, thorns, and solitude. We'd run the first year the same year I ran 50 miles in the Superstitions on a Jeff Jones designed route with Paul Rondeau. That run showed me such a diverse range of mountains that held so little care for your wellbeing. A ruthless system of trails hidden among abandoned dwellings, gold mines and little used trails. One mistake and you're going to be found by the strike of a miracle, nothing else.
So with any self supported run having the right people is always key. We had another hardy group join us this time with many making their first trips to the Superstitions on this run. We had three of our Mogollon Monster's 9 finishers in Jerome Jourdon, Rudolph Palmer and Danny Speros. Deva Lingemann (last woman standing at Mog100 with Heather Lightfoot), Jon Roig (3rd time for the Superstitions 50K), my brother Noah "I don't run from April to January and debut with this run" Dougherty, and Jon Nelson. Jon joined me on the Gonzalez 24 hour run and is running Zane Grey for the first time this April. This would be a great test for him, the Superstitions have arguably more rocks than the Highline trail...
I now only run once a week it seems and after running 16 miles in at South Mountain the previous Sunday I didn't run a step until the following Saturday. I went out for an easy six miles in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and ran into a couple friends. I jumped in behind them for the next several miles and ran back to my car solo. Getting back to my car I realized I was missing my car key.
Backtracking 3 miles to the last place I had it I didn't see it and gave up. But not before I put in 13 miles.
Eight miles into the Superstitions the following day I knew it was going to be a long one. Dead legs, no energy, gassed before we even got going. So it took a good bit to push past that and keep a smile on my face. Even the incredible descent off Miner's Needle couldn't get me going and coming into mile 18 at Peralta Trailhead I was seriously considering bailing at my own Fat Ass.
Yet as usually happens and I've grown to know this about the sport, there are inevitable rebounds. I always think to myself, no matter how shitty I feel during a long run, if I just keep moving long enough its bound to turn around. It's just a matter of time.
So we reached Peralta and I got to see my wife and our son Dean, grabbed some melons and recharged the battery, said goodbye to the Jon's and Noah and we headed up the biggest climb of the day.
Climbing is my battery recharge for sure. I can feel like stringing myself up to the next tree branch with my backpack straps one minute and then we could start up a several mile climb and I just click into gear and things start to turn around. By the time we reach the top I felt much better and I was looking forward to the long ridge line running back down the valley.
The five of us hammered out the remaining 13 miles with a great group downhill, everyone self sufficient, nobody outwardly struggling just pushing on. We hit the Black Mesa Trail and knocked out the climb out, passed a group of horse back riders at the Second Water turnoff and finished off the remaining two miles to make it back in 7:30 on the dot. A "slow" 50K for most but as a group a great time with plenty of time to enjoy the day.
As with every year the park rangers are at the lots and always look on us with such inquisitive eyes, cowboy hats turned down when they ask the inevitable question, "Where did you all start?"
This year however we caught up with the Ranger at the Peralta Trailhead and he said he would meet us back at First Water later on.
Sure enough, there he stood with his partner at the top of the hill by the trail signout. These guys know the trails as well as anyone and they know how rough they are. Even though these kinds of training runs never make it into the ranks of ultra signup the admiration of these old cagey cowboys makes it well worth the effort.
Until next year...
I've been running fairly consistently since 2009 now and as of yet, have not had any real injuries beyond minor day to day issues or overall extreme. There were a few short sections of time where I was on Dr's orders to stay off the trails for other reasons but not for a running specific injury. In fact, since I started this endurance running thing after the 2008 Tucson Marathon my only injuries were heat related (Rhabdo), a few torn ligaments in my left ankle blocking a shot on goal in soccer where it spun my foot around in a circle. Oh and that one time my liver was working on overdrive after my bachelor party where for at least three to five hours I thought for certain all my major organs would shut down simultaneously, I'd shat myself and I'd be found lying dead on my living room floor in my own vomit. I blame every single one of you bastards that were with me. I'd rather have someone split my foot open than have that again.
So despite the non-runner's typical comments of "your knees are going to be shot" and "you're going to be crippled if you keep this up."
Right. Don't leave any of that 32 oz Coke in that jug fatty. Make sure you get it all down before you finish judging me.
Inevitably, those comments of impending paralyzation come from those that fell significantly behind on their workouts back in the Carter Administration.
But in all reality, I've been fairly unscathed and my legs and body have held up well. I rarely fall on he trails, stay off pavement like it's Herpes, and my overall weekly run totals are less than most road marathoners.
That is until late November when I started to feel this sharp pain in my left hip flexor.
Given there is almost always some kind of ailment plaguing my body somewhere and knowing that if you just run long enough most anything just goes away. So I'd run through it and keep up my runs, running more and more hills, running a higher percentage of every run and running every run faster than I have before. I felt stronger, faster and could really feel myself turning that proverbial corner.
So naturally thats when my body breaks down.
After the South Mountain 30K I had to shut it down. That entire 22 mile run was a pity party that nearly resulted in me sitting on the side of the trail in frustration. Every step was painful and every step up was worse. Being on the National Trail wasn't the best location to be dreading every uphill step.
Eleven days later I hadn't run. My legs were aching to do something.
I thought about waiting longer, two full weeks, maybe even three, but I couldn't keep watching these 72 degree days disappear after suffering through the miserable summers exactly for these days. So I tried it out last Friday night, a short four miles of mostly flat Preserve trails.
Ok, we're getting somewhere.
Next up came a run of Pemberton Trail and it's 15.4 miles of generally flat, rolling trail with Jay Danek and a couple of some fast runners two days later on a foggy, cold, wet Sunday morning. 2 hours and five minutes later we finished and I was beat. But my hip held up and I didn't have any pain like I had before. I was excited to be able to get back to it and now after two weeks I could train again. I ran the next day, Monday, and then took four days off as precautionary in not overdoing the return to training before running tonight.
It was a run that was one that you want to be over from the minute it starts to the minute it finished. Painful, slow, hurt, stomach hurt, ankles hurt, and with every step you question why the hell you feel like this. Was it the lunch I had? The 22 Christmas cookies? Half pound of fudge? All coffee hydration strategy?
A garbage run if there ever was one.
Yet somehow I was still moving along ok, and on a climb up the backside of Stone Mountain on trail #100 I started to click and in climbing up the washed out rock pile of a trail I came up on a guy on a bike. He was pushing it, the bike that is, wearing blue jeans, a pair of white sneakers you get at JC Penny, a grey bedroll strapped to his back with clothesline rope and a long sleeve denim shirt. I jogged up on him and said, "Merry Christmas" as I passed.
He looked to his left towards me as I trotted up on him.
His face was sunken and dirty. Five days deep from his last shave, giving him a disheveled look.
He looked over while pushing his bike up this scree trail. Making terribly slow time through the rocks, his back burdened by the pack and weight of his gear on his bike.
He was a homeless man, likely on his way up the trail and over to the Cave Creek section I've seen many make their homes in washes over the years. His look came with no response, no smile, no grin, no return of greeting.
It was a look of pure despair. A look of, "Merry Christmas?? Are you f-ing kidding me? Are you seriously saying that to me as you run past me while I push this bike up this mountain??? F-you."
I trudged on like someone had kicked me hard. Right in the stomach.
Here I was fretting over a strained hip muscle that was keeping me from training for an insignificant hobby that has no bearing on the improvement of anyone's life around me.
And he was pushing his bike up a cliff towards the pile of dirt he was going to make home for the holidays. Or maybe not, I don't know. But that's what was crossing my mind after that one singular look.
I kept on, thinking about that guy and came up on the long stretch of steep rocky switchbacks to the saddle heading west. I picked it up and started to push harder and harder up this hill, faster and faster around one switchback after another, driven by some unknown desire to punish myself on this climb.
The last 100 meters is bedrock and scattered shale, making the footing loose in places. I simply started sprinting from one open spot in the rocks to another, not looking towards the top but simply watching my feet land with each step. Closer and closer to the top I made it, far faster than I had ever done that hill before, a hill I've run so many times before.
As I reach the top there stood a man.
He was not a hiker.
Not a biker.
Not a man walking his dog.
Not a runner.
Just a man standing there. He carried nothing in his hands, nothing on his back. He was portly in size, older in age and standing there looking at me. He had a big white beard, an overgrown one rugged in appearance from years of neglect.
He seemed so out of place, out here in the desert with no apparent reason for being there.
Yet there he stood. There he was. Standing there as I sprinted up this hill, out of breath and fighting back the warm spit inevitably bringing on some dry heaving.
He stood there and as I looked up he was smiling.
He didn't say anything. He just smiled. He looked at me and smiled.
I said, "Merry Christmas" and he smiled.
I crested the saddle and dropped down the backside of the trail and after a minute I looked back towards that man.
He was gone.
A couple miles along I climbed to the top of the highest ridge and stood at the top. Looking out over all of Phoenix, the center of the city, the meager Downtown to the south and miles and miles of houses in every direction. So much to see, so many beautiful views. You can see forever up there and yet all I could search for was that man on the trail. I could see every trail and he was nowhere to be seen.
I headed down and sprinted back to the spot hoping to find this man. I'm not even sure why. Not sure why it was so important to find this man. Who was he? What was he doing out there? He didn't look like anyone that lives there. Was he homeless? Was he the other guys friend with the bike? Was he still going to be on the trail when I headed back the same way? Maybe I could give them my headlamp? I could head back home and grab some food for them maybe...
One turn on the trail after another there was nobody in sight. I was alone this night on the trail, in the center of Phoenix, not a soul in sight.
I finished the last two miles to my car and sat in the drivers seat thinking about those two men and all the little things in this world that often go unnoticed and under appreciated.
Like a working body. A warm bed. A hot meal. A single look. A single smile.
I started the run pissed off my Ipod was dead when I tried to turn it on.
What?! No music?!! I already feel like garbage and I'm going to run without tunes now?
"I'm going home. F- this."
I'm really glad I didn't.