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...)
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.
The Monster has officially consumed me.
Consumed everything around me.
Now just a little over three weeks away its down to the wire on planning this monstrosity. What started as a pipe dream over some maps almost two years ago has nearly become the dream.
A one hundred mile wilderness run through some of Arizona's most beautiful terrain was the goal from the start. I had a ton of help from local ultrarunner Jeff Jones on designing the course and creating one that is both challenging and logistically possible with the unique challenges that comes with a 2,000 ft. escarpment between aid stations. I sparked the idea on the tail end of our Superstitions Wilderness 50 Mile adventure and Jeff took off with it like a kid in a candy store. My original idea to create a hundred in Arizona where people would come, run and leave with a whole new idea of the state, showing that it was more than "just a desert." It started Jeff off in a tirade of ideas that resulted in nearly 500 emails over the next year.
What we came up with amazes me with each long run spent on the course. Weekend after weekend, I've driven the 100 miles from my house at 4am to arrive at the trailhead to run the course. Mile after mile I fall more in love with the area, the terrain and every God forsaken rock that hits the bottom of my sole. I've run some sections of the course a half dozen times this summer alone, others just a few times, but in all, I've traversed that Rim as much as anyone probably has at this point and now just a few weeks away...I can't wait to see what everyone has to say about it.
The challenging thing about directing a race is not fully grasping what it is that is "hard" for other people. Every race bills itself as a certain adjective leaning one way or another. "Hardest", "Toughest", "Fastest" something or other. Even the Zane Grey 50M race this race shares part of the course with has for years been called, "Toughest 50 Miler" which for many has been a debatable, none wishing to debate fresh off a ZG finish. This race, the Monster, will likely be one of the toughest endurance feats many of the entrants will have taken on at this point. I know this because of what I have experienced on other courses, what others have when running this course and how revered the Zane Grey course is in general. It's going to be hard. Really hard.
But what is "hard?" Hard to me is the Lean Horse 100. Running a flat surface 50 miles, then turning around and running it back?! That is a hell of a lot of running. Keys 100? Indiana 100? Javalina 100? I've paced the last couple years at Javalina Jundred for 30+ miles and while it's probably the most FUN race atmosphere and an event I look forward to each year...I'm extremely hesitant to ever run it myself. Because I feel it's extremely hard not having a major climb plopped somewhere in there or having to repeat the same thing over and over again. Across the Years this past year I hit 50 miles and quit out of sheer boredom. Terrible I know and something I'm probably going to go back and rectify but that day, running loops...I just couldn't get myself into a groove and really enjoy it. It was one of the hardest 50 miles I've done and I didn't climb 12 feet...
So how will everyone feel about the Mogollon Monster 100? I have compared a lot of hundreds trying to determine how it will be met once the first race is completed. I've spent countless hours on the internet reading all 88+ other hundreds websites, maps, elevation profiles, crew access, past times, cutoffs, etc. There's only about a dozen races with more elevation gain or outright by the numbers is "harder." Of course there are the Hardrocks, Wasatch races with the climbing but also taking into account the average elevation of each mile, terrain, technical nature, weather and all the other factors that makes a race difficult and challenging some are tougher than others for different reasons. I feel this race has them all to put it in a class that will challenge even the most seasoned ultrarunner. That wasn't the goal in designing the race any more was the extra 6 miles some kind of masochistic attempt at one upping anyone. It's just the way it panned out that way.
So after hundreds of hours of planning, hundreds and hundreds of miles on the course, and over eighteen months of constant planning we're almost there. The buckles are in the mail, supplies filling my garage, volunteers committing and contingencies being finalized. Planning a hundred mile race was a dream, an incredibly ambitious one I'm finding out, but one that I'm determined to see through successfully. Runners are coming from all over the country, pacers and crews with them. We'll all be in Pine, Arizona come Friday morning and I'll be there standing up among them for the briefing. A moment I can't believe is almost here, a weekend of determination, stubborness and drive coupled with beautiful, surreal & majestic. I can't wait to be on the other side of the finish line to see each of the runners come through successfully. To be able to shake their hands, congratulate them and hand them the infamous belt buckle that all non-runners feel is so insignificant.
20,000 feet of climbing.
One hell of a challenge completed.
You won't find a more rewarding experience anywhere.
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.