Never having run a race longer than 50 miles or having never ran 100 miles in a race before I'd have to admit there is a great deal of anxiety attached to it the week before the race. Now sitting under 48 hours away from the ten a.m. start time Saturday I'm filled with an increasing level of "what the hell did I do" feeling. In less than two days I'm going to be standing at the start line with 149 other people about to cross a line and not return for over 24 hours. We are going to essentially run five miles, hike Camelback Mountain and then repeat that pace for 100 miles. Wow. Oh, and it cost me $200, plane tickets, rental car, hotel room, time off work and countless hours of training, gels, power bars, gas, and make up dinners for always being gone on weekends from my wife.
So far...totally worth it.
The "journey" (I'm going full cliche here) to running a 100 mile race is nothing to scoff at. The training itself is nearly all self motivation. The number of mornings getting up at 3-4am to beat the miserable heat (yes...miserable. Don't bother trying to say you like it. I don't believe you.) that Phoenix produces on a daily basis. Starting a run in the dark and it's 92 degrees? What the heck is that? After dinner runs when it's 104? Yippee. Yet with the heat comes the trips to avoid it. Long runs on the Mogollon Rim, Mt. Lemmon, R2R2R, Kendrick Mountain, up and down and around Mt. Humphries in 75 degree weather. Visiting and experiencing areas I would not have had a chance to visit had I not been doing this training. I've put in some really quality runs, really beat myself up on solo runs in the heat and really pushed myself through some tough runs. I think despite my "low" mileage I'm ready, equipped and feel pretty confident going into this run.
Yet I'm borderline freaking out.
Well...that's probably an overstatement as I rarely, if ever, freak out. More accurately, I'm deathly afraid something is going to happen to my left ankle which has been bothering me for over a month. Is it phantom pain or is it going to be a major issue come mile 70? I can deal with pain, discomfort (please not chaffing...please) but it's tough to run down mountains without a 2nd ankle. I try to keep perspective though and think back to my first ultra, the Mountain Mist 50k in Huntsville, Alabama. Three days before the race I stood up from my office chair and tweaked my right knee in the standard, "Tragic stand up from office chair knee injury" that everyone experiences. My right knee felt loose, weak and I was extremely nervous going into the race thinking i had a meniscus tear and how similar this felt to my first knee surgery. Five miles into it the feeling disappeared, never even remembered it was there and I finished with a solid time on an extremely technical trail. So that memory keeps things fresh in my mind and with a firm grip on perspective. I'm confident it will hold up but it if doesn't? I blame Obama.
So what's the Cascade Crest 100 all about? Well...it's a loop course. 75% single track with 25% forest road/dirt road/old jeep road. The course works its way up and over a lot of ridge lines, lots of sweet single track on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and some monster climbs. 20,454 feet of climbing give or take. There is a "Trail from Hell" around mile 65-70 that is overgrown, blow down trees that takes most runners 2-3 hours to cover the five hours. In the dark. The Cardiac Needles after miles 70 are crazy steep inclines one right after another and then the highest point of the whole race, Thorp Mountain, is at mile 88...only 5,900 feet but still...mile 88?
I'm looking forward to every last inch of it. I've put in so much climbing for training I'm nervous any straight flat areas I'm going to struggle because I'm only trained for up's and down's. Luckily there are no flat areas...so I'm able to concentrate on hammering sections of the course cracked out on caffeine and music. Yes. I said cracked out.
Caffeine induced, music fueled highs. It's why I love running. Fastest 20 minute stretches of my runs guaranteed. How? Easy. Just pop a Clif Double Espresso gel and turn on this song (You Tube clip below): Go ahead...press play. Or if you are really impatient just put it to 4:15 and give it a listen. Just know you are missing out on 4:14 of buildup as the caffeine starts flowing through your veins, little by little, as your pace begins to quicken without you even realizing it. Until by the end of the song you've inadvertently just ran two miles, regardless of terrain, in the time it takes Warren Haynes to shred this guitar to pieces. Probably not the best stragedy for a 100 mile race so I plan on saving this for post mile 50. In fact I have a 25 song playlist that my brother (pacer) has as well. Uh huh. We made a playlist, loaded the same list to each of our respective Ipods and plan to slam some caffeinated gels at the same time and press play on our identical playlist's. 25 songs. 4.4 hours worth of music. God Bless America.
Mile 53. Press Play. We'll be done in an hour.
4:15 minutes in. Dave & Warren Haynes?? Bring on the GU!!!!!!!!
I'm reserving this song for emergency use only. In fact, its in "EMERGENCY USE ONLY" on my Ipod. That's what I named it so I don't make any mistakes and accidently play it when I'm not mentally and physically prepared for the thrashing this song can put on a pumped up set of legs. Afterall, its' 23:14 long. It brings you up, breaks you down and then absolutely hammers you to a forced rad line. I don't think it's avoidable. It's just an incredible song and on the right level of single track it makes me want to go 100% all out, full force, reckless abandon. It's why I run. It's why running is fun. It's what people that "hate" running don't understand. There are a couple dozen songs that when they come on I have to change it immediately because I'll go to fast. This one is at the top of the list.
Despite all the planning and the training there are certainly doubts going into the race. Doubts of finishing, holding up, getting blisters, chaffing, bad stomach. Truth is it's very possible ALL of those things WILL happen. I know how to handle each, have experienced each but mostly it's just the finishing that matters most to me. The rest I can endure fairly easily but not finishing would be very disappointing given the last eight months of concentrated training specifically for this race, everyone talking about this race and so many people that would be asking me about "how did you do?" only to have to respond that I didn't make it. I doubt many people would judge me for not finishing as I never would another for the same thing. The sheer act of attempting such a thing is significant enough as a very small percentage of people, despite growing popularity in the sport, ever will. I simply don't like setting out to do something and not completing it.
Without fail the question of what time you want to finish in comes up. There are always time predictions, estimates and goals. I have a number I'd like to hit but that's irrelevant until I know at mile 90 that I can walk this in and still finish. Until that point comes I'm not concerned with time, where I am, what place I'm in or who's ahead of me. It won't be easy as I'm pretty competitive and convince myself that I can run with anyone (usually around 4:48 of the first video...) but in reality I cannot and each of the runners has to accept that they can't. Nor should they try. That's not to say I'm not or others are to capable but trying to run someone else's race is the oldest cliche in running. Run your own race. Everything else will fall into place. And so I will.
In 40 hours and 47 minutes...
Is this the Moon?
You think all along that you think you know what Arizona looks like. You've seen the Saguaro, the lizards, the blazing sun. You've seen the Grand Canyon, the San Francisco Peaks, the Mogollon Rim. All very different in their own ways, all with their own geological significance. So that's everything in Arizona right? Of course not. It's Arizona, the ever new, ever vast state of "Where the heck are we?" Like Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. This entire area is so diverse we are luckier than we know.
3D Google Earth Course Overview and Link to Map Info
Map of the Park, complicated by Private Lands within it...
Sandstone rock faces, gullys, and open range
Those that have driven through Navajo Nation on the way to Moab or Colorado have a sense of the northeaster region of Arizona. Sandstone rock, high plateau desert, desolate Indian Reservation. Sections of the area are so barren, vast and empty you have to wonder what is really out there. Is it just a flat desert? Are there rivers? Where do the animals find water? What's that shadow over there? Is that a drop off?
Canyon de Chelly
If you've visited Canyon de Chelly National Monument on the reservation you know that there are hidden canyons out there in that seemingly open desert. It looks flat and then all of a sudden it drops a few thousand feet STRAIGHT down and into a lush green river valley below. Out of nowhere. It's that unknown that draws me and makes me want to experience what is out there, even if it's wide open and free of any real peaks. So in my quest to run from the Petrified National Park north to Monument Valley, off trail, I'm going to run first a 50K loop around the Petrified National Park and Painted Desert. There are no organized trails in the park so it will be 100% off trail, route finding and orienteering. The badlands out there produce very uneven terrain and sketchy sections of getting up and over mesa's and ridge lines. Very different running than mountain running or traditional single track running anywhere. Sections of high mesa flat running that overlook the Painted Desert and Petrified wood. Petroglyphys are everywhere, fossils are still being found. Just a spectacular area.
As there are no trails and this being a very remote and desolate high desert there is little to no water supply along the trail. ALL water and supplies will have to be carried for the length of the run. So along with route finding along the course, no trail, there is also no water sources and it will be fully self-supported. Which is my kind of run.
October 15th is the goal weekend. Ready for another adventure.
Pretty spectacular. Some of the stuff these guys do...really incredible.
I updated a few new adventures I'm thinking about putting together and doing. Imperial Dunes 50k, 200 mile jaunt through Navajo Nation finishing in Monument Valley, AZ and the Alaska Wilderness Challenge to start. Depending on if I chug any more of this Red Bull I may knock out a few more wild and overly ambitious ideas.
Really don't have to write much when they put so much time, energy and money into the production of these movies. Although I'm still on the fence on what is more impressive about Kilian. That he runs up those mountains at that speed or that he runs DOWN those mountains at that speed. Either way he's an incredible athlete and fun as hell to watch.
As a reader of Arizona Highways magazine it's impossible to not fall in love with Arizona. In any given issue you are left yearning for a full tank of gas, pair of shoes and a pack to go out and explore all the areas you never new existed. I've always been a big seller of Arizona to visitors and felt it's really important to show people that we are not just a sweltering hot desert but in fact have so many varieties of life you cannot deny Arizona as one of the most incredible places in the US.
(Quick side fact in the latest issue of Arizona Highways: Arizona ranks third nationally as having the most biodiversity as a state behind California and Texas. Which both have ocean coastlines adding greatly to the diversity of life there. Ironically enough if Arizona had more water we would have less life as many of the unique species to the region are desert specific or region specific due to the many ecological regions of the area.)
Take a trip up Mt. Lemmon, Mt. Wrightson, Four Peaks Wilderness or a number of Arizona Wilderness areas for a true look at how different this state can be in as short as a 2 hour drive or day hike can take you. So with that in mind, here are some places in the state I've been really wanting to visit and finally get off my "to do" list. Some are popular yet undeniably beautiful must see's in the state. Numbered in no particular order.
#1 Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
To me the Kofa Mountains have always had this strange draw to them similar to how I've always felt about the Superstition Wilderness Area. It has this unique ruggedness, this shrouded secrecy deep within each of those canyons. What's in there? How to you get back there? What's on the other side of that ridge? I want to find out.
It's also full of some old mines from when it was originally the "King of Arizona" Mine which became "Kofa." Patton used some of the region for training for WW11 so there may be unexploded ordinances in the area. Which I'll admit sounds a bit sketchy given there isn't an extensive trail system to it's off trail peak bagging and chances are good it'll be a test of orienteering out there. It is also a breeding ground for Bighorn Sheep with about 1,000 in the region. They use the area to redistribute Bighorns to other regions to furthur populate the species. They are also about to introduce the Sonoran Pronghorn into the region in attempts to revive that nearly extinct sub-species.
#2 Chiricahua Wilderness/National Monument
The Chiricahua Mountains are so unique and so steep with history I've wanted to visit them for since I moved to Arizona in 2001. To think that the Chiricahua Apache Indians used to fight the U.S. Army in this region, in this terrain, is pretty remarkable given it's level of toughness. It's in the far southeastern stretch of Arizona and fell victim to a tough forest fire this spring so I'm not sure of the extent of the damage but it will get a visit, no doubt about it.
#3 Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs
On the Colorado Plateau just outside of Page, Arizona and Lake Powell is some of the most stunning landscape found. Many of it is so photographed you almost feel like you've seen enough of it yet that same argument could be made for the Grand Canyon and every time that argument is obliterated the moment you step foot on the edge of the Rim. I feel this would be a similar experience that a camera cannot fully capture exactly what you are experiencing as you make your way through the massive walls and slot canyons.
I'd always heard they restrict hikers for this region but that is only for overnight hikers. Coyote Buttes you do need a permit for day hiking but aside from that most areas are accessible for day use.
#4 Navajo Nation
Monument Valley...click photo for great article on Navajo Nation from UK, The Guardian writer.
Navajo Nation gets a bad rap sometimes, specifically if you went to college at NAU where Navajo's would come to get off the "Dry" reservation and have some drinks. But I think there is a wonderful quality to a group of people that have perservered for so long on land that is very difficult to survive off of. The history of the land dates so far back its incredible it's so often overlooked with the Grand Canyon visitors. Canyon de Chelly is a beautiful stop showing dwellings from the Anazazi's and the lush green below the Navajo Sandstone walls that climb a thousand feet above. I love the vastness of the area, the wide open high desert, the sandstone cliffs, the mountains that just jump out of the ground. It's a very mezmerizing place that I've actually been to several times. I've been to Four Corners (waste of time...) and Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon and driven through the reservation several times. So why is it on this list if I've already been there? Because there is so much more to see on this land than what you can see from your car. Watching "Running the Sahara" was a terrible idea for me and I blame my wife for allowing such an impressionable man such as myself to watch it. Now...I'm thinking far bigger terms than just a local 50k. What I previously thought was crazy is not feasible. What I previously thought was insane is now conceivable. Impossible 2 Possible. So would I run across the entire Navajo Nation? Yes. Yes I would.
#5 Imperial Sand Dunes/Monument Valley Dunes
Cow Skull on dunes in Monument Valley. Photo by Michael Howell.
Imperial Sand Dunes are technically in California but the premise here is the fact that we HAVE sand dunes in Arizona. There are smatterings of dunes on the AZ side but most is just west of the Colorado River and south into Mexico. It's there but just barely over the border. You can practically see it from Arizona. Near Monument Valley on the complete opposite edge of the state you can find full on dunes as well, just not in the huge quantity as in the Imperial Sand Dunes. You'll also find far less ATV's...
#6 Aravaipa Canyon
Riparian envirnoment that limits the number of people that can enter in any given day to 50. I've heard about this place over and over again throughout the years and just need to make the time to experience it myself.
#7 Mt. Baldy/Greer
Hidden Peak on the way up Mt. Baldy
Eastern Arizona on the Mogollon Rim has been hit hard with the Wallow Fire recently but it's always been a place I've wanted to explore after so many winters spent close by in Pinetop. Being one of the highest peaks in the state also has it's allure as well as the much colder weather.
#8 Sky Islands
Miller Peak by Frank Baker.
Just go to this website. Sky Island Traverse???
Grand Enchantment Trail? Where have I been??
#9 Havasu Falls
Twice I've had the permits and plans to visit this place and twice it's fallen through at the last minute. Despite the recent damage from the floods it's still well worth a trip, at least to say you've been there.
#10 Secret Mountain Wilderness-Sedona
Secret Mountain by Tony Trubb
I've been to Sedona more times than I can remember. I got married there, I've hiked there, I've ran there. Yet I've never really been able to do more than Bell Rock hikes/runs with family in town to "see Sedona." I know there is so much more out there to see and I've always wanted to go up there and disappear for a few days discovering all the trails that place has to offer.
Feeling in shape? Think your training is going well? Prepare to be humbled.
Andrew Skurka on his Alaska-Yukon Expedition
The world is truly filled with an incredibly diverse group of people. It is really astounding to see, now in the internet age of instant sharing, what people are capable of and what people are attempting. It's almost like the internet, in some unintended way, has led so many people to "one up" each other. With satellite photos, maps of all areas in the world, it would seem that the world is already discovered. Yet is it? Maybe "discovered" is all relative to the respective person doing the discovering?
Hearing about some of these adventures these people are doing out there you realize that the world is NOT discovered and fully mapped and these adventures are revealing so much more. Maybe not entirely about the geography of the land they are walking on but more so what the human body is really capable of. Whether it is Andrew Skurka's multiple first time routes across North America, Jenn Phar Davis breaking the Appalacian Trail speed record, Ray Zahab and his epic trips across continents or a 61 year old Australian woman who decides to swim across shark infested waters from Florida to Cuba. It doesn't matter the distance but rather the incredible drive it takes to even tackle such an undertaking. How do you just sit down and say, "I want to swim across the ocean to Cuba. 60 hours straight. Sharks all the way." I'd normally say that's crazy. But is it? I used to think running 50 miles would be crazy but maybe everything is just a little bit crazy but only based on your particular perspective.
Ray Zahob - Impossible to Possible- I2P
This website really sums up Ray. http://www.monumentaleffort.com/ray-zahab-canadas-karnazes-and-more (by the way this is a really cool website. Love this kind of stuff) He really is quite extraordinary. He's passion and enthusiasm for what he is doing and striving to do is inspiring to say the least. I have a lot more to say about Ray but I'll get to it later.
The last couple years since I've been running ultras I have a much harder time watching the ESPY's and hearing the word "hero" and "best athlete on the planet" being said over and over again. I'm not trying to take away anything that Kobe or Derek or some $50 million dollar a year soccer player is doing in their respective sport. They are incredible athletes, no question. Yet when I "watch" Geoff Roes come back from the dead to overtake Anton at mile 88 of the Western States 100??? Hands down one of the greatest races ever run. The guy killed it, broke the record and beat two of the best runners on Planet Earth, from behind, dropping his pacer in the process. What was the "Best Record Breaking Performance for 2010" at the ESPY's? Ok...it was the 1st Round 11 hour tennis match Isner vs. Mahut at Wimbledon. That's pretty impressive. I remember watching that but my point is ultrarunning isn't even considered and if ultrarunning isn't you have to know that so many other sports and new crazy adventures that people are doing are not being considered that have nothing to do with running. It's interesting how focused the ESPY's are on the main sports but in reality they are not nearly as impressive as some of the feats being done all the time, under the scope of the cameras. Maybe that's what makes them so great. The lack of attention from mainstream media. Maybe if it was covered by the major networks a lot of people would be shying away from ultrarunning and adventure sports. I don't know.
Either way, there are some pretty incredible feats being done every day. You just have to keep your eyes out for them. If you haven't set your eyes upon this preposterous feat...here you go. Ueli Steck powering up Eiger. Beyond Impressive.
It’s interesting when you think about the concept of running 100 miles. The act alone is quite significant and one that a lot of people will never even attempt, let alone succeed at. Possibly the more significant act is actually the training that is necessary to even get to the race. The time that it takes to sufficiently train for these kinds of events is extensive to say the least and verging on a full on burden. You have to put the effort in to get in all the running or you will surely suffer come race day. So to put it in perspective here is a listing of what my training has been the last eight weeks or so.
69 miles - May 30th-June 5th (long run 48- R2R2R)
29 miles - June 6th-June 12th (long run 9.5)
26 miles - June 13th-June 19th (long run 7.5)
52 miles - June 20th - June 26th (long run 22.5 Kachina/Weatherford Loop)
32 miles - June 27th - July 3rd (13.1 Over & Back Camelback Mtn)
45 miles - July 4th- July 11th (20.1 McDowell>Pemberton Loop)
49 miles - July 12th - July 17th (23 Kachina/Weatherford Loop)
67 miles - July 18th- July 24th (50 Mt. Lemmon 50)
39 miles - July 25th - July 31st (20 Cabin Loop)
- August 1st - August 7th (Cabin Loop 40 M)
At first glance, I’m a little disappointed in the total numbers. My weekly mileage is less than what a lot of ultrarunners put in normally and for 50 mile race training programs. Everyone has different priorites and while I am very dedicated to running, and this race, I’m also very dedicated to having a healthy relationship with my wife. Taking off for 2-3 hours several times a week, all day on weekends every weekend, takes a very supportive spouse. Something I’v been very fortunate to have to this point. With every take there has to be some give and there certainly have been times that I’ve returned from work planning on running an hour or two in the mountains only to scratch it knowing she had a rough day at work and it’s time better spent at home. I consider those few times my additional “rest days” that maybe even allowed my body to recuperate a little more for the next run.
Knowing that I’ve yet to put in 80 miles in a single week I do know that my long runs have all been quality runs with a lot of climbing and sustained downhills. My standard 6-8 mile runs in my mountain backyard have all been tough 800-2000 ft climbathons with steep ascents and sharp, dramatic, rough downhills, all runs finishing strong, fast and all out. My really long runs have been a Rim to Rim to Rim trip in late May that was very successful and I felt strong climbing all day. I’ve done two trips to high altitude and done 20 plus mile ascents of Mt. Humphries (12,633ft) in Flagstaff, all with elevations ranging no lower than 8,000ft and upwards over 12,000. I also put in some serious time in the Catalina Mountains in late July with a 50 mile, 11,500 ft of climbing, night run up and down Mt. Lemmon. This was a 16 hour jaunt through the forests and having started at night (as with the R2R2R) it simulates the fatigue you endure as we all had been awake since early that morning. By the finish of both those runs we had been awake for over 24 hours, exactly what will happen in a 100 mile race. As well, it’s excellent headlamp/night training that often people seem to lack.
Many of these runs have been solo runs forcing myself out the door and into some trail system to knock out the time, build the body up and push myself when I don’t want to be pushed. Many times I have really struggled to pop out of bed at 430am to beat the heat, the timeclock or the schedule of everyday life. Would I like more hours on the trail? More long runs, some majestic quest through the mountains that I can draw from later on come race day? Sure, but I think I already have enough to be able to really pull through when I need it. I’ve done 4 crossings of the Grand Canyon, two of them over 20 hours which for the sheer experience of time on your feet is extremely valuable. I have several 50 mile races this year that I can draw from, two of which were over 15 hours and in rugged, unsupported (at least the Supes) and self driven nature. It’s one thing to race 50 miles, it’s another to head out on your own schedule and knock out the miles when nobody is pushing you from behind. I think those two experiences will help mentally even without the overall mileage that others may have.
I hope to put in 70 plus miles this week after a 40 mile run on the Mogollon Rim this weekend followed by another long day in the mountains with a fellow WMRC runner for 3-4 hours. Those two runs, the second on presumably tired legs, should provide for a great week of training only three weeks away from the big race.
Next week? Maybe two 4 hour runs back to back in town and the following week only one long run under 20 miles. I’m a big fan of tapering, and going into a race very fresh. I hope that’s the case and after a few more big runs I’ll be as ready as i hope to be and proof that you don’t in fact need to log 80-100 miles a week to be successful at completing 100 mile races. Either that or I’ll be proof otherwise...