And THIS...is how it all started...
I found this email I sent back in October 2009, two years ago, after I ran my very first race, the South Mountain 20K. A 12 mile road run at the base of South Mountain in Phoenix.
From: Jeremy Dougherty
Sent: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 5:08 PM
Subject: South Mountain 20K
Funny story for you…
I ran the South Mountain 20k this past Sunday. It was my first race of any real kind in years. I did a Splash N’ Dash last fall where I nearly drowed on the 1,000 meter swim but other than that no races since the 2 milers in the PT tests. So heading out into this race was a bit of a new thing for me. About 150 people ran the 20K heading down the mountain and then to the 6.2 mile marker and then the turnaround back UP the mountain to the finish. About 800 feet in elevation gain overall which isn’t horrible but certainly adds to the challenge. The 90 degree heat was a little much as well and in the latter miles I found myself walking through the water areas and twice just to let my heart catch up to my breathing and stand in the shade and cool down. I seriously underestimated my bodies water needs and drank way too much prior to the race leaving myself having to urinate an entire bathtub of urine for the entire second half of the race. Having running as a virtual rookie I didn’t think it would be ok to run off and go in the desert. So I held it.
Acute renal failure came into my mind a few times as I was pushing my splits the last two miles and trying my best to keep the 60 year old men and 25 year old women from passing me in the home stretch. I stretched it out the final mile into sub seven minute miles until the .5 mile mark where I turned it up as I could see the people lining the streets cheering people on. I chugged my last bit of dehydrated energy faster and faster knowing my heart was about to explode from overheating but I kept on passing one slug after another. A 30+ year old slender woman stands before me and I target her as my next victim. Saliva foams at my mouth and I can feel my vision getting blurry as I come into the final turn before the finish. Pumping my arms high and knees to my chest I see my watch reading 4:21 min/mile. I see my girlfriend standing at the corner, fans and racers yelling, “that’s the way to finish” as I plow around the corner. I glance over at the time clock reading 1:49:09 as I cross the line.
I slow it down and come to a footstool. My vision is darted with dark spots, my body jarred with fatigue. I was unable to lift my foot to the stool for the volunteer to remove the time chip so he helped me out. Looking down at him I can’t help but laugh. “Oh, it’s you Tim! What the hell are you doing here?! That’s awesome you are here. It’s been a long time.” As I stumble to switch feet to start my walk to my girlfriend. I look back as I walk away and tell them man, “Hey, I’ll come talk to you later Tim, we’ll catch up real fast.” I go over to Jen, rip my shirt off and stumble to my right, then my left as I struggle to maintain my balance. My body is off kilter and I can’t figure out why. My heart is still racing and I know I need some food and rumble my way to the fruit stand and bite into the greatest apple in the history of existence. Minutes later of knawing on the apple until I’m chewing on it’s seeds I regain my equilibrium, my body cools off and my mind clears. I walk back over to see my standing and talk to Tim. Tim my buddy from the Army who so randomly happens to be volunteering at the first race of mine in forever. Walking over to Tim I come to the stark realization that the man that cut my time chip was not Tim. He was not Tim at all. He was some random guy I’ve never met. Awkward silence commences as I realize I was briefly delirious from the final kick into the finish. “Tim” being the good volunteer and running veteran laughs it off and I walk away with a good amount of embarrassment still flushed within my face.
Walking to the finished results I find that I finished at 52nd overall out of 154. Not good by any means and worse yet when the winner was 27 minutes ahead of me and 22 years older than me. Still an event that went from absolutely miserable to “I love running” to mistaking strangers for friends. I can’t wait for the next one.
Weavers Needle and the Superstition Wilderness
The Superstition Wilderness is an incredible place. It's as wild and as rugged as anything you will ever find. Anywhere. The trails closest to the city are worn a few miles from each parking lot and then quickly become over grown, faint, rocky, and at times, flat out dangerous. You can't see the prickly pear under the creosote bush or cedar branches, the cholla drives deep into your thighs as you try to sneak past the agave daggers and full grown men yell out whimpering cries as they try to pull out each spike driven into their flesh. It's heaven. In that insane kind of way like, "Look how deep this gash is!!"
Yet despite this, despite enduring this over and over again, these brutal stretches of beatdown that the Superstitions provide free of cost, I keep coming back. I started in the Superstitions when I first moved here hiking the Siphon Draw trail straight up the mountain to the Flatiron, the imposing spire of rock that juts out of the mountain range, overlooking all of the glory that is Apache Junction. It's a steep, rugged and imposing hike, short enough yet so much upper body needed it's not for the wary. It was my introduction into Arizona hiking that quickly led to one after another adventures that took me farther into the area. At one point I would literally drive out on the Apache Trail which borders the northern side of the Wilderness area and pull off along a slot canyon area and park. Then I'd hop the guardrail and either alone or with my brother, we'd work our way up a river bed, side canyon or random cattle trail in the search of who knows what. We'd find crazy rock formations, tiny slot canyons, rattlesnakes, random backpacker gear, and a lot of times, some incredible watering holes hidden deep in the impenetrable forest that is catclaw hell.
So when I began to form a mindset that I could cover more ground if I just ran some of the trail instead of walking I started to see more, experience more and learn a lot more. That led me to the interior of the Superstitions where I quickly found there to be an vast, expansive network of over 180 miles of linked trails. You can literally get lost out there, just up and disappear. Frontier men & women worked hard to eek out a living out there, some old houses still leaving their mark on the interior of the park, the upper elevations but generally, it's desolate, and incredibly beautiful. It's the kind of place you can't help but think to yourself, "You know...I wonder what's on the other side of this valley" and then work your way back up the steep incline to see one more time, just what is beyond that last ridge. Breaching the saddle and laying eyes on an entirely new valley, new canyons, new rivers that seem to stretch on forever is something a lot of people don't understand having never really seen something like that. Or maybe they just don't care. Maybe some people don't ever wonder what's beyond that mountain range, what's around that last bend that you should have turned around at. I do.
So many people have taken off to search for old gold mines in the Superstitions, old miners have died trying for that last big score, treasure seekers still to this day are dying out in the desert looking for the famed, Lost Dutchman. They never find it, hell, it could have been found 100 years ago and we wouldn't know. Yet there is something about the Superstitions that has that affect on people. The Search & Rescue team we came across in March in our 50 mile adventure out there was looking for three young guys from out of state that went missing the previous fall. They found one guy, dead, at the base of a palo verde tree on the top of Black Mesa. Not but 3 miles from a main parking lot and less than 1/4 mile from the Black Mesa trail. There are still a half dozen bodies that were never recovered out there, hikers, gold seekers, tourists. It's a tough place, it will beat you up but with every trip I come out I feel that much stronger. Short or long those Supes are a beat down but with that beatdown comes some of the most incredible trails (used loosely), and some of the most scenic miles in the entire state. I've said it before, and I'll repeat it here, it's the most beautiful place in Arizona outside of the Grand Canyon. And it's less than an hour from Phoenix.
With all the trips I've had in the Superstitions I've had my share of challenges, many more trips without issue but some that bear repeating.
I once took a girl on our 2nd date up the Siphon Draw trail who then blew out her knee on the way down. It was a long walk back to the car. Why would I take someone to Siphon Draw on a date? Dumb. Go do the hike and you'll understand. http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=686
I went for a run out there in September with one water bottle (dumb) and on the way back it was so hot I was rolling a pebble around in my mouth to keep my mouth salivating. It was 109 degrees. No water the last 4+ miles which you can't run because you'll die it's so hard, rocky and bloody. I finished and my core temperature was close to 200 degrees. I say "200" because it's the only way to explain how my contacts felt like they had melted to my eyes.
I hiked a slot canyon near Reavis Ranch with my three dogs years ago, it's an unnamed canyon, very difficult to access and long story short my lab fell from a rock about 5 feet, couldnt' walk so I carried him (96 lbs) in my arms over the boulders upstream to the exit. This took two hours to cover 200 meters and it started to get hot (It was naturally August...). So when I was supposed to be back in my Jeep on my way home I now had less than a mile to go but all vertical, off trail and with a lame dog. I had to leave my lab Monty in a sandy cave while I searched upstream for any source of water. Found a green pool of water that my dog jumped into immediately. Suddenly the water started to move and I quickly realized it was full of snakes, dozens of snakes and all over my dog Watson. Watson jumped out quickly and shook off on as I started to panic that I'd just killed one dog due to heat stroke and a second due to multiple snake bites. Watson ended up being ok, but I had to leave my three dogs in the cave, crawl out of the canyon with no water in 113 degree heat where I literally prayed to Jesus while leaning AGAINST a Saguaro for the only 3" slice of shade before making the last push of 200 feet to get to my Jeep. I then had to drive 22 miles of winding road to the first gas station that would let me call someone and my brother came out with his wife to help me. I drove back, went down expecting to see my lab Monty dead and while he was close he was still alive. My brother arrived and we carried them out, taking over an hour to complete a half mile. Monty would go on to have a weeks worth of emergency care. He was given a 3% chance of survival and to proceed with medical attention the hospital needed 50% deposit on what was at least $5000. He survived, and he's alive and well today although I'll probably never be free of the guilt of that day. It was a valuable life lesson but almost at the cost of my best friend.
Oh, and Paul almost died in this years 50 mile adventure out on the JT trail. Forgot about that one.
So it's no surprise that in less than two miles of running the Lost Dutchman trail this Saturday that my friend Jay Danek, in the midst of a 580+ day, 4 mile a day, running streak falls twice on the rocks. The second a bad one cutting us his knee and bruising him up more ways than one. Being the tough guy Jay is he made it through the day but barely as the trail is so rough it made it even harder on him with his hip not allowing him to lift his legs as he would normally. Hopefully his streak lives on a little longer but it seems the Superstitions almost claimed another victim. Our mutual friend Michael Carson, a Superstition veteran, made it out unscathed minus his choice in shorts. Which were barely long enough to cover a penis slip. Yes, that was a penis reference. You're welcome.
Check out Jay's account of the run on his website. It's easy to find the one about the Superstitions. Just look for "I hate Jeremy Dougherty-Death Run" Yes, I'm famous. www.mcdowellmountainman.com
I think for this years Superstition Wilderness 50K I might need a waiver.
That might be the first waiver required race for a fat ass run ever...
I swear it's really beautiful out there. January 7th. You'll regret not going. Maybe.
The back side of Toms Thumb with Michael & Jay up ahead.
It's really become something of a novelty, the 50K. It has become this cute little number & letter sequence, nice and round, nice and achievable. You see a 50K on a schedule somewhere, someone mentions it, you have some free time so you think, "I could knock out a 50K this weekend. Sure, why not?" Exactly, why not? How about because it's still 50 freaking kilometers!
I won't make any excuses for struggling so much on the last ten miles of this run. It was a bit bizarre but in the end the struggle only helps me for the next race. I go through bouts of arrogance where I underestimate a run based on location, distance, or terrain when any one of those three can beat you down. In this case, the distance (29 miles), terrain (4,500+ feet of climbing) and location (local so it must be easier right?? No. 90+ degrees in 100% exposed trails...). My stomach took a turn towards the South Pole on the descent, every step was horrible, and only after a dozen trips to the rest room throughout the day did my body get back to normal. Yet my legs felt fine, feet were great and generally everything was great. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the Monster I had at mile 20 before climbing up the mountain but regardless, it was ugly and took a lot longer to finish the last few miles than it should have. Big thanks to Jay for waiting around for me despite how much I didn't want him to at the time.
What did I learn?
1) Don't drink energy drinks on long runs. Ever. After a horrific Red Bull incident in the Canyon I tried it again at Zane Grey this year 33 miles deep. Tried it again this weekend with the exact same result. My stomach just can't handle it. Plain & Simple. Stick with Mountain Dew.
2) I've been avoiding the heat. This became very evident as it got hotter and hotter and there was not an ounce of shade to be found. Which I knew going in, again....dumb.
3) Never think a local course is going to be easier just because it's local. Mesquite Canyon 50K will teach you this every time. This course is no different. Despite little water access I decided to leave my handheld water bottle in my truck and go with just water and gels for the run. Why? Because I run in the McDowell's all the time so it must be easier right? No, I'm a moron. The last dozen long runs I've done with EFS, water, gels, real food, and a variety of electrolyte replacements in a lot of forms. This run was hotter, exposed and faster than many of the past longer runs and I never should have left home without more electrolytes. Jay was great to let me use his handheld with EFS in it the last 4 miles to get caught up. Never should have come to that.
4) I'm a king at overestimating my ability. I assume I'm capable of anything at any time, not through arrogance but instead through the mindset that I can just keep plugging along if it gets a little rough. I may plan ahead but my backup plan is always, "I'll push through it." Which is a stupid plan. Especially when your stomach can't handle another step without fear of extreme embarrassment on the trail as you rush off to drop your drawers. Which only happens when there are hot women walking by. This luckily didn't happen this time but you never know. Avoidance is key. Stop being dumb.
5) No matter how miserable a run is it's never pointless and you can always learn something. The first 15 miles were great, fast and fun. The second half, well...if I didn't in some small way enjoy a little misery I don't think I would be an ultrarunner. So it actually was kind of fun despite how tough that one section was. Just makes me want to train harder, learn more and go back and run that same course, faster, harder and with no problems the next time.
Check out www.mcdowellmountainman.com for a full report by Jay on it with maps and photos.