The Zane Grey Obsession Continues....
The Mogollon Rim. Photo by Andrew Pielage- www.apizm.com
It's easy to be lost sometimes. Buried amidst a world of high speed activity, stress filled lifestyles and the ever climbing necessity of improvement, being lost is sometimes natural.
We go from one thing to the next. Thanksgiving to Christmas. Spring Break to Summer Break. Empty checking account to pay day. Starving to bloated. Happy to sad. Every day brings a new day and with that new challenges, new changes, and new views of what needs to happen.
For nearly two years it's been a non-stop whirlwind of change. Married. Honeymoon. Rented a house. Said rental went into foreclosure. Auction owners tried to evict us. I extorted them for payment to break our lease. We get pregnant. We buy new house. Start a new website with John Vaupel & Jay Danek. (www.trailrunningclub.com.) We have baby. We prepare for Mogollon Monster 100. We direct Mogollon Monster 100. We still have baby. Still have house. Still working all the time. And apparently I still have a blog.
Yet the Monster has come and gone. And the void that remains leaves me lost in what to do next. Immediately I volunteer to motivate and train our hotel staff to run the P.F. Chang's Half Marathon, something I'm passionate about but realistically didn't have time for. When I should be putting a hold on my ambitions to focus on traditional household husband things like siding, lawn care, organizing shelving, etc. I'm out signing myself up for more time consuming projects. Yet I can't help myself. I don't have ADD but I cannot just sit around. As great as that can feel sometimes.
I need to be involved in something.
I need goals.
I need ambitions.
To fill a part of that void I signed up for two races the day after the Monster finished. The Cave Creek Thriller 30K and the Zane Grey 50M a ways off in April 2013. I haven't run hardly a lick since my son Dean was born but now with the race behind us (for now) I should have more time... My training "program" the last three months consisted of a 30 mile training run on the Mogollon Monster 100 course on a Saturday.
Rest for 6 days.
Repeat on a different section the following week. I would run 20-30 mile long runs every weekend for 8 of the 10 weekends of August/September in preparing for this race in both training runs and course marking. Some went well...others were miserable death marches.
Yet somehow, towards the end of the summer, leading right up to the race I started to feel stronger. Not strong, but stronger. Last Tuesday I covered 16 miles on the Highline Trail for course marking for the race and on the return trip I pushed the pace, hammered the hills and came back into Washington Park feeling great. I drove up to the top of the Rim and ran another two miles along the General Crook Trail marking it along the way and somewhere on the way back, as the sun was coming down, still slightly poking through the tall Ponderosa's I felt like I was cruising down the trail on a bike. Nearly 7,500 feet up, it felt like sea level and I was off. It was short distance but a big boost to my confidence. Running hasn't felt that "easy" in a long time.
So the race is over. Planning for next year is ongoing and constant. Ideas flood into my mind in an ever rotating display of improvements and projects. Never submitting to mediocrity, my aspirations always at least reach for something greater. That will never change but leaves me pulled in another direction, a constant tidal pull bringing me back out to sea every few hours, every few days. As welcome a distraction as unwelcome. Focus on one thing, one specific goal has become very challenging with so many aspects of the race I'd like to change while also focusing on work, family, and training (not in that order necessarily...)
With the race over though it does allows me to focus on running again. My son is three months old now, bigger and stronger and stroller ready. We can train together and focus on the Zane Grey 50M in April and get back to running with Jay Danek. I've missed our reckless descents down Bell Pass at breakneck speeds and the much faster pace Jay trains at than I would running solo. His big ambitions, goals and training regimin rub off on me and I need to get back to that.
I have big plans for Zane Grey, my favorite race to hate in all of running. Yet ultimately...my favorite race. My brother distinctly remembers my putrid attitude following my horrible experience back in 2011 where I suffered through a death march the final 17 miles. All of which were self imposed through my own stupidity, poor planning and newly found arrogance.
This time around though, I'm smarter, I'll be stronger, and I feel like that's my home turf now. I've run the Highline so much now in preparation for the Mogollon Monster I know so many of the in's and out's of the trail. I know it's a whore of a trail. An unrelenting beast waiting to eat up the first runner that succumbs to the heat, elevation, exposure, manzanita, or those few rocks out there. The last time I was arrogant. I had been running 50K's like they were 5k's. The 50M was a near regular event for me, at least once a month. I had run a wickedly hard and vicious Superstition Wilderness 50M the month before and felt that Zane Grey was just a stop at the ice cream shop in comparison (incidently, during that delusional Superstitions run the first seeds of the idea for the Mogollon Monster we laid).
I made a cardinal Ultrarunning sin. I did not respect the distance.
Zane Grey is one of the toughest 50 milers in the country. I don't care which one you compare it to. There may be "harder" ones but there is no debate that this is towards the top of the list. Nobody leaves the Highline saying, "That was easy." Nobody. Most leave in a near crippled state saying, "I'm never coming back."
Which any Zane Grey veteran likely say's in their head, "See you next year."
I'm not overlooking the distance this year. I'm focusing on this race and this race only. I'm not going to go out and do all these fat ass random runs through the desert. My off course adventures that end up eating up every ounce of my energy. I'm training for speed, stregnth and endurance. I'm not just looking for an improvement over 2011. I want to knock several hours off it.
I want to go sub 10 hours.
At Zane Grey.
I know. Ridiculous right?
Anyone just ultrastalking me can look at my past results and will be wondering, "How in the world are YOU going to run sub 10 hours at Zane Grey??!"
It's 2:24 better than I ever have run there. Ever. I have zero statistical data to back up that kind of time. My fastest "official" 50K on there is 4:54. I barely ran 10 hours on a flat,loop course.
BUT...I know what I can do. I know what I'm capable of. I know I've never even gotten close to pushing boundaries on speed or training. I've always skirted by with just enough training to keep it from being a full on death march. I ran Cascade Crest 100 last year topping out at a 52 mile week. I get by because I'm a strong hiker and I can run downhill. I've always been weak on the flats and actual "running", as ironic as it sounds, and that is what has kept me plateaued, just off the cuff and from taking that leap to the next level.
My problem has always been that I could hinge back on the "I don't really train excuse" for my less than stellar times at races. It's always been a side joke with my running friends but ultimately it's just an excuse. I'm capable, I can make the time, I just have to put the work in.
So I will.
And when it comes down to the line, come April, on the Highline, I'll really see where that takes me.
And if sub 10 hours doesn't happen at Zane Grey...well look for me at the finish line. I'll still make it there. It just might not be as pretty.
San Tan 50K - February 4th, 2012
Am I even wearing shorts here??
My first "race" since the Cascade Crest 100 last August...I've been running but haven't raced anything since then. With this race being the only race I've ever dropped from I didn't want to miss it and going into it I felt really strong, fast and ready to "race" a 50K versus simply finishing through a dismal last ten miles suffering to the end. Jay had me convinced to shoot for a 4:30 finish despite never beating 5:36 in a dozen previous 50k's...so that's what we went for.
That's a 4:37 min/mile pace photo...that's called "proper pacing."
Three ten mile laps make up the course with a steep out and back on each one totaling 4,300 feet of climbing total. We shot for a goal of 90 minutes per lap and after one lap we were 3 minutes ahead of pace. Wearing the Minimus 110's for the first time for a run over 20 miles (see: stupid) the second lap was less fun and my feet really started to feel the pounding after 15 miles. Luckily I had my La Sportiva C-Lite 2.0's ready at the start of lap 3 and I told Jay to go ahead as I changed my shoes. I was still on pace going into lap 3 but running solo I struggled to maintain a 8 minute mile pace and was soon passed by Paulette (this is the last time she passes me I swear...ok, I can't back that up. She's fast) and then Chris Fall from Tucson. Getting passed when you're feeling down always sucks, drags you down but at the same time brings me back from feeling like garbage because I got so pissed Chris passed me I picked it up going into the last climb. My feet and calves were trashed from the 110's (extremely regrettable choice) going down the last two hills but I got a boost seeing Jay and the others on both the out and backs and knew that I was assured at least my place in the top ten and finished the mile strong, albeit cramping so bad I nearly collapsed at the finish.
Is that a Mogollon Monster 100 Shirt? Yes...yes it is.
In the end I finished in 4:54, a personal best in the 50K by 42 full minutes. I guess I could be disappointed by missing my "goal" by 24 and really struggling the last lap but it's still a good improvement and gives me at least an idea of where I stood and stand before Mesquite Canyon.
The event itself was a lot of fun, much more fun than last year when I was sick. I really like the course itself and realize more and more how much I love out and back courses and seeing other racers on the course while you are running. Often, especially on one big loop courses, you see the same 3-10 runners the entire race as you all switch positions. With a course like San Tan I saw every single person (almost) the first couple laps and knowing many of them it made it so fun to cheer each on and hear them cheer us on. I don't think I will miss this race again, it's a classic to me.
It was also fun to meet Jerry Armstrong from Boulder, CO who contacted me on Dailymile.com and asked for a ride to the race. I picked him up and got to hang with him pre-race and he went on to run really strong and capture 3rd place as he passed Jay & I on lap 2. Great runner, puts out some cool video's and always fun meeting fellow runners from other areas. He wrote a great race report on is blog here: http://www.jerryarmstrong.blogspot.com/2012/02/san-tan-scramble-50k-race-report.html
Grand Canyon- Tanner Trail Route - February 11th, 2012
Tanner Trail...you have to look hard to see the guys...
I was really excited for this one. Four times I've been down in the Grand Canyon, all four times running or hiking the R2R2R trails. While that is an incredible trip each and every time I was excited to see a different part of the Canyon. I had this opportunity when a few WMRC members invited me along for a 30 mile route that was to take about 10 hours...I didn't need to hear another word. I was in.
Colorado River along the Escalante Trail
Andrew Heard, Art Bourque and John Pearce started out with me on the Tanner Trail head on the eastern edge of the Canyon. The trail was steep, icy and covered in snow at the top and it switch backed its way all the way down until the Colorado River came into view. Writing about the Grand Canyon is hard for me, it takes someone with real writing talent to be able to fully encapsulate what really "is" a run in the Canyon. The walls pull you in, the Canyon goes from narrow and claustrophobic to massive and belittling. You lose control of what you previously thought you had control of. You become a part of it.
Art lead us along the Escalante Trail all morning, dipping down to the Colorado to refill bottles, then seemingly back halfway up the Rim towards what for miles looks like a dead end straight into the walls of the cliffs. Running along the ridge, the Colorado a thousand feet straight below, you look up ahead trying to see where the trail possible could be going. Not until you reach the cliff wall do you realize that it does in fact scale the cliff all along its edge, precariously close to the edge, drawing up the details of your life insurance policy you hope to God you kept paying.
Boucher Point starts the downhill towards the Colorado one more time before entering Seventy Five Mile Canyon. Art describes a story when he was 33 and on this route alone, in 105 degrees, and completely lost. Having already passed a dozen spider trails off into the unknown, unmarked, I can see how easily someone can be led astray. Art takes us up the canyon and right away we climb above what becomes this majestic canyon, twenty feet wide but fifty feet tall, taller with each step deeper up the canyon. Art purposely leads us up the trail past the real turnoff, a scree trail down into the depths of the slot canyon, nothing remotely resembling a trail but more of an avalanche zone. No human rightly would have left a worn path for that. Nobody.
Art leads us down the precipice, down climbing our way down the hundred feet to the canyon bottom, an ant among the giant walls. Running down this dry riverbed, the walls tight around us, hovering high above us. It was like nothing I'd seen before and it would only truly be the beginning.
Andrew stirring up the spirits in an Anazazi ruin.
The trail continued it's steep ascents and descents, rock climbs up Fifty Foot wall, passed along the Colorado several more times providing for ice cold foot baths along the way. Continually the trail would wander random directions, running in random directions to go in the direction we needed to travel. We took the Grandview Trail out of the Canyon that day, a 4,000+ foot climb up the Rim that went on for a couple runnable miles before turning into a staircase leading straight up the chute, a leg burning, energy sapping assault on some of the steepest, most aggressive trails I've experienced. Art hammered the climb like it was his last climb of his life, absolutely crushing Andrew and I, leaving me sapped for the last three miles and 3,000 feet of climbing. Up to that point I felt great, strong and capable. That quickly turned into weak, wobbly, possibly the next victim in a Grand Canyon fall to his death. The trail narrowed, the elevation climbed and in turn the terrain became ice, snow and rocks covered with ice and snow. Climbing up the pace went from a reasonable 20min/mile to the dreaded 30min/mile to a few minutes later...58. Never...I'm using the word "never" here...have I ever wanted to just plain sit. Sit down. In the snow. And just lay there. My legs didn't hurt. My feet were fine. Everything was fine. There was simply nothing left in the tank. I was so tired, the trail so slick with ice, every imprint of a shoe with Yaktraks on it I wanted to scream. Wouldn't those be convenient right now...
I've been in this mindset before and never stopped but plodded along until I found a good section of untouched snow. With Andrew behind me a bit below I knew he would be struggling just as much in this snow with the footing being so slick and wrote, "This Blows!! :)" in the snow. Just writing it made me laugh thinking of Andrew coming up the trail and seeing that. I headed up the cliff, found a seat on a tree branch and regrouped. Put down my last gel, put a long sleeve back on, gloves and hat now that we were back in the upper elevations and waited for Andrew to come on through. He wasn't far behind and within a couple minutes he was there and we pushed our way to the top where Art was waiting for us with a big smile on his face, standing among the tourists there for a view of the big "Hole in the Ground."
John would come on through about 45 minutes later on his own. He had taken a wrong trail, back tracked, found the trail but spent a few nerve racking moments working through the fear of being lost in the Canyon. A veteran of the area he ultimately made it out, with a story, but made it out.
Two weeks later I'm still thinking about this route, the Canyon and the great time I had with Art, John and Andrew. It's never just another run up there, it always have me leaving thinking grander thoughts, bigger dreams and totally blown away and waiting for the next adventure there.
Grandpa Jim's 50K - February 18th, 2012
Jay on the 8B...still complaining about his knee. "I don't care if the bone is through the skin. We have 28 more miles to go. Eat a gu or something..."
Yes...this is my third 50K in three weekends. Just the way it panned out on the schedule and I didn't want to skip any of the three. Grandpa Jim's 50K runs through my backyard, literally, and covers some serious climbing along the way so I wanted to make it, donate some money to the cause and see how it goes.
Atop of Squaw Peak, Jay complaining about his compound fracture. Cry baby.
I could go into a full on race report here but this post is long enough already isn't it? I agree. I'm taking the lazy way out. So go read Jay Danek's race report, we ran the whole thing together and finished in 6:32 tied for 2nd place. If there is such a thing as "placing" in a somewhat unofficial race. Either way I count it and it continues my domination at Fat Ass races that don't count with very few runners in it. Yeah, I'm really good at those kinds of races. Borderline elite really. (see: 1st Place at Tom's Thumb 50K, 5 total entrants. Still wondering when La Sportiva is going to start sending my free shoes...)
Sean, Jay and I at the Dreamy Draw aid stop halfway through.
Jay coming down North Mountain after we got our fix of radiation.
So in the end...three 50K's in three weekends netted 93 miles, 21,000+ feet of climbing and 21 hours of running. In between each week I ran a whopping 50 miles in the other 18 days...I'm getting dangerously close to a full sponsorship from WalMart or Wendy's. It's a battle right now, really just the paperwork that needs to be worked out at this point. If nothing else I should earn some kind of special shirt for "Laziest Training Program in Ultrarunning." The week leading into Grandpa Jim's 50K? Two miles pushing a stroller.
Eat that Anton.
Top of Shaw Butte. We started that morning on the other side of the far peak that morning. True story.
Next up...Mesquite Canyon 50k on March 11th. I'm going for a 4:30, I don't care if that's 66 minutes faster than I've ever done it.
Limits are for cowards.
My friend Jay Danek asked me to write about my experience at the Javalina Jundred last weekend. I've been moving, buying a house, and generally just very busy but finally got to it yesterday and it's posted on his website if you are interested.
Javalina Jundred countdown continues...
We are down to less than a week before the Javalina Jundred starts. This year there are almost 400 runners are taking their costumes out to the Pemberton trail looking for their first, second or who knows how many finishers. Last year I spent the entire race out there volunteering, crewing, and pacing and it was one of my favorite ultrarunning experiences I had last year. I loved being out there at the aid station helping people, cheering people on, meeting new people. The energy at JJ is different than other ultras, less serious but still with that driven attitude as runners are still put to task trying to run 100 miles. But when you have people dressed as Spiderman, Jester, and Naked Woman it's hard to take it all too seriously. Charlie Nickell did a great write up in Runner's World after last years race.
This year I will be at Jackass Junction Aid Station again for the first 8 hours of the race then marking the course for the night time and finally pacing one of Arizona's hopefuls, Michael Carson, in his first bid for a 100 mile finish. I've met so many more people in the ultra community that are running or volunteering at this race it's almost like a giant family reunion. From the Tucson Trail Runners Dallas Stevens, Michael Duer and Renee Stevens to the WMRC runners like Jay, Deron, Grandpa Jim among so many others. I can't wait to see Michael Miller out there shirtless (that sounds weird...) on his last lap, yet again cheering other runners on despite how he may be feeling. Javalina is a very unique ultra, the costumes, the trail, the RD's Jamil & Nick Coury, it's just something you can't find anywhere else. So while it is a "loop course" that may turn off some of the mountain runners, it's not easy, it's not flat and it IS beautiful. Fountain Hills has some of the best desert views in the area, it's a great place to see the Arizona desert and sets the bar extremely high for any ultra with it's organization, design and how much damn fun it is. I'm excited and I'm not even racing it!
If any Dragon's show up I know who to call. We're Facebook friends.
If you are interested Jay Danek asked me to put together who I thought would be the Top 5 Winners for both the Men's field and Women's field.
Picking ultra winner's is tough as it's not like you have Baseball Reference or some large data bank to reference. Running is filled with dark horses, people that have been training their ass's off and you've never heard of them. It's part of the beauty of it so if someone was left off the list, please don't get offended, it's just for fun and hopefully sparks some conversation.
Here's the link: http://www.mcdowellmountainman.com/
Elizabeth Howard gets my humor. Let's hope there are no dragons. I don't think the Coury's liability insurance for the race covers dragon attacks. http://www.lizahoward.com/2011/11/dragons/
I have a point to this. But first, Google "Cyborg" and take a look at the f'd up world out there (look at the images). Holy shitballs. What the hell is that??? Whoa. I just have to take a step back for a minute...
The point is I have since decided after Cascade Crest to run the Mogollon Monster 100 course in December, self supported, in winter. It's a challenge that I'm looking forward to in both to see the course as I'm expecting others to see it but also for the sake of running an extremely tough course and moving forward with this project once and for all. With the pace the National Forest staff works I expect the permits to be approved sometime around 2019. Just kidding, hopefully this month but it's quite a process and not one steeped in examples of a lot of efficiency. I'm pretty sure I'm bottom of the pile for them. Luckily I'm extremely persistent and it WILL happen. Until then I'm training hard to survive that contest in self will with no buckle, no fans, no "grand finale" to the run. I know already it's going to be one of the toughest challenges yet. I'm ready for it.
In between then I've signed on to pace my friend Michael Carson at the JJ100. Mike's wicked fast, like 7:30 50 mile time at Leona Divide. It's a little out of my realm but I know I can keep up with him for 15-30 miles (when he's been running for 60 miles...) My fear has been not being able to keep up with him so I'm been actively trying to hammer out some fast runs on the trails and last night I put in such a great run I was left sprinting down the mountain, at dark, full speed wondering if somehow my Mom lied to me and she conceived me with a night on the town with Chuck Norris (sorry Dad...). There's no other way to really explain how I was running so fast without being the lifeblood of a Legend like Norris, up every hill full speed as if there was no incline at all with no fatigue and did so for over 2 hours. I felt incredible, like my feet were barely touching the ground, smooth, fast, even steps up and down and in every which way. For those two brief hours I felt like a Cyborg. A machine. One of those "fast guys." Whether or not I could maintain it for a full 50K i'm not sure but I'm not sure I'm ready to say I couldn't have last night. It was one of those runs that wipes out the last ten disappointing runs and instills that sense of confidence for all the future ones. I dare Michael to try and drop me out there. I'm so excited to help him push harder on the course, help him through some rough spots, help him stay on target and just encourage him along the way. The multiple facets of running never seem to be confined to just running down the road. The more I run, the more I engage in the ultra community I realize that the physical aspects of running are really just a small part of it all. The mental aspect takes hold of so much more, and the person to person interaction holds a lot more meaning than expected, so much that in the end I find myself forgetting about physical pain and only thinking about the personal relationships I made out on the trail.
Running is something I am very passionate about but helping someone reach their goal is something that cannot be compared with anything. Last year pacing my friend Matt, closing out the last full lap, watching Matt dig so deep, push so hard with so much passion and then finish, inside his goal, was really incredible. You can't help but respect that drive, that passion and to be surrounded by it with SO many like minded people all concentrated in a 15 mile loop, is an incredible experience I wish more people would expose themselves to. I'm excited to be a small part in Michael's experience and everyone else on the trail. If you are running JJ100 let me know and I'll be sure to cheer you on! Either way, I'll be the guy cheering you on even if I don't know you...
..Most likely hopped up on Mountain Dew. A LOT of it.
Tom Thumb 50K
That pretty much sums up my experience as a runner. Crash & Burn. Otherwise known as the "bonk." I've mastered the bonk. I could run a clinic on bonking. I've bonked on purpose. I've bonked trying to avoid it. I'm just plain good at crashing & burning.
No better example than the Run Toms Thumb 50k in the McDowell Mountains of Scottsdale. Being an area I do a fair amount of my running and training I thought it would be interesting to be in an "race atmosphere" on trails I knew so well.
"Race Atmosphere" quickly turned into five people. Not five people plus me. Five people.
So off we went up the Pemberton Trail, jogging along the bearded runner John who was jumping into his first ultra.. He picked an ultra with 5,200 feet of climbing for his first one. I like this guy immediately.
Unfortunately I would barely see him again as I passed him as we hit the turnoff for Dixie Mine Trail and he would stay behind me until the finish, as would everyone else. It was a lonely 28 miles after this.
I made it all the way up Bell Pass, down Bell Pass, up Tom's Thumb and down East End feeling pretty solid and well on pace to break Paul Bonnett's course record of 5:34. I was feeling great and at mile 19 I had 124 minutes to finish the last 12 miles, just one climb back up East End from 128th street, the downhill to Prospector Trail and then the long slog back to Pemberton, albeit a mostly downhill one.
Enter the Darkness...
Climbing I can do. I can do it exhausted. I can do it fresh. Doesn't matter, I'll keep going up. The downhill of East End however was a brutal, motivation crushing downhill where not only did my perverbail "wheels fall off" but they then went bouncing down the cliff, and burst into flames. I was toast. Done. Exhausted. Just like that I was staring at an incline to Prospector like it was the last hundred yards to Camp Four on Everest.
Prospecting for Pemberton
The heat was on. 85+ degrees, 24 miles and over four hours in my head was baking. I was completely exposed and I couldn't cool down. I doused my head, arms and legs in the ice water refill at the 19 mile aid station. Thank Jesus Melissa suggested ice in my bladder or they'd have been helicoptering me out. How would that be for irony, getting evacuated out in Phoenix when it was not 114 but 85. I'd never step foot on a trail again out of sheer shame.
With the course record still in tact I hammered some water, cooled off and headed down Prospector, trying my best to push the pace, open up the legs and hope for the best. It worked for about 30 seconds where I felt amazing, ran the hills, powered the downs and was picking up the pace considerably. I was probably doing 7 minute miles but had I been wearing a Garmin I'm sure it was really more like 9 or 10's but it's more about the mental thought than the actual pace. It didn't last long though and before long I was walking the hills, walking the flats and cursing the downhills. I'd worn myself out, burned my legs, ran myself out of this race. I was done.
I reached the water station with 6.7 miles remaining and realized I had to run the last 7 ish miles at 8 minute miles to break Paul's course record. I gave up. Who care's about this stupid record. My mind wandered between disgust, disdain, and feelings of utter failure. I felt like I was Anton and Roes had just passed me at Western States. I was in the lead all day and now when it mattered most I lost it.
Pushing on to the last 3.7 miles of Pemberton I did the mentally taxing pacing method of running 3 minutes, walking a few, running to that bush, walking to that cactus. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And through the course hope that 3 minutes turns into 6 which turns into a solid 15 minutes of running. It was getting hot and I was only interested in finishing. So I did, finally in a solid finish running the last 1.5 miles and the last part from the road crossing to the finish. I could see the tents up ahead, imagined the fan fare, the cheering, the cold drinks, food, and sprinted through the last few rolling hills, into the Pemberton parking lot, along the chalk lined "finisher's chute" and crossed the finish line in 5:55.
Nobody even so much as looked in my direction. People went about their business at the tents not related to our race, kept talking, kept milling about. Weren't they curious why the heck this salt covered, sweaty mess of a guy was sprinting for no apparent reason? Apparently not.
I made it back before everyone else did, considerably so, by over an hour. There were not any other "fast" runners though like the Michael Millers, Jay Danek's, Michael Carson's that would torch that course and the course record but I'm still claiming it as my first ultra win. I ran harder and longer than I have in any other ultra with more climbing and overall elevation gain. I simply got beat up with all the hills, probably should have walked a few more of them and done more to keep the heat from getting to me so much.
It was a fun event though, great course, and hopefully next year being later in the season it attracts more runners than it did this time. It deserves to be more than a 5 person race. Race Director Donovan Sarka does a great job putting it on, puts a lot of effort and it should be a staple race on everyone's race calendar. www.runtomthumb.com
Hopefully next year. By then I should have my doctorate in Bonking.
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.