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...)
I say that because I'm always so far behind on updating this. So much happens, so little talked about, so much missed. Or is it? You tell me. Did you miss me? Didn't think so. Funny thing is, I started this website and wrote in it for months and months and never even told people I had it. It was an outlet of sorts, a place to consolidate my thoughts, my aspirations, my frustrations and a place to dream. It still is but as life piles it on more and more with each passing week I feel more burdened by the internet and all it encapsulates. Good and bad.
So for the sake of my dozen loyal readers...ok, just my Mom. Here is an update on the Arizona trail scene, my unrelenting mission to run myself into the ground, and why Monsters are better in the form of mystical beasts than in aluminum cans.
This is going to be very random. Probably weird. I can't guarantee you'll enjoy any of it. But you clearly have nothing else going on right now or you wouldn't be reading this. Buckle up. I just slammed a Mountain Dew.
Running Circles Around Monotony
After running Cascade Crest in late August I didn't make it to another race after that. I missed Man Against Horse, skipped Cave Creek Thriller, passed on Pass Mountain and bailed on McDowell Mountain. All races I planned on running going into the very week of the race but never actually signed up. Why? No idea. One is definitely spending the money on a race I wasn't totally thrilled about. Sure, the guys always have great shirts but I have dozens of race shirts. Running 31 miles just didn't appeal to me all that much and I was becoming more and more interested in the 25-30K distance. So with each passing day I'd gain more confidence and yet never actually test it. All the while I was training for the Mogollon Monster 100 test run on December 10th. After that was snowed out and postponed until May I was really bummed. So how do you go from running a mountain 100 to two weeks later signing up for a 24 hour race on a flat, 1 mile loop? Again, I'm compulsive...and I like to try new things.
Across the Years is a classic of classics. Lots of history, lots of extremely talented runners. A totally different breed of runners than what I've come to know as "ultrarunners" but no less talented or unique. So how was running around in circles for 24 hours? No idea. I made it 7 miles before I knew I had doomed myself into a full day of boredom. I hit 22 and thought maybe I'll just jump into the little trail side lake and drown myself. Mile 34 came around and I started walking just to talk to someone new that I was coming around the circle and hadn't yet met. By the time I reached the 45 mile mark I had lost every ounce of motivation to continue. I'd walk it in with my good friend Honey and I called it a night. 50 Miles. 10 hours. That's enough for me.
Physically I felt great and actually felt even better as I reached the 50 mile mark. I simply did not have the heart to continue, I had no goals, signed up for the race that morning. It was fun, I met some great people and would certainly recommend the race to someone else that likes the flatter courses or loves timed courses. Me? Probably won't do it again for some time. Like next year.
Castle Hot Springs 22 Miler- Jan 7th
Paulette cruising down the road
Another race in the series that Arizona Road Racers puts on along with the Mazatzal 18 Miler. This one is 22, all roads and circles through a remote area of central Arizona and one I'd not visited yet. It was a small group but not unsurprisingly the same 40 people I see at every trail race or ultra. I was excited to see how I would handle actually "running" 22 miles straight and with the 2500 feet of climbing it did add another element of difficult to it. I finished it in 3:16 or so with Paulette which was good for 7th or 8th. It's a pretty low key, non-competitive type race so not sure anyone was racing, I know Paulette and I weren't. Just a nice day out in the desert. A classic Arizona race, I'll be sure to make it next year as well.
Superstition Wilderness 50K - January 14th, 2012
Weaver's Needle coming up to Parker Pass
I love the Superstition Wilderness. Just on the eastern edge of the Phoenix metro area its so accessible and visable for many residents but nearly everyone is clueless in what is held behind the mountains hovering over the city. Behind that wall of rock is a 180 mile network of wilderness, completely replete of people, as inhospitable an area as you can find in this country and as unforgiving as it comes. Yet with that comes a beauty that isn't matched by many places either. The rock formations, the varied vegetation, the sunlit canyon walls as the sun rises over the mesa. The desert is a beautiful place if one just gives it a chance, opens their eyes and welcomes the experience.
This year we had a group of nine taking the loop around the western and most frequented (see: Runnable trails) trail systems. The course climbs a total of 4,500 feet in exactly 31.1 Garmin miles while passing several ridges, steep descents, big climbs and fast, winding, single track.
We had the National Trail Champion David James, Angeles Crest 100 winner Paulette Zillmer, stud thru hiker/ultrarunner Anthony Culpepper, fresh off his 5,000 mile/9 month loop from Arizona to Montana and back. My friend Michael Duer from Tucson, who I ran with in our friends 50 miler up Mt. Lemmon last year made the trip with his friend Sarah, both great, fast ultrarunners. Jon Roig returned again, always up for anything unreasonably difficult, with so little apparent effort it makes me want to double my monthly mileage after every trip with him. Jeffrey Bryant, the "old guy" of the group who claimed he would be falling behind but was always right on our tail. Then my brother Noah who put in 5.5 miles of running since August came out and ran the 25K first half. Pretty standard for him, knocked it out and kept up with us the entire time. Always impressive no matter how many "off the couch" adventures he does with me.
We all finished in about 30 minutes faster than last years time, all smiles and only 9 of us were bloody when we finished. The rocks are unavoidable, catclaw your worst nightmare and you can't get away from any of it. This year felt a little less overgrown, maybe less rocky? I could be delusional though as I run on rocks every day and I'm more used to them than most. Usually when I take people to the Superstitions they love the utter beauty of it but can't wait to get done because the area is so technical. It's Arizona. What's NOT technical here?
Old Dudes Rule
Like how I snuck Scarlett into this post? She's always relevant...
STEFAN BEHR 71
RICHARD BUSA 73
ROBERT CALABRIA 70
JEAN-JAQUES D'AQUIN 71
EDWIN DEMONEY 73
JOHN DEWALT 73
EDWIN FISHMAN 71
WOLFGANG GEISTANGER 72
AARON GOLDMAN 74
RALPH HIRT 71
SHERMAN HODGES 70
GRANT HOLDAWAY 75
BILL HOLLIHAN 73
DON JANS 71
LOU JOLINE 71
BUDDY JONES 72
DICK KAMINSKI 70
RICHARD LAINE 70
LEO LIGHTNER 70
LINK LINDQUIST 70
CHRISTOPH LUX 78
ROBERT LYNES 72
JERRY McGRATH 70
FRED NAGELSCHMIDT 70
STUART NELSON 70
DAN PIERONI 70
RAY PIVA 74
JOHN PRICE 71
EPHRAIM ROMESBERG 75
SAM SOCCOLI 70
KARSTEN SOLHEIM 73
BERND SPRING 70
WALT STACK 70
OJARS STIKIS 72
BEECHAM TOLER 70
MIKE TSELENTIS 71
DIETER WALZ 72
ROSS WALZER 71
JONATHAN WILLIAMS 86
EDWIN WILLIAMS 70
TOM WOLTER-ROESSLER 78
CARL YATES 70
IRIS LEISTNER 78
HELEN KLEIN 75
BARBARA MACKLOW 74
ELDRITH GOSNEY 70
Know what this list is? This is a list of everyone over the age of 70 years old that has completed a 100 mile race. It's an unofficial list compiled by ultrarunner Dan Baglione whom I met and ran with (walked...) at the Across the Years race. One of the many interesting guys and girls out there with a massive running resume that makes you want to quit your career, and become a running vagabond to try your best to catch up to his accolades by the time your his age. He's one of the many guys like Karsten Solheim, and others that are over 60 and still rocking it hardcore. The beauty of Across the Years is the depth of dedication these people have. I met a guy from Washington, Fred Willet, who has the body of a 57 year old (his age) as you would expect. A nice round belly he's worked hard in earning yet he was pounding out the miles with a consistency anyone would be excited about. After a while of running laps I saw Fred, shirtless, in the mid afternoon of his SECOND day and sparked up a conversation with him. He's 57 and he plans to run a sub 3 hour marathon when he turns 60. Amazed and honestly a bit surprised based on his outwardly non-in shape appearance I asked what his current marathon time is.
"4:20 but I walked a bit so I could practice for this."
Somehow after a few more minutes of running and talking with Fred I no longer had a shred of doubt that he would accomplish this. One story after another I hear from one person after another about determining something they want in life, setting that goal and by God, sticking to it until they reach it. I know Fred will do it, he's just that kind of guy. Later that afternoon, several hours later I was running past Fred and as I passed him I said as I tired, "Fred! I'm fading here!"
Fred's reply? "The HELL YOU ARE!" A command with such a definitive tone you can't deny it. You're right Fred. I'm not tired. To hell with fatigue. I'm going to go faster.
It was worth another five laps of effortless running.
Many people I work with or I know use age as an excuse or reason for being as out of shape, unhealthy or incapable of certain things. They can't do this or they can't do that because they are "old." Which often or not is late forty's or fifty's. Hardly old.
"Oh to be young again."
"I remember when I was young and could do that."
All of it.
I do half my training with a 52 year old mother of 3 that has run Hardrock and races ultras all the time. Dave Mackey is the 2011 Ultrarunner of the Year. Older than almost every other Top 5 runner out there by a decade. Karsten Solheim (on this list) is still hammering out 100's and he was born a year or two after Moses. My point is, I'm not skinny because I run and my coworkers aren't fat because they are old. I'm fit because I train not because I'm skinny and my coworkers can be every bit as in shape as they want to be. Nothing is stopping them but themselves. Age is irrelevant. This list proves it. These people aren't "crazy," these people are living their lives as they want to, as they should and as they deserve to. Good for them, I hope to be in their shoes later in my life.
The Mogollon Monster 100
Kind of nuts that the trail is kind of like this...
I'm going to go out on a limb and make the statement that directing a 100 mile race is harder than RUNNING a hundred mile race. It's a lot of logistics, planning, organizing, budgeting and bureaucratic nonsense.
And I love it.
As much as it takes, the hours of planning, I know this race is going to be something special. The trails are amazing, views incredible and I'm confident the pieces are going to fall into place. I was disappointed after we had to postpone our trial run in December but now look forward to the May 5th running in weather a good bit more similar to the September date. Prior to that I plan to make several trips getting video of trail sections, additional photography, marking and planning for the coming race. With each big 100 selling out, going to a lottery, I think it's going to help the Monster fill to it's 100-125 capacity the first year and give everyone a good sized competitive field. There is a lot of interest, my email inbox remains filled and the offers to volunteer keep coming in. Check out the race website www.mogollonmonster100.com for more info. I'm the proud owner of a GoPro Here 2 so look out! Video's coming soon!
So What's Next???
Training buddy Matt dominated with a 4:24...he's a road runner my ass.
I ran this race last year with a wicked cold, 103 degree temperature and bailed after the 25K mark. My only DNF. Ever. Kills me to this day. I have to return. I'm going back. http://www.getoutgetlost.com/1/post/2011/2/san-tan-scramble-race-report.html
Next after that the following weekend is the 12 hours of Camelback, a maniacal redundancy up and down Echo Canyon for 12 hours or until you fully tear each ACL. So I'll try to make it to that...
Following weekend is the Grandpa Jim's 50K. Up Cholla, down Echo. Over the roads to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, up Squaw Peak, around Circumference Trail and across the Trail #100 to the North Mountain Visitor Center. My home ground. My trails. My Mountains. If I don't win I'm going to become a professional badminton player. Ok, I won't do that but I train on these mountains, can hammer the super, super technical descents and hope to do really well at this event.
Two weeks later I'm running a 55 mile backcountry Superstitions run with Jeff Jones and a few other brave souls. Repeat of last years run plus a few miles to retain the original route. I have my reservations about a few of those sections and repeating them again but ultimately I just love the Superstitions too much and have a hard time saying no. It's my heroin.
The following weekend (I can see my overall times plummetting about now..) is the Mesquite Canyon 50K. This hopefully will be my third straight year running it, lots of climbing, great collection of runners. Competitive, hilly, technical, hot, snakes, boulders. Should be just as exhausted at the start as last year following a Superstitions run but I don't want to miss it so I'm already signed up.
After that? Who knows? A beer under the sun at a Spring Training game?
Let's hope so.