San Tan 50K- Rolling flats, great desert trails
Last year didn't go so well. I started out and went the first full lap up and over the hill and started out the second lap of the course. I felt really sick and I was really struggling with my breathing. I made the painful decision at the intersection for the second hill climb to head right (Quitters Lane) and DNF after 25K. Horrible feeling, hate it. Not sure I could ever bring myself to do it again. I had more concern for the Superstitions 50M that was two weeks after last years San Tan but nonetheless...it still eats at me.
Run the Hills, Hammer the Downhills
The long downhill/uphill at San Tan. Ran once each of the three loops it adds to the fun for sure.
With nearly every race I've entered in the last two years I've entered with the expectation of simply participating, pushing hard for a solid finish but never with any real thoughts of contention. I've never "raced" an ultra. I simply run when I can, walk when I can't. If I can't see the top of a hill, I walk.
Yet something happened in the last four months. Something changed. I don't know what it was, but I'm running so much faster than I ever was before. I'm recovering faster, running harder, climbing without half the trouble I used to have. I hit the same hills I used to struggle on just six months ago and now I'm barely breaking stride on them now. Lighter on my feet, quicker on the flats, smoother on the turns. I'm not breaking records, I'm not suddenly the guy that's going to start winning ultras, but certainly having a lot more fun on the trails now.
I know a big part of any improvement I have made is simply running with my friend Jay Danek. The guy guts out a run every single day, not just a mile, but FOUR, every day. He does on average 700 feet of climbing every day of the week and runs just about everything and absolutely HAMMERS the downhills with a blatantly reckless disregard for his own personal welfare. You can't help but laugh following him in the dark, going so fast your eyes are watering in the wind, and tears start flowing down your face. For the last two years of running ultras I've always been told not to go too fast on the downhills or you'll regret it later on in a race. Jay's blown that theory out of the water and I'm following suit. I'm going to hammer every downhill from now on.
So come race day this Saturday I don't think I'm going to stick to the middle and settle for the same time I always get on 50K's. My PR on a 50K is my second ultra every, Mesquite Canyon's inaugural year with a 5:36. I think I can take an hour off that and hope to this weekend. Bold? Yes, but I'm humbly confident (is that possible?) that I can hang with the fast guys and if not at least I'll know where I stand. So the San Tan 50K will be a test in running the hills, hammering the downhills, contrary to everything I learned the last two years.
McDowell Mountain Madness
NB 110's make you so fast you can take a break while everyone catches up to you. (New Balance- you can use this photo. I don't mind.)
Twenty miles. 5,300 feet of climbing. 3:44. Thompson's Peak some great downhill running, some on trails, some on some sick disguise of a trail covered in prickly pear and cholla. Half of which is still in my left leg. Brutal but super fun and very beautiful with the desert floor getting it's green "carpet." The McDowell's are so beautiful as it is, no matter how many times I've been out there, it's always fun. Ok, not so much in July...but still a great training area. Especially given it's 10 minutes away. It was also my first run with New Balance 110's. I usually run in Cascadia's or La Sportiva Crosslites or Crosslite 2.0's. C-Lites are 13.2 oz each...110's are 6.2 each. So right away it felt amazing to have so little on my feet. My calves and Achilles were KILLING me the first three miles climbing Bell Pass but after a screaming fast downhill everything was loose and went well. Coming straight down Thompson Peak was a little rough, possibly have a size too small but I just felt so much faster than ever before. Today, the day after, my feet are definitely tender on the bottoms from the lack of protection they've been used to but overall feel great. Excited to use them this weekend at San Tan and see how it goes for 31 miles.
Camelback...You're on Notice
Camelback Mountain, Arizona
Allegedly the ascent record is 15:28 by another ultrarunner done sometime in the past. Records are all very vague and for some reason used to be even recorded from the top of the steps, not the ramada. Which is similar to hitting a homerun from second place, not home.
Either way, I'm coming after it. Bring it.
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.