The King of Ignorance
Why would someone run a 50K a week after a 17 hour 50 miler? I don't know either. I'm going with a case of self diagnosed FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I ran Mesquite last year as my 2nd 50k ever and this would be my first chance to see what I could do against a previous time. Is that a good reason? Would I have ANY chance of beating last years time after the destruction of my body in the Supes? No, it's stupid in every way you think of it...so I did it anyway.
IRun...for Taylor Paige
So we started off. Already tired. Great start.
I fell in behind a few WMRC'ers Mark Cosmas and Grandpa Jim Fowley. Paulette was up ahead and my goal was to simply keep her in sight as she'll pull you up the mountain if you just keep your head down and bear it. I wasn't sure my body was ready for a full on Paulette day so I decided to just keep her in eyesight and try to catch her by Goat Camp, mile 13.1. Until then I fell in the first 20-30 people and ran behind Mark Cosmas from WMRC for a while. I jogged along the beautiful, clean dirt trail surrounded by green and cacti staring at the back of Mark's shirt, his tech shirt for his upcoming opening of his new running store IRun. I only recently heard about it and thought it was a pretty self explanitory name for a shoe store. I get it. Cool logo. Nice shirt. I'll stare at cactus or maybe I'll get my headphones out. But then I notice his shirt and see there is more to the shirt...for Taylor Paige right below it. Without getting into the sadness of it all I thought it was really special and it suddenly made sense to me. He's got me locked in for his store without a doubt.
I Feel Good-Which can only be bad...
Headed up one hill after another I started to get more loose and my legs started to feel better. I was still a little heavy in the legs but at least the running was coming a little easier. I started to pick up the pace and was following a woman who was wearing La Sportiva Crosslites. I only mention this because A) It's rare to see other people wearing them and B) They are men's shoes. I ran behind her for about a mile and decided she was too slow for me and made the risky decision to move past her up the hill and push on past a few more people in my quest to keep Paulette in sight. Up ahead there she was, just a couple switchbacks ahead of me wearing her Wonder Woman shorty shorts. No coincidence there were a few guys trailing right behind her up a few switchbacks. Weird. Grandpa Jim was right on her all the way up those hills, I tried to warn him that he's going to get beat up keeping up with her but he just thought I was kidding. Not kidding.
Heading through the first aid station, said hello to Boone and headed up the ridge. He killed Old Pueblo 50 last week with a 4th place finish in only 8:35. Clearly he's smarter than I am and sat out this weekends race. Then I randomly ran into a couple buddies who were out on the trail mountain biking and pushed on for the next five miles of mostly hills. The trails are great rocky singletrack though and very runnable as they switch their way up the mountains and run along the ridgeline.
Does Downhill Thrash Legs? YES.
At the top of the ridge before dropping down into Goat Camp I stopped to take a leak and thought about where this race was going? Am I going to keep running this pace and just cruise to a time to just say I did this race or am I going to try and beat last years time and say to hell with the fatigue and bruises and nagging injuries from last weekend? I chose the latter and with that I took off down the ridge. Non-stop thrashing with zero regard for my quads, or my quads feelings as we jumped, leaped, and flew down the rocky, jagged and downright dangerous trail. Slowly I started to get closer and closer to Paulette and Grandpa Jim, still a solid half a mile away but visable by the long off switchbacks either up the ridge, down the ridge or across the ravines. I pushed harder and harder running every single step of the uphills, downhills, and flats until the extremely rocky section slowed everyone else down as they traversed the loose rock and found their footing. I didn't. I kept going and feeling confident on that technical rock I just kept going and passed one person after another, not one of them where I didn't think, "Bet they pass me in an hour when I've BLOWN UP." Sure was fun flying by them then. Finally, Grandpa Jim shows up around the bend. I'm close. I come up on the other woman wearing my man shoes and pass her as she tells me, "I don't want to pass her yet" and then come up on Paulette. Mission Accomplished.
It felt great flying down the ridge and felt great knowing that I caught up to Paulette but after a couple miles with her I knew that after only seeing 9 other people head the other way back up the ridge that i was in front of WAY too many people and yes, I was indeed going to fall apart in no time. So at the 13 mile aid station I made sure to pound a lot of food. A full banana, gel, trail mix, two waters, gaterade and even a mountain dew. Jon Roig came in as all the people I passed came in and left and Jon and I headed back up the long, steep and neverending downhill we just came down. Jon wasn't in a major hurry either as he put in the Old Pueblo 50 Miler the previous weekend as well so we plugged away the next chunk of miles together in what was the worst part of me entire race last year. Climbing out of Goat Camp.
It's not that it's so steep its just that it's so damn steep and long. You just keep climbing, forgetting I guess how long it was as you ran down it just an hour before. Last year...wow...I was hurting bad and it is only 15 miles in by the time you start to climb. I made it of course and this year Jon and I together put in a decent attempt at the climb and he pulled away after one of the last ridges as it became more runable. I let him go (meaning he's faster than me) and used Jon as my lead guy I was going to keep in view. He plugged along a good 5-10 minutes ahead of me as I put the headphones in and tried to keep a steady pace down the ridge. I knew it was still several miles until the 22 mile aid station and all of it runnable so I needed to put in some good time if I was going to have any chance at breaking last years time or even 6 hours. It was already getting hot by now and I could feel it. I kept Jon in sight for another couple miles before starting to feel a little better, little more hydrated as I tried to drain my pack knowing the aid station was coming up.
I passed a couple guys catching up to Jon and finally ran into him less than a hundred yards from the aid station where once again I caught Grandpa Jim. We ran in there together and started filling up our packs. Boone comes over and checks on us and asks how we are doing. I definately was feeling the fatigue at this point and while feeling great not 3 minutes ago that disappeared immediately as I stopped for food and water. Not 30 seconds later Michael Miller comes flying down into the aid station right behind us. Where the hell did he come from??!!
Final Climb - Quiting is Underrated
Back down to the dungeon I go. Leaving mile 22 Aid Station I really was not interested in this race. Usually in the past right around this point I start to feel really great and push through some really fast miles but I just did not feel like it at all right now. I left the station with Michael and Jon and we hiked up the ridge on the second to last climb. It's the second time for us through this section and once it leveled out Jon, Michael and now Grandpa Jim took off and started running. Me? I walked. I didn't care right about then. Dungeon. Pity party. I was having such a great little pity party I thought clowns and balloons would start showing up. No clowns ever came but I did my best to stay hydrated in the heat, take some s-caps, eat some trail mix and just walk until I felt better. Unfortunately that ended up being the next four miles...
Pity Party Over- I'm sick of the heat, let's RUN!
Despite the legnthly section that I walked I didn't lose sight of Grandpa Jim so I at least knew I was relatively close and at the top of the final climb on Ford Canyon I knew there was a very step, long, technical, rocky downhill that I could bomb down and make up time on. I did my best to hike harder as I got up to the ridge and then started the fast decent in attempts in catching someone, anyone. I spotted Jim as I neared the bottom of the downhill and passed him shortly after. He was cramping a bit but otherwise was doing ok. I thought about walking with him but dropped down into the sand and just kept running.
Ford Canyon is a Race Directors dream and a runners nightmare. It's a wash essentially, a dry river this time of year. So you run on mostly deep sand among the large river rocks and towards the end there are massive sections of rock you have to stop and downclimb. You cannot run this. You are forced to use your hands, slide down, crawl down or jump down. It's a really awesome section in reality just at mile 27 you feel less than excited to do it. I kind of like it though as it forces you to bend your legs and stretch it out. I'm just always a little freaked out there are rattlesnakes hiding in the nice cool sand under the rocks you are dropping down to.
So having done this section three previous times I know the best way to get through Ford Canyon is to run every step of it. Stay on top of the sand and keep moving. Hiking it your feet sink into the sand more, it takes forever and the sand reflects the heat which at this point feels like 95 but I know is probably nowhere close to this. So i kept running and held onto the magically dream of breaking six hours. I had already given up on breaking my time last year. Four miles of walking runnable trail will do that to you but if I can win the consellation prize of a sub 6 hour race I'd be happy. Of course I have no watch so I have no idea what time it is as I climb out of Ford Canyon, over the technical, super steep down climbs and back onto runnable singletrack. I know there is one final aid station coming up and that is 3 miles from the finish. So close. I'm exhausted. I think I have a bone spur. I'm sick of gels. I don't want to eat. I'm just going to run.
Finish Strong. No Matter What.
I came into the final aid station and asked the time. 12:35pm they said. Six hour mark is 1pm which means I have to run the last 3 miles in under 8:20 min/mile pace. I do not have that in me. No way. The aid station volunteers say, "You can do it! It's all flat from here. You're doing great!" I replied, "I did this race last year and I know there are two hills left!" They all laugh in agreement and I headed out.
My body kept telling me that I had no chance of running anything less than 10 minute miles. I felt like just accepting the time I get and not even worrying about pushing it these last few miles. That worked for the first 200 meters after the aid station and then my competitive mind took over.
I started pushing it harder and trying to take bigger strides so it at least feels like I'm making progress. I can't believe how freaking tired I am. Far more tired than I ever have been at this stage of a 50k. I take the first hill on and thank GOD there were two girls hiking down the hill. Enter Super Strong Runner Mode to impress the girls I have no interest in, have no interest in me or will never see again. Yet it happens every time. Some would call it machismo. I call it stupid. Either way I ran the entire hill and at the top of the ridge I gathered myself back up, held in the vomit and pushed down the short hill before the last small ridge. After pushing up that one I came down the downhill into the furnace.
The last 1.5 miles of the race course always feels so freaking hot. This year it felt so much worse. It's not even that hot either. In two months we'll be DREAMING for 90 degrees to run in but right now, in March, I'm not quite used to it yet and my body was cramping, my tongue was dry and I was fading fast. I didn't have any juice to keep up the pace. Luckily, more people started popping up along the trail. Re-enter Super Strong Runner Mode. Have to impress the people I'll never see again afterall.
The last section of any race I can rely on nothing more than the thought and cheers of people as you approach the finish line and sprint through the chute. That thought alone gives me arush of energy and keeps my legs pumping the last mile to the finish. I rarely ever see people sprint across the finish line in an ultra. I'm usually not there for the super fast guys to finish so maybe they push it in but most people are just happy to be done. Not me. I want to make sure every single last drop of energy is gone when I'm done, and so I sprint every single time.
Today would not be any different. I was breathing down the neck of a 6 hour race and I knew I was going to be close. I didn't have watch to tell me I had an extra minute or I was already over the time so I had to run with the assumption that I still had a chance at the mark and if I kept running hard I could get there in time. I rounded the last turn towards the finish and the last 1/4 felt like three miles until I finally came out of the cacti and saw the finish line. I had already started to pick up the pace but that instant that I see the finish I get a burst of energy and my turnover is doubled or tripled as I fly by for the best part of the race. I turn off my music and sprint as hard as I possible can at that moment until I hear the beep and feel the rubber matt under my feet as I cross the line. 12:58:44. Just over a minute to spare. Under 6 hours. Thank Goodness.
Just as I crossed the finish line a volunteer hands me a finishers award and I have to tell her to hold on. Seriously?! Did you not just see me run full sprint the last 150 meters at the end of a hard ass 50K? I can't even see straight and my legs just might give out completely any second as I hold back from vomitting in front of everyone. I did my best to be polite in saying I'd be back to get it and hope she didn't think I was being rude by telling her to hold off. I promptly went over and collapsed on the concrete floor. Glorious.
Memory of a Hamster
Grandpa Jim came rolling in shortly after me with really solid time just over 6 hours. Jon in the end only beat me by a minute or two which is pretty amazing considering I thought he was long gone and he thought he had left me way behind in the end. Paulette ran an amazing race and won the Women's race with a 5:16 or so and beat that La Sportiva woman in the last couple miles to extend her win streak to two years! To top it off that woman was Keira something who won Angeles Crest 100 so it's even more impressive.
As always happens I forget about the dungeon moments of the race within one bowl of soup post race and a Snickers bar. I cross the finish line and sit around recapping the race with everyone that you went back and forth with, not against, but with all through the race. That's what really makes the races fun and it makes it that much better on a course as tough as this and as beautiful as this. Better yet, we'll all be seeing each other soon enough as most of the people are also running the Zane Grey 50 in a few weeks. Game On.
http://www.aravaiparunning.com/ for next years race!