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...)
Spur Cross Trail - Elephant Mountain 35K
The training has worn on my but the progress is there and as the race inches closer and closer I continue to get a little faster, a little stronger and a little bit closer to my goal.
Dominating the Highline Trail on April 27th.
In itself it's a stupid goal. Nobody really "dominates" that trail, they just more or less survive it at less visible rates of misery. But I stated my goal, I'm sticking to it.
Sub ten hours at Zane Grey.
The closer we get to the date it is both more daunting and more conceivable with each passing training day. I'm logging more miles than I ever have and on a heavy work schedule with limited time for actual running. I've been creative in getting the runs in and sometimes I've just outright had to miss some key workouts, workouts I hate missing but time is simply at a premium at my house.
One big test for me was the 35K at Elephant Mountain, a new Aravaipa Running race. I wanted to run this race as soon as Jamil Coury, one of the two founders and race directors, told me he had it in his plans for the upcoming DRT Series. I'd run the Spur Cross trail many times and twice had run out of the Spur Cross Conservation Area across the Maricopa Trail to the Cave Creek Recreation area. One in particular in mid-summer where I ran out of water 5 miles from the car in 100+ degrees and was sucking on a rock barely running the downhills as my kidneys were screaming F-bombs at my stupidity...
Aside from that the trails are stunning, runnable and fun as any single track gets. I knew it would be a fast but challenging course and a great one to test out my new found fitness, if you can call it as such.
My goal was to break 3 hours and hit 2:55. It's 21.7 miles with 2,300 feet of climbing. I ran the Cave Creek Thriller 30K back in October on some of the same sections and did it in 3:04 for two less miles and the same climbing. I wanted to run every step, skip most aid stations and remain up front the entire race.
I hit the turnaround in 8th place in 1:29. I had just passed the first 7 guys and saw Bret Sarnquist saying to his buddy ahead of me to push it hard on the way back. I hit the turnaround and ran up every hill, seemingly never catching anyone, getting more and more frustrated that somehow I'm running a 9 minute mile uphill and NOT catching anyone??
This doesn't happen in the middle of the pack. I'd be passing everyone by now. We're in a new world now.
I watched the runner in white up ahead, a double switchback ahead of me and I wasn't gaining any ground. I pushed on and as we crested the Spur Cross trail I knew we had a long, gradual downhill for several miles. I planned for this downhill, knowing we were at a good mileage where my body always feels good and I thought I could push sub 7 minute miles. I pushed on as soon as I hit the decline and within a half a mile I caught him and once we hit the flat I made the pass and went on barely stopping at the aid station to fill up water.
In every other race I've ever run I'd have stuck behind that guy and played it cautious, fearful I'd be passed right back.
Not anymore. I passed that guy like he was standing still and blew by the 50K'ers and everyone else on that long, steady downhill. People were barely trotting on and I was off in the bushes trying to pass them and maintain a pace where I could catch the guys out in front. I knew Jeremy Schmucki, my arch nemesis, the Jeremy I've never beat in ultra running. Bret was somewhere up there and I wanted to get as close to him as I could, if at all.
I kept plugging away, surprised I wasn't fading at all and came up on Jeremy walking up a small incline. I knew something was wrong and sure enough he was having a bad cramp on his toes. I asked if he needed water or anything but he was fine and just walking it off. He'd come in much slower than he normally would so I won't count this one quite yet.
I started to really struggle once we hit the road and even though it was flat (ish) I couldn't keep the sub 8 minute mile and started to fade. I needed food, some kind of nourishment and within a couple minutes I hit the last aid station. Half a banana later I started up the final climb to the big descent into the finish, the finish I dream of throughout the entire race, every race. I dream of coming down the hill, passing by everyone in a full sprint into the finish line with an insignificant time but one that I worked hard for and finished as hard as I could. It pumps me up throughout the race and keeps me motivated. I wait for the final miles, suffer through all the others, just for that moment. I left that aid station amped to catch the guy in front of me.
I didn't care who it was.
I didn't care how far up front of me he was.
I was going to catch him.
So I set off running up the mountain. One switchback after the next I plugged away. Hikers were coming down the mountain, my head was up and I was running with a smile. I was going to pass that guy.
I made it a half a mile before I first saw him. And he was not close to me at all. I looked at where he was when I spotted him and then clocked it until I reached that same spot...
.67 miles away...
Two miles left.
No matter. Big goals just mean you have to work harder.
After several more climbing switchbacks I knew I was gaining on him. If I could reel him into a quarter mile with the final descent left he wouldn't stand a chance. He can't possibly run downhill as fast as I can.
So I hit that downhill with a reckless abandon I can't remember in a race since Jay Danek and I crushed the hills at San Tan 50k last year. Just absolutely smashed the hills to the point I couldn't make the turns on the switchbacks without coming to a complete stop. Hikers slowed me down and as I descended the mountain I could see him out in front.
He's getting close.
This was going to come down to it. It's going to come down to me pushing my body to the max the rest of the way and to the very last inch of this course.
I geared up mentally, took a few deep breathes and as I reached the flats I pushed on hard, getting ready for a full sprint last couple hundred meters.
The guy was nowhere in sight, I turned the corner along the road, a hundred meters before the final right hand turn leading to another hundred meters to the finish chute.
He was about to hit the right turn.
I didn't catch him.
I deflated a bit, slowed and looked down and took a deep breath.
A few feet later I see him out in front of me. Trotting near me from the other side of the turnoff. He'd gone the wrong way and was coming back to the turn.
We reached the turn at the exact same time. I could have easily turned in front of him but put my arm out signaling him to take the lead and finish it out.
I wasn't going to beat him anyway and we trotted it in together for a finish time 1 second behind his.
It would go down as my only race...ever...in my life...hat I haven't sprinted to the finish. 5k, 50k, 50M, 100M, whatever it has been I've sprinted to the finish. I look forward to it, gear up for it and really enjoy knowing at the end of a race I put every ounce of remaining effort into it.
Trotting into the race chute and seeing that 1 second difference continues to eat at me. Maybe because the guy never said anything to me afterwards or maybe because I'm not going to ever let someone beat me at the finish in a sprint. But it does and continues to.
Overall, it was a solid race. I did run the entire 21.7 miles and ran at a faster pace than any other trail race I've done. I ran a bit conservative not knowing how my body would respond to the pace so it's encouraging to know I could have maybe knocked a few more minutes off with a little more experience "racing."
Aside from the Elephant Mountain race I knocked out a 50K in the McDowell's mostly solo on Saturday. Grandpa Jim Fowler met me for the first 9 miles but he had to head home and I finished up the remaining 4 hours alone in a 5,600 ft 50K in 5:30. It was a tough run solo but mainly because I wanted to try a full 50K without any caffeine.
It's my last 50K without caffeine.
This weekend I'm running my first road race in 4 years. The Mountain to Fountain 15K. It's a 9.3 mile road route from the McDowell Mountain Regional Park into the town of Fountain Hills. 900+ are scheduled to be there on the course and my coach has me pegged for a sub 60 minute time.
That's a 6:26 pace.
For 9.3 miles.
Which would be the fastest I've run.
I think I can do it, it's just going to be very hard. I've hit faster times at track, had a relatively "easy" time at track at fast paces but that's going to be a real challenge.
March 23rd I'm in for my 4th year at Mesquite Canyon's 50K. It's a very challenging course that last year I ran in 5:14. I'm shooting for a 4:45 or under this year knowing that I can run a lot of what I walked last year and really can just push the pace much faster all the miles without as much concern that I'm going to be worn out later on. Whether that actually happens is another story but I'm big on goals that are outside my comfort zone.
Crown King 50K on April 6th is up in the air. I hope to make it to that race but also need to get up to the Rim for some Highline Training and have limited time to do both. I'm also not sure I want to run a fast, uphill 50K 3 weeks before Zane Grey. We'll see.
Until then, I'm excited to see where this will go and as each day passes I'm one day closer to starting out on that trail in Pine, Arizona.
In the cold.
In the dark.
Setting out on what will almost certainly be my most challenging physical feat to date.
Dean Dougherty at 7 months old!
I'd sacrifice a run any day to hang out and build some Lincoln Log mansions with Dean or chew on some wooden blocks (sometimes allowing Dean to play as well), knock some cars around the play room and rock out to some good tunes while he dry humps the obnoxious plastic toy he uses to stabilize his wobbly legs. So while being a father comes with its sacrifices, you sure do learn a lot. Here are a few things I wish someone had pointed out to me for a fair warning:
1) Baby clothes are designed to make it as difficult as possible to get the kid in the outfit. They come with 200 buttons instead of a single zipper. I'm not sure why, but everything has buttons. So without fail...the diaper is showing somehow despite it being a "onesie" and once again I didn't line up the stupid buttons. Dumb...I'll take full zippers until 5 years old please. In fact, lets just make all outfits come with zippers. Thanks.
2) Why are the head holes so dang small on so many outfits? Some have buttons on the back of the neck to let the head get through but even though the rest of the outfit fits Dean I feel like getting a shirt off his body is like pulling a golf ball through a garden hose. And I think he feels the same way sometimes....
3) I watched the movie "The Changeup" with my Man Crush Jason Bateman and scoffed at the ridiculousness of the poop and pee scenes. I'm not scoffing anymore. I haven't had this much urine on me since '99. A baby boy with a diaper off is like a loaded weapon without a safety. That thing can go off when you least expect it. I've used a variety of objects to block it. I've since learned my lesson but there were many a day where I was left totally baffled at what just happened. Like the time before he could move around I went around the kitchen counter to grab a diaper. I turned my head, bent down into the drawer, grabbed a diaper...
...and there it was...
...a beautiful Fountain of Urine shooting straight up in a perfect little arc onto the floor. Normally funny in of itself until I walked over in a haste and realized that the perfect little arc was creating a puddle of urine directly on my cell phone.
So now I talk on the phone and think of Dean.
4) Don't play rough. I'm not a coddler. So I tend to be a little rougher with Dean than my wife is and it's certainly backfired in the early days. I've always dreamed of being that dad with his son on his shoulders at the county fair or wherever, so I was excited to first try it when Dean was strong enough in the neck to not go limp and fall off my shoulders into a pile. So after I hit his head on a few light fixtures we worked out the kinks in what should be a pretty simple task of walking around the house. As time went on Dean got stronger and we'd run around the living room. I'd grab him and flip him around and then just like that I had four ounces of spit up filling up the cavity of my ear drum.
And Dean would just smile like he just hit a home run to win the game.
And I wouldn't even care.
The Law of the Land - Zane Grey 50M Countdown
Less than three months away from my 3rd running of the Zane Grey 50M race in Pine, Arizona. I've written on here before that I'm determined to hit sub 10 hours at this race, a time that is far about and beyond anything I've done before (it would be a 2:24 PR, as in 2 hours and 24 minutes) on this course but something I feel I'm fully capable of doing.
So I will.
To get there I'm certainly pushing the envelope on what I've done before in training.
As in...I'm training.
I have a scheduled workout plan each week and I've now gone to track workouts four straight weeks. Insignificant to many but given I've been to the track maybe four times in five years...it's significant to me. They've been tough workouts but the sustained high pace each week will definitely make me stronger, and faster, as a runner.
I'm putting in what would be "low" miles for many an ultrarunner but a steady investment in time and energy for me. I've hit 60 miles a week once before (without a race) and only done back to back weeks of 50 miles once before. I trained for my first hundred with one 50 mile week and a ton of really hard 50k-50m races or training runs. It's worked but I've never been one to be up front.
That will have to change at Zane Grey. In the 23 years the race has been around, only 82 times has the course been run in 9:59:59 or faster. It's been a sell out for several straight years and while it was a very small race the first several years, it's still been a lot of times out there so sub ten hours is aggressive. Only six runners out of 126 starters broke ten hours in 2012. Karl Meltzer ran 9:25 and that was 3rd place. This year is packed with even more fast men and women than previous years, a group of two dozen that have run that fast before at tough races.
But I don't care about any of them. At all.
In fact, I don't care at all about what place I end up in. Just finishing and then breaking 9:59:59. It has nothing to do with ego and everything to do with setting a goal, and reaching that goal.
Any goal worth reaching easily wasn't a goal worth setting in the first place. This is going to be hard and I'm going to have to work to get there.
"Run when you don't want to, walk when you can't."
I was thinking about this out on the trails on Saturday at South Mountain. I run almost all my long runs with someone else, mainly for the company and to pass the time on the trails. This past weeekend I wanted to go out and put in a four hour run with a ton of climbing. There were many times I didn't want to run but knew I needed to and would starting jogging back up the hill. After a while I looked down and realized I just ran the last 2 miles without stopping and climbing 1200 feet. And I started to believe I could do this.
I started running ultras four years ago and my brother in law said to me,
"Run when you can, walk when you can't." - Brett Addington
It was sage advice I took and used at every training run and race for the next three years. Yet, a couple weeks ago on our monthly Bell Pass Out N' Back 8 Mile friendly race I had a new theory as I trudged up at a steady jog the 1,800 feet in the couple miles to Bell Pass. I was running what I for years was walking, and I was running it hard. I didn't want to, I knew I didn't want to, I knew I wanted to walk, power hike this section and settle in to the top.
But I didn't and I kept running. So something changed for me and I started thinking;
"Run when you don't want to, walk when you can't."
So I'm going to keep running, even when I don't want to, until I get to that finish line at Trail head 260.
I've been using Strava.com as a training tool for my running for the second half of 2012 and will continue with is through 2013. I wrote a piece for www.trailrunningclub.com on why. Check it out here:
Another year, another beautiful trip through the Superstition Wilderness to start the new year.
This was the third year we've had this run, a Fat Ass the first weekend of January. I've had a bit of an obsession with the Superstitions since my brother Noah and I started out here hiking up Siphon Draw trail up the Flatiron. All those times I had always wondered what was out beyond those rocks and ridge lines, going on for seemingly forever.
So one day I bought a map of the Superstitions and I started to find out.
And what I found was incredible. A world of side canyons, springs, trails, cactus, trees, thorns, and solitude. We'd run the first year the same year I ran 50 miles in the Superstitions on a Jeff Jones designed route with Paul Rondeau. That run showed me such a diverse range of mountains that held so little care for your wellbeing. A ruthless system of trails hidden among abandoned dwellings, gold mines and little used trails. One mistake and you're going to be found by the strike of a miracle, nothing else.
So with any self supported run having the right people is always key. We had another hardy group join us this time with many making their first trips to the Superstitions on this run. We had three of our Mogollon Monster's 9 finishers in Jerome Jourdon, Rudolph Palmer and Danny Speros. Deva Lingemann (last woman standing at Mog100 with Heather Lightfoot), Jon Roig (3rd time for the Superstitions 50K), my brother Noah "I don't run from April to January and debut with this run" Dougherty, and Jon Nelson. Jon joined me on the Gonzalez 24 hour run and is running Zane Grey for the first time this April. This would be a great test for him, the Superstitions have arguably more rocks than the Highline trail...
I now only run once a week it seems and after running 16 miles in at South Mountain the previous Sunday I didn't run a step until the following Saturday. I went out for an easy six miles in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and ran into a couple friends. I jumped in behind them for the next several miles and ran back to my car solo. Getting back to my car I realized I was missing my car key.
Backtracking 3 miles to the last place I had it I didn't see it and gave up. But not before I put in 13 miles.
Eight miles into the Superstitions the following day I knew it was going to be a long one. Dead legs, no energy, gassed before we even got going. So it took a good bit to push past that and keep a smile on my face. Even the incredible descent off Miner's Needle couldn't get me going and coming into mile 18 at Peralta Trailhead I was seriously considering bailing at my own Fat Ass.
Yet as usually happens and I've grown to know this about the sport, there are inevitable rebounds. I always think to myself, no matter how shitty I feel during a long run, if I just keep moving long enough its bound to turn around. It's just a matter of time.
So we reached Peralta and I got to see my wife and our son Dean, grabbed some melons and recharged the battery, said goodbye to the Jon's and Noah and we headed up the biggest climb of the day.
Climbing is my battery recharge for sure. I can feel like stringing myself up to the next tree branch with my backpack straps one minute and then we could start up a several mile climb and I just click into gear and things start to turn around. By the time we reach the top I felt much better and I was looking forward to the long ridge line running back down the valley.
The five of us hammered out the remaining 13 miles with a great group downhill, everyone self sufficient, nobody outwardly struggling just pushing on. We hit the Black Mesa Trail and knocked out the climb out, passed a group of horse back riders at the Second Water turnoff and finished off the remaining two miles to make it back in 7:30 on the dot. A "slow" 50K for most but as a group a great time with plenty of time to enjoy the day.
As with every year the park rangers are at the lots and always look on us with such inquisitive eyes, cowboy hats turned down when they ask the inevitable question, "Where did you all start?"
This year however we caught up with the Ranger at the Peralta Trailhead and he said he would meet us back at First Water later on.
Sure enough, there he stood with his partner at the top of the hill by the trail signout. These guys know the trails as well as anyone and they know how rough they are. Even though these kinds of training runs never make it into the ranks of ultra signup the admiration of these old cagey cowboys makes it well worth the effort.
Until next year...
I've been running fairly consistently since 2009 now and as of yet, have not had any real injuries beyond minor day to day issues or overall extreme. There were a few short sections of time where I was on Dr's orders to stay off the trails for other reasons but not for a running specific injury. In fact, since I started this endurance running thing after the 2008 Tucson Marathon my only injuries were heat related (Rhabdo), a few torn ligaments in my left ankle blocking a shot on goal in soccer where it spun my foot around in a circle. Oh and that one time my liver was working on overdrive after my bachelor party where for at least three to five hours I thought for certain all my major organs would shut down simultaneously, I'd shat myself and I'd be found lying dead on my living room floor in my own vomit. I blame every single one of you bastards that were with me. I'd rather have someone split my foot open than have that again.
So despite the non-runner's typical comments of "your knees are going to be shot" and "you're going to be crippled if you keep this up."
Right. Don't leave any of that 32 oz Coke in that jug fatty. Make sure you get it all down before you finish judging me.
Inevitably, those comments of impending paralyzation come from those that fell significantly behind on their workouts back in the Carter Administration.
But in all reality, I've been fairly unscathed and my legs and body have held up well. I rarely fall on he trails, stay off pavement like it's Herpes, and my overall weekly run totals are less than most road marathoners.
That is until late November when I started to feel this sharp pain in my left hip flexor.
Given there is almost always some kind of ailment plaguing my body somewhere and knowing that if you just run long enough most anything just goes away. So I'd run through it and keep up my runs, running more and more hills, running a higher percentage of every run and running every run faster than I have before. I felt stronger, faster and could really feel myself turning that proverbial corner.
So naturally thats when my body breaks down.
After the South Mountain 30K I had to shut it down. That entire 22 mile run was a pity party that nearly resulted in me sitting on the side of the trail in frustration. Every step was painful and every step up was worse. Being on the National Trail wasn't the best location to be dreading every uphill step.
Eleven days later I hadn't run. My legs were aching to do something.
I thought about waiting longer, two full weeks, maybe even three, but I couldn't keep watching these 72 degree days disappear after suffering through the miserable summers exactly for these days. So I tried it out last Friday night, a short four miles of mostly flat Preserve trails.
Ok, we're getting somewhere.
Next up came a run of Pemberton Trail and it's 15.4 miles of generally flat, rolling trail with Jay Danek and a couple of some fast runners two days later on a foggy, cold, wet Sunday morning. 2 hours and five minutes later we finished and I was beat. But my hip held up and I didn't have any pain like I had before. I was excited to be able to get back to it and now after two weeks I could train again. I ran the next day, Monday, and then took four days off as precautionary in not overdoing the return to training before running tonight.
It was a run that was one that you want to be over from the minute it starts to the minute it finished. Painful, slow, hurt, stomach hurt, ankles hurt, and with every step you question why the hell you feel like this. Was it the lunch I had? The 22 Christmas cookies? Half pound of fudge? All coffee hydration strategy?
A garbage run if there ever was one.
Yet somehow I was still moving along ok, and on a climb up the backside of Stone Mountain on trail #100 I started to click and in climbing up the washed out rock pile of a trail I came up on a guy on a bike. He was pushing it, the bike that is, wearing blue jeans, a pair of white sneakers you get at JC Penny, a grey bedroll strapped to his back with clothesline rope and a long sleeve denim shirt. I jogged up on him and said, "Merry Christmas" as I passed.
He looked to his left towards me as I trotted up on him.
His face was sunken and dirty. Five days deep from his last shave, giving him a disheveled look.
He looked over while pushing his bike up this scree trail. Making terribly slow time through the rocks, his back burdened by the pack and weight of his gear on his bike.
He was a homeless man, likely on his way up the trail and over to the Cave Creek section I've seen many make their homes in washes over the years. His look came with no response, no smile, no grin, no return of greeting.
It was a look of pure despair. A look of, "Merry Christmas?? Are you f-ing kidding me? Are you seriously saying that to me as you run past me while I push this bike up this mountain??? F-you."
I trudged on like someone had kicked me hard. Right in the stomach.
Here I was fretting over a strained hip muscle that was keeping me from training for an insignificant hobby that has no bearing on the improvement of anyone's life around me.
And he was pushing his bike up a cliff towards the pile of dirt he was going to make home for the holidays. Or maybe not, I don't know. But that's what was crossing my mind after that one singular look.
I kept on, thinking about that guy and came up on the long stretch of steep rocky switchbacks to the saddle heading west. I picked it up and started to push harder and harder up this hill, faster and faster around one switchback after another, driven by some unknown desire to punish myself on this climb.
The last 100 meters is bedrock and scattered shale, making the footing loose in places. I simply started sprinting from one open spot in the rocks to another, not looking towards the top but simply watching my feet land with each step. Closer and closer to the top I made it, far faster than I had ever done that hill before, a hill I've run so many times before.
As I reach the top there stood a man.
He was not a hiker.
Not a biker.
Not a man walking his dog.
Not a runner.
Just a man standing there. He carried nothing in his hands, nothing on his back. He was portly in size, older in age and standing there looking at me. He had a big white beard, an overgrown one rugged in appearance from years of neglect.
He seemed so out of place, out here in the desert with no apparent reason for being there.
Yet there he stood. There he was. Standing there as I sprinted up this hill, out of breath and fighting back the warm spit inevitably bringing on some dry heaving.
He stood there and as I looked up he was smiling.
He didn't say anything. He just smiled. He looked at me and smiled.
I said, "Merry Christmas" and he smiled.
I crested the saddle and dropped down the backside of the trail and after a minute I looked back towards that man.
He was gone.
A couple miles along I climbed to the top of the highest ridge and stood at the top. Looking out over all of Phoenix, the center of the city, the meager Downtown to the south and miles and miles of houses in every direction. So much to see, so many beautiful views. You can see forever up there and yet all I could search for was that man on the trail. I could see every trail and he was nowhere to be seen.
I headed down and sprinted back to the spot hoping to find this man. I'm not even sure why. Not sure why it was so important to find this man. Who was he? What was he doing out there? He didn't look like anyone that lives there. Was he homeless? Was he the other guys friend with the bike? Was he still going to be on the trail when I headed back the same way? Maybe I could give them my headlamp? I could head back home and grab some food for them maybe...
One turn on the trail after another there was nobody in sight. I was alone this night on the trail, in the center of Phoenix, not a soul in sight.
I finished the last two miles to my car and sat in the drivers seat thinking about those two men and all the little things in this world that often go unnoticed and under appreciated.
Like a working body. A warm bed. A hot meal. A single look. A single smile.
I started the run pissed off my Ipod was dead when I tried to turn it on.
What?! No music?!! I already feel like garbage and I'm going to run without tunes now?
"I'm going home. F- this."
I'm really glad I didn't.
50 Miles into 103 in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve
A month now after the Gonzalez Family 24 hour event I'm still looking back not quite sure what to make of it all. It really happened so quickly and before I knew it I was standing in the parking lot at 5:30am, in the cold, alone and wondering..."What the hell did I get myself into this time?"
Soon enough I'd know.
But for now, I'm not ready to fully recap this but I will. Because it was too important a day for the Gonzalez family for me to shortchange it without a real story. I have so much to say about it, even now, a month later, that I just need the time to sit down and do it. If I can talk my son into longer naps I think I can knock it out.
Until then check out the Upcoming Adventures & News tab on this site. I'm put an unofficial Arizona trail running calendar of events up there to include all the upcoming Aravaipa Running DRT series races, Tucson Trail Runners (TTR) events, and a few random big road races, shorter events of note and some unique fat ass or fun runs planned in the coming weeks. The winter season in Arizona, specifically Phoenix where it doesn't snow, brings a chance to get out to a lot of places that are tougher to get to often in the hot summers. So every weekend seems to have a couple options to run and often these are not publicized and difficult to find. So here you go, a few more options for the coming weeks and months to shoot for!
Also, now at the end of the year we are again putting together a vote for the Ultrarunning of the Year for Arizona, both male and female, and also for Most Outstanding Performance of the Year and Grittiest Run of the Year. On December 17th the voting will open up on www.mcdowellmountainmain, Jay Danek's running website, and will close on the 28th. I've offered up a comp entry to the Mogollon Monster 100 for the winners of AUROY and Aravaipa has a free entry for those that are runners up. IRun and Sedona Running Company have both pitched in gift certificates for the winners of the other two categories. So check out Jay's site if you have any nominations for Jay & I to include. Just comment on the post for the awards to have someone included and we'll update it.
On the 17th we'll open up the voting itself and award the winners all on the 28th. There are a lot of great performances every year and with trail scene growing everywhere more people get involved every year. You don't have to be the fastest person to win anything, that has never been what Ultrarunning has seemed to represent, at least to me. So don't feel someone shouldn't be included just because they can't run a 18 hour hundred.
Check it out! www.mcdowellmountainman.com
The Gonzalez Family with Maria Gonzalez on the right in silver.
I first heard about the Gonzalez tragedy last Wednesday. Almost immediately I wanted to help in some way. I'm not even sure why but I did. Maybe it was the two Red Bulls I had just slammed mid afternoon at work, maybe it was because of the size of the family left in the wake of it, maybe just because....sometimes people just need help.
So when I heard about it and how shaken everyone at work was I felt I had some way of helping. I could run.
So I went back to my office and within a few minutes I had a full plan in the works. I would run for 24 hours and ask for pledges of any variety of dollar amount and the total donation for each person would be their pledge times the number of laps I completed. It was a take on the "Bowl-a-thons" we used to do back in Vermont with the Boy Scouts. I'd get my family to pledge a nickel or something per pin I'd knock down as a 9 year old. Then i'd go out and crush it and come back asking for $150. This was nothing like bowling but I felt it could work.
So I ran with it. I had three courses mapped out, calls into parks, race directors in the area and before the day was out I had it rolling. The family needed money now not in a month so I knew it couldn't wait until after Thanksgiving. I was already planned to do a double crossing of the Grand Canyon on November 2nd so it would have to be the following weekend, November 10th. I'd have 9 days to prepare for what is hopefully 100 miles.
As soon as I sent out an email to my entire hotel company, Hotel Valley Ho and the Sanctuary Resort & Spa, I had a massive response.
Everyone wanted to help Ana's family out. In any way they could. See, Ana is the niece of Maria Gonzalez and has worked at our hotel for probably five years. She's the sweetest, kindest, most good natured young woman you'll likely find and has always been that way since I met her.
So the pledges started to come in and within an hour we had over a dozen pledges totaling over $15 per lap. Then I posted it on Facebook and my friends in the running community chimed in with an equally overwhelming response. Friends I hadn't heard from in years, people I see every day, small amounts and huge amounts, people pledged with their hearts for these children and the totals rose with every day.
Then we sent out a press release and the pledges rose once again. At the end of today, Thursday the 8th, we are sitting at $39.74 per lap.
If I can make it to 100 miles on 24 hours that's almost $4,000.
It is surprisingly difficult to secure a location to run for 24 hours.
In the age of liability and lawsuits, so many roadblocks out there. City parks are not an option despite many being very sympathetic and wish they could help. Even the Indian Bend Wash, a seemingly "open" park system can't allow a runner to run loops on the multiuse path despite being able to run through the park at any time of the night. Police and Fire need to be alerted in nearly all areas and really, just one problem after another. It would seem that nobody wants to allow a random guy to run around in circles all night.
So I'm just going to pick my own course and found one that is 1.0 miles around and on trails in one of the parks in town. It has its own access without having to leave a vehicle on park property and has only 46 feet of gain in one mile loop, or only 4,600 over 100 miles. It's far more mentally engaging than a track or paved loop with many dips, weaves and turns through the desert. It's exposed of course but does have some tree cover here and there and overall, a course I think I can run for 24 hours and not go completely insane.
I'm just praying that should some well meaning Park Ranger come see me running around the desert at night Saturday night, to please understand the reason behind it and kindly look the other way. I'll pick up every piece of trash in sight and leave it in much better condition than found. I can guarantee that and just hope it can be a live and let live situation.
I have run 100 miles once in my life. Over a year ago at Cascade Crest 100.
It took me 28 hours.
I tried again in May on a self supported run and made it 85 miles in 26 hours.
I've run 50 miles over a dozen times.
Twice on a loop course.
But never 100 miles on a loop course.
I've never ran a hundred miles in under 28 hours technically.
But I know I can do it. So I will.
I'm a man that needs goals and here they are:
6am Start Time
50k in the bag by noon. 31 miles in 6 hours.
By 6pm another 31 miles or a 100K in 12 hours.
It's dark at 6pm here in Phoenix now and I'm sure I'll be slowing down by then if not sooner. But it's a great start to the last 12 hours where I want to keep plugging away. Without the big climbs to slow me down in other races I can keep hiking at least at a faster pace. The trick is not stopping every mile and visiting with people that stop by to say hello and cheer me on. Just keep going.
By midnight, 18 hours in, I want to be at 80 miles.
That leaves 6 hours to put in a final 50K. I think I can do it and if I'm not broken by then with blisters or injury, if I'm just tired and fatigued, I know I can pull it out with the barn door in sight. That would give me a total of 110 miles in 24 hours.
Ambitious? Sure. Especially given the above facts and what I've accomplished in the past.
But then it's not really a goal of any value if it's easily attained. Plus, I've never been motivated to keep going in a lap race like this before. Every lap I complete is more money for the family. Every lap is $40 that can pay for clothes, food, funeral expenses, living expenses, whatever they need in taking care of these 9 children. That's far more motivating than some belt buckle that you get no matter how long you take. It's not about personal pride or sense of accomplishment this time. I feel as if this has nothing at all to do with me but everything to do with helping this family.
So despite being sick throughout this week with a cold, missing Tuesday at work due to being sick, and never having accomplished that level of miles in this amount of time....I feel driven and ready to take this one. The weather should be perfect for it, 64 degrees and partly cloudy with a low of 46. This entire week it has been 90 and 65. Suddenly tomorrow it drops down and then the lowest high temperature of the month and lowest since the summer started happens to be Saturday?
I see that as a good omen.
So while we are really close to the day I still have one more day to collect pledges and try to get to my stretch goal of $50 per lap. That is $10.24 more but a significant one. If you'd like to pledge and help out the Gonzalez family please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on this website. Or on Facebook. Or at 480.248.2012. Or 480.415.5315. :)
Thank you to everyone that has pledged already, offered to help, plan on running some laps with me. All of you are incredible and makes me proud to call you all my friends. Many people talk in the political world, the social world of opinions and the image is sometimes painted of a gloomy future in our society. Of everything going downhill.
Well, I disagree. The flooding of well meaning friends, families, coworkers willing to help out people they've never met before, simply because they were in need is a powerful message to those that think otherwise.
So when it comes down to it on Saturday night, when I'm tired, sore, blistered, beaten, hungry, exhausted and maybe even bored...I just think of things like that and I think about what the family can do with $40 if I just get my head out of my ass and hurry up and finish this lap.
I think that's enough alone to get through 100 miles.
Our summer is over and the race season is just beginning. Another October is upon us and I've already been completely taken over by the incredible weather and forgotten completely that it was 110 degrees just a month ago.
What miserably hot summer?
It's perfect out.
And running has never been easier.
No water bottle.
No dry mouth.
No getting back to your car after the run feeling destroyed and then five minutes later your body catches up and sweats through the cloth seats.
No more strategically planning your week of training around the sunrise because once it comes up it's like the Chronicles of Riddick...it's overbearing and ever present in the rest of the run. A monkey on your back waiting to pop you in the ear with those stupid symbols (that can't be spelled right....) I can run in the heat and I know many that actually enjoy it. Many go out at noon in August. But that doesn't mean it's smart or fun. In fact...I hate it. It's bearable through mid-July but the last month plus is always rough for me.
Now, you can run at any time of the day or night and it's perfect. I ran this morning at 5am without a shirt on, just a headlamp, shoes, shorts and the Disco Biscuits. It was incredible. Running up hills I've always walked in the past, cruising along at a solid pace without the interruption of walking to get my core temperature down to under 201 degrees. Running the the fall in Phoenix is a rejuvenation.
To test the rejuvenation I'm running my first race since the Mesquite Canyon 50K way back in March. March. Seven months ago.
It seems odd that I haven't raced since then, but I skipped Zane Grey this year, didn't run a 100 all summer and was focused on the Monster up until a few weeks ago. I ran a ton of marathon or longer training runs on the Mogollon Rim and a 85 mile jaunt on the Mogollon Monster course in May but nothing with competition.
So this will be fun. 18 miles up in Cave Creek Regional Park at the Cave Creek Thriller 30K, the first of the Aravaipa Running DRT Trail Series here in the Phoenix area. It has some trails I know, some I don't. But it's 18 miles and it'll be a good test of my fitness after putting in a couple decent runs the last couple weeks and one strong week last week. I'm still way short on training and being where I want to be in having a focused training plan but comfortable enough that I'm ready to head up north, run a few trails and hang with the fast guys. We'll see how long it lasts. Bret Sarnquist, Jay Danek, Tony Delogne, Jules Miller, Jeremy Schmuki and as usual in running and ultrarunning...a whole bunch of people that will come out of the group and crush a bunch of us. It's not a Dark Horse in running, it's a Dark Herd. So many unknowns that can pop up and put down a fast time. Which is part of the intrigue in running a race, especially one where it's around 50-100 runners. Just enough to know who is going into this with you and not so many you have zero chance of competing for a respectable place.
So I'll for the first time give it a shot up front of the pack and see where that takes me. I'll shoot for a spot in file behind Jay Danek as I know he's in the fastest shape of his life and after 10 miles see where each of us are and go from there. Eighteen miles is a perfect distance but I've never ran it without thinking I had another 13 to go. But as my races typically go, 18-20 miles is usually where I have a low spot before rebounding for the last ten miles of a 50K. Maybe for 18 I can hold a much faster pace and remain up front. If not...
I'm sure my ego will survive it.
R2R2R - 2012
November 2nd I'll be taking another trek down to the Canyon for a Bright Angel>North Rim>Bright Angel Double Crossing. I haven't done it since last fall and aside from a trip this February for a 50K route off the Tanner trail I haven't seen the Canyon since. So I'm totally oblivious again as to just how difficult and challenging this trip can be and always is. Jay Danek is going for his first go of the Double Crossing and of course Honey Albrecht who always makes it when it involves the Grand Canyon. It'll be my 5th double and probably Honey's twentieth or something. It's great to have done it and a once a year trip. Not sure I'd be up for multiple attempts in a calendar year. It's a lot like Zane Grey. Always sounds like a great idea until you hit about 30 miles and you're staring down 8 miles of switchbacks...
Either way...really looking forward to it and starting out at night Friday night we'll be up over 24 hours before we even start climbing back up. And we'll catch the sunrise which is worth a thousand gels.
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.