Saturday, June 25, 2022

Bighorn almost-70 miler

Bighorn was always meant to be a training race for me, another step in the upward trajectory lately.  I didn't quite envision it as training for adapting to a crazy hectic couple weeks of travel (with almost no running), uncertainty about even getting there, and under the question of whether I'd be healthy and ready to go.

There is a lot of explain about the lead-up to the race, and I'm going to leave a lot of it for another time.  For now... John captured the covid finally, somewhere in TX or NM in the middle of our multi-state journey to bring home our new Rivian (!)  His symptoms were mild, thankfully, and he didn't pass it along to me initially.  Two positive tests for him, two negative tests for me, and another two negative ones for good measure leading up to the start of the race.

So -- start the race, I guess?  We made it Dayton WY, on time, and aside from a forecast of "ridiculous heat" (because, why not), there didn't seem to be a reason not to.  How's that for motivation going into a 100-miler?


Actually, I had plenty of motivation, revolving around not finishing this exact race 15 years ago.  I felt like I was in much better shape this time, ready for the altitude and the climbing, as much as I could be ready except for the prior 2 weeks of travel stress, occasional lack of sleep, and possible covid as mentioned above.

Also grateful to be there.  Beyond everything else, it's a gorgeous place, and what better way to spend a weekend than up in the mountains?


Starting up the road at an easy pace, getting into a groove for the first couple miles:


And off we go...  Thanks for the pictures, John!


John found a nice spot for a picture of Tug-E, our new Rivian electric truck - hello, lady!


The first climb was toasty, wide open, straight up, and full of sun.  Occasionally we crossed little streams, and it didn't take me long to dig out my neck bandana to start dipping it in cool water whenever possible.  It's a good thing my body will sweat on command because that was immediately necessary.  Long climb, legs feeling fine with it, body feeling slower than normal.

Eventually I topped out, then had a solid trek along the next trail/road section.  Anything less steep was no problem.  Sharply steep uphills gave me pause.  Breathing/lungs seemed fine, and by the Dry Fork aid station I was back on my pace chart.  Good to go for heading off across into the hinterlands.

Happily, cloud cover rolled in and the rest of the afternoon was not nearly as sweltering.

Most of the course was in great shape.  If I remember right from last time, the doubletrack road after Dry Fork was a rutty mess.  This time it was still rutted but dry, and there was almost always a good path along it.  Down and up through little drainages.  Then a lovely singletrack rolling through the woods, very nice.

The drop down to Footbridge was also in much better shape compared to last time I was here.  I remember sliding through mud down much of it, and this time it wasn't a lot of that.  A bit of picking your way through wet sections here and there, and although I wasn't moving downhill very fast, it was a pleasant change of pace.

I heard a bit of thunder on the way down and there was a brief sprinkle while sitting in the aid station, but happily the evening/overnight weather was excellent.  Several other runners were discussing clothing options, and I mentioned there was no way I would need tights.  I carried a rain jacket, buff and light gloves, and that was it.  If we're going to have a hot couple of days, at least take advantage of the warm overnight.

The first couple miles along the river roll up and down, then eventually the trail settles into a decent uphill grade.  I was excited to notice the sign for "Leaky Mountain" and glance over to see 3-4 waterfalls pouring over a cliff further up the way.  We aren't in the desert at the moment, Toto!

My climbing seemed to go well, steady and consistent.  Just keep moving.  And enjoying the scenery.

An example photo from our friend Ryan, who was doing the 52-miler the next day - so many great wildflowers!


It got dark, and it got interesting watching all the headlamps of runners up ahead, including the front of the pack coming back down.  The upper part of the climb is mostly wide open and I could see approximately where the course was going, winding this way and that around the upper drainage system.

Still plenty warm, even with nighttime wind, pleasant walking weather.

Above the second-to-last aid station (Elk Camp) the trail was wet in spots.  Then it was wet and muddy.  Here we go, just how bad will it be this time?

And... plenty bad.  With all the people passing in both directions, trying to figure out a way through without losing a shoe, this section is truly not fun.

A picture Ryan took the next morning:


Part of the trail was actually dry and runnable, yay!  I had hope.  That hope was dashed a short while later.  We went through snow drifts, which were some of the better sections because the footing was decent there.  More mud, more water.

Finally the trail crossed a road, getting close to the turnaround!  A runner coming the other way said "there's mud up ahead" - wait, what's that we've been going through, then?

Oh.  It just got worse and worse.  No way to avoid walking straight through deep puddles of freezing muddy water.  And hmm, isn't that a road just over there that we COULD be on?  I was displeased.

My angst was multiplied because both of my heels were developing big blisters.  What the heck?  I've been wearing the same style shoes for many years, although I think the design of my drop-in insoles have changed and not for the better.  Argh.

Finally there was the Jaws aid station.  Thankfully an on-the-ball medical guy asked what I needed, and when I mentioned the heel blisters he jumped to help.  We cleaned the back of my feet, let them dry a little, and then he covered and wrapped them up.  I wished I had 2 dry pairs of socks there, one to use immediately and one to change out after going back through the mud.

No matter, the one pair would do fine.  I knew I didn't really have the extra time to spend at Jaws but without fixing my heels it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

Back out the door, back through the crap, at least in that direction things improved with every obstacle forded.

I tried to get moving down the hill.  I could speed-walk just fine, but my body wasn't really into the running thing.  My throat was scratchy, that wasn't the sign I was looking for.  Still good for deep breathing, but starting to get resigned about the direction this was heading.  Again.

I was pretty sure I was going to make the Footbridge cutoff, and this time I was going to walk out of Footbridge and start up The Wall (dammit).  15 years ago I'd also done the math and determined there was no way to get back to Dry Fork in time, so I'd given up on the way down.  Not this time!

My heart was in it, but my body was "meh", just keep moving.

As it got light, the 52-mile racers started passing me from beyond (they started at Jaws and followed our course back to Dayton).  I didn't want to be in their way so I kept stepping aside for them.  Maybe I should have focused on my own race, which needed all the time I could squeeze out.  Not sure the best way to approach that.

The best part was having Ryan come up beside me and chat for a couple minutes.  Hi Ryan!  He was running well, while I was tired and slow.  But happy enough to smile for the camera!


We agreed that the cool, cloudy morning was so lovely!  Happy to have it while it lasted.

As I suspected, I made it to Footbridge with time enough to dump most stuff out of my pack, wipe my feet and change socks, and put on sunscreen.  Then I walked out of there, dammit.

And... the steep uphill was just not happening.  Less steep, no problem.  Steep = slowly putting one foot in front of the other.  I crawled partway up the hill, up through the wet section, leaning on my poles.  There wasn't anything particularly slowing me down.  My legs weren't on fire, my breathing wasn't ridiculous.  The word "exhausted" came to mind.  Finally my whole body said "please stop" so I listened and turned around.

It was a slow descent back to the aid station - races are always the hardest after you quit.

I got a ride back (mask on), found John, cleaned off a bunch of mud and showered, then took a covid test - it was a faint "T" line but it was there.  Time for a nap or 2!

John got to see Kelly and Ryan at the finish line; at least one of us was awake that afternoon.  Go Ryan!


It sucks to not finish the same race twice in a row.  It sucks a little less when this time I might actually have a valid excuse?

And now I'm doing race recovery and covid recovery at the same time, so I've got that efficiency going for me  :)

Happy - and healthy - trails!

Monday, May 30, 2022

The super Superstitions

Somehow I haven't yet written about one of our fun weekends from back at the end of March.  Time to fix that!

Our friends Taylor and Andrew, along with their trail dog Basil, went down to Phoenix for a vacation weekend.  John had a solar training class/conference scheduled for the following week, so we decided to join them and explore the Superstitions together.

This is a fairly large and remote mountain range, for being so close to a big city.  It would take a long time for us to see all of it, especially since you really only want to go in the cooler months of the year.  No reason to mess around with summer in the low desert.

We camped at Tortilla Flat for the night and then trekked up the trail toward Boulder Canyon, coming from the north on the first day.  It didn't take long before we got high enough for some great views:


Battleship Mountain in the middle of the picture and the Weaver's Needle off in the background just to the right of the Battleship:


Looking back at Canyon Lake and all the different colors of the landscape:


Having fun running on trails with friends!


We did a loop around Battleship, finding the loosely-defined trail on its north side.  Andrew and John wanted to see how far up they might climb it, while the rest of us decided to find a spot in the shade and wait for them.  I don't think the guys are in this photo, but we did glimpse them here and there along the ridge:


John's picture up on the ridge, perhaps around where they decided not to take the time to go all the way to the top.  Another time, perhaps.


Basil keeping watch for dad to return:


The highlight of the day was finding a pretty and shaded pool in La Barge creek.  Basil was especially excited to swim, get wet, and chase sticks out into the water.  I guess we were too busy laughing and enjoying watching him to get a picture of the dog joy.

Instead we took pictures of each other:


And the tall rocks around the pool (columnar basalt, maybe?)


Heading back to start the hike out.  Super fun day, thank you friends!


The next day they stayed in town to go to a basketball game, so John and I decided to try a different trailhead and maybe get ourselves closer to the Weaver's Needle.  We have seen that thing several times (first pointed out to us at orienteering meets around the area).  So we drove up to Peralta trailhead and came in from the south.

So many interesting rocks to look at:


Hi John!


If that rock had fallen over, at least John would have gotten it on camera...


Fantastic lighting captured by John's phone:


Saguaro peek-a-boo!


It was good timing for desert flowers:


Sort of a Gorn head watching over hikers on the trail:


Another superb and dramatic picture from John:


Reaching the saddle - thumbs up for the Needle!


Once we started down toward the Needle we had the trail to ourselves.  I was loving all the rock shapes along the way:


I believe this was on the slope leading up to the base of the Needle.  We found a "sort of" trail going up, quite steep but plenty doable.


I'm probably thinking how neat it was to be there, and how I'm not at all interested in the higher rock climbing-looking stuff up above:


Weaver's selfie:


Checking out the wilderness to the north:


Flower feet:


We returned to Fremont Saddle and decided to take the "adventure" way back to the trailhead.  We didn't really know how much of an adventure, just that the trail on Gaia was in grey (i.e. not a main trail) instead of green.

Perhaps the most beautiful saguaro I have ever seen.  The location certainly helps:


The trail winds through rocks, past excellent overlooks, and then eventually to the challenging section somewhere past here:


I'm not sure why John didn't take any pictures of me down-climbing the large slabs and huge boulders.  He had plenty of time while waiting for me.  We would reach the top of something and I'd be like, "really?", he would demonstrate, and I would say "well, OK" and eventually find a way to the bottom.  It was one of those fun-in-retrospect things.

Back in my comfort zone, trail running to finish off the day:


Our verdict - we love the Superstitions, can't wait to get back again someday.  Thank you Taylor and Andrew for suggesting it!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Zane Grey 100k

The Zane Grey race along the Highline Trail (below the Mogollon Rim) is something I've heard about for years.  It's rather famous (infamous) in ultrarunning circles as an extra challenging race on a technical trail.  "Rocks, rocks, and more rocks" was my understanding.

The trail and the race have evolved over time.  Apparently some dedicated people have worked on the trail to reroute it, smooth it out, add a bunch of switchbacks instead of straight up/down steep hills, and overall make it easier.  In the process it has gotten quite a bit longer.  The race used to be a 50-miler.  Now, with an added final section, it's a 100k.  So we still get to do the entire Highline Trail, plus climb up to the rim as a big ascent right at the end.

While we're here in Arizona it seemed like a good time to try this beast of a race, and it's probably good that I ran it now instead of the harder version a few years ago (even if it was shorter back then).  Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of rocks and ups/downs and ins/outs to deal with.  Also many runnable sections.  And it's still a beautiful place to spend a day in the wilderness.

I learned that it's a tradition for the race photographer to take everyone's pictures at a gorgeous spot in one of the early sections.  Then she scurries to Payson to have the photos developed and printed, bringing them to the finish line to hand out.  How cool is that?  Thank you, Megan!


Back to the beginning... John and I drove to Pine on Friday and pitched a tent in the National Forest for the night.  It was nice being near the starting line, although that contributed to my underestimating how long it would take for me to get myself fed and ready on Saturday morning.  I thought I had made it, dashing across the line and tucking into the back of the pack.

Then I realized... I'm carrying nothing.  No water, no food, nothing.  I forgot my little pack in the car.  Oops!  Luckily I wasn't too far up the trail, so I dashed back and yelled for John.  Quick, gather the pack, let's try this again.  James, the assistant RD, was like, "what is she doing?" and yeah, not one of my finer moments.  But better than figuring it out a mile up the hill!

[Side note... Joe the race director and James were both at Urban Challenge Las Vegas in 2002 (there's even a picture - if you scroll far enough down - of us with the Skip Team - one of whom is Joe, crazily enough).  It was great fun reminiscing with them about that!]

Other than the minor brain fart of forgetting my pack, the first several hours went great.  Legs were happy, everything feeling good, enjoying the cool morning and watching sunrise over the scenery around us.  Beautiful!  We had amazing weather the whole day, never hot or cold and with an occasional breeze to counter the sunshine.  I passed several people, chatting about this or that, then most of them passed me back when I ducked into the bushes for a pitstop (the one other thing I hadn't done before the start).

I loved most of the trails that day.  Such variety and reminders of other places around Arizona.  For a while it was just like running in Sedona.  Then picking our way over rock gardens like below Elden Peak.  In and out of drainages, climbing over spurs to see what was around the next corner.  Little creek crossings with flowing water that we almost never see in Arizona.  My favorite, as always, was weaving through the ponderosa pine forests that have the best trails.  Thank you ponders!

John met me at the crew spots, helping me with water refills and SPIZ to drink and carry with me.  He caught a picture of me leaving Washington Park:


Knowing this was going to be a tough course, I was ready to be patient and just keep moving to get there eventually.  I didn't expect to be running close to the cutoff times early.  I'm usually well ahead of my time chart in the first half of a race, but not this time.  It felt like I was running a solid pace, not too hot or too lackadaisical, guess I better keep doing that and then add a bit more effort.

Actually, I was doing fine on my chart.  The cutoff times were on the tight side for much of the race, especially compared to the 19 hours total that they allow at the finish line.

Then something weird happened.  I trotted into the remote Hell's Gate aid station to be told, "good news, the cutoff has been extended so you're fine to continue."  Um, what cutoff??  I had been careful to record all of them on my sheet and there wasn't one listed here.

I resupplied with water and filled Spiz baggies while listening to the aid station captain and the radio guy talk about it.  Apparently she had been told to implement a cutoff, but not what to do with people who came in after that point.  My opinion was that she should let them continue on and let the next aid station (where there was crew and vehicle access) take care of it, not the least because there were going to be some justifiably unhappy people to deal with.  But hey, I'm not in charge, I just need to get going so I don't hit a cutoff time myself.

Moving on... the other bit of info we got was that the next section after "Hell's Gate" was the actual "Hell" part of the course.  For real now, rocks and rocks and more rocks.  That'll slow a person down.

My calves picked that moment to start cramping up, which was less than ideal.  Slightly kicking a rock would set one or the other off and I'd need to stop for a minute until the cramp loosened up and I could walk it out.  On the other hand, my moving speed wasn't much different than if the calves were behaving.  It was a slow several miles.  I eventually got to placing my feet carefully enough that everything stayed calm, and I could get more effort into my stride.

Somewhere in there the trail turned down a fenceline, dropped steeply down a rocky section, past a yard with howling dogs, and then eventually back up along another fenceline (with a bunch more rocks, of course).  Seems like someone owns property up closer to the rim and doesn't want a trail snaking through it.  Too bad for us.

The second half of that section was thankfully much nicer.  Red rock slabs, gentle winding climbs and descents, much better.  It was hard to tell, though, how much further we had to go.  And the clock was ticking toward the 3 pm cutoff time.

While John was waiting for me at the Tonto aid station, a Rivian truck drove by!  It wasn't anyone related to the race, just a random passerby.  Super exciting!


My throne awaits... just don't camp here:


I finally found the aid station, a few minutes after the 3 pm cutoff - I'm barely visible on the slope above the road:


Good news, they gave me a few extra minutes to get myself in and out of there.

I was relieved to be allowed to continue.  Plenty of miles left on these legs, especially with my calf situation improving.  John and I worked quickly to replenish supplies and get me back on the trail.  But not before he showed me the Rivian picture, so cool!

While I was climbing up the next section, John did some roaming around.  Thank you to John for providing some images to keep this report from being mostly words.

Not your normal dead tree in the woods, now it's a different kind of art:


Typical Highline trail, some rocks, some runnable spots, and pretty scenery for when you're not watching your feet:


One of many expansive and lovely views - I enjoyed pausing to stare off into the distance now and then:


John's selfie of the day:


Well, that's it for pictures.  Thanks John!

I found the water-only aid station at Horton Springs (spring water, yes please!) and heard from a fellow runner that the next section is "a piece of work".  Actually, this runner was named Scott and we had introduced ourselves many miles earlier.  He traveled with various other people and I had overheard him mention being at this same race many years ago.

Turns out Scott won the very first Zane Grey race in 1990 - wow!  

So if he wasn't looking forward to the next section, it was probably for a good reason.

The reason is that the trail turns way steep for a couple miles.  Steep up.  Then down and across a drainage.  Then way back up again.  "Work" is a good way to describe it.

Eventually, as they seemed to do in most sections, things got better.  And the downhill into See Canyon was a beautiful flowy switchback trail, very nice.

At this point I found out that all of the cutoffs had been extended by 20 minutes, which was all I needed.  Grateful!  I really wanted to see the new section of the race course, the final climb up to the rim.  Seems like I might have an opportunity to get there now.

One big climb, then more wandering this way and that, now in the dark.  It was a chance to make a lot of headway in the David Sedaris book I'm listening to, occasionally laughing to myself as I chugged along.

One final aid station, finally with plenty of leeway to get to the finish.  John again helped me resupply, then it was time for the last big climb.  My legs were tired but willing.

I switched my iPod to music and rocked my way up the rocky hill.  It takes a while to get going uphill for real, but once it turns straight upward it does it in a serious way.  One foot in front of the other, happy to be there, happy to be almost done.

The last couple miles are mostly flat and through the trees on the rim.  When I turned onto the dirt road there was a sign stating "1.7 miles to go" and my legs were excited to run without having to dodge rocks.  I chased a headlamp further ahead of me, but that guy also had a "go!" switch on the flat road and we both zoomed along.

"Zoom" is a relative term, of course.

Yay for the finish line, so happy to make it here!


Beautiful, challenging, interesting and varied course, very glad I ran it (once)  :)

Huge hugs to John for all the help and support!  Thank you, trail buddy.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

PCT - Prescott Circle Trail

Did you know there's a PCT in Arizona?  Not the Pacific Crest Trail, something more attainable.  It's called the Prescott Circle Trail, and it's a beautiful, well-signed loop around Prescott.

As is common, I happened to notice a signpost during a run so I got online to investigate.  The town has an excellent website about it and someone named Nigel Reynolds even created a wonderful map book with lots of details and pictures.

It seemed like it should be an FKT, so I started about submitting it.  Then I discovered that the idea was so good, Aravaipa created a race on it.

So - not an FKT (FKT rules don't allow race courses).

But still worth running to see if I could do the whole 56 miles in a day.  John was up for crewing again, thank you so much John!

We drove over that morning and got started at the Peavine Trail just before first light:


Which made for a really lovely beginning to the morning as I ran past Watson Lake:


Ah, the Granite Dells!  Such a treasure.  If you hike one place in Prescott, come here:


Heading toward the Embry-Riddle campus with the sun at my back:


The trail winds around campus a bunch, with an occasional view of Granite Mountain - looks like another place we need to explore sometime:


John met me at Pioneer Park, then I climbed over to the Legacy and Longview trails.  Somewhere along here I found (but didn't use) an excellent bench:


There's one gap in the loop, requiring a 1.5 mile road run to connect the trail parts.  It was still early and traffic was minimal.

Over at the next trailhead, John was talking to a guy who knew a lot about the PCT, so that was fun to listen to while I did a quick resupply.  As I was leaving I heard the guy tell his companion, "She's running the whole loop in one day!"

Slightly closer to Granite Mountain, as I climbed away from the more populated areas and into the quieter sections of the trail:


Feeling good and all smiley this morning!  Maybe because I'd found a few random ponderosa pines along the way:


Finding John and a few mountain bikers at Iron Springs:


John told me about seeing giant plumes of pollen coming off some trees in the area.  I saw several as I ran down the rails-to-trails section, even slowing down once to let the wind finish blowing a bunch of pollen across the trail before I arrived.  Happily that phenomenon seemed to be happening only in that area (that I noticed).

John, you're going to need a bigger saw:


Checking out the ruins of an old cabin, with part of the chimney still standing:


The trail is in excellent shape, great for an all-day run, and the clouds and mild temperatures were super helpful:


It was fun following along on the map and reading the instructional and informational notes from the book.  There are relatively frequent turns and the scenery keeps changing.  Occasional views off into the distance.  And mostly excellent signage so I rarely needed to consult the gpx track on my phone:


John had met me at Thumb Butte Road and then had time to do some exploring of his own.  He got close to the actual Thumb Butte, nice one!


John's view from his highpoint:


There are only a couple spots that could use a sign, including the southern end of trail #327.  There's a switchback at a drainage crossing with an unmapped trail going straight.  Easy to figure out if you stop to check things out, but easy to get off track if you aren't paying attention.  Happily I was watching closely and didn't do any bonus miles, at least not right there.

The Copper Basin trailhead appeared out of nowhere - Hi John!

Near Aspen Creek I saw just a bit of remaining snow:


On my way up to the highest spot on the trail:


Interesting views of Quartz Mountain all along this section:


And interesting white rocks all along the trail below the peak:


The long gentle downhill run felt great, still making decent time.  Another lovely bench along the way:


John was waiting for me near White Spar campground, and got a fun photo as I was on my way again:


Rolling hills through the woods brought me to this pretty spot on the creek that comes out of the Goldwater Lakes:


Soon I was looking through the trees at one of the lakes, happy to finally catch a glimpse of the features I'd seen on the map a couple times before:


Above Upper Goldwater I found another "add another signpost here" opportunity, i.e. an intersection without clarity.  I ended up at the lake, which was nice but not where the PCT goes.  Another foray in the direction of my gpx track (this time too vague to follow) and I finally found the right path.  At least I wasn't on the clock for anything and it wasn't too many extra steps.

John brought me blueberries, yay!


From Senator Highway I started along a trail I'd previously run, heading uphill toward some great views.  I was well along in my podcast feed, still moving OK if not quite as peppy.

Partway along trail #62 I turned onto #329 toward Badger Mountain.  This was new trail for me, and it weaves in and out of the hillside, like A LOT.  I was happy to find John at our next meeting point before it got dark, minor mission accomplished!


John had hiked up from a lower trailhead, thank you John!  We got these Star Trek Lower Decks duffles on the most recent cruise, perfect for a set of crewing gear.  It tickles me to see John carrying it out on the trails:


It got dark during the next long downhill, on the way to the highway 69 underpass.  The underpass had been icy on a recent training run, but today it was warm enough that it was just a thin layer of water.  John met me again by trekking over from a nearby parking lot, bringing a couple items including a Buff for my head.  Thank you John!

The last section was only 4 1/2 miles, but I didn't know the trail at all and it seemed to go in odd directions in the dark, this way and that.  Probably didn't help that I misidentified the "hairpin turn" on the map and thought I was a lot further along that I was.  Finally I figured it out, realized I was just moving pretty slowly, and decided I needed to be patient.

Up and over an old landfill (?), down to one final rails-to-trails section, under the parkway, and back to where I'd started.


What a wonderful, fun, interesting day of running!  I really like this trail, highly recommend.

And big hugs all around for my wonderful husband!