I'm enjoying this version of winter that's still chilly, plenty sunny, mostly dry, and with way less snow compared to last year. Makes it easy to get out and train.
It was great fun to return to Rock Springs (site of a recent orienteering meet) to do a scouting run on the Black Canyon trail. Let's see, there was a checkpoint there, one over here, one up there. Also lots of happy-looking saguaros along the route:
Checking out one of the river crossings for my upcoming 100k race (not visible is the easy rock hop):
I spent the morning on one of the big climbs of the race and then following the winding trail back through the desert to eventually locate the spot of the next aid station:
Next up - Prescott! Turns out we aren't far from there, so we took a weekend to do some exploring. The Granite Dells are really neat. My attempt at a photo:
John's picture is WAY better - nice shot!
More Sedona running, because I will never get enough nor will I ever see it all. Any one of these formations would stand out anywhere else; here it's just more "that's cool too!"
Next weekend we met up with our friends Taylor and Andrew and their dog Basil. It was time to check out the Hangover trail. Ready for a hike, Basil?
Not my best selfie work, but you get the idea:
It was quite windy that day, making for an interesting little climb up the slabs. I cannot imagine how people mountain bike there; even seeing a couple guys doing it I still don't quite believe it.
Not a typical fire ring:
Finishing the Hangover loop on our way to see the Cow Pies (I love the names of everything around here):
Time for the big event. The Black Canyon 100k, my first chance of the year at a Western States qualifier. Also a race I wanted to run last year but had to bow out of while working through the aggravated nerve issue. It looks like an easy course on paper, net downhill, no crazy climbs, just a singletrack trail through the cacti. In reality it can be somewhat challenging. For me, it was because of the rocky trail. Not the whole thing - much of the course is beautiful flowing mountain bike singletrack. But enough to warrant mention.
I'm getting ahead of myself. First the fun part - our friend Art was running it too, hello Art and his friend Trey! There was even a sale at the Rock Springs pie place the night before the race:
In our wave request I asked for "early if possible" and they put us in the first wave - with the elites. OK then! The only waving I will be doing is "good luck to all y'all fast people!", I'll just be back here.
Shivering slightly while waiting for the starting gun:
One turn around the track and we were off into the sunrise:
I decided to name each section, for some reason. The first 7+ miles I call "Into The Wild." Away from civilization, out into the unknown. Well, I'd run this part in training so it wasn't exactly wild or new, just quiet and calm. Even the cows weren't quite awake yet.
I was so grateful to be there, running the race finally.
The highlight was coming into the first aid station to find an open porta-potty, that always makes my day.
The next part is "Big Drop", with a beautiful curvy trail going down and down, fun and fast. I was careful not to bomb down the hill, no matter how tempting. That was made easier by all the fast people from wave 2 coming by me - I pulled over to let each of them by, which helped me put on some brakes and control myself.
I heard one guy talking to a buddy, "I know I shouldn't be going this fast, but I feel GREAT!" I wonder how that worked out for him - hopefully better than it would have been for me.
Quick aid station stop, then a new trail for me. I loved it! Rock formations, weaving around, views of the I-17 rest area way up over yonder, views of mountains in the other direction. I call the part "Overlanding".
Too soon the fun was over - those were the best 19 miles I've run in some time. On the plus side, it was time to see John again.
A picture he took of Bumble Bee Ranch artworks:
Art was well ahead of me and doing great. He said "Hi John!" (at least I assume he did) at the aid station:
Some time later I showed up and John ushered me to a chair in the shade. Let's have a look at the mileage chart (and also, this is a perfect spot for an aid station):
Looks like everyone is behaving themselves so far today:
Time to move out, and up the first climb. The "Side of the Hill" section was where it started feeling a bit warm. In and out of drainages, in full sun, gradually climbing for 4 miles.
At the next aid table I chatted with a woman about the Spiz baggie I filled and drank, always a fun little conversation topic. From there it was more "side of the hilling" until the trail finally switched to following drainages up and over saddles and down the drainages on the other side like I was more used to. There was a solid north wind most of the day - great if you're looking for a push, but not nearly as cooling as a side or head wind. Every time the trail turned away from the southerly direction, it was nice to feel the breeze again.
I started seeing lots of cholla and decided to call this part the "Teddy Bear Picnic". Just don't touch them, for the love of god.
These were some long-ish miles, culminating in a climb to the next aid station. The trail cut across a super-steep road and I was thankful not to be climbing THAT. I even remarked to myself, "that's not what this trail does". Silly me, because around the corner the race course is marked straight up the next part of that stupid steep road. That was a heck of a thing. Short, at least!
This was the first aid station (but not the last) where I overheard the word "carnage". The day was warming up and the bright sun was taking a toll. Lots of people were sitting in recovery mode. I had been reining myself in, which was working OK, and ready to take it even easier to keep from overheating.
Let's go find the first river crossing. I was going back and forth with another woman, so we eventually introduced each other. Angela and I talked for a bit here and there, although I didn't have a lot of extra energy to put toward chatting. Always nice to make friends on the run.
The trail dumped us out onto a smooth dirt road, and normally that might lead to faster running. This road decided to head directly across all the little washes we had been weaving in and out of, so it was way more up and down. One of the uphills looked so steep I had flashbacks to the Quicksilver 100k, but this was much easier, thank goodness.
Agua Fria river crossing, slippery rock hopping, helping each other out so no one fell in. Hey, I know this next area! I've been orienteering here, as I might have mentioned... this terrain makes me smile for some reason. Probably because I wasn't having to dodge sharp things and cross under fences this time.
Weaving through giants, I named this part "Saguaro Spectacular".
John was at the next aid station, yay! Art came through a good bit earlier, looking great!
It's almost like running across a finish line... except there's another 40k to go.
John helped me get some fluids and some salt, as I was trying to stave off a potential cramping issue. Ice water on my cap to cool off my head, and it was time to get back at it. I was managing the heat OK, but for sure it was something I haven't had an opportunity to acclimate to.
Next section = "Big Climb 1". After a short drop to an easy rock-hop back across the Agua Fria, it was time to go uphill a long way. I was really glad I'd done this part in training so I had an idea where the top was. Occasionally the trail crossed into shade, and that was so refreshing. I was ready for my iPod distraction - that's the easiest way to make miles later in the day.
People were still passing me, many of them the same people. I tended to get through the aid stations quicker and move more slowly on the trail. That seemed the best approach for the warm afternoon, plus my stomach was a bit unhappy around this point.
By the time I reached the next remote aid station I was ready to sit down again for a few minutes. It was fun listening to the aid station crew making comments about how we were the best group of runners (way better than the ones who were here earlier, and of course better than the ones approaching next). Also that they were happy to be out here as long as possible, as it was better than being in prison - they even had orange shirts to play the part.
I decided to try a piece of crystallized ginger, and wow did that wake up my mouth! Strong stuff. Between that, the brief sit-down, and the cooling temperatures, I began feeling a good bit better.
Finally it started to get dark, as I worked my way through the "Still in the Desert" section. I had resigned myself to taking longer than I might have thought it would take, sticking with the "finish in under 17 hours" goal and having plenty of time as long as I kept moving. Run when you can, speed-walk otherwise. It's a familiar pace, like the back half of a 100 miler, just one I haven't experienced in a while.
John was waiting at the final crew aid station (Table Mesa). Earlier he had captured a couple photos of Art and Trey on their way in:
Teddy Bear Cholla sunset:
Getting myself ready for the final push - thank you John for the help and photos!
Now that it had cooled down, I was much happier. Darkness is almost always slower, so I didn't pick up speed; there were still plenty of rocks to slow me down, and I continued to baby my occasionally-fragile stomach (at least it was letting me drink and digest the Spiz, no problem). Lots of miles to go, more than enough time to get there.
I started up "Big Climb 2", again glad I had seen this part before. The neatest thing was seeing the line of headlamps ahead along the side of the hill, and later the train of lights along the trail behind me. Super cool.
A few dark miles and a couple podcasts later, I found the final aid station. It helped a lot to sit again for a couple minutes, and I chewed on another piece of ginger for good measure.
Last part = "Get It Done"
This is a straightforward and mostly flat section, except you have no idea where the finish line is until you're right on top of it. The trail condition continued to alternate between rocky/slow and smooth/fast, but at a much faster rate, which made it a bit hard to continually adapt to. I was happy to just move along at whatever speed my legs wanted to go.
Oddly, a bunch of runners came up behind me almost all at once, a big bunch of headlamps, runners and pacers, talking and seemingly motivated to get this thing over with. Good thing we're almost there!
Art got there a while before I did, congratulations on your strong finish!
He was perhaps asleep by the time I arrived, but John stuck around to see me cross the line. Thank you, my wonderful husband!
As close as I got to the finisher's buckle - no thank you, we live in a travel trailer and don't collect things:
I am almost never able to eat anything right after a long race, but when I saw all the homemade pizzas walking around I was suddenly hungry. Yum!
Anyway, that's over with - I'm grateful for that too :) Time for some recovery and a bit of vacation!