Tuesday, January 28, 2020
I have never been one to make a big deal about my age or a birthday for that matter, but this one felt different.
I thought the best way to enter this new territory would be to run. A lot.
Makes sense, right?
And so I did. In the four weeks leading up to my birthday, I ran over 260 miles with more than 40K feet of climbing. Not the most I've ever done, but my best training block in a long time.
Midway through that stretch, I decided to register for the Oracle Rumble 50k.
I was feeling good and having done the 50 mile race a couple times, I knew this course inside and out! This would be the perfect way to start my middle age meander.
I would go downtown hammer town and walk away with the win!
This is 40.
Raking in W's, like a boss.
One thing I have learned in ultra running and racing over the last decade is that you can't predict shit!
Some days I feel good and race poorly. Some days I feel like garbage and race well. It's useless trying to figure it out. Some days I am completely out of shape and fly for god sakes! I mean, really?
Just stop. IT'S USELESS!
But this one just felt right. I was going to crush it.
I knew it!
Raceday morning arrived and my alarm shrieked me out of a half slumber.
"Ah, man..." I moaned. "I feel sick."
My throat was as dry as the Tucson desert on a scorching summer day.
"Can't be. Of course. Of course it is." I muttered as I put my racing gear on.
I eventually made it to the starting line feeling much better than I had when I woke up.
"It's just a sore throat. Suck it up, Sion." I told myself.
Peter Davidson was also racing the 50k and Peter is quite fast. I knew it was going to be a battle today.
I wished Peter luck as we all lined up.
As per usual, I took a moment to envision my day. I would give it hell for 32 miles and not let anything get in my way.
Not Peter, not nobody. Not a damn cactus for all I care. Nada.
This was my day. I would run the fastest today. I put in the work and it was going to pay off.
40 years old. Who cares? I am the fastest!
We all counted down from 10, AZ Trail connoisseur Matt Nelson let a bullet fly and a mob of trail junkies were off!
Peter wasted no time.
And when I say Peter wasted no time, I mean Peter... He wasted no time.
We were dropping sub 7's from the jump.
This race is heavy downhill early, heavy uphill late. So you have to take advantage. Within reason, of course...
Peter quickly made separation as I gave chase, along with another runner by the name of Tyler Scheibenpflug.
"What the?" I thought to myself. "this is supposed to be a race between Peter and me, what are you doing here? Who is this guy?"
Peter continued slowly stretching the lead, the two of us hammering away after him.
"Hey, you can pass anytime, just let me know." Tyler shouted back to me as we zigged up and down the Arizona Trail.
The sun was rising, spraying golden rays across the desert landscape, giving the cholla fields a softening, almost inviting feel.
"Oh, nah, I am good with this pace actually..."
And I was. We were hauling.
"Doubt Peter is gonna maintain this pace, especially when we hit the climbs." I added.
The climbs are my money maker. I love running up steep shit. It's how I level it out, ya know? By running stuff that isn't level. You get the idea.
"This is my first 50k, so I know I'm gonna completely wreck myself!" Tyler quipped.
"First 50k? Just a rookie!" I screamed.
"Yeah!!!" He shouted back, with what sounded like a lot of confidence.
"Hope I don't regret that whole 'rookie' comment..." I began thinking. "That was a dumb thing to say."
I can't say that I felt that great, but some how the three of us all trotted into the Beehive Well aid station together 8 miles into the race.
We all choked down some food, refueled and continued on.
The next couple miles of hilly forest roads began to chip away my energy level at a rate that was rather concerning
"What the heck? This shouldn't hurt this bad." I moaned.
We were dropping 6:20 pace around 10 miles, when I had to make a pit stop.
"Okay, let them go." I told myself. "Run your race. Let them beat each other up, you'll catch them on the climbs."
The two quickly disappeared into the distance.
"Out of sight, out of mind..."
I settled into my own pace as I began the first of many big climbs.
Speaking of climbs, remember that thing I said about climbs?
Well, on this day... THEY HURT!
And that screaming downhill early in the race was all but a distant memory. What remained was a lot of climbing. More climbing than I remembered, fittingly.
The next few miles were a complete grind.
As much as I thought they were pulling ahead of me, I finally caught sight of them weaving up the switchbacks just beyond Mountain View aid station.
I was in and out of the aid station with a little more pep. Fifteen something miles in, I knew there was a lot of race left. I also knew by how I felt, the second half was going to be quite painful.
"Just keep grinding!" I barked at myself as I chugged up the steep terrain. "You will catch them."
I crossed the 20 mile mark and was moving pretty well. I hit another forest road and trotted up a steep section, followed by a long stretch of runnable downhill.
I cruised for a bit before realizing that I didn't recognize any of the area.
"What is the deal here?" I wondered. "I think I'm off course..."
Having done many races, I've had the unfortunate experience of being off course a handful of times. And let me say just this, it is one of the most demoralizing feelings ever.
My mind was racing as I continued down the forest road.
"This can't be right, I don't see any footprints. I'll just go a little further..."
Soon I reached a fork in the road. Not a race marker in sight.
I came to an abrupt stop. Aware that indeed, I had missed a turn.
"Are you fucking kidding me!!" I screamed at the top of my lungs!
I turned around, looking up at that steep road I had spent the last mile or so running down.
I put my head down.
"Your race is over."
I began sprinting back up the road, frustration boiling over as adrenaline coursed through my veins.
Up I went, faster than I had run since that pit stop at mile 10.
"I can't believe this, ruined your race..."
As soon as I topped out, I saw the turn I had missed. It was clearly marked.
"Well, shit. There ya go." I moaned as I got back onto the trail and continued on.
For a brief moment, I actually felt fantastic. The thing is, adrenaline can be a cruel villain. And once the adrenaline wore off, I began a downward spiral that ranks among the most painful I've experienced as an ultra runner.
First it was my old nemesis, the cramps. The two of us hadn't tangoed in some time, so what the hell. That with a side of nausea will do the trick!
My attitude plummeted.
"Screw it, I'm dropping." I whined.
I was in a world of pain. Nothing felt good. I began wishing I went back to sleep when my throat was hurting. I crawled up the trail, nothing but climbing. No end in sight.
"I cannot believe I'm running this at a slower pace than when I've run 50 miles out here..." I whimpered. "Ridiculous."
I hit the Tucson Wash aid station completely wrecked. I sipped a cup of coke and filled my handheld, wishing this was a convenient place to drop. I was now at 25 miles and the thought of another 8 or 9 miles seemed impossible. Or just senseless...
Finding out that I was now about 20 minutes back only added salt to the wound.
I stumbled off, back on course. Shuffling ahead.
I made a decision to quit. That's right, I was going to drop at the next aid station. I just had to survive for another 4 or 5 miles. That's amateur stuff.
I would rather not go into too much detail about that stretch from Tucson Wash to Tiger Mine, but to summarize it;
I hit rock bottom, then I accepted the suffering.
This was the adventure I signed up for. This was the challenge I chose. Feeling like crap, getting lost, bonus miles, full body dry heaves...
"Embrace it! All of it!" I told myself.
"Finish what you started!"
The 4.5 miles from Tiger Mine to the Finish line were nothing more than a sufferfest. One foot in front of the other type shit.
I crossed the finish line in just over 5 hours, somehow holding onto a podium spot in 3rd place. I hugged Kristi and was greeted by Peter and Tyler.
Peter ran a sizzling time, setting the course record in 4:21! Huge congrats to Peter Davidson, big things to come man!
And that "rookie" Tyler? He held on to second place finishing in a solid time of 4:51! Well done!
That was by far one of my toughest races and one I won't forget for a long time. And I wouldn't change a thing about it.
Here's to another 40 years!!
*Huge thanks to the RD's Steve Outridge and Michelle Hawk for an awesome and well organized race! And to all the volunteers out there making the journey that much more enjoyable. I highly recommend this event!*
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Laying in the fetal position on a cot, on top of the Mogollon Rim.
I am shivering uncontrollably while trying to cover myself up with a blanket that's half my size. My microfiber running singlet is now nothing more than a crumbled ball of cloth used for a pillow underneath my head.
My stomach is in knots and I haven't peed in over 12 hours. I twist and turn in search of some comfort. I long for some peace. But like the way I feel inside, I come up empty.
I've just been informed by the medical staff on hand, that my race is over. I already knew that, plus to hear that was a spirit-crushing relief. If that makes any sense...
I pull the blanket over my head and hide. I close my eyes tight and wish I were somewhere else. Anywhere else.
I try to ignore what's going on around me. The commotion, the voices. And especially the cheers. The cheers are like little daggers jabbing at my heart. But there's no use.
I listen as Dustin Simoen heads out of the aid station, back on course. He's now in sole possession of first place. Soon after that, another runner is quickly in and out of the aid station.
Dustin and I have been battling for the lead the majority of the day. But now my race is over.
I lift my arm up and glance at my Garmin. The seconds continue to tick by...
16 hours and change, a hair under 74 miles into the adventure.
I take a deep breath and sigh. I stare at my Garmin a few more moments before reaching over with my other hand to press the stop button.
I pull the blanket back over my head and hide.
Earlier that day I woke up feeling pretty damn good. Getting any amount of sleep before a big race is always a gift. It's kinda the cherry on top of a solid training block, if you will.
And it was just that for me, on that particular morning.
I had meticulously set up my pack and drop bags with such OCD like precision, it would make Howie Mandel proud.
Howie Mandel has OCD... Anyway, I digress!
I was rested, healthy and mentally prepared to tackle the Mogollon Monster 100.
This would be my third time lining up for the race.
The first time in 2014, the race was shut down midway through due to a nasty storm that slammed the Rim. The following year, I returned and managed second place in my first ever 100 mile finish.
I had learned a lot since then, finishing multiple ultra races along the way. Two of those races were 100 milers. In 2016, I took the overall win at Stagecoach in 17:42. The following year, I took fifth place at the uber competitive Javelina Jundred with a new PR of 16:15.
I had grown up quite a bit and experience in this sport is priceless.
Kristi dropped me off at Pine Trailhead around 5:30 in the morning. I gave her a hug goodbye and jumped out of the car.
"See you at the finish!" I yelled with confidence.
That early dawn crispness to the air normally felt before MOG was nonexistent. It was going to be a warm one!
The sun quickly rose as we all began lining up at the start.
The star spangled banner was playing as I closed my eyes and thought about the adventure ahead. I pictured it all. The good, the bad and the ugly.
And of course, the glory...
In the end, I would trot through the finish line in first place. I would grab that monster statue and hoist it high above my head like the Lombardi Trophy!
Tears would come streaming down my face and I would yell out "finally!"
What can I say, I keep it dramatic.
All of this was sure to be a reality, just had to run a hundred miles to get there...
And in the words of the great Karl Meltzer "a hundred miles isn't that far."
Time quickly dwindled down and we were off!
"This is it..." I told myself. "This is what you've worked for."
A small group of us led the way as we began the first climb up the Mogollon Rim. Eventually I topped out in front, alongside Elijah Flenner. I hadn't planned on being up front this early, but the pace felt relaxed. I made the decision to roll with it.
Elijah and I cruised along the top of the Rim, that early morning race vibe clearly peppered in our step. We chatted away, getting to know each other a bit. We breezed through the first aid station before beginning the steep drop down Turkey Springs.
The views on the descent down Turkey Springs make every one of those loose rocks worth the risk! A thick cluster of pine trees lined the horizon as the sun began to spray golden rays across the mountain range. Thin cloud layers in the distance teased us with short stints of shade, as it began to warm up quickly.
Eventually the two of us bottomed out and cruised up and down some rollers before another runner caught up. In no time the other runner passed us and eventually was out of sight.
"That dude is getting after it!" I shouted to Elijah.
"Yeah, let him run his race!" He responded.
That was some sound advice!
Soon we connected with the historic Highline Trail before making our way into the Geronimo aid station, 11 miles into the race.
I traded high fives with some friends volunteering there and chomped down a banana while getting my pack filled up. I felt zapped, but it was legit hot already and I chalked it up to adjusting to the heat.
Between the Zane Grey 50 miler, MOG100 and training runs, I've spent countless hours on the Highline. It's a bitch and I love it. It's got that love/hate relationship quality about it. I am very familiar with it and feel that is an advantage.
I headed out of the aid station in second place.
The stretch of trail from Geronimo to Washington Park is about 9 miles, but it always feels longer than that. I caught glimpses of the lead runner here and there during the first couple miles, but eventually he was no longer in sight. I felt like that was a good thing, as I really settled down.
I never really pushed myself outside of my comfort zone during that stretch, hiking everything that was steep and keeping my heart rate in check... But... I just felt winded.
I've run enough races to know that's par for the course and you've got to stay with it and keep grinding. 100 milers in particular are filled with rough patches and I generally hit one around 20 miles.
I got a nice boost as I rolled into the Washington Park aid station at 20 miles. Everyone let me know I was about 5 minutes back of the lead. I ate some food and refueled before heading back out en route to the climb up Powerline.
As I approached the base of Powerline, I caught sight of the leader. He was almost to the top. I stopped for a second and caught my breath.
"No need to worry about him, 80 miles to go..." I thought
So I began the steep climb up Powerline.
There is no "running" in this climb. It's way too steep and it's all loose rock. Think of climbing up something stupid steep on a bunch of marbles that are different sizes...
It's a gnarly MF'er.
I train on a lot of steep stuff in the mountains that surround Tucson, this kinda thing is right up my ally. But I struggled to find any sort of strength in my legs as I power hiked up.
I felt completely exhausted and was gasping for air as I topped out on the Rim.
That wasn't the issue, it's to be expected.
The issue was that my legs were SCREAMING in pain.
I stood there in disbelief. My thighs in particular were really hurting. I was completely shocked.
"What the fuck?" I grumbled. "22 miles in and my legs are destroyed?"
I tried to remind myself that it's a long race and I was sure to bounce back.
But this just felt different.
The next few miles were on a forest road that runs along the edge of the Rim. In 2015, I ran the entire stretch.
Not on this day. I couldn't find any rhythm! I would run a few hundred yards before having to walk. I began to get frustrated. I had trained on a steep forest road in the Catalina Mountains preparing for this very section and I had NOTHING!
My legs were burning with pain and the thought of another 75 miles seemed diabolical.
It felt like an eternity before I finally got to the Houston Brothers aid station and off that dreaded road.
I felt woozy and nauseous as I nibbled a few things and got refueled.
"He's only got 5 minutes on you!" One of the volunteers said.
"Alright then..." I moaned.
I could hardly talk. I was really hurting, but I figured the next stretch I was sure to find new life.
I thanked everyone and headed off to begin the beautiful Cabin Loop section. Single track underneath the shade of tall Ponderosa pines. It's some of the best trail running I've ever experienced and was sure to give me some pep!
I ran at a nice clip from there all the way to the Pinchot Cabin aid station, now about 34 miles into the race.
All that easy running in the shade did nothing for me. My legs were in more pain than ever. I was still nauseous. My attitude was beginning to plummet.
I thought about dropping when I got back to Washington Park. Mike Duer was set to pace me from there, so I shook that thought and tried focusing on moving.
I continued to slog along until I made it back to the top of Powerline. I took a quick breather and began to descend the monstrosity.
I can't adequately put into words how painful it was descending that section. My quads felt like they were being put through a meat grinder. My calves decided to join the party and began cramping. I had to alter my normal stride in an attempt to protect myself from the pain.
This was not good!
I began playing out different scenarios of how I would explain why I quit...
"My legs are destroyed, what can I say..."
"It's just not my day. We all have bad races..."
"I'm a loser."
I didn't like any of those.
"I don't drop races!" I barked at myself.
At 42 miles, I rolled into Washington Park without the option of dropping. I was going to fight until I couldn't fight any longer!
Oh the stupidity...
Mike was there to greet me and after a quick break and refuel, we were onto the Highline Trail.
Mike is not only a good friend of mine, but he also paced me at both Stagecoach and Javelina Jundred. I consider him kinda my 'ultra wing man'.
"Dude, my legs are in so much pain..." I explained to him.
"Yeah, once the sun goes down and it cools off, you'll start feeling better." He tried encouraging me.
The stretch from Washington Park to Hells Gate was a long 10 miles. Have I mentioned the pain in my legs yet?
Well, about that pain... It was getting worse and running at any pace was sheer agony. The frustration was unbearable because the energy to run was there, but the pain was winning the battle. I found some relief by soaking my legs in cool creek water every chance I got. It seemed to allow me about 10 to 15 minutes of sustained running before the pain would inevitably take over again.
About a mile before Hells Gate, I caught up to the leader of the race, Dustin Simoen. We all introduced each other and complained about the dreaded heat. Dustin said he had been struggling and felt overheated.
I got a little spirit after passing him and felt better than I had in a long time. We made a quick stop at Hells Gate aid station and were back on the move.
It was slow going on the Highline from that point on. Nothing but loose rocks and completely exposed to the glaring sun above.
Who's idea was this anyway?
That little adrenaline boost I got from taking over the lead was all but a memory as we began the slog up Myrtle.
My strengths became my weakness on that day. My legs seized up several times as we crawled up the trail. Dustin was a few minutes behind, slowly making his way up.
"Don't let him dictate your race..." Mike told me.
"Yeah, I know." I mumbled.
Deep down I felt like it didn't matter anyway.
Mike and I finally topped out and as soon as I began to run on the flat surface, my legs completely locked up in cramps.
I collapsed to the ground, it felt like the muscles in my calves were going to rip right out of my skin!
Mike grabbed my legs and stretched them out and the cramps subsided.
What a guy!
The next few miles were gradual downhill along a forest road. I managed to find a rhythm and ran that entire stretch to Buck Springs aid station at 58 miles.
I forced some food down my throat as one of the volunteers tried having a conversation with me. Talking took too much energy, so I said little.
The sun was setting and it was finally nice out. Unfortunately, that didn't matter.
From Buck Spring to the next aid station at Pinchot Cabin, everything went to hell.
I could hardly eat. I was drinking next to nothing. Running down hill was excruciating. Running up hill was impossible. The pain was constant. Every step was torture.
My demeanor took a nose dive.
"I just don't think I can continue feeling like this..." I moaned to Mike.
"I understand, but you are still moving well. You're in the lead!" He told me.
Mike was doing his best to keep me positive and I love the guy for that, but I knew that I couldn't go much longer. I realized there wasn't going to be a "bounce back" this time.
I began to go inward. Into my mind. I went ahead and welcomed in the darkness. I surrendered. There was nothing that could stop it.
"You shouldn't do this stupid shit anymore..." I sadly thought.
Eventually we made it to Pinchot Cabin aid station, 67 miles into the race.
I choked down a cup of ramen noodle soup and thought about my day. I thought about why I fell apart so early.
I thought about what I would tell Kristi and what everyone would think of me now that I am a quitter.
I thought about all the times I said I would never drop a race in an inconvenient place. I thought about why I do this stupid sport.
Somehow Mike convinced me to give the next stretch to Houston Brothers a shot. I don't know how he did it, I really don't. Maybe just to extend this story. Who knows...
But somehow I continued and so did the punishment. It only got uglier. At one point, I tripped over my own feet and fell to the ground.
"Fuck man!" I cried, laying there on a pile of rocks.
"What the hell...?" I moaned.
It was demoralizing.
Dustin squeezed pass me right before Houston Brother aid station. He was met with cheers and high fives.
I didn't want anyone to see me. I just wanted to disappear.
I came staggering up to the aid station cloaked in self despair.
"Need anything?" a volunteer asked.
"I just want to lay down." I said. "I need a place to lay down..."
My race ended right there. Laying in the fetal position on a cot, on top of the Mogollon Rim.
But this is not a bad ending. I am alive and well. And besides some sore twigs and a toenail that's not going to survive, I am in good health.
It was a wild adventure!
I've had a little time to process it and work through the depression, the frustration and the confusion.
I've come to the conclusion that I'll never know why my body decided to betray me that day.
I've had many great races, maybe I was due? This sport is about pushing yourself to reach new limits and I definitely achieved that.
Without a doubt, those last 20 miles were the most difficult, painful, humbling miles I've ever traveled.
I am stronger because of that.
Thank you, Mike, for helping me discover more about myself and what I'm capable of. I was in the gutter and unpleasant for a good chunk of our time together, you are a true friend for helping me continue for so long...
Even when I hated you for it!
I want to thank all the volunteers and congratulate everyone out there that battled the monster. Whether you finished or not, or if you came in first place or DFL. Respect. This stuff isn't for the weak.
I'll be back because lord knows how much I love this stupid sport!!
Until next time...
|Photo courtesy of Jamil Coury|
Friday, March 9, 2018
One year has passed.
31,536,000 seconds and counting...
I miss you each and every day. These feelings are permanent, forever they’ll stay.
I still look to you for guidance and direction for life.
Sometimes these feelings, they cut like a knife.
I often think of the good times, when you were still here.
You would give me your insight, squashing my fears.
We’d sit there and banter and talk about sports.
We’d complain about the Sixers and who they'd put on the court.
“They call this the process? You’re outta your mind!”
“These players are bums! Is this all Hinkie can find?”
“How ‘bout those Phillies, they’ve been rebuilding for years.”
“Still reliving the moments from those championship cheers.”
“And the Philadelphia Eagles, still Super Bowl dry.” ( * )
“So many damn ring jokes, it makes a man cry...”
In my darkest of moments, you always found light.
As much as I hurt, you were there to help fight.
I ache for those moments, you were there by my side.
I’ll never fully recover, something’s missing inside.
I still use your ideas and words of advice.
As simple as pizza, the “hot bubbly slice.”
“Just hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth" You'd say, "that is the best...”
The man was a genius, he lived with such zest.
Your life skills are useful, I embrace them with pride.
Living each day trying to mirror your vision and stride.
When I get home, I put on my hoodie & sweats.
These moments I savor, they are the best.
I kick back the footrest and relax in a chair. I hear your voice loudly...
“It’s time for lounge wear!”
No matter how many months, weeks, days, hours, minutes or seconds pass, these memories are forever sealed in my heart.
No one can take them or rip them apart.
You were here and then gone, in the blink of an eye.
Leaving question so complicated, yet as simple as “why?”
One year down and a lifetime to go.
You are truly missed, Dad.
That much I know.
* The Philadelphia Eagles would go on to win Super Bowl LII.
|Dad "showing me the ropes" ~Thanksgiving (2016)|
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
The Black Canyon 100K.
You tantalize me with your screaming downhills and beautiful sunrise. You tempt me with your buttery trails sprayed golden brown in the morning dew. Your cool air caresses my face and tingles my nose. Your magnificent views make me crave more. My heart flutters.
I get lost in your presence...
As soon as I think we are meant for each other, you turn your back on me. Your swift downhills turn into rocky climbs. Your sunrise becomes just a raging ball of fire, searing each step. The morning dew all but dries up and wilts everything alive. Your amazing views nothing but an endless trail of torture.
And that cool air...just a distant memory of the ‘good ole days...’
The Black Canyon 100K is a cruel bitch.
And I have been abused by her in both 2015 & 2016.
Twice. Two times. Dos veces.
Like they say “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”.
I promised myself that I was done with that abusive monster following the race in 2016. For the second year in a row, I fell under her trance, sucked in by her beauty. Around 40 miles into our dance, she turned on me. Again.
In virtually the very same spot as the year prior, I was dealt with cramps that would kill a small child. And these weren’t your normal run-of-the-mill cramps either. Oh no, no, no. Like Elaine trying to dance in Seinfeld, these cramps were like a “full body dry heave.”
It was demoralizing having those races crumble apart in consecutive years. I’m too good for this shit, I’ve got a self esteem for God sakes. And a reputation to protect, I might add.
I wanted nothing to do with that two-faced diva...
I was done!
I stuck to my word and skipped our date in 2017. Turns out that was a good decision, as she was in a particularly foul mood that day.
But as 2018 rolled around, I again became fixated on her. It’s like the common story of the abused returning to the abuser. She was holding something that I wanted and just maybe I had a shot at winning her over...
Chances were very slim, but I wanted to take my shot at the coveted “Golden Ticket”. The top two female and male finishers win entry into the historic Western States 100. My buddy, Charlie Ware, had just secured his ticket with a 2nd place finish at the Sean O’Brian 100K. His second Golden Ticket achieved in three years. Bad ass pirate, that guy.
I had a lot of doubt, it was a deep field and Black Canyon hates my life.
“Maybe I’ll just be conservative outta the gate, and finish the race strong...” I told Kristi, “I probably have zero chance of keeping up with those guys anyway.”
“That’s bull, you can do it...” She wasn’t having it. “Go for it, if you blow up, you blow up.”
I really wanted to join Charlie and in order for that to be a possibility, I had to take a risk.
“What the hell, I’m going to do it!” I decided.
What’s life without a little risk? Grow a pair for heaven sakes!
So two weeks out, I made us reservations.
I was going on another rendezvous with that cruel bitch...
Black Canyon is a point to point race that begins in Spring Valley and ends in New River some 62 miles later (it’s actually closer to 63 but who’s counting). Although it’s a net downhill, it doesn’t feel that way. It still boasts around 7,000 feet of gain, the majority of that being in latter stages of the race. The whole ‘net downhill’ thing is very misleading...
She’s so malevolent.
So Kristi and I headed out to our favorite place to stay just minutes away from that start of the race. The place is our secret and I choose not to disclose any more information than that. Don’t ask. After sleeping incredibly well we made our way to the start of the race at Mayer High School. Sleeping well before a race is unusual for me, so things were already off to a marvelous start.
Also in the “marvelous” category, today’s weather was looking to be pretty nice with a high in the mid 70s.
After slapping on my bib and doing a warm up to get the blood flowing, I lined up at the start. I stood up front with some of the best ultra runners in America flanking each side of me. I thought about the adventure ahead...
“You belong up front, you can hang with these dudes...” I told myself. “Don’t sell yourself short!”
After a quick countdown, around 400 looney ultra runners took off in pursuit of New River!
“Let’s go!” I shouted!
We rounded the track, hit the pavement and headed through town towards the Black Canyon trail. I stayed with the lead pack, which was about 10 to 12 of us.
The pack included, Tim Frericks, Zach Bitter and Eric Senseman. Three of the top ultra runners around.
“You belong up here...” I reminded myself.
Around two and a half miles into the race, we hung a left onto BC trail.
The trail doesn’t waste much time before turning into single track. I kept the leaders in sight for the next few miles before finally settling in near the tail-end of top 10.
Like I spoke about before, she quickly began her seduction.
The sunrise began, painting the desert with brilliant golden rays. The air was crisp and cool and had that dewy fragrance you only find early in the morning.
I watched Frericks and Senseman pull away from everyone and soon they disappeared.
I had been running around 6:30 pace, so I can’t imagine what they were throwing down. I was going hard, but that was suicide pace.
I felt really good and was in and out of Antelope Mesa aid station around 7 miles into the race. I left on the heels of Zach Bitter.
The two of us took advantage of the screaming downhill single track, strategically placed there early in the race. We were flying down the switchbacks, I was lost in her spell!
Crazy thing is, as fast as we were running, some dude just breezed by us. Looked like he was on a casual run, just floating along the trail.
“Ah c’mon, this guy is gonna blow up...” I mumbled under my breath.
Zach and I spent a couple miles together chopping it up and I must say that as good a runner Zach is, he is equally that of a person. Class act. Like the old saying goes “humility is a virtue”.
Soon Zach pulled away and I found myself trotting along the trail with another runner.
“I gotta settle down..” he said to me.
“Same.” I replied.
For the next several miles I got to know Neal Collick.
Normally you’d find Neal running around the shores of Lake Superior and word has it, it’s been pretty damn cold out that way. Today the weather was supposed to be pretty nice, but even 75 degrees in the sun combined with running for hours can wear on you. Especially if you aren’t used to the heat.
Both of us seemed to back off a bit and for the first time, I was feeling a little worked.
“Damn, did you already over do it?” I began to question my strategy. “10 miles into the race and I’m feeling zapped. Not good...”
All races have rough patches, but this was really early.
Both Neal and I backed off on the pace and soon a pack of other runners came galloping up behind us.
The group included, Adam Doe, Andy Pearson and Benjamin Stern.
I’ve shared some miles with Andy in at least one other race, he’s definitely a talented runner.
All of us rolled into Bumble Bee aid station about 19 miles in.
I grabbed some more Honey Stingers from my drop bag, refilled my water bottle, stuffed a peanut butter and jelly in my mouth and took off.
It was getting warmer.
As soon as I hit the trail, I saw Andy up ahead. I pushed on the gas and caught up.
I continued drafting off him and sometime after Gloria Mine aid, another runner caught up to us. This guy was on fire!
I quickly pulled off the trail and let him pass.
“By all means man, go crush it...” I said.
“It’s not a running race, it’s a eating race! He shouted as he blew by me.
I eventually met him, super nice guy by the name of Fernando De Samaniego Steta... Big name and an even bigger personality.
I watched him catch up with Andy and they began to pull further away from me.
“Let ‘em beat each other up, I’ll pick up the carnage...” I told myself. “I’ll pass ‘em both by the end of the race...”
The next stretch included passing Eric Senseman and some other dude around 25 miles in, having a girl fly by me and feeling my energy level plummet like the stock market in ‘87.
I felt absolutely blitzed as I rolled into Soap Creek aid at about the 50K mark on the tail of Andy and Fernando with Benjamin right behind.
And that girl...
She. Was. Gone.
I refueled and stuffed another stale PB&J down my throat.
I looked over at Andy... “Chicked.”
We both laughed under our breath, with a hint of desperation peppered in.
Andy took off with Fernando right behind him. I fumbled around with a cup of ginger ale before chucking it in the trash and heading back out.
Almost immediately I caught up with Fernando who was staggering along. I passed by him and wished him luck.
That was the last I saw of ole Fernando...
Andy had disappeared but I heard the pitter-patter of steps coming up on my rear. It was Benjamin, chugging along right behind me.
I was really beginning to feel overheated and nauseous. Kristi was awaiting me at the next aid station in Black Canyon City some 6 miles away. I had my pack there, I knew I would need more water on me as the race progressed. The problem was, I was sucking down the water I had from my single handheld at an alarming rate.
“Ah, fuck. I’m gonna run out of water. How can I make such a rookie mistake? This is a disaster...”
The old behavior was back in full force, she began her abusive ways.
I made my best effort to conserve, but once you get to that point, there’s no hope. I was keeping Benjamin at bay, always a few steps ahead of him.
“Screw it, I can just drop at Black Canyon City...” I moaned. “I over did it early. I knew it!”
My demeanor took a nose dive, as did my water supply.
Soon the two of us began a descent into a river bed. There was a small amount of water flowing and I saw Jamil on the other side filming us.
I stumbled across the water, dizzy and dazed.
“You think this water is ok to drink?” I asked Jamil.
“I’m just a fly on the wall” was his response. Well played, Jamil.
“You want a sip of mine?” Benjamin offered. What a guy!
“Nah, screw it. I’ll drink from here...” I said while bending down to fill my bottle with the brown river water.
What’s life without a little risk?
Benjamin took off ahead of me and I trailed along. We began a climb up multiple switchbacks.
“This water tastes pretty good, actually...” I quipped.
“It does?” He replied surprisingly.
“No man, it’s awful and has a really weird after taste...”
And man, was it BAD.
After zigzagging up a million switchbacks, we topped out and the view of Black Canyon City aid was within sight!
We began the descent and I quickly pulled ahead of Benjamin.
“I gotta get some water man!”
I hammered the drop and soon made my way into the aid station a little over 37 miles into the race.
Kristi had my pack and everything ready for me. I grabbed a gallon of water and began gulping it down like a barbarian.
“How’s it going babe?” She asked.
“Ah not bad, just had to drink river water is all. What wrong with a little giardia?!” I yelped.
I found that funnier than everyone else...
As shitty as I felt, I wasn’t going to go down without a fight. I chomped down my 17th peanut butter and jelly of the day, gave Kristi a hug and stumbled on my way.
I wasn’t going to fold that easily!
Kristi let me know that I was now in 6th place, the golden ticket was slipping away and so was my energy.
The next stretch ahead is seared into my mind. It’s over two miles of climbing and it’s the stretch that has destroyed me TWO TIMES IN A ROW!
And wouldn’t you know, as I began the climb that sneaky monster began working her magic.
I could sense my legs tighten up, the first sign of cramping.
“Oh God, not the friggin cramps again...” I whined.
I don’t care what anyone else says about how nice it was out, it was hot as balls as I staggered up the trail! Soon I saw Andy up ahead of me. I wasn’t moving very fast and he disappeared into the hills ahead.
“This trail just loves to beat you up!” I cried. “Black Canyon, you bitch.”
She was beginning to wring out my insides as well. I chomped down some tums and dry heaved.
Nausea was moving in and making itself a new home in my stomach.
“This trail and me just don’t work together, every single time...” My attitude hit the basement.
I was like a disgruntled ultra runner with Tourette’s spewing out complaints uncontrollably as I ran angry up the trail. Lost in a trance of negativity and...
I went tumbling headfirst down the trail.
There I was, laying in the fetal position on the rocky trail. Bloody and battered.
I moaned and rolled onto my back, staring up, into oblivion.
“What did you expect?” I muttered as I peeled myself off the ground and began running.
As deathly horrible as I was feeling, I was able to keep grinding away. Every now and then, I’d catch a glimpse of Andy.
It felt like eternity had passed by the time I finished that climb.
I stood for a moment catching my breath before continuing on.
I felt like complete garbage. Everything hurt. My attitude was horrendous. My insides were playing their own personal game of twister. The worst. But I kept grinding away and for the first time in over 20 miles I had a positive thought...
I knew I was going to finish this race and I was going to finish this race strong.
“Let’s finish strong!” I barked.
From that moment, I was running angry. She wasn’t going to ruin my day this time!
I made a brief stop to refuel at Cotton Wood Gulch aid, just over 46 miles into this monstrosity. I wasn’t sure and I didn’t ask, but I think I saw Andy leaving as I arrived.
I was beyond nauseous as I stuffed yet another peanut butter and whatever into my mouth.
I couldn’t even chew it up, it felt like cardboard. I staggered ahead and as soon as I was out of sight, I collapsed to my knees and let loose...
I’ll do you all a favor and leave out the gory details. But in the end, I continued on a few pounds lighter...
I kept running despite all of the abuse, even setting a new 50 mile PR of 7:06 before arriving at Table Mesa aid. Andy was just leaving as I arrived.
“Got em” I said under my breath.
I stumbled around at the aid station, feeling like death. I think Kristi iced me down, but can’t confirm. And to whomever was filming me, I apologize for the menacing expression I was sporting. Please don’t release that footage!!
I staggered off again, this was the homestretch.
It’s another good climb after Table Mesa. I complained to myself about the multiple gun shots I heard, the bazillion rocks on the trail, that the whole ‘net downhill’ thing is a lie. And yet, I continued on.
I felt myself get stronger during the climb out of there. Soon I saw Andy and caught up.
“Lots of climbing...” I said as I passed by.
“My entire lower body is like one huge cramp...” He moaned.
“I know the feeling. It’s happened to me in this race. Twice!”
After I passed Andy, I found new life.
I rattled off mile after mile, with only the finish line in sight.
I made a quick stop at Doe Springs, the last aid station of the race. I joked around with the volunteers and headed out for the last 5k.
Those last few were painful. I just put my head down and pushed ahead. My ultimate goal was to get that ticket, but anything under 9:30 was a tremendous improvement. That was well within striking distance.
I saw the finish ahead and hammered away!
I crossed the finish line in 5th place with a time of 9:15.
While short of the ultimate goal, I cannot help but be extremely happy. I’m heading in the right direction. I continue to learn and grow. This sport is an endless supply of humility.
And I love it.
I won this round!
Another outstanding event put on by Aravaipa Running, it’s a absolute honor to represent!
Thanks for the support, Aravaipa Running, Honey Stinger, BioSkin, Squirrels Nut Butter, rabbit and most of all, Kristi.
|(No Caption Necessary)
Howie Stern Photography