After a month in and around Phoenix and a little over a week since the Black Canyon 100K, we are now on the road again, heading toward our next destination. We had an amazing, unbelievable and memorable time in Arizona. We were able to spend a month visiting with our dear friends, Joan and Russ, explore the area and running my first 100k at the Black Canyon Ultras.
After spending the first week in and around the BK 100 course we decided to head out to McDowell Mountain Regional Park outside of Fountain Hills. It is a beautiful park in the desert with majestic mountain views and many miles of trails for biking, hiking and running. We spent many days and nights in this park during our stay. It provided both of us a perfect place for training and is also the location of the Javelina Jundred 100k that I will be racing in October. We really fell in love with this park and its landscape and we are both looking forward to visiting again.
Along with all the biking and running we found time to go on some epic hikes. We could not pass up the opportunity to hike up Camelback Mountain. This is an iconic hike that is only 20 minutes outside of downtown Phoenix and provides 360 degree views of the surrounding city. We left from the Echo Canyon trailhead. It is 1.2 miles to the top after a steep and rocky ascent requiring assistance of handrails and some scrambling. I was certainly cautious on both the ascent and descent as it was too close to the BK 100 to risk a fall or injury.
Another popular destination is the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Along with Camelback Mountain, it contains another iconic peak, Piestewa Peak. We were lucky enough to be able to run from our friends house to this area. It is right in the city but feels so remote and off the beaten path. Piestewa Peak is 1.2 miles with 1200 feet of elevation and a rocky, unrelenting climb. Definitely worth the effort. Prior to climbing Piestewa, we explored some of the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area which is in the same general location. There are plenty of trails along with a paved bicycle path that made for a great 7 mile run.
We took one day to drive out to the Superstition Mountains but the mountains were so socked in and the weather so cold that we decided to go to Usery Mountain Regional Park just outside Mesa. Another beautiful park with over 29 miles of trails for hiking, biking and running. After exploring some trails with Mira we took a short hike up to wind cave and witnessed one of many amazing sunsets in Arizona.
It had rained a few times since we were in Arizona and we kept wondering how that would effect the race. We decided to go run the section from Black Canyon City to Table Mesa, a 13 mile stretch that Joan would run with me during the race. During this stretch of the race there are 2 river crossings of the Agua Fria river. We were curious to see how high the water was, so 1 week prior to race day, David, Joan, Mira and I set off from Black Canyon City trailhead. David and Mira would run to the first river crossing, about 1.5 miles, and back and then pick us up at the other end in Table Mesa. The first crossing was about knee high with moderately swift water, but overall very easy to navigate. The terrain was rocky and technical at times and really runnable at other times. We got to the 2nd river crossing and it looked a little more intimidating. Joan and I were a little reluctant but we saw a cyclist on the other side who directed us to the best location to cross. The water was about mid-thigh on Joan and a bit deeper for me but it was easy to navigate. We had a great day of trail running and course recon and were hoping that there would be no more rain before race day.
We had been watching the forecast very closely and hoping they were wrong about the amount of rain that was going to fall on the Thursday before the race. Well, for once the weather predictions were right and the area of the Agua Fria river received over an inch of rain. In most places this wouldn’t seem like a lot, but in the desert, that doesn’t see rain often and floods easily, this was a lot of rain. I watched the website of the river levels rise rapidly over the next 24 hours and we all anxiously awaited an email from the race director. The Black Canyon course is typically a point to point course with 3 major river crossings. We knew that if the river was too high the course would become some version of an out and back.
The river seemed to be receding on Friday and as of Friday afternoon the race was to proceed as scheduled with just a small re-route. We were all excited about this as this would allow Joan to pace me the 13 mile section from Black Canyon City to Table Mesa and David to pace me the 13 mile section from Table Mesa to the finish line, perfect. And we would get to do the “real” Black Canyon course with river crossings. We knew there was always a possibility of a change on race morning but we were ever so hopeful.
The 3 of us (and Mira) drove up to Bumble Bee Ranch (mile 19 aid station), after a quick stop for packet pick-up, and spent the night there. Joan was a trooper and slept in the van, under the bed in her sleeping bag. It was a much better option then setting up a tent in the dark and muddy conditions. We woke early the next morning to an email stating the race had decided to re-route to the high water route. The river had not receded as much as they had hoped and it was too dangerous to allow us to cross. We were all disappointed but grateful to amazing race directors who work really hard to have a great race and still keep us safe. So, this meant that there was a long out and back section and that Joan would only pace me for approximately 5 miles while David would pace me for 22 miles.
The weather at the start was cold, windy and right before the 7am start it began to rain. I was thankful that I had a good rain jacket and decided to wear capris instead of shorts, at least until I saw my crew at mile 19. The first few miles were on a fire road mixed in with some single track. At about mile 3, surprisingly there was a “river” crossing. I am sure that this is not a place that water usually flows unless of course there is over an inch of rainfall 2 days prior. It was running swiftly but only about knee high, so it was easy to navigate. There were some extremely muddy sections, thick, sticky, goopy mud, the kind that will pull your shoe off. I made it to the first aid station, mile 7.9, where the views were amazing and overall I was feeling good. While standing at the start we ran into Lisa who works at the local running store, iRun. We ultimately ended up running to the first aid station together. It was there that I stopped for a porta-potty break and she kept on going. I wouldn’t see her again until the out and back section to the river, much later in the day.
The weather started to warm, the sun came out and the trail going forward was dry. The next section of the race was this amazing single track trail, not very technical but windy and beautiful and super fun to run. The miles just seemed to fly by and before I knew it I was at Bumble Bee Ranch (mile 19) aid station where Joan, David and Mira were anxiously awaiting my arrival. They had my shorts ready and waiting along with fluid and fuel to replenish my pack. They also had some chicken soup with noodles which hit the spot. I changed into my shorts, got in some calories and off I went. Next time I would see them would be at Rock Springs aid station at mile 36 (ish).
The next section of the course was also some fun single track. Along the way I made some new friends, a guy that had run the course backward, ended at the start line and then turned around to run the actual race, sisters that were running together and Filip, an ultrarunner who has done his share of ultras and was shooting for a 15 hour finish. I kept up with Filip and we chatted for a few miles before he would take off into the distance and I wouldn’t see him again until we passed each other on the long out and back section.
I made it to the Gloriana aid station which was the turn around for the out and back section. The next 7 miles (to the next aid station) seemed to take forever. For about 4 miles the trail was extremely narrow with a drop off on one side and deadly cactus on the other. It was at this point when the front of the pack runners started onto this single track and it got a little dicey at times. They were running somewhere around a 7 minute pace and did not want to slow down for anyone. The single track opened up onto a jeep road that was rocky and washed out in places but mostly downhill. I made it to the aid station, got some ginger ale and had 4 more miles until I reached Rock Springs where my amazing crew would be waiting for me and where I could pick Joan up for the out and back to the river.
I was in need of some company by this time and was so grateful that I have friends like Joan who will sit around all day and wait for me just to run 5 miles. We had a great time chatting and running down to the river and back to the Rock Springs aid station where Joan would stop and David would accompany me the rest of the way. David was waiting for us with more chicken soup and noodles, fluid and fuel for my pack, a dry shirt, rain jacket and headlamp. It was starting to cool off and it would be dark soon enough so we needed to make sure we had all the proper clothing. Well, I had all the proper clothing. David decided to forgo bringing a rain jacket or gloves and as we looked into the distance there was a big dark cloud looming in the direction of our travels. He decided to ask the first aid station we hit (4 miles from Rock Springs) for a large garbage bag in case it started to rain. Good thing he asked because the rain stayed away for the remainder of the race!!
We climbed back up the jeep road that I had descended hours earlier and finally made it to the single track trail. It was now dark and the 2 way traffic was a bit scary at times. Of course this was not the ideal situation and not what the race directors had wanted but it was certainly safer then crossing the river. David and I walked this section as I was not comfortable running it in the dark. It was at this point in time that I learned a really good lesson. If you are going to run single track trail in the dark you really need to practice running single track trail in the dark!!! And that I need a better light. I thought my headlamp would be adequate but I felt like I couldn’t see as well as I wanted. We made it to the Gloriana aid station, ate some food, drank some ginger ale and set off into the dark returning on the same trail. There was still 2 way traffic but the number of people coming toward us was decreasing as the cut-off times at Rock Springs drew closer. It was on this part of the trail that we ran into our friend Steve. He sat down on the trail and was feeling discouraged as he was hurting really bad with knee pain and cramping and was thinking about calling it quits at the turn around. We gave him some Hyland’s leg cramps, encouraged him to keep going and that he had plenty of time to finish even if he walked the entire way back. We kept moving forward, power hiking to the jeep road and then we began to run. At this point my run pace was not much different then David’s power hiking pace and we both got a good chuckle out of it. We made it to the last aid station with 4 miles to go and I knew that not only would I finish but I would finish in under 17 hours.
The last 4 miles were on the road and some windy single track. We ran the road section and then power walked the single track. As we climbed along the single track we could hear the finish line in the distance and both of us got super excited. As we came into the finish line, David backed off and let me have my moment of glory, crossing the finish-line of my first 100K. I was elated and proud and tired all at the same time. And of course Joan was right there screaming and yelling and cheering.
I could not have asked for a better day for my first 100K (well running the real course would have been better). I felt great all day, my nutrition was on par, my crew was amazing and the weather was perfect. The folks from Aravaipa Running made the best out of the situation at hand and put together an extremely well organized, well stocked, safe and memorable race. I can’t wait to be a part of Javelina Jundred 100K in October as I know it will be just as memorable.
I can’t stress enough how meaningful it was for me to have my 2 best friends with me through this experience. As they say it takes a village and I have the best village in the world!!
And by the way-our friend Steve said the stuff we gave him (Hyland’s leg cramps) worked really well (his words), he pushed through with a finish under 17 hours and earned his Western States 100 lottery spot!! Congratulations Steve on a great race!!