Black Canyon Race Report: 2017 Mud Run

….and My Story Runs On….

Where to even begin? One of the recent facebook posts about this event was something like “people will be talking about the 2017 Black Canyon Ultras for years to come.”  And the memories will probably not be pleasant for most of us.

First of all, I want to give a huge congratulations to everyone who participated. Whether you finished, dropped from the 100K to the 60K, or DNF’d (Did Not Finish).  The weather conditions were ridiculous and just being out there was an amazing feat!  Also a huge thank you to all the volunteers and Aravaipa staff who were out there taking care of all the runners!

This was supposed to be my first 100K race. I blogged last week about some of the changes that happened to the race course due to the upcoming weather conditions.  I was pretty bummed that everything was not going as planned with the weather but I finally got over it….

4:30 am: Alarm was set to go off but I woke up about an hour earlier and couldn’t fall back asleep.  I checked weather.com one more time hoping that a miracle might happen and the rain would not be in the forecast.  No such luck. (I had weather.com up on my computer all week and had been checking it at least 5x a day!)

6:20am: I arrived, picked up my packet, chit chatted with some friends and waited impatiently to just “get this party started!” (I say this almost every morning when I start my day).

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Before race start. Had to go visit the Altra booth. Love my Altra shoes!

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Quick selfie before race start…it was raining at the start..see below for note on yellow colored glasses 😉

7:00am: We are off! I always stay towards the end as I’m never in a hurry, especially with that many miles to go.  We did one loop around the high school track, ran through part of the town of Mayer and on the road to get us to the trail.  And here is where the “fun” began…

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Jeep road portions of the trail were a muddy mess!

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This is what were dealing with on the jeep road portions of the race…Photo credit: Jennifer Berry

It might’ve been at mile 2 or 3 or so that we encountered this and my first thought was doing this again on the way back at mile 60 in the middle of the night with my pacer. Yikes!

Then we hit the Black Canyon trail (I really do love this trail). It was better on the single track and things were starting to look just a little brighter!  On a side note, I highly recommend wearing yellow colored lenses in this type of weather (I have them in the start photo above).  Knowing there would be wind, and it would be too dark for sunglasses, I brought them and was so happy I did.  All of the sudden I was seeing the world through yellow colored glasses and it was so much brighter! Every once in awhile I would remove them from my face and then the world was all dreary again (literally and figuratively). Highly recommend them for running when it’s not sunny out.

I had created a race day strategy with my crew/pacers.  My plan was to skip the first aid station (although had to stop to give a quick hug to my friend Dan Pena who was volunteering).  The rain had stopped and the trail was getting better.  The downhill portions were a blast to run down and there was no mud on this part of the trail. Hallelujah! I was having a blast and happy that things seem to be going better than I expected with the weather…..until….

I’m almost at the 3rd aid station and was tracking exactly as I planned. I see my friend Senovia, who was also doing the 100K and she was heading back towards the start. I asked her if she was injured and she told me that the at the next aid station, they were recommending that the 100K people turn around (which is where the 60K turn around was) due to upcoming bad weather. Whhhhaaaat??  Although you could see black clouds all around the area, the weather seemed to have backed off.  I had about a half a mile to get there and now was trying to figure out what do with this information. So many thoughts started rushing through my head…”I am not a quitter”, “I trained months for this race”, “this was supposed to be my first 100K”, etc, etc…

I arrive to the aid station and check in.  Sure enough, they said that the race directors were recommending that 100K people turn around as the storm would be getting worse after 4pm.  They also said they would allow us to drop down so we could get credit for the 60K.  Dang it! I was feeling really good at this point (mile 20) and was not ready to make this split second decision!  I called my very supportive boyfriend first...poor guy, why I am calling him and adding this pressure on him? He doesn’t know what to say other than “I’ll support you in whatever you decide.”  I know several of my friends decided to keep going and I kept thinking, if they can do it, so can I….something in my gut was not feeling right though…I called my pacer/friend/trail wife Elaine because she is my rock when it comes to this stuff. She’s a great athlete, mentor, friend and I knew she would give me objective advice.  Sure enough, she knew all the right questions to ask me.  Within a few minutes, I knew what I had to do. This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in that short of time.  Elaine gave me my sanity check and I know I needed to respond logically to this situation rather than react emotionally.  As much as I really wanted to do the race I had trained for, I needed to trust the race directors advice.  I also had to take into consideration that there was a chance that my pacers could not get to me for the last 20ish miles due to the weather conditions.  I could be on that trail, in cold, wet, dark, muddy conditions all alone. One of the things she said to me was:  “you can have a good 60K race or a bad 100K”.  All of the sudden, everything was in perspective and I knew that I had to make the decision for my safety more than anything.  Do I think I could’ve finished the 100K? At that point I believed I could but after being in the horrible weather after 4pm, I believe I would’ve DNFd this race had I continued on.  So I did a quick facebook live video on my business page, told them I was choosing to drop to the 60K and back to Mayer High School I went.

One other important thing I took into consideration is that even though this was MY race (not coaching anyone else for it but me), as a running coach, I am setting an example for others.  My client and friend, Sharon, said it best in a text I received while still at the aid station “I know it must’ve been hard for you, but your decision gives other permission to make good decisions.” This really stuck with me and helped me feel better about the decision.

I ran into a few of my friends doing the 60K on the way back and shared the news. It was so weird because the weather seemed to be cooperating…as a matter of fact there were a few moments where a few sun rays came out. But you could clearly see the black clouds surrounding us. I was second guessing and feeling disappointed in myself. Did I make the right decision? I knew I had to let those thoughts go as I couldn’t go back now. So I got refocused and reminded myself that a 60K is still an amazing distance!  and this was still my 2nd longest distance ever…and it was my first 60K (I still have to keep reminding myself of these things as my ego can’t help but get in the way).

I knew I would be power hiking quite a bit as now we are going up all those hills. I met a new friend, Pancho, from AK at about mile 28 or so.  We ended up staying together the rest of the way to keep ourselves motivated. We also ran into Lara who was from Canada and leap frogged with her a bit.  As if the uphills weren’t bad enough, the weather took the turn they were expecting it to.  It started raining harder (almost felt like hail at one point), the wind started blowing and it started getting colder. I am glad I switched my shirt out and the second to the last aid station as it helped keep me warm, although I was freezing a few miles after that.  We know what was coming…we had to get back through all that mud on the jeep road portion of the race.  Pancho helped me find the best paths to take on the mud so it wouldn’t be so bad.  At one point I realized that running where the water had pooled, was the easiest place as the mud had been compacted down. Unfortunately I couldn’t feel my feet already because they were so cold.  It was either struggle through the mud slower or get through this faster by running in the cold water puddles.

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More mud…(photo credit Jennifer Berry)

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And more mud…photo credit Melissa Ruse from Sweet M Images http://www.sweetmimages.com/

The last 5 miles were just ridiculously brutal between the rain, cold and mud. I was so ready for it be over at this point.  I don’t like road running but I remember telling Pancho I couldn’t wait to get to the road.  I kept thinking about how awful it would’ve been to be doing this segment after 20 more miles and way later at night with worse weather and reassured myself that dropping to the 60K was the right decision.  We finally got to the road and knew we only had a few more miles to go…felt like forever!  We turned at the high school and all of the sudden I could hear my name being yelled out. I could barely see and realized, there was my crew: Elaine, Lori and my honey!  So happy to see them and know that we were finally done with this! Best cheering section ever!

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Elaine & Greg hanging while waiting for us!

We crossed the finish line, high fived each other and I needed to get warmed up.  I was so cold that my teeth were chattering. So grateful that Mayer High school opened up their gym to us so we were able to get into the locker rooms. My clothes were soaked and stuck on me already but I barely recall getting into the hot shower with Lori and Elaine helping take my cold, wet clothes off while I heated up my body…warm broth and hot chocolate helped too! My first  thing when I cross most finish lines is having a beer..but I was too cold for one!

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This was a blur of a moment!

We waited for our other friends to come to repeat the hot shower process for everyone.  Everyone was hanging in the warm cafeteria.  Mayer Fire Department and the race EMTs were working like crazy…so many people with hypothermia.

Post race reflections

  • Outside of the crazy weather, I was ready for this race and have no doubts I would’ve finished it.  I have no regrets about making the decision to drop to the 60K as I don’t know I would’ve been able to finish it under the circumstances. And yes, I’m human so of course I’m disappointed that I didn’t do the 100K…after all the training and anticipation up to that day, it’s a bummer that I couldn’t get my first buckle.  However it was the right decision for me and I’m glad that I did.
  • Not going to lie, I am disappointed.  Three days have past and it feels very weird…like it’s all behind me and it’s over. I remember the amazing high I had after my first 50K and 50 miler for days!  Even though this was my first 60K, I don’t have the same feelings.  I had such high expectations for this race and the day didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.  Was this race an amazing character builder?  Hell, yes!  Do I run to build character? Sure, one of the reasons I love ultra running is because it allows me to push a little bit further out of my comfort zone. This race made me a stronger runner and person for sure….but the reason I love ultra and trail running is because I love being out in nature for hours, taking pictures and soaking in the beautiful weather (this is why I live in AZ for crying out loud! 😉 ).  This race did not provide most of this for me this time. I could hardly take pictures because my phone was wrapped up so it wouldn’t get wet. I will admit the desert was still beautiful but once the weather turned, I was ready to be done.
  • Always thankful for Brooke, my nutritionist from Fuel To The Finish, because I never have issues and always feel great all day!
  • So grateful for ChiRunning and all that it has taught me. From a technique perspective, I stayed focused on what my body was doing and how I could move my body to meet what nature and elements were presenting to me moment by moment. Not surprised that very different body parts were sore the next day.  Hip flexors and ankles from peeling my shoes out of the mud and wiggling around trying not to fall in the slippery mud.  My neck was sorer than normal because I normally keep my head neutral on my body so my eyes are looking at the horizon and the trail. Due to the amount of mud, I had to keep my gaze down to my shoes which added pressure on my neck and upper back muscles.  My core is always sore which is great because I know I’m using it!

Sooooo no buckle for me this time.  People have asked me: what now?  I am trained for a 100K so why not find one and do it?  Well, I have the Monument Valley 50K on 3/25 and on the following weekend, Crown King 50K (I am one of the coaches for this race via Aravaipa’s Women’s Ultra Training Program and can’t wait to see them cross the finish line!  For several of them, it will be their first one!).  I have not made any decisions at this point but my gut feeling is that I’ll want to take revenge on this course next year. It’s around my birthday and I love this trail.

I’ll leave you with this quote…never knew this about the lotus flower!

“Whenever you should doubt your self-worth, remember the lotus flower. Even though it plunges to life from beneath the mud, it does not allow the dirt that surrounds it to affect its growth or beauty.” Suzy Kassem

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Pancho, Lara and I after finally warming up after our finish.

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Only took one photo of the views…just love this course..better with sunshine though! 😉

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Thanks to AZ Traileggers Aid station where I stopped for awhile on my way out and back! Great motivational signs!

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More good signs!

From My Running Story to Yours….
(if you feel inspired to share your comments, do so below…I want to hear your story too!)

Cloudy with a Chance of Mudballs

Gallery

This gallery contains 8 photos.

….and My Story Runs On…. Well, I was planning on writing a blog about my week of tapering before my 100K in 2 days…..but since there has been a major change in the weather forecast, and I hate running in … Continue reading

Race Report: McDowell Mountain Frenzy-5th 50K & a PR!

….and My Story Runs On….

I still can’t believe this was my 5th 50K!  Last year this was my 2nd one and I blogged about that one too.

This was a training run for my first 100K.  My training plan called for 20 miles on Saturday and 10 on Sunday so I combined them in one day (although these were “Aravaipa” miles so it was actually 32.2 on my TomTom).

Since I had some trouble with this one last year (you can’t really try to PR (personal record) different trail races due to the variety in the terrain) and I was redoing the same one, I decided I really wanted to do better than last year. As I set this goal in my head, I was also detached from it.  If I did PR, great but if I didn’t, I knew there would be lessons to learn (always!) so that took some of the pressure off.

One of the hardest things for me to do is run my own race. I tell people to do this all the time but as a coach and someone who knows a lot of runners, it’s hard not to get caught up in hanging with friends and helping them out.  So I had to make a decision that this was going to be MY RACE.

This is what I have on the back of my The Running University shirts ;)

This is what I have on the back of my The Running University shirts 😉

Leading up to the race, I did a lot of mental preparation.  Since I knew the course, I reviewed it again, reread my blog from last year and started making a strategy. Thankfully I didn’t have the “girlie” issues from last year so that would shave some time off for sure.  I also looked at the aid station locations and I remember running out of water on the toughest part of the course. I decided I wasn’t going to stop at the first aid station and I would run as much as possible on the easier part of the course so I could hike the big hill. I took the day off before the race and relaxed and got mentally psyched up (McDowell Mountains are one of my favorite places to trail run).

I started the race with my friends Katie and Mitzi (it was their first 50K!) and Will. We had nice pace going and it was fun to start out relaxed with friends!  I told them that I had a plan though and that I wouldn’t be stopping at the first aid station. We split off at mile 7.

They finished their first 50K! They are now ultra runners!

They finished their first 50K! They are now ultra runners!

I remember staying very focused on my ChiRunning form a lot (as always!) so I could be as efficient as possible. I made sure to refill  my water so I wouldn’t make the same mistake as last year since there was an 11 mile gap between aid stations and it was the hardest part of the course.

The one thing I don’t like about trying to PR, is that I tend to be much more tied to my watch.  I’ve had some of my best runs when I’m not paying attention to it as it can be mental stress added on that keeps you from relaxing. Knowing this, I tried not to be too focused on it but I had an average mile that I wanted to keep to reach my goal so I was more engaged with it than usual.  I knew I had to stay ahead of the game because the hill was coming. The trail started getting rockier and I remember this from last year. Not my favorite terrain to be running on as it’s harder but I know I need to keep practicing this for my 100K race.  I ChiWalked the entire hill with a few spurts of running when there was a little flat area or a little downhill.  I used my arms so much to help me up the hill that my biceps were sore the next day! I’ve never had this from a race before but this is part of the ChiRunning strategy. Use the arms more and legs less. The downhill was rocky so I wasn’t able to go as fast as I normally like to.

Hills...

Hills…

More hills...

More hills…

I got to the aid station at mile 24 where I got so see my friends. I love our local running community and there are always so many familiar faces either running or volunteering! I was still pacing to PR but I was definitely getting tired at this point.  More rocky uphill and then some good downhill that was rocky on and off. My pace was slowing down between the rocks and being tired.   I always go back to my ChiRunning form as soon as I start feeling tired. Outside of always checking in on my postural alignment (first thing to go when you are doing long distance running is your posture), my cadence is what really helped me out.  Every time I felt my legs get heavy, I would increase my cadence (strides per minute or foot turnover) and I immediately felt a relief.  There is a magic number of 170-180 (not unique to ChiRunning but recommended by just about every running form) and harder to maintain on trail. Most people run at lower cadence and this wastes a lot of energy because you are holding your body weight on each leg for longer periods of time which is inefficient.

I finally texted my friends that were at the finish line and told them I had 3 miles to go and someone please make sure I had a beer at the finish line 😉  I get to the last aid station and the guy said I had 3.2 more to go! What?! That was one more mile than a 50K.  I forgot to put this in my blog last year so I forgot about this…I was a bit irritated and it made that last few miles harder mentally.  I don’t normally listen to music but I put my playlist on my phone on speaker so I would be a bit distracted.  At about mile 30 you can hear the finish line and it’s a mind f%$k because you just want to be done at this point.  This part of the trail was up and down and it finished with a nasty steep hill.  My friend Bill was at the top yelling “hammer it” which really helped me push through it!

I could hear my friends cheering me on and I crossed the finish line (Chris, thanks for the Koffee Kolsch!) with a huge smile on my face. I didn’t have the official results but I knew I had PR’d. It was about a 34 minute PR which translates to a minute a mile for 32 miles of improvement!  Pretty proud of that! I will say that I was hoping to do better but I will take it!

One of the coolest things is that my friend Jenni even made me a medal!  She was making one for Katie and Mitzi. Some people run for bling and I normally don’t but I knew she was making a few for them and I wanted in on it too.  At Aravaipa races you get a pint glass when you finish (I have a bunch of them) but getting a homemade medal from Jenni was the icing on the cake! (and she isn’t crafty either!)

Love my medal! The only one I've received for a 50K ;)

Love my medal! The only one I’ve received for a 50K 😉

Running never ceases to amaze me! So much to keep learning about myself and the sport.  Having a plan doesn’t always pay off but I feel the mental preparation ahead of time was crucial to my success. As always, ChiRunning and the advice my nutritionist gave me for my 50 miler were two key components to my success.

What is your strategy when you want to try and PR a race?

These are the results from my TomTom.

3rd aid station with more friends!

3rd aid station with more friends!

Terry and Raul at the 2nd aid station!

Terry and Raul at the 2nd aid station!

Ila!  She is 70 years old and I've blogged about her before.  After this 50K she was driving to Santa Monica to do a half marathon the next day!

Ila! She is 70 years old and I’ve blogged about her before. After this 50K she was driving to Santa Monica to do a half marathon the next day!

From My Running Story to Yours….
(if you feel inspired to share your comments, do so below…I want to hear your story too!)

My Next Big Running Goal on my Birthday Weekend!

….and My Story Runs On….

This is one of the many things I love about running.  Of course everyone has their own running story and you should NEVER compare yourself to any other runner.  But for me, I love the idea of continuously pushing myself to the next level.  As they say, life begins at the end of your comfort zone and I can attest to this!  Earlier this year I did my first 50 Miler at Antelope Canyon the day after my birthday.  Even though I finished dead last, I felt strong and really enjoyed it (I know, crazy talk)…so of course the next goal is to push myself to the next distance level…sooooooo

I’m excited to announce that I will be doing the Black Canyon Ultra 100K!
Why did I pick this one? In no particular order…

  • 100K is 62 miles so it’s the next step after a 50 miler.
  • It’s on 2/18/17 which is the day before my birthday and I love doing crazy things on my birthday to remind myself how grateful I am for every year I am on this Earth.
  • It’s an Aravaipa event and they are one of our local ultra/trail racing company. I’ve been doing their events since 2011 and they know how put on a good race!
  • I get a buckle! I’ll admit to feeling a bit weird about this because usually you get a buckle for a 100 miler…the other funny thing is that I really don’t wear belt buckles at all (I spend most of my days in workout gear!) but a buckle is like a rite of passage in some strange way.

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  • It’s a point to point race which means I get to cover 62 miles of our beautiful AZ landscape. One of the reasons I love ultra running is the ability to visit places I’ve never seen before and enjoy Mother Nature.
  • Aravaipa is hosting training runs on the entire course over 3 months which means I’ll get to preview the entire course before running it.  Last Sunday I got to run the first 19 miles and loved it.  It was mostly single track downhill.  The hardest part for me is being afraid of heights. Some parts of the single track were very close to the edge of the canyon but the more I practice, the easier that will get….I hope!
  • There is some cool history about this trail:  “This historic trail is of national significance, following a route used since the times of pre-historic Native American travelers and traders.  The Department of the Interior officially established the route as a livestock driveway in 1919, when it was used by wool growers from the Phoenix area to herd sheep to and from their summer ranges in the Bradshaw and Mingus Mountains. The Black Canyon National Recreation Trail was originally designed as a livestock driveway. Many segments of the trail roughly parallel the old Black Canyon stagecoach road between Phoenix and Prescott.”

I still can’t believe I am doing it but as crazy as it seems, I’m very excited. I’ve already started training and have already changed a few things from my 50 mile training:

  • I’m spending even more time stretching and foam rolling.  I’ve added more strength training to my weekly routine.
  • I’m also varying my running workouts more than I did last year.  This course has a net downhill elevation profile with about the first half being downhill and the 2nd half will include uphill climbing as well as several river crossings (which I used to be afraid of before but having done this several times now, I’m much more comfortable with it).  So I am doing more speedwork and hill training. I’m also planning on doing more night trail running as I know I’ll be out there at night time.
  • I still take 2-3 runs a week and listen to ChiSchool on shuffle so I can continue to improve on my ChiRunning form (my running form had the biggest improvement last year when I did this for the 50 miler). And I will continue to use the same nutrition advice I got for my 50 miler.

One of the other big motivators for me is that I’ll be raising money for Girls On The Run Maricopa County again via their SoleMates program. Last year, I raised $2100 so I want to bump that up to $2300 at least.  I am on the Board of Directors and this organization means so much to me.  If I only had this program when I was in elementary or junior high school! I want to help as many young girls as possible be part of the program so they can learn to dream big and activate their limitless potential!

What is the next challenge you are taking to get out of your comfort zone?

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From My Running Story to Yours….
(if you feel inspired to share your comments, do so below…I want to hear your story too!)