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!)

50 Miles of Gratitude: (8) Altras & Meeting the Co-Founder

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….and My Story Runs On….

I love meeting people while running. Sometimes people run past you and just say hi or good job and sometimes they will chat with you.  I have personally found that trail and ultra runners tend to be a bit more laid back and more open to a quick chat while in the middle of a race.

So while Elaine and I were in Waterhole Canyon after the 28.5 Aid Station, we found ourselves in a bit of an obstacle course.  There were several ladders that we had to climb to get up and over some of the cliffs.  At one point, we were right behind this guy….and after he got over the ladder, Elaine went right after him…well, it wasn’t the easiest ladder to get up and over so while he was still there, she asked him to help her up.  He was very nice and helped her…and I needed help too.  I remember hearing him say something about “your hat” and “your shoes” but I was concentrating on not falling off the ladder.

One of the ladders we had to go over. (picture courtesy of http://www.runningwithoutlimits.com/antelope-canyon-50k-not-always-what-you-expect/)

One of the ladders we had to go over. (picture courtesy of http://www.runningwithoutlimits.com/antelope-canyon-50k-not-always-what-you-expect/)

We ran a bit together and Elaine asked him, “Why did you mention the hat and shoes? Are you an Altra Ambassador?” (Elaine had her Altra hat and I had my favorite Altra Lone Peaks shoes).  He was pretty humble about it and said…well, I’m actually the co-founder, Jeremy Howlett.  Whoa!  How cool was this?  As a running coach, I’m not one to be tied to a particular brand of shoes but if there is one brand that I tend to use the most, it’s Altras. I was so excited to have a chance to meet him! I told him I was a ChiRunning Instructor (we tend to like Altras because they a natural shoe for your foot: Zero Drop™, wide toe box) and how much I love the shoes.  He said he knew Danny Dreyer (the founder of ChiRunning) and mentioned what a great guy he was and how supportive he is of the shoes as well.

Met Jeremy Howlett, the co-founder of Altra shoes ;)

Met Jeremy Howlett, the co-founder of Altra shoes 😉

We chit chatted with him for awhile and then started running again. We leap frogged with him a few times and then we lost each other.

I met a few other cool people that I’ll be blogging about. I’m very grateful for my Altra shoes and so glad I had the chance to run and chat with Jeremy!

My current Altras: 1 pair of trail shoes, 1 hybrid and 1 road shoe

My current Altras: 1 pair of trail shoes, 1 hybrid and 1 road shoe

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My friends love their Altras too!

For any of my local peeps that like to support our local shoe stores, you can find them at I-Run and Sole Sports!

(I am not an Ambassador for Altras….yet…might have to look into it though!)

50 Miles of Gratitude: 50 Posts about my first 50 Miler

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