My Road to SD 100: Stop 2 Black Canyon 100k: A bump in the road

Last weekend, Sean & I headed to Arizona to run the Black Canyon 100k.  We signed up last year expecting a fast and mostly downhill course with a long time limit (which appealed to me since I know I’m on the slower side).

Unfortunately Mother Nature intervened and the week of the race, the race directors at Aravaipa Running had to make a decision to change the course to an out and back due to a forecast of over an inch of rain on race day.  They made the right decision because the original course crosses the Agua Fria river several times and the river was too high & too fast for over 500 runners to safely cross it.

So, the course went from having ~9,000+ feet of descent to being an even up and down of ~3,500.  Once you got to the turn around, you would start making your way back up to the start.

The race directors did an excellent job of communicating the change to us runners.  I saw it posted on the Facebook event page, on their website, received an email via ultrasignup and also even watched a live Facebook video where they discussed it and answered questions.

We got to Phoenix late Thursday night, we were staying with my sister, who lives about 15 minutes from the Anthem Outlet Mall, where the shuttles were originally supposed to pick us up to go to the start line.  Since the race finish was at the start line we didn’t have to take the shuttle after all so it was just a 45 minute drive to Mayer High School.

We headed to the expo on Friday afternoon, got our bibs and shirts.  We chatted with Ben & Zach Bitter at the Altra booth for a little bit, I got to try on the new Escalantes, which are so nice! I can’t wait to get a pair and then headed back to my sisters.

For Christmas, I had gotten my sister a pasta maker so she made us a yummy pre-race meal with fresh pasta and baked chicken.

While she cooked, Sean & I got our flat runner photos done and backed our drop bags.  Since it was going to be wet & rainy, we packed everything into 2.5 gallon zip lock bags to keep everything dry.

Since we only had to drive to the start line in the morning, we were able to sleep a bit longer.  I think we left the house around 5:20am and made the 45 minute drive up to the high school.

We dropped off our drop bags, hit up the bathrooms and then headed to the track where the race was starting.  It all happened so fast.

I saw Rachel, one of my fellow Orange Mud Ambassadors & we got a quick photo.  I also met Tara, @runwithtara, saw Malia, @rnrgrl808, her son ran the 60k and came in 2nd overall!! I also saw Jen, @jenlaughlin_18, who was like 2/3 races we’ve done together have been in the rain, lol.

Sean & I got a quick pre-race photo and then we were off. It was already raining when we started.  The race started off with a lap on the track and then we ran through the town before hitting the trail.

The first part of the course was the muddiest of the whole race but I was wearing my new Altra King MT’s which were created specifically for muddy conditions.  They did not disappoint.  I felt so secure and was not slipping and sliding at all. There was only one small area where the shoes had some caking but it quickly fell off.  Sorry for the blurry pic, my fingers were already wet so I had a hard time even getting the phone to work. After this, I didn’t take it out again until after I dropped.

I felt really good the first 7 miles to the aid station.  In the last 1/2 mile I started to get a little bit of a stomach pain but kept moving knowing there would be a port-a-pottie at the aid station.

I got there, grabbed a few glukos gels from my drop bag and then waited a few minutes to use the bathroom.  The next section, I started slowly because of the stomach pain, but it eventually got better.  I enjoyed this section, it was absolutely beautiful single track.  I had a few close calls where I came  close to a few hard falls so I slowed down a bit and really started watch my footing.

Unfortunately tripping multiple times caused some pulling in my hamstring so I was dealing with that as I made my way into the 3rd aid station.  This is where Sean caught up with me.  I was not a happy camper, practically in tears, and not at all excited about running in the rain for another 12 hours.

After a few minutes of chatting with Sean, refilling my pack I decided to move on.  In retrospect, after I had heard some people talking about dropping to the 60k, which they normally don’t allow but due to the weather, they made an exception, I should have just dropped down at that point.

I slowly made my way up the fire road to the single track.  I was following 2 girls for a bit.  During this section, I was having a lot of pain in my right foot under the midfoot.  Literally every step was excruciating. Seriously this race was just full of rando physical issues.  It eventually went away but I was power hiking the majority of this section.

As I made my way to the aid station, I saw a photographer from Sweet M, who got this lone photo of me during the race.  I’m a little disappointed she didn’t get a full body shot but it does show how wet I was, my skirt was completely soaked.

Sean was waiting for me at the aid station and I put a few things in my drop bag, took way to long trying to get my bladder back in my pack, the bladder I was using wasn’t opening easily so every time I refilled it, I had to ask for help and we would fight with it to open.

We finally made our way to the turn-around, where I would have to sit down for a few minutes because I was feeling light-headed.  I had 2 cups of ramen and felt a little better.  We headed back up the hill and the rain just kept coming.  I was trying to move as fast as I could, but I kept feeling lightheaded and I wasn’t happy.

We got to the mile 37 aid station and I was super close to dropping but Sean convinced me to keep moving to the next aid station, which in the end was a smart decision.

This section was the last before it got dark and I was moving as fast as I could to get there. I was starting to get really cold and the rain just kept coming down.

When we got to the aid station, I told Sean he could continue on, but I was done.  I was so cold and it was just going to get worse as we got into the night, and into the windiest, most exposed sections of the course.

I walked into the aid station saying I was freezing and they directed me to the heaters to warm up.  One of the volunteers, who I would later find out was the founder of Squirrel’s Nut Butter, Stacy kept asking me if I wanted to get out of my wet clothes.  I didn’t have anything dry to put on so I said no originally.

Finally after I officially dropped, she told me that she gave me a dry Squirrel’s Nut Butter sweat shirt I could wear and pretty much made me get out of my wet clothes.  Sean asked me for my waterproof jacket to put over his other clothes because he was going to continue on.

I hung out in the aid station until they closed and I was able to get a ride to the finish line.  There was a cute little boy who asked to play some games on my phone so I let him play for a bit.

Once I got back to the High School, I got changed, even after getting into dry clothes, I couldn’t warm up.  I think I had on 3 sweatshirts.  I hung out with Ben at the Altra table chatting and interacting with runners who had questions about Altra.  I met & chatted with another ambassador, Kim while waiting for Sean.

My King MT’s were awesome on this course!

Now that I’ve had more time to think about the race, I don’t regret my decision to drop, because I know I was pre-hypothermic and continuing on could have resulted in putting myself in a bad situation.

I also know that I could have physically finished the race, while I had minor aches and pains, I was not injured but mentally I was checked out, not having fun and let that take over.

Running is hard, running ultras is harder and I think that the mental part is the hardest.  As I continue on with my journey to SD100, I think I will have to train my brain the most.

Even with a DNF I learned something important about myself and what I need to do to get to the next finish line.

 

Dream Big: Cuyamaca 100k Race Recap

Last weekend, I headed to the start line of the biggest or maybe I should say longest race of my running career.

This recap is pretty long too, so reader beware 😉 lol.

Back in March after a successful race at Old West 50k, I was feeling a lot better about running ultras.  I worked a lot on hydrating properly before the race and getting my race day nutrition in check and when the lottery opened for Cuyamaca 100k on April 1 I registered immediately.  A few days later I got an email telling me I was in!

Now, April is quite a ways from October so there was a lot of time to second guess my decision to register for this race.  And let me tell you, I’m pretty sure I second guessed myself pretty much from day 1 lol.

Fast forwarding through a PR at Leona Divide 50k in late April, my first 50 miler at Nanny Goat in late May, a really good showing at the Vancouver USA marathon in June and then my first mountain 50 miler at TRT in July.

Then things kind of got off track.  I started to get horrible sharp incredibly painful spasms in my back, literally to the point that I could barely get out of bed.  Surprisingly I was able to run without, but I was a bit scared to because the spasms would come on at any moment.  Eventually I went to see a chiropractor and found out one leg was 2 inches longer than the other and that my pelvis was locked & tilted.  But that I could still run.

So after a whole lot of travel, to UTMB, to Cleveland for work and then finally to Tahoe to crew/pace Sean at Tahoe 200, I got in a decent amount of miles, but mostly hiking and I wasn’t feeling really confident.  Which is why at the absolute last minute, we drove up to Big Bear to do the back 50k at Kodiak.  As I mentioned in my recap, this race was so hard, it did nothing to help my confidence, at least while I was out there.  Afterwards, once I was told that the winners didn’t come in until around 7 hours, I felt a lot better about it.  It was a beast of a course and if I could do that, I could do Cuyamaca.

Cuyamaca 100k, Altra Running, Orange Mud, Running4thosewhocant, lululemon

We are finally at race day, my anxiety was off the charts for pretty much the whole 2 weeks between Kodiak & Cuyamaca.  The morning of, we drove over to Camp Cuyamaca getting there in plenty of time to be able to get a decent parking spot.  It was cool out which was a nice change from the record highs we had in San Diego the week prior.

Cuyamaca 100k, Altra Running, Orange Mud, Running4thosewhocant, lululemon

I was so nervous and starting to feel nauseous the closer we got to the start.  I drank water and probably went to the rest room at least 3x before the start.  And then Sean & I walked to the start line with Jenn & Vanessa (who were also doing their first 100k), we got a few photos before Sean gave me the best advice.  He told me to remember that there will be lows, but that a high is always around the corner, just keep moving.  He kissed me for good luck and then moved to the front of the pack :). Next thing I knew were were off, and all the nervousness fell away.

Cuyamaca 100k, Altra Running, Orange Mud, Running4thosewhocant, lululemon, paksit photo

One thing I’ve learned from Sean is to just go aid station to aid station.  It breaks up the race into manageable distances and gives you something to look forward to, especially if you are in a low point.

Cuyamaca 100k is broken into 3 loops, the first and longest is 32ish miles, has four aid stations, the second loop is around 12.6 miles and has one aid station and then the last loop is just over 18 miles with two aid stations.  Of the 3 loops, I’ve run the second & third loops in their entirety and portions of the first loop.  They gave us colored bracelets corresponding to the ribbon color on each loop.  Orange for the first loop, Blue for the second & Yellow for the third & final loop.

I had decided that it was best for me to just run the race by myself after TRT went well on my own.  I had a pacer for my last loop since I knew it was going to be dark.  Originally I was thinking to run with Jenn & Vanessa but I decided that for me it was best to do this on my own.  And so I set a goal to finish within the Western States qualifying time frame, which meant finishing in under 17 hours.

Cuyamaca 100k, Altra Running, Orange Mud, Running4thosewhocant, lululemon, Paksit Photo

The first section to Merrigan Aid Station went really well, I felt decent although I had some minor issues with calf/shin tightness but for the most part, I was able to run the majority of this part of the course and only walked the big uphills.  I got to the first aid station, had a few orange slices and then headed back up the hill I just came down.

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The next section to Green Valley, I was so sweaty.  I put some ice in my Running Skirts neck wrap and I don’t know if it was just that the ice was dripping or if I was sweating like crazy, but I was literally sopping wet.  Seriously I was wringing out my shirt periodically throughout this section.  It was horrible, especially because my shorts were also wet and I was acutely aware that while I normally do not have chafing issues, I could have some serious issues if my shorts didn’t dry quickly.

I finally made it to Green Valley camp ground and after a quick stop at the restroom who do I see? My friend Fern!  He was like you are doing great, what do you need, etc. etc.  I had him refill my new Orange Mud Endurance Pack, which I’ll review soon, but worked really well.  Here’s where I made a huge mistake.  I told him to add in both of my baggies of CarboPro/Ultima combo, thinking that would be best and would soon find out that was going to be a big problem.

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I got out my Pink Aftershokz Wireless Headphones to put on my new to me audio book from Cleo Coyle grabbed an electrolyte popsicle and then off I went for the next 9 miles up to Cuyamaca Peak, the highest point of the race.

Not long after I finished my popsicle, I took a sip and realized that I had over done it with the CarboPro/Ultima combo, as soon as I started drinking, my entire mouth got super dry, ugh not good considering this was the toughest section of the race and quite a while until the next aid station.  But the show must go on and I just trudged my way up the mountain taking small sips as much as I could.

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2/3s the way up the mountain, I started getting a little dizzy & light-headed.  My audio book was not helping since it was talking a lot about food lol and eventually I found a shaded place to sit on a log and loosen up my too tight shoe laces.  It was during this section that Jenn & Vanessa passed me.  They stopped to see if I was ok and then I told them to keep going and I’d start up again soon.

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I caught up and managed to keep them in my sights the rest of the way up to the peak.  Once we got to the road up to the peak, I saw another friend who gave me an otter pop and up I went.  Once there, the amazing Angela Shartel asked me how I was doing, I told her I was so thirsty but I didn’t feel well because I put too much CarboPro in my pack.  She told me she was going to empty it out, put ice & water inside and then I should take small sips on my way down to the next aid station.

She told me to take some food with me since I wouldn’t have any calories to drink, I grabbed a few pieces of watermelon and after a few glasses of water, I definitely felt better.

After the low climbing up to the Peak and some thoughts that I wouldn’t make it through the loop in time, I rallied to get it done.  I couldn’t let my pacer Kristina down, knowing that she was driving over from Dana Point to support me.

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I knew Jenn & Vanessa had already left the aid station so I set a goal to catch them. I headed back down the road, grabbed another otter pop 😉 and then kept moving.  I turned onto the trail, started running the downhill and then I tripped on a rock and my left calf got this super painful charley horse.  It was so bad I had to sit for a minute and I know I said ouch out loud.  But it went away and then I caught up with the girls as we made our way down a super rocky section, there was no real running during this part because it was practically bouldering the rocks were so big.

Once we got to the bottom, we hiked up a short hill and then I took the lead on the next downhill section.  I thought the girls were right behind me, but then I looked back and couldn’t see them so I just kept moving towards the Paso Pichacho aid station.

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This is the only area of the race that I saw any animals, at one point, I saw half of a rattle snake, the back half thank goodness, heading into the grass.  And then I could see the aid station.  I got there, had them fill my pack with water & ice and used the restroom and washed my hands – they smelled awful and were so sticky.  It’s nice on this course that there were some real bathrooms with running water so that we didn’t have to use port-a-potties the whole way.

I grabbed some more fruit and then it was time to finish this loop! 4 mostly downhill miles and we would be back at the camp. We crossed the street towards Stonehedge and there is a trail that follows the road a little bit up the trail.  I enjoyed this section and just thought about finishing the first loop.  By this point, I’m pretty sure my watch was a little off mileage wise because next thing I knew I was at the camp!

img_1122Looking pretty beat after that first loop, or just trying to understand what they were telling me, lol.

I finished the first loop in 8:25, which is really good for me, I got my bracelet for loop 2, grabbed some CarboPro for my pack, refilled my pack.  Paksit Photos caught some cool photos of me while I was out there and then I was off.

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I’m so glad I was able to run the 2nd loop with Sean the week before the race so I was familiar with what was to come.  There was a bit of a climb up to some amazing single track through the golden fields and then after what seemed like forever, I made it to the downhill to the aid station.  It was during this section that I noticed some sharp pains in my left knee on the downhill.  It wasn’t the whole time, just when I took too big of a step down.  I had to slow down a bit but I didn’t let it get to me too much.  I knew I was going to finish this loop and Kristina would be there to keep me company on the last loop.

I made it to the aid station and I was starving.  I was like I need calories so I ate potatoes, oranges and got another popsicle while they filled my pack.  I didn’t see anyone in the time I was going down to the aid station but a bunch of people came in right after me so they were closer than I thought.

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I headed out, trying to run, but mostly walking at first, this section has a brutal climb that I had to stop on a few times the week before.  This time it was a bit later in the day and somewhat shaded, it wasn’t easy, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as I remembered.

Then it was time for a short downhill and flat to camp. By this point, I was a bit over where I thought I needed to be to beat 17 hours but I thought there might still be a chance if we moved quickly and you always need a goal :).

I finally made it and saw Kristina & Smitha there!  Kristina got a video of me coming in and I was like we need to move.  I got my headlamp out of my drop bag, I’m not sure what I was thinking though, I didn’t take the back-up battery, fortunately I didn’t need it but that would have been bad.  I grabbed my long sleeve lulu shirt and my Altra stash jack.  I thought about taking my gloves but ultimately decided against them, I should have taken them.

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We had just over 4 1/2 hours to finish 18ish miles under 17 hours, it was going to be tight and my watch was dead so I couldn’t tell where were at.

We took off, I was running the best I could, we passed a few people and got passed ourselves by one guy.  I was power hiking as fast as I could.  I was getting intense spasms in my left knee that would come out of no-where but I powered on.

This was Kristina’s first time pacing and she did an amazing job, I’ve never had a pacer before so I didn’t know what I needed, I just know what I’ve done with Sean and that didn’t really work in our case.  So after a bit of trial and error, I decided it was best if I followed her when we were hiking the uphills and then she could follow me when we were running the downhills.  I am extremely proud of myself for the amount of running I did in this race.  While super slow, in contrast to TRT50 where I hiked at least 75% of the race, I feel like I ran at least 60-70% of this race.

We made it to Sunrise Aid station, I was getting cold so I attempted to get my long sleeve on.  I was having a lot of difficulties, my fingers were cold, my hands were sweaty and I just couldn’t get the tight Swiftly sleeves up.  I felt really bad because this super nice girl at the aid station had broth for me and it was cold by the time I was able to drink it, I kept apologizing and eventually Kristina was like we are going to dress you like a kid lol and she got me into the shirt.  I drank my broth, had a bit of a quesadilla, some potatoes and my bladder was filled and we were off.

img_1128When you have a mouthful of potato and you think you are smiling but you really aren’t lol.

The next section a lot of which is on the PCT, is one of the most beautiful views during the day.  That night it was just windy and very dark.  I did my best to run as much as I could but by this point, I was starting to get really sleepy and I hurt all over.  But we were so close!

With Kristina counting off the miles and my knowing a bit of where we were at, we made our way to Pedro Fages.  Eventually we could see the lights of the aid station.  I remember telling Kristina that it was going to be just around the corner and then there it was.  I ran the best I could and then we were there and I saw Sean waiting for me!  I think I hugged him for about 5 minutes lol.

img_1127Knowing I have to eat something, but not really wanting anything – while Sean fills my pack :).

But there wasn’t time for that!  We had about 7 miles to go to the finish!  We refilled, ate a bit and then after a quick photo, we were heading across the road and onto the last section.

This section was a lot of hiking, my legs were hurting and I was trying to run but it was sooo slow.  I started to get really cold at one point and I could see my breath.  I was really glad to have Kristina with me to keep me company and we just kept moving forward.  At a certain point, I asked her what time it was and we had 4ish miles and 23 minutes to get under 17 hours.  Well that wasn’t going to happen, I’d have had to pretty much fly to the finish to go that fast.  So goal 1 was replaced with a new on the fly goal of going under 17:30.

I felt bad that I wasn’t able to run faster, I was trying so hard to not walk, but everything was sore by this point.  But slowly but surely we were clicking off the miles.  And then, we could see the finish line in the distance!  Yea!!

We ran, as fast as I could into the finish!  And the time on the clock? 17:28 so I did it, I made my on the fly goal and while I didn’t make the Western States qualifying time, I finished, upright, with a smile on my face.

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I was soooo sore, literally everything from my hips down was sore.  I was a bit scared to take of my shoes because I knew that my second toe on my left food was not happy, but in the end it didn’t matter, I ran/walked/hiked 63 miles for the first time ever!

Stats:  Loop 1 32.3 miles – total time 8:25
Loop 2 12.8 miles – total time 12:00 – 3:35 this section
Loop 3  18.2miles – total time 17:28:38 – 5:28 this section

I finished 116/131 overall and 21/28 women.  There were 168 starters, 37 DNFs and 32 DNSs.

I used a mix of CarboPro & Ultima for the majority of the race, had a few Glukos Energy Gels, Orange slices, watermelon, some boiled potatoes and broth once it got cooler out.

I wore my Olympus 2.0s for the whole race, ProCompression PC Runners (they did feel a bit tight by the end of the race on my toes), my usual Lululemon Speed Shorts & Swiftly Tank and my new Orange Mud Endurance Pack for my hydration.

I may not be the fastest runner out there, but I was so determined to finish. Getting to that finish line and proving to myself that I could do this was super important, regardless of the time.  #YOUCANDOHARDTHINGS 🙂

Huge thanks to Kristina for pacing me on my 3rd loop, I am so appreciative of all your support and belief in me.

Thank you to Paksit Photos for being practically everywhere on the first half of the course!  To George Blancos for the photos towards the top of Cuyamaca.  And Fern for all your excitement and help at Green Valley and keeping me updated on Sean’s progress.  Angela Shartel, thank you for getting me squared away at the top of the peak, I so appreciate it.  To all the volunteers, thank you so much for being out there – we so appreciate you taking the time from your weekend to be out there (for hours) for us.  And lastly, to Scott Crellin, thank you for putting on a well organized, fun event in our beautiful backyard, with a generous time limit that gives people like myself the opportunity to push themselves without a lot of fear of missing cut-offs.