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.
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.