Whirlwinds of March

I know the whole “In like a lion, out like a lamb” saying that applies to the month of March, but there has been nothing meek and mild about my schedule this March. Actually, 2017 has started off strong and just keeps gaining in momentum.

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view from 7100′ at the top of Mt Ord on a training run

After logging some great training runs in January and February, March handed me back-to-back travel weekends for work. One planned way out, one very last minute.

The last-minute trip was the first weekend of March, when I was offered the chance to go be the Renegade rep at the FITS (Fun in the Sun) endurance ride in Florida, hosted by Valerie Kanavy at her Florida farm.

That was an absolutely amazing weekend. I learned a ton, provided some good exposure for Renegade, was on-hand for customer service needs, and picked up a number of valuable tips and tricks for riding, training, and crewing. Valerie was a wonderful host and I very much enjoyed getting the chance to talk with her and spend the time at her farm.

Once I got back from Florida, I had just a couple of days to unpack and repack before turning around and heading back to the airport, this time to Dallas, TX, for the annual AERC Convention. This was my fifth time attending convention, and I had an absolute blast. Running the Renegade booth went really smoothly, the venue was really nice, and I got in some really good socializing and networking.

This was my first time spending any significant amount of time in TX (overnighting at a horse motel in Amarillo on a road trip 19 years ago hardly counts) and I was really surprised by the amount of water and vegetation in the Dallas area. Would have loved to spend more time there and explore the areas some more, but I was able to get out Friday evening for some excellent BBQ!

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March isn’t done with me yet…while I’m at home this weekend, I’m still working, this time doing the in-home catering for one of Mom’s memory art workshops. (A bit of a scheduling bummer, as I had several catch ride offers for Old Pueblo…but there’s something to be said about jumping on the opportunity to make $$$…see RP saddle caption above about the Money Tree.)

I want to slot at least one more good, double-digit training run in this weekend (Sunday), and then it’ll be the downward “just maintain and don’t do anything crazy” taper leading up to Crown King 50k on April 1.

Adventures in Pacing

Alternate titles: Mis-Adventures in Pacing; Really, Arizona Has Nice Winters; How To Run and Get  A Spa Treatment At the Same Time; When You Plan to Be Broiled and Get Frozen Instead.

Thing to note that prompted this whole story:

  • I’m training for Crown King 50k
  • which requires getting some good long runs in
  • and I like using events to achieve said long runs.
  • I love sharing my desert with out-of-state friends.
  • I relish any opportunity I have to see my out-of-state friends.
  • I’m completely hooked on the whole ultra-running experience…I like running the races, I’ve enjoyed the volunteering I’ve done…but I’ve not yet had the opportunity to pace someone through part of a race.

Combine all of those elements together with the fact that Mel had chosen to run the Black Canyon 100k, with the goal of obtaining her Western States 100 lottery entry qualifier for the year (finish time of 17 hours of less for the 100k)…and Black Canyon is a “local” (ish) race for me…and I love the Black Canyon trail, and knew about 90% of the trail from having done the training runs on the course…

And you get me volunteering to be Mel’s pacer for the latter part of Black Canyon 100k.

In normal years, this is a fun, challenging course…lots of downhill, some short but challenging climbs, and lots of technical rocks. And for the past three years, temperatures have ended up reaching record highs for February. (I believe last year it ended up at something like 90* as a high.)

Now, we’ve had a fairly mild winter, temperature-wise…but it’s been wet. Not California-water-inundation levels of rain, but for us, pretty soggy. Definitely flash-flood levels of rain, with normally-dry washes running, and bodies of water that we call “rivers” but everywhere else would qualify as “stream” or “creek” actually running large/high enough to legitimately earn their “river” designation.

And there are several “river” crossings on the normal Black Canyon course. At those crossing points, the Agua Fria might be a foot deep if you’re lucky…just enough to belly-flop in and attempt to cool off from the afore-mentioned 90*.

This year, the water level at one of the crossings peaked at 14′ in January after significant rain.

It was down for the training run, but the levels kept creeping higher as we kept getting more rain, and the forecast kept predicting more and more rain on race week, and race day.

Ultimately, the decision was made by race management to create an alternate course for this year: an out-and-back that would avoid the river crossings, because even if the forecast didn’t hold, the river would probably be running too high to be safe to cross. (Smart decision: The river was running about 7′ high on race day.)

The course changes meant a net-downhill course was now an even mostly-downhill on the way out and mostly-uphill on the way back. The start at Mayer High School down through the first ~26 miles of the course was the same, with the course then splitting off for several miles down to the new turnaround point, and then back the same way.

Okay, with that bit of establishing background all laid out, onto the good stuff…

Mel flew in Friday, and after picking up her race packet, was at my house by late afternoon. I made homemade chicken green chili enchiladas (hitting all the major food groups of carbs, veggies, protein and dairy…nomnomnom pre-race dinner) and we had a highly entertaining evening catching up, sharing stories, and getting aid station drop bags packed and race plans ironed out.

The start up at Mayer is about an hour and half away, so it was an early wakeup call to be rolling out of the house by 4:30 to have Mel there with plenty of time for the 6:45 briefing/7:00 start. It started raining off and on as we were driving through the Scottsdale area, and by the time we hit the north part of Phoenix, it was raining steadily, with the weather app radar showing a large green blob steadily making its way north.

(Partway through this drive was the location where I blew out my truck engine two years ago — Black Canyon City — and this was the first time I’ve one the drive since. Needless to say I had a bit of PTSD going through there and until we were past the big climbs on I-17. New [reman] engine and all associated new parts did flawlessly, so I might be able to relax and enjoy the drive once again.)

Mayer High School is kind enough to open their doors (and cafeteria and gymnasium) to the horde of runners that descend en masse, so there’s a warm and dry place to hang out — as well as real bathrooms to use. The race also uses a lap around the track as a starting point before leaving the high school, running through the town of Spring Valley for a couple of miles, then picking up the Black Canyon Trail just outside of town.

Aravaipa Running can always be counted on to take good care of runners and race attendees, and they had a spread of hot coffee, hot chocolate, fruit, and pastries available inside for people to fuel up while they waited.

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horse of runners heading out to the track to start

Since I was angling for Not Worst Crew/Pacer Ever, I headed out in the rain with Mel so I could capture the forensic evidence of her being there and at the start line.

Once Mel was off and running, I retreated back to the truck, cranked the heater up, and basked in warmth and dryness (and attempted to dry my already-wet feet) while I waited for my fellow crewbie, C, to arrive. (We ran the Javelina Jangover 7k together back in September and she’s getting hooked on the trail running/ultra world.) Since I would be pacing Mel for the last 20 miles, it was super-helpful to have a second person to drive/haul stuff around.

Once C arrived, we transferred everything over to her truck (aid station drop bags, changes of clothes, food, etc.) and headed down to the first place we would meet Mel, Treasure Mine aid station at mile 12.5.

The aid stations were well-prepared for the weather — extra tents, heaters, hot beverages and broth — and people were definitely making good use of the amenities. I saw a lot of carnage coming in to this aid station — bloody knees, mud coating, and enough rain still coming down that the term “drowned rat” came to mind.

Mel came hustling in, wet but still clean, and we got her pack refilled with food and bottles topped off before sending her back out there, 5 minutes ahead of her anticipated time and pace chart.

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hanging out at Bumble Bee

From there, we headed down the road to the Bumble Bee aid station at 19.2 miles where it was another lather-rinse-repeat: stand in the rain, grab bottles from Mel as she came in, refill those and her food, let her grab some food from the aid station, and hustle her back out.

This was the turnaround point for the 60k distance, and apparently, due to the weather report (more rain), they were giving the 100k the option of dropping down to the 60k for completion-only. Mel’s only question upon learning this was “Do I still get my Western States qualifier?” When told no, the qualifier was for the whole 100k, she headed back out on the trail without when a blink of hesitation.

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muddy times at Bumble Bee

With Mel back out on course (right on time), we now had approximately five hours before she would be back into Bumble Bee to pick me up as her pacer (we couldn’t go to aid stations 4, 5 (turnaround point), and 6).

So C and I headed down to Rock Springs Cafe for lunch (I wish I had gotten pie there…they have really good pie…but I suspected I would probably regret it by the time it came to pacing) and to find an open feed store for C to make a hay run.

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crew shenanigans…driving around on back roads through Black Canyon City trying to find an open feed store.

We did finally manage of our goal of obtaining a bale of bermuda hay for C, so we headed back to Bumble Bee where we had enough time to even grab a late afternoon nap.

I changed into my pacing clothes — long tights, long-sleeve merino wool short with short-sleeve tech shirt over, buff, Ultimate Direction rain jacket, pack, Balega merino wool socks, and Hoka Challenger ATR 2s.

We had strategically parked in such a way that we could see Mel coming down the road, and we bailed out of the truck and ran her into the aid station. Another quick topping off of bottles and food, I shed my outer rain jacket, and we were flying out of there.

This section between Bumble Bee and Treasure Mine is one of my favorite sections of trail ever. It’s single-track, and just fun. It was still raining, but the footing was excellent, with only a few puddles here and there, and crossing the occasional teeny little running wash. (It was kind of fun to see…I always knew that the little washes would run with enough rain, but have never been out in the desert during the rain enough to see it.)

We had probably another 45 minutes or so of daylight, and as the light faded, the wind kicked up. It wasn’t too bad yet — this section is really sheltered — and we were making really good time. Mel had gotten a little behind time in the middle section, and we made up all but a minute by the time we left Treasure Mine.

C met us at Treasure Mine where we did a quick headlamp battery change, food re-stock for Mel, and we grabbed cups of ramen noodles and broth to carry out with us. It was still raining, so we had decided that we would make the last aid station stop at Antelope Mesa as quick as we could, so told C to not even stop there…just take the stuff back to my truck and she could get out of the rain and be done for the night.

We hustled out of Treasure Mine clutching our broth cups, back out into the rain. This section from Treasure Mine back to Antelope Mesa has a lot more climbing, and is a lot more exposed and open. The wind had also picked up, and it was at this point that it started getting really cold and really wet, especially on some of the exposed ridgelines where the wind blew icy needles of rain right into us.

It was also somewhere during this stretch that my gloves (Fortunately the $2 Old Navy knit variety, not some really nice ones) had popped out of one of my pack pockets and were lost to the trail. I discovered this shortly before Antelope Mesa, so have no idea exactly when they went on walkabout.

It was really cold and really windy by the time we got to Antelope Mesa. We stopped there for maybe a minute, long enough to grab more broth and some bean roll-ups, and dashed out before we could get too comfortable. Coming in to Antelope Mesa, we were leading a wagon train of half a dozen people, and there was a lot of misery and train wreckage that I could see as we quickly dashed back out into the weather.

Even that brief stop and slight bit of warmth made a cruel contrast to what awaited us. It was only 7 miles to the finish, but 5 of those miles were nasty, sloppy, icky, freezing mud. A good portion of the trail at this point was a jeep road, and you could move forward without sliding. We slopped forward the best we could, with me trying to strategically position myself behind Mel to block her from the worst of the wind whenever I was able.

I can say getting through this section was one of the hardest things I’ve done. Harder than the DNF at Crown King, harder than any endurance ride. I’ve had more physically painful moments, but I have never been so cold, and so wet…and had to be the mentally strong one.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a bit self-indulgent when it comes to discomfort and difficult things. I much prefer someone to take my hand and say “we’re getting this done.” But part of my job as pacer was to be the one to say “let’s get this done.” I couldn’t let on how cold I was, or how discouraged I was, or how this was absolutely insane and we were probably going to die of hypothermia out there, or how my head was playing mind games with me in terms of what I thought the trail was doing versus what it was actually doing. (At one point, I thought I could see the single track stretching out in front of us, which was insane because we were on a jeep road, it was pitch dark, and I could only see about three feet in front of myself with my headlamp. It was the ultimate in headgames.)

So I reassured Mel that she was getting it done, that the miles were ticking off (even if I did have to fudge the numbers a few times), she was on pace (this part was not fudged…she had set a goal of 19-minute miles for this section and she was ticking of 18-minute miles, even in the cold and mud).

And it was still raining. And still windy. I looked at the weather report the next day, and the area got 2″ of rain, and wind gusts of 40mph.

Finally, finally we reached the road…lovely, solid, hardpack, not muddy road. It was a relief to pick up a shuffling jog versus the mud slog, and I chattered at/nagged/encouraged Mel for the next mile and half or so to keep on going. The high school was visible, and we were almost done.

And as a parting gift on the final turn up the street to the high school I managed to step in a hidden pothill that was filled with water. My feet had just warmed up again from the last mile of not-mud, and so an unexpected water dunking was rather freezing. I think I kind of tweaked something on the unexpected step as well, but several days later as I write this, the ankle is a little sore but functional.

Going through Spring Valley actually warmed up — all the houses provided a wind break, and the pavement was a little bit warmer than mud.

Until we reached the high school, which was at the top of the exposed ridgeline. More wind, more driving icicle rain. More chattering teeth and shivering runners. But Mel shuffled through the parking lot, onto the track, and over the finish line at 11:37pm. Her “optimum time” was 11:30, with midnight as the cutoff for Western States lottery qualifying, so I guess I did my part to keep her “on pace.”

I shooed Mel off to the high school while I retrieved the truck from its further away parking space (my fingers were so cold that I couldn’t grasp the key hard enough to turn it in the lock, since the truck is older and the locks are stiff…I had to use the caribiner on my keychain to act as a leverage bar to basically twist the key around) and moved closer to the high school. Once I got it moved, I hustled back inside…still shivering. A cup of hot coffee has never tasted so good. Understandable, after you’re told your lips are actually kind of blue, as are your fingernails.

Huh, knew I was cold, but didn’t think I was that bad.

Anyway, mild brush with hypothermia aside (bet you never thought you’d read that sentence from someone who lives int he desert), we sat in the gym with warm drinks while a very kind person went out and got Mel her wood-fired pizza, which we then proceeded to polish off very quickly.

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slightly blurry because I’m still shivering. slightly cold-delirious, but happy.

Pizza and move coffee consumed, I braved the elements again long enough to run outside, grab Mel some clean dry clothes, run back inside, grab another cup of hot water, and run back outside to the truck where the heater got cranked on again and I used the front seat as my changing room. (Sorry if I had an inadvertent audience out there…I was too cold to care.)

Ensconced in multiple layers, with the truck heater working really well, I was finally getting warm, and once Mel came back outside, we took off for home before I was completely out of functional energy.

The drive home went really smooth (and it was still raining) and we rolled into the driveway at 2:30ish. I had some very happy puppy dogs to greet me, and then I fell into bed, not even bothering with a shower.

And then I completely failed at sleeping in, up at about 7:30, because apparently once the sun is up, so am I. And so are the dogs. But I still had all of the stuff in the truck to unload — all the wet clothes got chucked in the back and I really couldn’t be bothered to deal with it until the morning.

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mud carnage. bare feet are Mel’s. Tights and neon shoes are mine. five washings later I still have mud stains on my tights.

Mel didn’t have to be at the airport until later in the afternoon, so we had some time to go to my favorite gelato shop and my local running store. Oh, yeah, and it was still off-and-on raining.

As I write this several days later, the weather has been in the high 60s/low 70s, bright, sunny, and perfect. Which I’m thinking my northern CA friends who have visited here in the winter won’t actually believe. I try to convince people our winters here are gorgeous, but every time I get a visit from an out-of-state friend, the weather goes completely sideways. Um, sorry?

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More mud. I was feeling stuff getting wadded up under my toes but I assumed it was some of my tape of my toes/feet peeling off from the water. Apparently not…

I think I’ll wrap this up here for now, with a second post to follow on the good/bad evaluation, plus more details on gear.

Elephant Mountain 22k

So that’s what it feels like to have a race go really well. :) Bear with me, this’ll probably be kind of sporadic and all over the place as I attempt to sort through various thoughts and takeaways.

I ran the Aravaipa Running Elephant Mountain 22k (which really GPS’d at 14 miles…the “Aravaipa miles” phenomenon, aka “free bonus miles”, was alive and well as usual) on Saturday, and for probably the first time ever, felt like I actually had it together and ran a properly planned and executed race.

I did the 35k here two years ago…I still haven’t done a write-up from that race because it was such a trainwreck and I felt so demoralized (probably should, just for the learning experience, eh?). I had been toying with the idea, off-and-on, about which distance to sign up for, and after some advice from friends, decided to stick with the 22k, which I *knew* I could comfortably do, and push myself to see what I could do within that distance, versus really stretching and scraping bottom for a repeat of the strugglefest that would be the 35k.

Elephant Mountain is held at the Cave Creek Regional Park, which is the north side of the Phoenix valley…about an hour+ drive for me, but I was able to carpool with a couple of local running buddies, which made for a much more entertaining drive there and back.

So Cave Creek is beautiful…but holy cow, it is rugged. It is rocks on top of embedded rocks, and with the rain we’ve gotten this winter, the rocks have been breeding. So what might look like a nice stretch of runnable trail at first glance actually turns into an ankle-twisting, toe-grabbing, rock-avoidance dance that tests one’s technical skills.

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So pretty. (This was taken in 2015, but the first 5.5 miles of the course is the same.) This is within the first 2 miles.

The hardest part of this race for me is the start — you’ve got about 1/4-mile or so on pavement, slowly heading uphill, and then you hit this climb, about 500′ in about a mile, lots of switchbacks and steady hiking, interspersed with flat sections you can run. Well, it takes me a good 2 miles in any race to really warm up, breathing-wise, so this is a bit of a rude awakening. But it’s also a good way for me to work on my power-hiking skills, and every climb was met with the mental approach of “good training for Crown King.”

From the top, it’s then a downhill cruise for the next couple of miles to the first aid station. I darted in, grabbed a couple dates and piece of bean roll-up, and darted back out, munching as I went. Technical trail = if you’re going to be walking anyway, it’s a good time to eat.

One of my main goals (aside from the perpetual “finish, preferably without looking like road kill”) was to really focus on nutrition. I am notorious for not eating enough, or frequently enough, when I’m running, and I’ve learned I cannot run in a calorie-deficit state for long. While I try to function that way on a day-to-day basis, and for my workout program (try to burn off more than what I put in), I cannot run that way without bonking, and bonking hard. My race strategy was to eat something every 30-45 minutes, and it worked really well…the only time the wheels started coming off was in the last 2 miles, where I should have nibbled on something a little earlier than I did.

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So many rocks. It was like a rock breeding ground. This was part of the out-and-back section to the second aid station…so you got to run through this (while avoiding runners who were already on their way back) and then turn around and go back again, this time being the runner heading back that others were dodging out of the way for.

There were a couple of lovely smooth sections between the first and second aid stations…a very small stretch of open dirt road, and some winding single-track. Yes, the smooth trail was exciting, but what I was so happy about was my ability to hit a smooth section and actually pick up the pace.

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Smooth section on the out-and-back. Two years ago, on the “back” part, I was shuffling through here, thoroughly demoralized and blubbering/crying…which is really hard to do when you can’t breathe. This year, I sailed through here, actually putting some distance between me and a couple people behind me.

The second aid station (about 5.5 miles in) served as the turnaround point for the 22k. I stopped there for a couple minutes and made short work of several salted potato pieces, a few pickle pieces, a bean wrap, and a cup of Coke.

What I didn’t realize at the time was the trail in to the aid station, while it looked completely flat, was actually uphill…a slow, gradual climb over a couple miles, but still…uphill. Which meant going back was a gradual downhill.

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Funky gate/crossing bridge. Part of the trail runs through leased grazing land, so there were a couple of gates and cattle guards along the way.

Back to the first aid station — more potatoes, pickles, some gummy worms, and a couple pieces of watermelon — and back out again. Shortly after the aid station, the course veered off the “straight back to the starting point” heading and took us for a “scenic route.”

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My “wildlife sighting” for the day — in the wash on the way to the first aid station, I glanced down and thought this root was a snake. Pretty sure my GPS shows a spike in speed at that point (and probably a sideways teleport).

I hiked this section of the course probably five or six years ago, but I had forgotten just how rugged and rough it was. Tons of slate and shale-type of rock embedded in the trail…razor-edge type of stuff that just lies in wait for an unsuspecting or lazy toe to grab.

I don’t have photos from this section because I was too busy paying attention to my feet. :) I underestimated this section a little bit — about 5 miles between the last aid station and the finish, and I thought it would go by a little faster. But between the technical nature of the rocks (I am slow in technical stuff…I really don’t want to roll an ankle or catch a toe and eat dirt), and a couple of good climbs (one was 300′ straight up in less than a quarter of a mile, stair-stepped into a huge slab of rock), it was definitely more slow-go.

It was at this point I fell back into my “but I’m almost done, I don’t need to eat” mentality, and started feeling it. When I realized I was still a couple miles out, I slammed a pack of gummy fruit chewies, and that helped…but should have done so a little earlier.

I made some good time on the last couple of miles, thanks to some beautiful, gradual downhills…and promptly lost all that time on any kind of uphill, when my hip flexors were like, “nope, we’re walking, thanks.”

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Finished! (Ignore that ridiculously fast lap pace. It’s set to calculate the pace every mile, so since the mileage just ticked over from 14 miles, it basically “reset” itself on that last 100th of a mile…so it probably clocked my arm swing over the finish line or something.)

I was really happy with my finish time. I had forgotten how rugged and technical the course was, so to come in with a good time (for me), in one piece, having taken it easy over the rough stuff, and absolutely no injuries whatsoever, I’m calling it a win in my book.

Oh, yeah, apparently there were a lot of people there: 113 in the 22k alone. ~390 total among the 4 distances (12k, 22k1 35k, 50k). It looks like I came in 74th overall, 36th female.

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photo by SweetM Images

Gear:

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InkNBurn Ryu Singlet and Dragon Flower shorts; Oiselle Lux arm sleeves, Balega Blister Resist socks, Hoka Challenger ATR 2 shoes, Ultimate Direction “Jenny Vesta” pack. (Not pictured: Brooks Juno sports bra, Orange Mud race belt.)

Gear worked flawlessly. Arm sleeves got pushed down after the first couple miles and served as decorative wristlets/snot rags (sorry) until I got tired of them in the last few miles, yanked them off, and tied them to my pack.

I love my InkNBurn gear. It just makes me happy to look at it. That singlet was one of the first pieces I got and it’s one of my go-to favorites. I was super-happy with how the shorts did — I’ve typically run in longer compression-type of shorts since thigh rub has happened in other loose shorts. I slathered on preventative BodyGlide in the morning, and never had any problems all day. (Would probably re-glide at the halfway point for an ultra, though.) The looser fit made me feel a little cooler, and I didn’t miss the “busted can of biscuits” feeling that comes from me + compression gear.

Hoka Challenger ATR 2 are an A+. Was so glad for the cushion over the rough rocks. Was concerned about stability with all of the ankle-rolling sections, but that was a non-issue. Had a couple toe-grabs on the razor-edge shale in the last few miles when I was getting tired, but all recoverable.

Ultimate Direction pack was excellent…it probably deserves its own review, but suffice to say I’m really glad I got it. (Had one of the original ones, sold it, tried something else that I wasn’t crazy about, they re-vamped the UD pack, I bought the newest version and love some of the upgrades.)

Other miscellany to note: Wore my sunglasses after the first few miles. Eyes didn’t get tired. Didn’t trip on rocks/have depth perception issues. Verdict = Just wear the sunglasses. Gold star for remembering to put sunscreen on at 5:00 in the morning when it’s pitch black and cold enough for a puffy winter jacket. Yay for not getting sunburned in what is still technically the middle of winter. (It was a high of like 72* on Saturday. That’s my payoff for surviving 115* in the summer.)

Food/Drink:

Breakfast: homemade breakfast loaf (think banana-carrot-date-nut bread w cream cheese “frosting”), cup of coffee, and a strawberry smoothie with whey protein on the drive up
From my pack: Honey Stinger Lemon waffle, Welch’s fruit chews, Uncrustable PB&J, Skratch Labs Matcha Green Tea + Lemon drink mix in one of the 16oz soft bottles, ~20 oz drank from my water pack (could have done better)
AS1: dates, bean roll-up
AS2: salted potatoes, pickles, bean roll-up, Coke
AS3: salted potatoes, pickles, gummy worms, watermelon
Finish: wood-fired pepperoni pizza

Succeed S!Cap electrolytes every 30-45 minutes.

(Yes, I run so I can eat. And eat so I can run. It’s a happy relationship.)

So, what’s next? As I write this, I have raw sinuses and a runny nose…either allergies (revenge for spending my entire weekend outside) or the start of the cold that’s been going around. <sigh> Will take it easy for the next few days…if I’m feeling good, I would like to get another long run in over the weekend, because the weekend after that…

I’m pacing Mel at Black Canyon 100k.

Not sure how March will shape up, but my plan is to just keep on building that long run foundation, do my cross-training, and plenty of recovery time in-between.

Every Excuse in the Book

And no good reason not to go.

At first, only the agreement to meet a friend and run together got me out of bed at 4 o’clock this morning. Even up to yesterday night’s text exchanges confirming things like distance, meeting place, and clothes debate, I kept thinking “Eh, maybe I can just bail…”

When you’re looking for an excuse not to do something, one is as good as the next. But excuses are just that…excuses, not reasons.

It’s predicted to rain. I hate getting wet. Especially wet and cold.

It’s already been raining. The trails are going to be muddy. There are going to be water crossings. I’ve gone out of my way to avoid water crossings on foot, fearing blisters and chafing. One crossing is absolutely unavoidable (unless I can bribe someone to give me a piggyback ride), and at least knee deep, so I’m going to get wet.

I was in a sad frame of mind after the bad news that a close friend had to put one of her horses down.

But the Black Canyon race is coming up in 5 weeks, I’ve made a commitment to pace, and I’m for sure not going to be the anchor that slows my runner down. (Pretty sure that’s the definition of “bad pacer”.) Plus my own plans of Crown King mean I need the long runs, mileage, hill climbing, and make sure I’ve got gear dialed in.

The above was all written at 5 o’clock this morning before I headed out the door. And I’m very, very glad I did, because I had a fabulous run today.

13.67 miles in 3-1/2 hours. Half and hour faster than what I figured (and hoped for). And the best part is that I don’t feel like it was an all-out, now-trashed-for-the-rest-of-the-day effort. I feel like I got a really good run in, it felt like a productive training run, and I definitely still have gas in the tank.

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scenery, the first mile or so in

The same friend I ran the Javelina Jangover with back in September came down for this run as well…I think she’s thoroughly hooked on trail running, and we had a blast today running together. Chatting on about all things endurance and horses makes the miles breeze by compared to slogging it out on the trails by yourself.

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I am scarily cheerful for only having one cup of coffee.

As promised, we got wet. Probably partway through, the clouds rolled in off the Bradshaws, and we had probably half an hour of getting slowly drenched. It was chilly, but not too bad…good motivation to just keep moving, and I couldn’t even be bothered to pull out my rain jacket.

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One of my main purposes today was some major gear testing, and I’m really happy with how everything worked.

I went back to the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta (the newest model) and I really like the new soft bottles. I had that thing loaded — there was only one aid station on today’s run, at 13.5ish miles, which was our end-point (whole run was 25 miles), so we had to be self-supported. I packed a water bladder, one of the soft bottles, a ton of snacks, a jacket, sunglasses, and basic first aid kit in there. I really should weigh it at some point. I need to start training with the weighted pack more often…I think that would help my shoulders from getting quite as sore.

My Hoka Challenger ATR 2 shoes were a success. No blisters, no rubs, and feet are still really comfortable. I don’t love them over small, ankle-rolling rocks, and I caught the toe box several times today, especially towards the end when I was shuffling…but I got them with the intended purpose being Crown King (not technical, but really hardpack roads, so cushioning is a must) so I would feel comfortable in saying they’re good to go for that, and I’ll probably eventually look for another pair to add to the arsenal for more technical type of trails. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep putting the miles on these, and just pay attention in the technical stuff.

I had a major internal debate going on over what to wear. Shorts or capris? One or two top layers? Jacket? I ultimately went with InkNBurn capris, singlet, and long sleeve tech shirt. I typically don’t wear long sleeves — I get too warm — but today, with the rain and cloud cover, it ended up being a good option. Tech tube to hold the hair back. Balega socks got a two thumbs up…must stock up on more of these, because my feet felt fabulous in them.

The river crossings weren’t horrible…although the Agua Fria has now been re-named the “Agua Freeza Your Ass” because that sucker was cold. I pulled my shoes and socks for both water crossings, mostly because I was reluctant to trash my still-shiny-and-pretty shoes so soon. I know it’ll eventually happen, but let me enjoy them while I can.

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River scouting. This picture cracks me up. I find my hand-on-hip look of disgust at the water absolutely hilarious. And of course the phone in hand because I was trying to get some “course reconnaissance” photos.

At the deepest point, it was mid-thigh deep…which meant I got wet. Oh, well. My pants now matched my upper body, which was wet from the rain.

(Pro tip: When you store your phone in one of your running pack pockets that is placed up high almost to your shoulder, that is a prime location for it to be pelted with rain. Mesh pockets do not stop rain. Fortunately LifeProof cases do.)

So, I got my training goal of “at least a double-digit training run” in for the weekend, got to course preview some of what I’ll be pacing through, got in some good socializing, and gear tested and approved.

The Road to Crown King 50k continues on…

2017. The Year of Who Knows?

Minimalist approach to the year. AKA “I’m going just float along the river and see what rocks I bump into along the way.” Very few plans at this point, and they’re run-related: Pacing at the Black Canyon 100k (February), and running the Crown King Scramble 50k (April).

Horse plans are on a “as they come up” basis. At this point, I don’t really have anything in the works, and I would actually like to focus this spring on running and my ramp-up to Crown King. This is a really big goal for me, having been chewed up and spat out by this race in 2015.

My approach is slow and steady ramp-up of mileage, with the #1 goal being AVOID INJURY. I am not planning on doing as many actual races this time — as much fun as I have at them, doing my own self-support long runs will save me some $$$ on entry fees.

I’ve also been focusing on a lot more cross-training, having signed up for Orange Theory Fitness back in the fall. Website has more details, but basically it’s a combo of cardio and strength training that works off of staying in certain heart zone zones to burn calories and build strength. I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my running, and the strength training builds muscle and the support structure in a way that running on its own never does.

I’ve frequently held some kind of gym membership, off-and-on over the years, and have always benefited from hauling my carcass off for regular workouts. I get a lot of satisfaction out of working with weights, and the floppy, muscles-thoroughly-worked feeling afterwards. Plus, the strength training is all part of my Do Not Get Injured game plan this year — strengthen muscle to support joints, then the soft tissues don’t take all the beating.

More cross-training = fewer “junk” running miles.

To whit, I have planned:

Pacing Mel at the Black Canyon 100k in February. I’m excited to have an official pacing gig (I love this trail, but didn’t feel ready for the actual race itself…yet…), and I love when out-of-state friends come to visit and I get to share my desert with them. (Sonoran Desert…no place like it. I still love my desert.) Note to self: Remind Mel to bring a cactus comb for carrying in her pack.

Aravaipa’s Crown King training run in March. It’s a free training run that starts in Crown King, goes *down* to the Ft Misery aid station (22 miles in on race day), then back up to Crown King. It ends up being an 18-mile day, followed by a second “fun run” day, not to mention that is one obnoxious climb from Ft Misery up to CK…and the one I bailed on in 2015. So for my own mental purposes, I need to know I can do that climb and survive it, since I know I can manage the rest of the race.

April 1 is Crown King.

Contemplating slotting in a race somewhere in there, but at this point, I’m going for the “don’t overdo it” approach…and thanks to race-day registration, I can always make a last-minute decision to go to one if I feel like I need the extra “encouragement” of a race environment for my training, but for now, I will see how I do with self-supported long-runs in-between my planned events. (Plus, bonus of doing my own long runs is that I can bring the pups…can’t bring them to races.)