Javelina Jangover 7k, Redux

After taking a year and half off from any trail races after my DNF at Crown King (healing not only physical injuries, but the mental ones), I hit the “restart” button last night at the Javelina Jangover 7k. Appropriate, as it was my first trail race two years ago.

I hadn’t planned on going. My running fitness is not the strongest it has been, although my overall body fitness is better. It’s a long drive (about an hour) up to McDowell for a short race. But a friend was planning to go, and I could hitch a ride with her, so I made the impulse decision on Friday to go. And then some Saturday morning Facebook conversations resulted in another friend coming down from the Prescott area to run with me in her first trail race.

We had a blast. Finished about 2 minutes slower than I did two years ago, but felt way stronger, nothing hurt, and I could have gone further. Goal: Finish without injury and not looking like roadkill. Goal more than met.

The shorter distance meant I could be a little more minimalist (yay, just a handheld bottle!), but still gave me a good platform for things like shoes. I’m going to tentatively go with two thumbs up for the Pearl Izumis, one of the few I’ve found to have a wide forefoot, narrow heel, and a rock plate. Now to stock up on a ton of them before they discontinue them or change the style.

Nothing changed from 2014 on the course, save for no pre-race monsoon storm, which meant it was a little bit warmer. It’s even more popular than two years ago, with over 300 over the four distances offered. (125 in the 7k. And we still  managed to find a decent little space bubble for ourselves.)

Since it was night, and I wasn’t running with my phone, I have no photos…once they have race photos online, I’ll add them here.

Gear Rundown:
InkNBurn “Run or Tie Die” singlet
InkNBurn Healing Mandala shorts
– Anita DynamiXstar sports bra
Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2v2 shoes (with SuperFeet insoles)
– Keen merino wool socks
– copycat “Buff” headband + “can’t be bothered with my hair” ponytail
Black Diamond Spot headlamp
Amphipod handheld
– a couple of preventative strips of RockTape on my pesky hamstring area (that didn’t end up bothering me one bit)

No gear issues, no rubs, no chafing, no blisters. Love it when things work out.

It felt really good to be back on the run trail again, and to get the mental confidence back from a successful finish. Interestingly enough, I feel like I came off my hiatus stronger, and certainly with an appreciation of how to train smarter (and the value of cross-training), not necessarily harder.

I got another glass to add to my drinkware collection, and another race shirt…theoretically, I shouldn’t have to buy too many clothes or drinking glasses between my trail runs and endurance rides and the various completion awards.

Crown King Scramble 50k: My first ultra attempt and DNF

I knew going in that it was an overambitious plan. An ultramarathon (anything over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles) is tough enough…but to pick the somewhat notorious Crown King Scramble, with its over 6000′ of climbing, as a first? Well…see the quote at the top of this post.

Maybe choosing an “easier” 50k as a first ultra would have been the “smart” decision…but following “smart” decisions doesn’t always result in fulfillment either. If I finished, it would be a major accomplishment…if I didn’t it would probably at least net me a major learning experience and hopefully a good story.

It was a bit of both.

Ultimately, I pulled myself at the 26.5-mile point…so it was the unadvertised Crown King marathon, at least. ;) That is the absolute farthest distance I’ve ever gone (again, some might question the wisdom of starting an ultra when the longest run you’ve ever done was 22 miles), and definitely the most climbing. I ran out of body (lungs/legs) for the time I had left…if you look at the elevation profile, I still had the steepest point to cover — about 1000′ of climbing, in 3 miles, in an hour…at a  pace that was netting me approximately 23-minute miles…even my tired brain could do the math and realize I wouldn’t make the cutoff, especially since I was physically out of gas to be able to push myself any faster. I also had some IT band issues that prevented me from adequately being able to run the downhills (lost time there) — and the last two miles was all downhill.

So you’ll pardon me if this is a bit disjointed as I go through it…brain is still majorly fuzzy. I actually feel better than I have coming off of other races…the IT band at my left knee is the hurting-est part, and my forefeet are letting me know I need to reevaluate my shoe choices (again!), but muscle-wise, I feel good…and mentally, I’m vacillating between satisfaction at how far I did manage to get, disappointment at not finishing, a bit of feeling sorry for myself for failing, and lots of introspection.

I definitely learned a ton and got a good dose of reality (and ego smack-down) handed to me in that I can honestly say I was under-prepared and under-trained for what I was tackling. Sure, I didn’t know what to expect, having never seen the course…but I greatly underestimated the elevation profile and the difficulty of that much climbing. I’m a strong hiker and decent, albeit slow, climber…but I underestimated how much the first 15 miles would take out of me, as I’m not world’s strongest runner (since that’s the “flatter” section, you have to make your time there, so you end up going into the climbing second half on already-tired legs).

Getting drop bags set up and food sorted

The aid stations were spaced at miles 8.5, 15.3, 19.1, 22.3, and 27, and drop bags were allowed at stations 1-4. The first two were spaced further apart than I’m used to…I think the longest stretch I’d done at a race was just over 5 miles between aid stations, and I’m kind of a “needy” runner in that I require a lot of hydration and a decent amount of nutrition to keep going steadily. (It’s the same reason I always carry so many water bottles on my saddle at endurance rides…I dehydrate quickly and physically cannot function on minimal hydration.)

So my plan was to wear my Ultimate Direction hydration pack, which has a 1.5-liter (50 oz) water bladder, and carry an Amphipod Hydraform Thermal-Lite handheld. I have to say, this is my new favorite handheld. Definitely the easiest to carry of all of them I’ve tried, and I love the insulating sleeve that kept the whole thing cold. Plus the wide-mouth bottle is really easy to fill at the aid stations. I started the race with Succeed Amino in the handheld, drained it by mile 8.5, refilled it with water + more Amino, drained it about halfway by mile 15 where I topped it off with straight water, and then by mile 19, I was over the Amino and just wanted cool water in both the pack and the handheld.
For food, I had Honey Stinger gels, Honey Stinger chews, Honey Stinger waffles, Pay Day bars, Clif ShotBlocks, GU, Bonk Breaker bars, and a gel flask filled with a peanut butter and honey mix. Looking back, I thought I was doing pretty good, nutrition-wise, at the time…but now I know I really could have done way better, and I think it caught up to me by about mile 23. Out of my stash, I ended up eating one Honey Stinger gel, one pack of Honey Stinger chews, one Honey Stinger waffle, and maybe 1.5 ounces of peanut butter mix. I had real food at the aid stations: bean roll-ups, potatoes, pickles, and at mile 19, it was a brief moment of nirvana when they handed me an OtterPop. 
But once it started getting warm, I had a harder time finding things that would appeal…so that’s going on the drawing board of “Things To Work On” this summer, along with still messing around with shoes, and potentially hydration packs.
(Honestly, I envy the “non-fussy” people out there that seem to be able to run through anything. I tend to nitpick my equipment to death, trying to get everything “right”…and when I’m in a bad mood about my abilities or lack thereof, I think “Maybe I’m just blaming my gear for my shortcomings when in reality I just kind of suck as a runner.” It’s the same mentality I grew up with when riding: “A truly good rider can ride in any saddle, so if your position is bad, it’s just because you’re not good enough.” …never mind the saddle might be a bad fit for you and completely putting you out of balance and unable to find a good position. I think the same thing goes here…there’s a certain amount of discomfort you have to push through, but you hit a point where there’s only so much lack-of-proper-function you can work with before realizing “Something needs to change.”)

The start for the race was at Lake Pleasant. Normal start was at 6AM, and finish cutoff was 3PM. First cutoff was at the 15.3 mile aid station, at a time of 9:30. They also offered an “early start” option that started at 5AM; only caveat to that being you were only eligible for finish status, not any of the top prizes. 
(To which my comment was I doubt any of us that were doing the early start were in danger of setting a new course record and thus having an unfair advantage. I could write a whole post on the pros/cons of the early start and whether it’s “fair” and blah blah blah…but the bottom line is, if the race offers it, then there’s not a problem with taking it.)

Obviously, I opted for the early start option. My reasons were two-fold: one, I was worried about making that first 15 miles in the time cutoff, because that was right up against my comfortable pace limits, especially if I needed to have something left in the tank for later. Second reason being that we’re experiencing some slightly unseasonably warm temperatures here…AZ hit the fast-forward button over spring and is beelining us straight into summer. So if I could get myself that much further down the trail while it was still pleasant out, all the better.
Major, major kudos to my dad, who got up at 2:00 in the morning in order to drop me off at a friend’s house where several of us would be carpooling together. Since the race was a point-to-point, it involves quite a bit of coordination, cooperation, and multiple willing sherpas/pack mules/drivers/patient-and-wonderful people.
The carpool was on the road by 3:20ish, and at the race start at the north boat ramp at Lake Pleasant by 4:15, where we had lots of time to deposit drop bags, check in, pin/re-pin number bibs, and I worked on finishing off the breakfast (ham/cream cheese on a bagel) I’d been nibbling since the car ride.

Before the start! I’ve met all of these wonderful ladies through
the Aravaipa groups runs and races, and it was wonderful sharing
the race and the weekend with them!

You can see all of yours truly’s gear above (far right): started with a Buff (which I then swapped out for a hat at the first aid station), headlamp (dropped at first aid station, but first four miles were in the dark), Kerrits IceFil tank, Kerrits IceFil sleeves (kept me warm enough in the morning and then soaked them down at every water spot available), Salomon XR running shorts, Dirty Girl gaiters, Salomon Speedcross3 shoes (swapped out at mile 15 for my New Balance Fresh Foam Trail…more on shoes later), and Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta.

And see all that tape on my left leg? I had tweaked my IT band somehow during the Mesquite Canyon half marathon two weeks prior…the first half of the race was great, and then all of a sudden it hurt to run or even walk downhill (of course the rest of the race was all downhill at that point), and although I had been icing and slathering with arnica and foam rolling, it still wasn’t 100% by race day and I was hoping holding myself together with large amounts of tape would be effective.
Sorry, I warned this would be a bit disconnected and all over the place.
Back to the start…right at 5:00, we were given the countdown and probably ~50 or so runner who had chosen the early start option were off in the darkness, headlamps bobbing and lighting the way out the same road we had just driven in on. The first mile was the pavement road leading out of Lake Pleasant and onto a wide, smooth dirt road that curved around the northwestern edge of the lake and then started heading north.
We had been told the first 15 miles was “extremely runnable”…but when the race director/source of information is an extremely hardcore ultrarunner, “consider the source” may be wise words to remember next time. Sure, it was runnable compared to the second half…but there were still some rolling ups and downs, and enough ups that walking was still a good option. If you look at the course profile, you can see if starts gaining in elevation the whole way…it just starts the real climbing halfway through.
I have to say I loved starting in the dark. For whatever reason, it mentally didn’t feel like I was racing, and the first four miles kind of flew by before I even realized it…so it was a bonus to realize that much distance had passed.
sunrise

getting passed by race support vehicles on their way to set up
the aid stations

looking back at Lake Pleasant

probably about mile 5 or 6

One of my “mini goals” I had set for myself was to at least make it to the first aid station at 8.5 miles before the front runners from the regular start caught me…and I made it. They caught me almost immediately after…effortlessly running up a hill, looking barely warmed up.
approaching Aid Station #1, Cow Creek AS, mile 8.5
someone has a sense of humor

At Cow Creek, I ditched my headlamp, and retrieved my running cap out of my drop bag, refilled my handheld with more Amino, topped off my water pack, grabbed some potato pieces, and was out of there in I want to say under 5 minutes.

Unfortunately, my IT band had started making its presence known by a couple of miles in…it hadn’t gotten much worse, but it was impacting how well I could run downhill.
The hard-pack road was also making me re-evaluate my shoe choice. I had started with my Salomon Speedcross3, which I am quite fond of…but they’re more of a technical/soft-dirt type of shoe…as I was getting passed by people, I noticed there were a number of cushioned type of shoes like Altras, Hoka One Ones, and some of the other more cushioned varieties.
Partway through this section was a really lovely, green, shaded area with some old abandoned buildings. Very scenic, and some truly amazing rock formations.

yes, as a matter of fact, most of my running selfies do have me
looking somewhat skeptical…that would be the part of my brain
asking me how much alcohol was involved in this particular decision

At the mile 15 aid station, I had another pair of shoes waiting, since I’ve learned from past experience it never hurts to have extra shoes. I was definitely glad to have done the early start, since had I not, I would have been out for the time cutoff at mile 15…normal cutoff time allowed 3:30, and I reached it in 3:45…but since I had done the early start, I had the extra hour time buffer.

the famous Crown King directional rock that points the way to go
It was starting to get a little warm, since almost the entire course is exposed and lacking in shade, so at aid station #2 (French Creek AS, 15.3 miles), I grabbed my neck cooler I had stuck in a ziploc bag and added water ahead of time (a carryover riding item), and changed into differnet shoes — my more-cushioned New Balance Fresh Foam Trail shoes. I also topped off my handheld and hydration pack, and grabbed a couple of bean roll-up pieces.
One of my running friends was working the aid station, so it was nice to see her cheerful presence and get a bit of encouragement, since I was already starting to feel a bit mentally frayed…one of my goals had been to actually make it to the second aid station within the 3:30, so to be slower than that had me demoralized.
Hindsight, maybe I should have stayed there a little longer and recovered better, but I get into a “constant forward motion” mode and feel like I’m wasting time if I linger at an aid station. 
Almost immediately, the climbing started…and so did the road traffic. The course is on the 4×4 jeep/quad road that is the back way up to Crown King. And despite notices posted, and heads-up notices that had been posted on online forums, there was still a ton of off-road vehicle traffic…and in a lot of spots, you have to stop or move way over for them to pass, thus losing time and forward momentum.
I get it, it’s not a closed course, blah blah blah…but it’s just for one day out of the other 364 in the year…not even a full weekend…couldn’t people go kick up dust elsewhere???
The climb between aid stations 2 and 3, miles 15-19, was awful, with 17-19 being especially brutal. It was the kind of sustained, steep climbs that kept on going, where your heart rate keeps going up, and you can never get your breath, and you just plod forward one step at a time.
Or maybe that’s just flat-lander me, who got a humbling dose of real hill education that day.
around mile 17-18ish, looking back on where we were

Mile 19, Aid Station 3, Silver Mountain AS, was a small piece or nirvana, as they greeted me with an OtterPop and scoops of ice that I stuffed under my hat and into my sports bra. (Finally, a use for the excessive boobage…I can hold a good amount of ice in there.)

I did stay for a few minutes there, getting my hydration pack filled with ice, and dumping the last bit of Amino out of the handheld and replacing it with just ice water. Aside from the OtterPop, I nibbled some potato chunks, a pickle, a bean roll-up, and a couple of ginger cookies.
I had been told the section between AS3 and 4 (miles 19-22) weren’t as bad, so I was heartened a bit by that and set out again. The creek crossings also started shortly after this point, as the road wound through/across/alongside a small creek at the bottom of a canyon, and at every water crossing, I would get my arm sleeves wet, refresh my neck cooler, and dunk my hat/wet my hair. That made a huge difference, and I felt really good all day, metabolically. I was also religiously taking my S!cap electrolyes, starting with a schedule of one an hour in the early morning, then one every 45 minutes, and then one every half an hour as it heated up.
Around mile 20ish, my good humor started fading. I was unable to run the down sections (they were there) thanks to the sore IT band…and I was out of energy/strength to do any kind of sustained running on the flatter sections aside from a shuffle for a couple hundred feet. And uphill was reduced to a hike…not even the power-hike I had hoped for.
I came into Aid Station 4 (the appropriately named Fort Misery, mile 22.3), manned by the Phoenix group of Hash House Harriers, which, based on my understanding, is best described as “a drinking group with a running problem”…and they certainly lived up to the reputation, offering me both beer and whiskey shots. 
They were super-cheerful, offering me the option of dropping there (“Highly overrated, this ultra thing…you could stay here and drink with us!”) I politely declined, declaring it would be a waste of good whiskey since I would probably puke it right back up again, based on how I was feeling. I did, however, take them up on their handheld pump sprayer cool-down (and apparently I had the most enthusiastic reaction of the day to that offer), grabbed some chunks of watermelon, tried to shove my crumbling psyche to the side, and trudged out of there.
I had been warned to “not look up” during this section, but you know what happens when edicts like that are issued…I looked up. And saw the road winding around, switchbacking back and forth up the side of the mountain, to what looked like a pick-up truck and some easy-up canopies at the very top. Yep, that would be aid station 5…about 5 miles and 1400′ elevation away.
The next couple of miles weren’t as bad…but then at about mile 25, I was faced with another big climb…and then I rounded the corner and the whole road went downhill, meaning I would effectively have to redo that entire climb, plus more. 
That was it. That was my breaking point. I couldn’t do it. My IT band was hurting, my feet were hurting, I had no legs or lungs left for climbing, and the clock was running down. I trudged down the decline, where it ended at a water crossing where one of the very nice radio communications volunteers was hanging out. In a funny coincidence, it was the same gentleman who had been doing the radio communications at the aid station I had volunteered at during the Black Canyon 100k in February.
He was super nice, and sat me down on a rock in the shade, topped off my handheld with some fresh cold water, and had me find something in my pack to nibble on. I really appreciated that he didn’t pressure me one way or the other — to either drop or really push me to keep going. I sat for about 10 minutes, and right about that time, the last couple of runners and a couple of the other radio communications operators that were doing course sweep caught up to us. 
I was feeling better after nibbling on a protein bar (Bonk Breaker Cookies N Cream…actually pretty good), but my IT band and knee were pretty stiff and sore after sitting, I had done the math with the kind of pace I had been keeping, coupled with the time and miles and climbing left, and concluded that I would put a ton more wear and tear on my body, and still ultimately not make the time cutoff at the summit (mile 29).
So I opted for the ride out with the sweeps…and the way out was on the same road I would have been traversing as the course, and looking at it confirmed that it definitely got way worse before it got better, and I am positive I would have run out of time.
the road on the right is part of the course

I was at the 26.5 mile point when I pulled, so I at least made it a marathon…and that’s the farthest I’ve ever gone. 

It’s kind of a long drive back to Phoenix from Crown King — at least 2 hours without traffic, and the road in/out is about 25+ miles of dirt road, some of it with some switchbacks and steep dropoffs that wouldn’t be much fun to drive in the dark, so some of us had made plans to stay overnight and share cabins. That was a fun way to spend the rest of the afternoon/evening, hanging out with some of my running friends, and enjoying the way-cooler temperatures (down in the 40s at night, up at 6000′ elevation in the pine trees) and clean mountain air. 
pine trees!
Afterthoughts…

Was I disappointed? Oh, hell yes. I’ve tried to be a “mind over matter” person, convinced that quitting or failing at something meant I wasn’t strong enough or wasn’t tough enough…you just have to dig deep and push through it. But that’s not me. Maybe that means I’m a wimp, or not mentally strong enough to be able to break down all barriers and blocks. Part of me feels like I let myself down…I didn’t train hard enough, or let my lazy streak get the better of me on slacking off physically and figuring mental fortitude would get me through.
It was something I wanted badly, to be able to say “I’m an ultrarunner” and maybe I just didn’t set myself up for success right from the start, with picking such a challenging course, and then my unscientific, laissez-faire approach to training and running in general.
I don’t know…my whole running season, with the exception of a good 26k at the San Tans in January, has not been a rousing success…which is a risk one takes when one uses races themselves as long training runs, and figures out partway through that piece of gear isn’t working, and so on.
So now I’m going to take some time…let the IT band (which is commonly an overuse/too-much-too-fast injury) recover and heal, and then reevaluate. I still have enough stubbornness and ego that, when I get kicked down, I tend to pop back up swinging harder…so my game plan is to shoot for another easier 50k towards the end of the year (getting too hot now to do much) do I have the mental confidence boost that I can do the distance, train more at hills, and tackle Crown King again next year,
But for right now…I’m really tired of getting kicked down. My pity party will eventually pack up and move on, but for now, I think I just need some time to lay low and maybe not attempt anything with a success/fail option for a little bit.

Hot Chocolate 15k

I really don’t do road races. I don’t like the monotony, the hard surface, and the crowds. My schedule prevented me from attending the December race that Aravaipa put on, but I wanted to do something that would increase my mileage, so I opted for the Hot Chocolate 15k. Plus, the goodie bag hoofie looked pretty awesome, and you all know what a sucker I am for good swag.

Plus, I did figure that the flat course would be an excellent opportunity for me to work on my consistency, form, and pacing, as well as sustained aerobic activity. (It must have worked, because this past Wednesday’s group trail run post-race went really well.)

ready to run, bright and early Sunday morning

Gear Rundown:

Bondi Band headband (and opted for free-flying pigtails)
INKnBURN “Flutter” tech shirt
Oiselle Cable Knit arm warmers (I love these…my new favorite accessory)
CW-X Stabilyx tights
WrightSock CoolMesh socks
Panache sports bra
Hoka One-One Stinson ATR shoes (delightfully cushy for hard surface, but too ankle-rolley for trail)
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta hydration vest

The large crowds are part of why I’m not a fan of big road races. Over 3000 people, divided into 5 start corrals, with 10 minute gaps between each corral starting. I was in the third corral back, so had to wait about 20 minutes. It makes for a spread-out course, but difficult if you were hoping to find people in a different corral.

sea of people
in my designated start corral
toeing the start line!

I was there early enough to get right in at the front of the corral, which meant I didn’t have quite so much early on crowding.

The first two miles, I clipped along at just over a 9:30-minute mile…I kept telling myself to back it off and slow it down, because I’ve never been able to sustain that kind of pace. Prior to this, the fastest I’d ever managed a single mile was a 10-minute mile…in junior high. So to break that now, about 17 years later, kind of tickles me.
Eventually, I reeled myself in and finished the rest of the thing at paces between 10:00 and 10:30-minute miles…and ran the whole thing. I took my “walk breaks” at the water stations, because I cant run and chug from a little paper cup at the same time, but aside from that, I kept on running.

clipping along in my own little world,
likely rocking out to my music

Admittedly, much playlist abuse happened on this run, since usually the only way I road run for any sustained period of time is with a killer playlist at my disposal. I left my iPod in the truck, thinking “How bad can it be?”  Fortunately, my phone is synced with my playlist, I had my phone on me, and by mile 5, I was grateful I had at least remembered by headphones and had them plugged in to the phone and rockin’ out.

The course was all roads, and taunted me just a bit by being in plain site of the McDowell Mountains, with the Superstitions in the background. But doing that kind of road work was excellent for my sustained pace-building…too hard to set a consistent pace on always-changing trails…and it was excellent for me mentally to push myself and keep going even when I was hitting mental walls. (And it was all mental, because I physically felt great.)
I shocked myself by actually having legs left at the end to sprint the finish and finish in pigtail-flyin’ style.

The 15k finishers got really awesome medals shaped like chocolate bars, and all finishers got a plastic mug with hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, and all sorts of yummy goodies to dip into the fondue. It was really good chocolate, too.
finisher’s medal and chocolate

One of my endurance buddies was running as
well, and we found each other after our
respective finishes and spent some time hanging
out together.

With that race, I wrapped up my official competition run miles for the year with 48 miles…which is more than I’ve ridden this year. Not sure how many miles I’ve run, total, since I started back around March…I do a lousy job of tracking some of my shorter, casual runs. That’ll be my next project…seeing if I can total up what I’ve done this year.

Pass Mountain 10k

A little late, since this was actually mid-November…

Originally, I wasn’t going to do Pass Mountain, since it fell on the same day as the Lead-Follow Endurance ride at McDowell and I had plans to ride. Well, the original ride plans fell through…and the subsequent plans fell through…and all of my efforts to obtain a ride resulted in nothing, so I decided to go do a trail run instead.

Pass Mountain was yet another Aravaipa Running race, which meant awesome swag, great trails, and another well-run, organized, fun race.

The race was held at Usery Mountain Park, which I’ve ridden at for years and years and know the trails all really well. (Said it before, I’ll be in trouble when I get to a race where I’ve not been to and have to actually pay attention to where I’m going.

This one was also just the weekend after my half marathon at San Tan, so I stuck with the shorter 10k distance as a good stretch-out. I’d also talked one of my buddies from the group I run with into bumping up to the 10k, and told her I’d run it with her.

The 10k course stayed down on the flatter part of the park trails, so it was almost infinitely runnable. My challenge to myself was to see how much of it I could run, non-stop. And with the exception of the short climb up Cat’s Peak Pass, I did end up running the whole thing.

It was a fun change to run with someone…I typically run alone, intentionally…I like the time to be in my head-space and sort things out. But for a shorter race, I really enjoyed it.

We ended up doing the 10k in about 1:06.

Seriously short race report this time, since it really was a short, fun day on basic, straight-forward trails, and no drama involved.

I will do a quick “Gear Used” rundown though:

Buff Headband (and as you can see in the photos, hair was loosely braided, so I had some hair movement happening)
Oakley Minute 2.0 sunglasses
INKnBURN “Flutter” tech shirt (I love these shirts. Awesome designs, comfortable, breathable.)
New Balance running shorts
Shock Absorber “Ultimate Run” sports bra
SmartWool socks
New Balance Fresh Foam WT980 shoes
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta hydration vest

Photos from the day, courtesy of Aravaipa Running!

bombing down Cat’s Peak Pass
 

finish!


running buddies!
me and Carolyn did the 10k
me and Leslie (she did the 25k)

XTerra Trail Run: San Tan Half-Marathon

Almost five years ago, I tried my first half marathon, the PF Chang’s Rock-N-Roll. I finished, but it wasn’t pretty — but what should I have expected from minimal training, and a fitness level more suited to saddle time than foot time? I also — not surprisingly — managed to break myself along the way, finishing with a foot that was either very heavily bruised or stress fractured (no, I never went to a doctor to confirm either way…it has to involve arterial spray or dangling limbs for me to go to a doctor). So I finished, but I didn’t feel like I had finished well…there was the satisfaction of having done so, but it sure hadn’t been a whole lot of fun.

Fast forward to this season of trail running. My goal has always been to keep increasing the miles. I finally, finally managed to do this running thing right in gradually building up and not letting my enthusiasm get the better of me, and I’ve felt amazingly good with how I’m doing.

I’d signed up for the XTerra San Tan way back in the summer as a way to have a goal on the calendar to train for. Doing the back-to-back races last month in Cave Creek was a good physical and mental boost — the two combined would add up to the same mileage as the half marathon — the difference would be smashing them together without a multi-hour break in between.

Part of why I was excited about a race at San Tan was these are my trails. After riding down there for so many years, I know pretty much every dip, turn, and rock in the area. I know there is an end to the awful sand washes, I know where I can speed up and where to conserve for what’s still to come, and the chances of getting lost were essentially impossible.

sunrise on my familiar mountains

This race was being put on by XTerra, another trail running organization that puts on multiple races a year. I did my packet pick-up ahead of time — Sole Sports is close enough to justify me driving to it, plus I needed a restock on some supplies. Got my number and shirt, and they had a “create your own goodie bag” set up where you could grab PowerBar gels and bars.

Saturday morning, I was up even before the alarm went off — I guess that’s what happens when I go to bed early. I left myself lots of time to get ready, which was good when my tumbleweed cloud of hair would not cooperate into anything other than my standard pigtail braids. I also had time to stop in at the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way down to the San Tans and grab a sausage biscuit — the lack of egg means it’s something I can actually stomach that early in the morning.

all taped up and ready to go…using kinesiology tape for extra
support in areas I know could be potential weak spots
Yes, those are nuclear warning symbols…
yes, I have a sick sense of humor

Phoenix weather has now gotten to the point where it’s kind of chilly in the mornings, so I had worn sweatpants and a hoodie for the drive down, and changed into my race gear once I got to the park. This time around, I used:

geared up, complete with “what was I thinking?” look

Race start was at 7:30, and people started shuffling over to the starting line a few minutes ahead for the pre-race briefing. Course markings were red arrows on laminated signs attached to either small wooden stakes in the ground or existing trail markers. The race director warned that this was a tough course.

start line madness

There was a good-sized entry field — 112 in the half marathon. I had one fairly large concern about this particular race, and that was the time cut-off. Course closed at 11:00AM, which meant a 3-1/2 hour time cut-off for finishing. I’m not a fast runner. In my sign-up sheet, I gave a predicted 3 hour and 15 minute finish time, with my “if it all goes really well” goal in my head of finishing in 3 hours.

Just based on the cut-off time and large entry field, I sort of predicted this would be a fairly competitive race, so I hung way to the back at the start. 7:30 on the nose, they released the pack, and I shuffled out at the back at my typical slow start pace.
It usually takes me about a mile to warm up, get control of my breathing, and settle into a comfortable pace, so I sort of like courses that are slow and technical at the start. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them. The first several miles are extremely runnable — a gradual, smooth uphill on mostly-doubletrack trail — and this is the kind of course that, if it’s runnable, you need to be running, because there are plenty of other parts where you will not be running (at least if you’re me).
Examining my split times, turns out that first mile was actually my fastest pace, but it felt really good. A very pleasant surprise awaited me on this section of the trail — since the last time I had been to the San Tans, they had installed a new single-track section on the hillside above what had previous been a wash trail. This was exceptionally nice, and the trail itself was this very gradual uphill with some little dips and twists that made it very fun. With that much nice trail at my disposal, I ran the first several miles non-stop.
views forever
this is a short climb up before the trail descends towards the flat,
and has traditionally been a “pause for a breather and photo” stop
with the horses…had to keep with tradition, of course

There was another short section of re-routed trail — another wash avoided! — and then there was an aid station at three miles. I grabbed a cup of water and cup of gatorade, chugged both, then began the dreaded Malpais section, which is several miles of sand wash, broken up partway through by a climb up to solid service road, more climbing on rocky service road, and then a descent back into the wash.

ugh, this wash
not a fan on horseback, not a fan on foot

And most of the wash is the deep stuff that you slog through. Ironically enough, I discovered that it was actually easier to jog it — sort of a snowshoe effect — versus walk it, where you sank deeper into the sand and went even slower.

(Endurance riding note here: I have a new appreciation for the difficulty level of sand, and a new respect for the proper conditioning a sand-based ride takes. That said, I’m glad to live in the desert and have the sand to train in, because I would rather train in it than try to take a non-sand-conditioned horse to a desert ride.)
This was one of those sports where knowing the trail come in handy — I knew that the wash actually did have an end. Mileage-wise, I was feeling a little discouraged, because they had signs posted at every mile, and I hadn’t seen mile 4 yet. So imagine my surprise, when right at the end of the wash, was a “mile 5” signed posted! Talk about a boost! Apparently I hadn’t been paying attention right around mile 4 or something.
Immediately out of the wash is a climb — about 150′ elevation gain in half a mile — but you’re so glad to be out of the wash and on solid ground, you don’t even care that you’re climbing. Unfortunately, once you’re on the other side of a nice downhill, it turns into more sand for another mile or so, but once you’re out of that, you’re done with sand for the rest of the course.
Another aid station at 7 miles — more water and gatorade, although my system started giving me some warning that it was not all that appreciative of the gatorade. 7 miles — over half way, and in 1:26!! 
This section of trail is one of my favorites — lots of up and down single track, and extremely runnable. Somewhere around mile 8.5-ish, I started paying the price for fun in that I had forgotten to bodyglide up thigh area when changing from sweatpants to shorts, and now was getting some chafing as a result of sweat + running motion. I tried sticking a piece of moleskin to my leg, but the running motion just peeled it up, so off it went and I ignored it. If that was the worst discomfort I was in, I could tough out a little bit of chafing. 
Another aid station at just about 9 miles — I grabbed just water that time. Supposedly, at least according to the website information, it was advertised that the aid stations would have water, gatorade, power bars, and gels. Unfortunately, that wasn’t actually the case, as the only thing I ever saw was water and gatorade. Disappointing, as I could have used some stuff to munch on. Fortunately, I was carrying gels and chews with me, and I went through two gels and a pack of chews, but I like my “real” food — even a power bar would have been good, but I didn’t bring any of those because I thought they would have them out at the aid stations.
The next section was one that was newer to me — a recent trail addition to the park that I had only ridden a couple of times. There was one uphill section that was exposed, in full sun, and a bit of a slog, especially since the trail was full of people out for a casual hike that I had to keep dodging as they would stop for their scenic photos.
The reward for the uphill was an awesome section of mostly-shady downhill for about a mile and half — all runnable — and into the aid station at 11.5 miles. More water, and then the part I was dreading…the climb up Goldmine Mountain.
elevation profile from my race

See the elevation profile above? See that part where the grey elevation thing goes way high in a very short amount of miles? Yeah…that would be the climb up Goldmine. Not only is it insanely steep, it is very, very rocky. The park actually has a “Warning: Hazardous Trail” sign posted.

I’m not going to lie: This part sucked. Halfway up, I started pausing every 30 seconds or so for a rest, because my quads were threatening a complete mutiny. I all but crawled up the last part, and was so happy to finally reach the top. Funny thing, running felt great at the top — actually stretched out the protesting quads and hamstrings.
I also had an epic near-wipe-out at the top when my tired feet didn’t lift high enough to clear a rock. I felt myself go airborne, and was prepared to totally eat dirt for the first time — something I’m dreading — but miraculously, I landed on my feet and kept going. That actually gave me quite the adrenaline boost, and I motored down as best as I could. The down was fairly technical as well, although it was mostly made up of large chunks of solid granite — my shoes clung to that granite face most excellently — but it still wasn’t a great place to make up time until it leveled out some.
It’s all downhill to the finish, and you can see it from a ways out, being up on the foothills of the mountain. When I hit the 13-mile sign, the finish was still a ways away. And while I may not be the greatest ever at judging distance, even I could tell that was more than 1/10 of a mile away. Hmmm. Well, the fine print had said distances may not be exact…
And then I hit the 13.1-mile sign. Well, there’s the official half-marathon distance! And I reached that point in 2:51, so I actually did hit my time goal that had been based on 13.1 miles!
And I still hadn’t reached the finish. I really hit a mental wall at that point — finish was visible, but I still had a comfortable time buffer, my legs were tired, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to break myself for finishing a couple of minutes faster or not. So I did a combo of walking and running the last 0.9 miles and crossed the line with a time of 3:06 for 14 miles!!!
I came in 105th out of 112, and 37th out of 41 for women.
They handed out medals to finishers, so that’s kind of fun, having an official race medal.
They had a small food spread, so I grabbed some orange slices, a piece of muffin, and half a banana and nibbled on that as I headed back to the suburban. I ditched my race gear, pulled on compression calf sleeves and flip-flops, then headed home where a shower awaited.
Afterthoughts
Two days later, I’m feeling really good. Both Monday and today, I took Artemis out for a walk, a couple miles each time. Low impact, but the stretch felt really good. My overriding goal, aside from just finishing, was to not get hurt. Historically, I haven’t had a great track record of this, which doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence in my future race goals (just keep moving up the distances).
This time, the only lingering soreness is some tight spots on my left quad and hamstring, which I can feel pulling on my knee a little bit, but I keep stretching and using the foam roller, plus I’ve been wearing compression tights during the day since Sunday, and sleeping in compression socks at night. Muscle soreness I can definitely handle, since everything else feels great. I don’t even have any blisters, and the chafed area was minimal and healed overnight after an application of aloe lotion.
I’m taking it easy this week — trying not to be the Queen of Overdoing It for once — so no Wednesday night group run, and will continue the morning walking through the week. I’m signed up for the Pass Mountain 10k on Saturday put on by my beloved Aravaipa Running group, and I think that will actually be a great leg stretcher since it’s a comfortable, easy course.

At the time I signed up for this race, I didn’t know who the different companies were that put on these races. Aravaipa put on the first three races I’ve done, and I have to say, I really like their style. XTerra put on a good race in that it was a well-marked course, and they seem competent and professional, but their emphasis is obviously on faster racing. I was disappointed by the lack of well-appointed aid stations, and honestly, it just didn’t have quite the family-like, welcoming atmosphere that I feel at the Aravaipa races.
I also saw an extreme disregard for trail care and littering — there was a constant trail of dropped gel packets along the trail, so much that I wouldn’t have even needed course markers to follow. :(
The whole thing reminded me a lot more of road race mentality than ultrarunning mentality, and ultrarunning is what I gravitate to — it’s not just about the race, but about enjoyment of the trail and the experience.
Aravaipa is putting on their own San Tan race in January — I’m going to sign up for the 26k, which is only 3k longer than what this one ended up being. And while the Aravaipa course goes up over Goldmine, they don’t use the Malpais section, which means my quads won’t be already trashed from the sand before having to do that climb. Plus, it’s a multi-loop course, so the Goldmine climb happens earlier in the race as part of the first loop.
With the total mileage being 14 miles, that’s officially the longest I have ever run. And I ran a lot of it. I’ve finally gotten to the point that I’m not even really thinking about it…I just run. Back in the spring, I could barely run 1/4-mile non-stop on flat ground. And now? Now I’m finally finding my stride.
(Yes, I’m aware my horse blog is turning into a running blog…but the horse life is being uncooperative at the moment, so this is very much a real-time reflection of how to cope with “not everything goes according to plan.”)