Walk to Mordor

I don’t really have any 2019 goals at this point. I’ve learned with catch riding that it’s a difficult endeavor to try to set concrete (or even nebulous) goals when you’re at the whim and mercy of other people’s schedules, agendas, and plans. So to that end, I’ll basically take things as they came, and whatever happens, happens.

With that out of the way…I do like finding ways to make my daily routines more interesting. One thing I do on a daily basis is take the dogs out for a walk or run. While I try to hit 2-3 miles most days of the week, there are some days that not even the threat of a couple of hyperactive terriers is enough to motivate me to do more than a loop around our neighborhood.

I think that just might change this year, because I found a really, really fun distance tracker app.

Walk to Mordor

For a bit of backstory: I’m something of a fantasy and sci-fi geek. I didn’t necessarily “grow up” with those genres from a young age, but got introduced to them in middle school, and have been regularly getting lost in various fantasy worlds ever since. But from the middle of high school and onward, one thing that has stuck with me on the regular is the writings of JRR Tolkien — the world of Middle Earth, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. (And a ton of others, but that’s beside that point…)

The world of Middle Earth grabbed me from the get-go, and the older I get, the deeper into it I get. So when I found a distance tracking app designed to log your miles and show it as a representation of the journey from Hobbiton to Mordor, I had to get it.


The app is using the figure of 1932 miles…I haven’t pulled my Middle Earth atlas yet to figure out exactly how accurate that is or not, but I’m going with it. I’m pretty sure I can cover the distance just on my daily walks/runs with the girls within the year. If I get pretty ambitious on mileage covered, I may even figure out the distance the hobbits covered from Gondor back to Hobbiton and try to do the entire round-trip journey within the year.

Might be a bit silly, but it gives me something to do and internal incentive to crawl out of bed when it’s cold, dark, and early. As my alarm label says, “If Frodo can get the ring to Mordor, you can get out of bed.”

It was an impulse idea, made at 6AM this morning, to install the app and set my “trip to Mordor” mileage goal…but to that end, the girls and I logged 4.78 miles this morning.

So, I guess 2019 is going to be the year of “Mordor or Bust!”

Crown King Scramble Analysis/Wrap Up

(Only a month late, but that’s usually how I end up doing these analysis type of posts. Have to think about things or a while, forget about it, get tired of it sitting around in a draft, realize I’m done thinking, and just post it.)

Obviously I couldn’t be happier with the ultimate outcome: my first ultra finish, and while it involved a lot of sweat, there was no blood, and there weren’t even any tears this year. I got a whole lot right, and most of the “change or do better” category are minor bumps and nitpicks versus major game-changers.

Since I’m still very, very new to this ultra game, this will not be a streamlined list. This will be me laying out lots of details, mostly for my own purposes of future reference and remembering.

What I Wore
I was vacillating on what to wear for two weeks ahead of the race. First the weather was going. Then it was going to rain. Then snow. Then be perfect. Then cloudy. After some indecision, I finally settled on:


  • InkNBurn “Sakura” singlet. This was actually a brand-new design release from them the week before the race. I have a deep love for cherry blossoms, so I took it as a good omen as a “meant to be” race shirt for me.
  • InkNBurn “Dragon’s Gate” capris. These were a good pick for multiple reasons. 1) I was afraid my leg muscles might get cold in shorts, and stiffen up. But capris aren’t as warm as tights. 2) Have done a fair amount of training in these and they’ve never done me wrong. 3) Thigh chaffage is a real thing. The longest run I’ve done in my InB shorts has been 15 miles; I was unsure of the chafe factor/how much BodyGlide I would need beyond that point. 3) InB always has a really cool “meaning behind the design” story, and this one resonated for me:

    “These capris were inspired by the legend of Dragon’s Gate. The story tells of a huge, glimmering school of koi swimming upstream in the Yellow River of China. Gaining strength by fighting against the current, they came upon the waterfall at the start of the river. Many of the koi turned back at this point and let the current carry them away. The remaining koi refused to give up and leaping from the depths of the river, they tried to reach the top of the falls. This caught the attention of mean-spirited local demons who raised the height of the falls just to be cruel. After a hundred years of jumping, one koi finally reached the top of the waterfall. The gods recognized the koi for its perseverance and determination by turning it into a dragon, the image of power and strength.”

    My goal was to be that koi. No turning back, just keep jumping, one step at a time, no matter how long it took.

  • Nathan VaporHowe race vest. A new acquisition for me, I was able to put all of two training runs and 10 miles on it ahead of time. Overall I really like this vest. Doesn’t bounce at all, super comfortable, and tons of pockets and storage. The hydration bladder is really easy to access, to re-filling at aid stations was super-fast. My only gripe is that I think it runs a little small for the measurements, at least for us busty gals, so I had to undo the straps during the worst of the climbs so that I could breathe easier. (That said, I’ve had to do that with every hydration pack, and even some of the bands on my sports bras, so it may just be me and having a hard time handling any rib cage constriction whatsoever.) I would like to try adding some elastic pieces or extra length to the straps to see if I can fasten it a little looser — straps are extended out as far as possible. Even with un-doing the straps, I didn’t have issues with the pack bouncing or slipping.
  • Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 shoes. I have two pairs of Challengers, one with ~ 200 miles on them and one with ~ 25 miles on them. I started with the newer pair with the though of having the most amount of cushy padding for the faster, harder-packed section of the course. I think they could have done with a little more breaking in, though, as they were a littler tighter around the toes and I ended up having a blister rubbed on my right big toe from them. I had my well-worn ones waiting for me in my drop bag at mile 15, though, and I switched over to them for the remainder of the race. Definite difference in toe space, so the newer ones will be in for a thorough round of getting even better broken in over the next couple weeks.
  • Balega Blister Resist merino socks. I’ve had really good luck with these socks. Small aforementioned blister was due to the shoes and part of my tape getting scrunched up. Socks are super-comfortable, and even when my feet got a bit wet during one of the creek crossings, the merino kept my feet warm and comfortable.
  • SmartWool arm sleeves. These are a really good option for me when conditions are slightly cooler. I tend to warm up very quickly when running, especially once the sun is out. So it has to be near-Arctic conditions (or raining) for me to wear jackets or long sleeves. I started with the arm sleeves, ditched them in my drop bag at the halfway point, and only briefly wished I had kept them with me for a couple miles of cooler, cloudy weather between mile 20-23. And then the sun came out again and I was perfectly warm in my tank top.

What I Consumed
I did sooooo well in the food/drink department this time around, and it made such a difference. I followed the mantra of “eat early and often” so I never got behind on my intake as the race went on, and as foods got a little less appealing, I still had reserves left in my tank from earlier.

I’ve also learned that consistent calories is more important for me that hitting an exact number of calories, especially taking in large quantities at a time. I do much better with a few bites of something every 30 minutes rather than a gorge-fest at the aid stations.

Huma Chia seed gels were a surprise hit — I could have managed a couple more of them. They were a great option for when I hit the level of “but I don’t wanna eat.” More substantial than Gu/other gels (most of which were concocted in a chem lab test tube), and made with all natural ingredients, they’re easy to slurp and swallow, sit well, and don’t have a fast-hit-and-crash effect on me. Strawberry, Raspberry, Mango, Lemonade, and Strawberry Lemonade are all ones I’ve enjoyed.

Hydration went really well, between carrying my water pack and a soft bottle in one of the pockets that held Skratch labs drink mix. This is definitely my go-to for any kind of electrolyte drink…about the only thing that tastes good when it gets lukewarm, and it’s really mild-flavored. Also not concocted in a chem lab. Has passed the approval test for both riding and running.

Misc Thoughts on What Went Right
I was really surprised at my fast recovery. I’ve felt far worse after shorter races than I did after this one, so obviously I didn’t over-do it, and went in with sufficient training. I even went to the gym the Tuesday after the race…not at all-out capacity and effort, but enough to engage in “active recovery.”

I ran with music. I have “meant to” in the past, and then would get to the point where I couldn’t mentally be bothered to deal with it, or I was going to “wait” until I hit the wall (uhhh, that *was* hitting the wall). I did my Mt Ord training run with it right fromthe start, realized just *how much* it helped. Music went on a couple miles in and stayed on the whole time.
However, I apparently need to get a new iPod. My old one has vanished into the ether (WTH? I have no idea how I managed that one. It’s highly aggravating, because it has to be around here somewhere, I just don’t know where and I’ve torn everything apart searching for it) so I was using my phone and the music I have stored on it. Downside? I don’t have as much music as I would like on it, in order to save space. Plus, having my earbuds attached made it that much more stuff I had to fumble with if I wanted to pull my phone out for photos, or when I took my pack off. First world runner problems.
Staying at the venue ahead of time was a really good idea. While it made for more work, the extra couple hours of sleep was justified. (That said, if I choose to do this again, I have an invitation from a friend who lives very near Lake Pleasant to stay at her place.)
I never went into quit mode. I slowed down, and I heartily bitched a few times, and there was much bad language to be had…but I never once seriously gave any thought to dropping. (Music also helped. If I’d start feeling too down I’d look for something really peppy and/or loud rock and that would lift my spirits and perk me up.)
Misc “Things to Work On/Change”

I can always do more hill training. I’m a flat-lander with limited access to the kind of true, sustained climbs encountered on this race. If I do this again, I will frequent Mt Ord and Thompson Peak numerous times. Hip flexors were definitely tight/sore during, although they recovered quickly.
Be more consistent in first half speed. My goal was to make it to mile 15 in the “normal start” time allowance of 3:30, and I did it in 3:35. 10 minutes faster than last time, but would still like to get a little more consistent on the sustained speed during the “easier” parts. (That said, I ultimately finished within 9 hours, so didn’t actually “need” that early start extra time on the back half, which meant my hill training was much stronger.)
I didn’t need to carry as much solid food with me as I did. Solids like granola bars/waffles held minimal appeal. Get more chia gels — they are almost always appealing in any weather, and are easy to eat.
If you’re planning on running with someone, discuss your race plan ahead of time — do you stay together the whole time? Do you split off at any point? Do you each “do your own thing?”
I still want to work on getting breathing under control. It was better this time, but I still feel like my lung capacity is compromised in some form or fashion. I’m hesitant to just grab the inhaler option if I don’t absolutely have to.
Went through way more electrolytes than I had planned, so I need to start carrying a “backup stash” of them in my pack. I didn’t run out but I only had one left.
Will I do Crown King again? Never say never. Now that I’ve done it, there’s a part of me that would like to improve on what I did.  Next year, though, I would like to tackle the Whiskey Basin run in Prescott — multiple distances offered, all held on the Prescott Circle Trail that forms a 55-mile loop around Prescott. (They offer an 88k, which is the full loop, and then shorter distance of 54k and 31k that have starting points along the trail, and all end up back at Watson Lake.) This year it was the weekend after CK, which would have just been too much back to back, so Whiskey Basin gets the priority nod next year.

May Day Musings

So, it’s been an interesting winter/spring. I don’t know if the fact I still keep attempting to lay out plans, both long and short-term, despite the “plans never survive first contact with reality” adage that is an all-too-frequent reality, is persistence and stubbornness, or bordering on futility.

Running events actually went pretty close to plan, albeit with some major “not according to plan” weather interruptions. You know you’re in Arizona when, in the space of two months, the weather goes from hypothermia to heat stroke.


“but it hardly ever rains in the desert…”

I’m very pleased with how my running season went this time around. No major injuries, and conquering Crown King/getting that first 50k completion. My two major goals, and I managed both of them.

What I’m finding very interesting is the aftermath.

Trail running is definitely not my all-encompassing joy and passion the way riding is. I don’t actually like to train for running. I get a lot of satisfaction out of finishing a race, and I enjoy the social aspect, but I have a hard time mustering up a ton of enthusiasm for the idea of going out for a long training run by myself. For me, it tends to be more of a “put in the work or you’re not going to enjoy the outcome” type of mentality when it comes to training.

After giving it some thought, I don’t know if the idea of moving beyond the 50k distance really holds a ton of appeal. The idea of having to do way more training above and beyond what I did for CK has very little appeal. Maybe if I had easier access to trails, I would feel differently, but as it is now, it’s a lot of work for me to get to actual trails, and takes a lot of time. Because I do have to drive everywhere (to the barn, to trails), that alone eats into the time allotted for my “play time.” And there are other things in my life that mean more to me than running/moving up in ultra distances.

(However, as long as I have the dogs, I will always be doing some degree of running, because that’s the fastest way to happy terriers.)


Comparing that to riding, there’s been very few times where I haven’t felt like riding. Especially if I’m on a good horse that I really like, the training and conditioning doesn’t feel like a chore or something that “has” to be done. It’s something I truly enjoy. (I always keep in mind Julie Suhr’s advice that “If you don’t enjoy the conditioning process, this is not the sport for you.”)

And it’s a good thing, too, since that tends to be the area in which all attempts at planning completely fall apart. If I didn’t love it so much, this would probably be an exercise in frustration/futility.

To whit: I was supposed to ride Liberty at the Bumble Bee ride two weekends ago. (Normally scheduled for January, but massive amounts of rain pushed it into April.) However, vehicle problems (NOT mine this time) prevented her from making it to the ride. I swear this ride is jinxed for me. Not once have I actually ridden it and finished.

Bumble Bee, A History:

  • Year One: Didn’t have a horse to ride, so volunteered.
  • Year Two: Liberty and I went overtime on the 25.
  • Year Three: My suburban engine blew up a week before the ride and I wasn’t going anywhere.
  • Year Four: Lameness pull after the first loop of the 25 on Liberty.
  • Year Five: Vehicle problems that prevented Liberty from being brought down for me to ride.

So, since I was already there, with all my stuff, I begged a bed off of friends for the night, and volunteered on ride day.

Not what I had planned, but I still had a good time, and felt right at home again with my endurance tribe. I once again landed my “master timer” job, which, aside from vet scribing, is one of the things I really like doing. I’m very organized, so the “keeping track of things” element of it is right up my alley, and apparently I can be quite bossy/direct when it comes to making sure the process runs smoothly.

Meanwhile, with the weather warming up, the pony is quite happy. Winter coat is shed out and she’s working on baldifying herself for the summer. Warm weather also = explosive hoof growth, so never mind that I trimmed her three weeks ago…by the time I got down to the barn this past weekend, it looked like eight weeks had gone by.

So that was a happy couple of hours spent meticulously working on her feet that had really gotten away from me this winter/early spring. Still not 100% where I like to see them, but since the goal is not “lame the pony from a crappy trim,” I’ll keep working at it over the next few weeks. She’s gone from “let me grow stupid-high upright feet and heel” to “let me show you how long my toes can get.” Pony feet = never boring.

And then we rode. God bless my sainted pony for putting up with me while I’m caught in this “ugh, I feel like a hot mess who doesn’t know how to ride” cycle. Apparently 24 years of riding, over 10 of which involved lessons, showing, and instruction, means nothing to my psyche right now, since I’m overthinking and just trying way too hard. However, I had a revelation on Saturday that somewhere along the way I completely forgot I had lower legs, and have been doing way too much upper leg and letting the lower leg just gleefully swing along for the ride.

And I wonder why I tip forward, or most of my ride photos have my lower leg trailing along somewhere back at my horse’s flank. Apparently the idea of the lower leg as your stable base of support isn’t just some radical suggestion.

Arena time = way too much think time. I need more trail time.

In unfortunate other news, fire season already started here with the Sawmill Fire burning approximately 47,000 acres north of Sonoita, including part of the Empire Ranch, base camp to the Old Pueblo ride, and part of the Arizona Trail on the west side of the highway (which is a major section of trail for one of the ride days, and my favorite trail for the ride).

It’s too soon to tell how it will impact the ride. The 2017 ride happened already (March), but I don’t know what will happen for 2018. The fire is at 94% containment right now.

Much closer to home is the Cactus Fire, right along the Salt River…one of my go-to trail locations. 800 acres and 85% containment, but only about 4 miles away from some large residential areas of northeast Mesa. It’s also one of the spots where the Salt River wild horses like to hang out; fortunately it appears that none of the wild horses have been hurt or killed and they are staying clear of the area.

The weather has been hot, dry, and windy for the past week, so decidedly not helpful in fire control. Southern AZ in particular gets very windy; enough so that they had to ground air support several times due to high winds.

Hoping and praying for some spring rain, or early monsoons…all of the lush greenery from the winter rains has turned dry, brown, and crunchy, and we’re currently sitting at “tinderbox” status right now. :/

Dam Good Run 26k

I ran again. It was hot. The End.


photo by Sweet M Images

After spending 4 hours getting quite toasty in the Arizona sunshine, I think I’m kind of glad to be wrapping up the racing for the summer. I feel a bit like an endurance horse who is probably ready for a break at the end of a season — I’ve crammed quite a bit into the last quarter, and could use a breather and some recovery time.

I did really well to get through this whole running season without any significant injuries or needing to take time off…so now it’s time to take that time off voluntarily and let whatever cumulative micro-abuses that are dwelling (I’m sure there are some) take care of themselves.

Aside from the unexpected heat at Crown King two years ago, I’ve not done much deliberate running in the heat. (Nice to know there’s some level of crazy I haven’t hit yet.) Since I run a lot with the dogs, I try to get them out as early as possible to avoid the heat, and generally my idea of heat training involves just existing in Phoenix in the summer.

So when temperatures decided to jump from “pleasant” to “oh, look, it’s summer” right before the race, I wasn’t overly enamored of the idea. I admit, the “No refunds” policy kept me from dropping, either down in distance or altogether, since otherwise it would have been very, very tempting.

However, I really wanted to do the Dam Good Run, because how often do you get to run right next to a lake in Arizona?

And so it was that I found myself once again back at the shores of Lake Pleasant, only this time starting 2 hours later, 20 degrees warmer…and only having to go half the distance.


start/finish area

I was running again with my friend Cristina — we did the Javelina Jangover 7k back in the fall together, as well as one of the Black Canyon training runs in the winter, so we knew we paced well together. And once it warmed up out there, it was a really good run to have company. Our strategy basically consisted of:

  • run for a bit
  • decide “that’s enough of that nonsense” once we hit a climb or enough cumulative heat built up
  • attempt to dissipate heat by bitching about it
  • decide walking didn’t generate enough airflow and the faster we moved, the faster we would be done
  • run again
  • lather, rinse, repeat

heading down to the New Waddell Dam. this race is unique in that this one day is the only time any kind of “civilian” traffic is allowed on the dam. 

The trails around Lake Pleasant are a lot of fun — mostly singletrack trail (with the exception of the 3 miles of pavement from the start, across the dam, and to the trail), lots of ups and downs, twists and turns, and not too much overly-technical or rocky stuff (for Arizona, at least…it always involves rocks around here, just varying degrees of them).


pretty sure I’m contemplating jumping into the lake at this point and swimming around to the finish

Pitchers of water and scoops of ice handed out at the aid station were lifesavers — at the turnaround point and final aid station, I had them dose my whole head with water, and I stuffed ice anywhere I could manage (hat, neck wrap, bra). I may have sounded like a dysfunctional ice machine rattling my way down the trail, but it kept me cool(ish).

The trickiest thing for me to manage was my stomach/eating. I knew the heat would make it harder to find foods that appealed. While I didn’t do as well in the eating department as I do when it’s cooler out, I did okay on a mix of Huma chia seed gels, Clif Bloks, and Skratch Labs exercise mix on-the-go, and watermelon and oranges at the aid stations. I stayed hydrated, didn’t crash, and didn’t have any kind of heat stroke…which is about as good as you can ask for in temperatures that hit 97* along parts of the course.

And the best part was the finish line at the edge of the lake. Through the finish, and straight down to the water, with just enough pause to drop the pack and shoes.


best natural ice-bath ever

Time was 4:03. As soon as I saw the weather forecast, any time goals went right out the window and the goal was simply to just finish and not keel over. Since I managed that, I’m happy with it.


Gear Roundup:

  • InkNBurn “Chameleon” racerback. This is the lightest-weight, coolest shirt I own. The material is really silky and light, and it has pinhole-sized holes in it, so it’s really breathable.
  • InkNBurn “Wings” shorts. Ended up needing to bust out the Bodyglide to keep the chafing in check, but I can’t say I expected anything less with the amount of water and sweat.
  • Balega merino socks, Dirty Girl gaiters, and Hoka Speed Instinct shoes (not pictured). All good except for that same perky blister on the side of my right big toe. But I also didn’t do any preventative taping on my toes at all. Speed Instincts were really comfortable and a good choice for the trail. They have a lower profile and are a little more streamlined than my Challengers, so I have really good ground feel in them for rougher/rockier terrain.
  • Nathan VaporHowe vest (pictured up at top race photo). Yep, still love it. With the amount of sweat and dirt on it, I will be forced to test its washability coming up here in very short order (like, before the next time I wear it).

I think that’s it for now…hoping to return this blog to its original intended purpose as a horse blog as I taper off from the running season. Running might be my sidebar distraction, and a way to get in some trail time, but the ponies are still my passion.

Crown King Scramble 50k 2017

If there had been a category in my high school yearbook for “Person Least Likely to Become a Runner,” I’m pretty sure I would have won it. It wasn’t even that I hated running…I just wasn’t very good at it. The most enjoyable times I could remember running were the handful of times we did a “cross-country” run on a dirt path around the school. That was so much more enjoyable than endless laps around the track, and I could pretend it was the kind of trail I might ride a horse on.

But despite the fact I wasn’t great at it, I didn’t actually hate it. I grumbled about it because that was just what you did in gym class when you weren’t that great at something. But running, or attempting to run, was always something that stuck with me, off and on.

And if you had told high school me that I would someday be able to call myself an ultramarathoner, I would have laughed. Hysterically.

Spoiler Alert!: After this weekend’s FINISH at Crown King Scramble 50k, that’s exactly what I am.

It’s been an almost three-year journey from my first “official” on-trail training run to actually finishing an ultra. It’s involved a lot of ups and down: race successes and failures, trial-and-error on gear, dialing in nutrition and hydration, learning to train smarter, avoiding injuries.

I DNF’d this race two years ago, and it was a pretty big mental setback for me. I’ve not chosen particularly “easy” sports to be involved in — endurance riding and ultrarunning — and I’ve not had the smoothest entrance into either of them (eventually enough setbacks and frustrations start eroding one’s confidence and determination). So to end my first ultra attempt with a DNF smacked of a repeat of my entrance into endurance riding, in which I rider optioned out of my first 50-miler attempt and it took me another 3 years to actually get to and finish a 50.

But I also hate unfinished business, so I knew I would be back to settle my score with this race. It took me until 2016 to really get my running mojo back to the point I wanted to even think about doing another race, and then when I saw the Facebook posts coming in after Crown King 2016, seeing some of my running friends completing the race, that was sufficient incentive/motivation to head straight for UltraSignUp.com and submit my entry for Crown King 2017.

But I also knew that what I did last time insofar as training really didn’t work.

For those that might not remember, this is the elevation profile of the Crown King Scramble:


That? Adds up to just over 7,000 feet of climbing over 31 miles. And 3,000 feet of downhill, so the downhill muscles don’t get off scot-free, either.

Let’s recap: I live at 1200′ elevation. My “trails” are flat canals and bridle paths, and I’m a 25-30 minute drive in any direction to actual trails. Nothing like a challenge, right?

Okay, so now with the back story thoroughly established, we get to the actual race. (Finally, the audience sighs with relief.)

I had mentioned in a previous post that I had managed to convince Kaity to come out and join me in this endeavor. It would be a first ultra finish for both of us — her first attempt, my second. Since the whole course is wide open jeep/4×4 road, it can help to have some company along the way to enliven things a little bit more.

Since the race start at Lake Pleasant is about an hour and fifteen minute drive from my house, and since we were doing the early start* at 5AM, we would have had to be up at around 2:00 in the morning in order to be there on time.

Um, no. I did that in 2015, and really didn’t care to repeat the experience of starting a race on what was likely a collective 3-4 hours of sleep. So we elected to get a campsite at Lake Pleasant for the Friday night before, as well as for Saturday night afterwards (after taking the shuttle back down from Crown King).

Kaity drove out and arrived Thursday evening, we packed up my truck Friday morning, and headed out to Lake Pleasant early afternoon. We had a slight snafu upon arrival with someone’s camper occupying our campsite…but no occupant around. We still set up our stuff (tent footprint was clear) and it got sorted out within a few hours after the occupant arrived and realized they had misread the site labels and were supposed to be in the next site over. All’s well that ends well, but we had a bit of potential drama and excitement for a while there, wondering exactly how it was all going to pan out.

It was nice to have the afternoon to prepare and go about things without feeling rushed. I had already packed my running pack, drop bag and finish line bag at home, but made sure everything was sorted and in its proper place, added some last-minute things, and set out my clothes for the next day.


Flat Me, ready to go: Nathan VaporHowe 12L vest, InkNBurn “Sakura” singlet, INB “Dragon’s Gate” capris, Brooks Juno sports bra, SmartWool arm sleeves, Balega Blister Resist Merino socks, Dirty Girl gaiters, Hoka Challenger ATR 2 shoes.

Being well-prepped ahead of time also meant time to sit around camp and relax for a bit, and take in the lake scenery , have a fly-over from an osprey (only the second one I’ve ever seen!), and get serenaded by one of the wild burros.

The weather was doing funny things…a rather chilly cloud cover blew in, and we even got a few little sprinkles here and there. I’ve still got some PTSD leftover from Black Canyon regarding running when it’s cold/wet/muddy, so I had been stalking the weather like a crazy person in the 10 days leading up to the race, alternating between sighs of relief and hand-wringing as the weather vacillated between hot, cold, and perfect. The forecast was calling for snow Friday evening up in Crown King (!), and for possible rain early Saturday morning, but down at Lake Pleasant level it was supposed to be mostly clear, with overnight lows in the high 40s, and clear along the way and up in Crown King by the time we were expected to be up there.


campfire contemplation

After getting cozy warm in front of the campfire, bed at a reasonable hour (by 9pm) actually happened. Thanks to a tab of melatonin and some earplugs, I actually slept pretty well, especially considering I usually don’t sleep well in a new location, and it was a fairly active campground with plenty of traffic, music, and other campers.

My alarm was set for 3:20, and about 2 minutes before it went off, I awoke to more burro braying…for a second, I thought I was in ridecamp and someone’s mule was making its presence known.

I had done the taping I was going to do (big toes, and preventative on the ankle area from Black Canyon) the previous night, so it was a pretty simple thing to pull clothes on and make a beeline for getting coffee prepped. 4:00 in the morning is really not my idea of a great time to have to eat breakfast, but I managed to eat half a banana, several bites of oatmeal, and the surprise hit of the morning was a cup of rice pudding.

We pulled out of camp at 4:25 and were over to the start area about 10 minutes later. I checked us in, we deposited drop bags and finish line bag, and had enough time for one last porta-potty visit before being herded over to the starting area on the boat ramp.


At the start line. Way too early and not nearly enough caffeine on board.

At 5:00 on the dot, we were off, heading back up the road we had just driven in on. It’s about a mile and half of pavement before you hit dirt road, but given the fact it is still pitch-black out, the smooth surface is a welcome way to start, even with headlamps.

By the time we hit the first big turn, 4 miles in, I was able to ditch the headlamp and run in the early-dawn light.



The desert looks absolutely amazing right now; with all of the winter rain, this has been probably one of the best flower years that I can remember in the past 15 years or so. The brittle bush was going absolutely gangbusters, making the entire desert look like a bucket of yellow paint had been tipped over it.

Aid station 1, Cow Creek, was at mile 8.5. Paused there to refill my soft bottle with Skratch Labs and top off the vest bladder, plus grab a few snacks: potatoes, pickles, dates, and a bean roll-up piece. (My strategy was “eat early and often” so that I wouldn’t get behind on nutrition as the race went on. It worked.)


They take taking care of runner very seriously around here.

There’s a beautiful section that goes through a canyon between aid stations 1 and 2 that is full of some amazing rock formations, pretty greenery, and random abandoned cabins.

During parts of this section, I wasn’t thrilled with the fact I was having trouble getting into a really good cruising rhythm. I felt like I was really struggling to find a good breathing pattern, and my hip flexors were already feeling stiff.

Time-wise, my goal was to make it to aid station 2 in 3:30 and not tap into that early start “extra hour” time if at all possible, so I would have that in reserve for the second half. We rolled into French Creek aid station in 3:35, so 5 minutes off my time goal, but 10 minutes earlier than the previous go at it, and only some general discomfort versus “demoralizing injury pain.”

This was the longest stop, as I decided to change shoes into my older Hoka Challenger ATR 2s. I started with my newer ones (same model, just not as many miles) with the idea of having the freshest plush cushion for the hardpack running section, but I don’t think they were quite as well broken-in at the toe area, because they felt a touch tighter, and I got a small side-of-the-right-big-toe blister. Swapped to the older ones for the second half and they felt better, and blister didn’t get worse.

I also refilled my bottle (another Skratch Labs down), my hydration bladder, and re-packed more food refills. Took a potty break (third one thus far), grabbed some munchies off the the food table plus a little cup of coke, and then we headed out of there.

Let the real climbing begin.


I’ll be blunt: I hate this section, from miles 17-19, topping out at Silver Mountain aid station. The heels are steep, and they just keep going. There are several false summits, and the last climb to the aid station never seems to end.

I also didn’t take pictures this year; my multi-tasking was focused on eating and drinking. See my 2015 race story for pics. The climbs haven’t changed.

Kaity got ahead of me for the first time here, as she has about 6″ more leg than I do, so covers more ground both up and down hills. But compared to 2015, I did so much better, and only had to take two 15-second pauses in climbing during this whole section. (Credit my gym regimen and the interval training with some fast heart rate recoveries. Two years ago, I could not get my HR and breathing under control…just kept getting higher and higher, no matter how many stops I made.) And I was able to run all the flats and downs.

So my steady-eddy pace still got me into the aid station maybe 45 seconds to a minute behind her.


Climb up to Silver Mtn aid. Photo by SweetM Images

Another repeat: top off bladder, refill Skratch Labs bottle, grab some aid station nibbles.

The next section from Silver Mtn to Ft Misery aid station is much more friendly than the previous one. A few small hills, and some decent runnable sections. The hardest part here was the detour off the main road around some active mining activity. The reroute bushwacked us through a creekbed…with a flowing (and cold!) creek.

As we started climbing and gaining in elevation, the weather had started changing, getting colder and with an increasing cloud cover. A couple of times I regretted leaving my arm sleeves back in my drop bag, especially as the wind kicked up and some of the clouds looked like they were contemplating dumping some moisture on us.

Back to the creek…given that the weather had turned a bit chilly, we were reluctant to go wading through the cold water, so did a lot of rock hopping and picking our way through and around.

(Apparently Black Canyon didn’t completely cure me of my aversion to getting my feet wet. However, next time…suck it up, Wingert, and go blasting through that creek. You’ll make much better time.)

The lure of Ft Misery is the fact it is the “Ft Misery open bar” with just about every variety of alcohol one can imagine.


there has to be at least one redeeming healthy benefit to a Bloody Mary, right?

Last time, the thought of anything other than maybe a little slice of watermelon made me want to puke, but this time, I was still feeling really good, so topped off my hydration bladder and bottle, grabbed some snacks, and one little Bloody Mary (with a pickle).

But I also knew the next section would be a hard one for me, mentally. Not only is there the whole “screw with your head” factor of being able to look up and *see* the Oro Belle aid station…at the edge of the mountain side on a long climb up…there’s a section of trail that you do some decent climbing, only to drop all the way back down and have to re-climb again. And this was the section that I stopped in two years ago.

Physically, I was feeling tired and sore. The longest run I have done this year was 20 miles, and we were now at about 24 miles. I was slowing down on the hills again, due to being up in elevation, and just not being a super-strong hill climber.

Kaity pulled in front of me again at this point, and from about mile 24 onward, I was on my own. Fortunately I had been running with music, so I cranked the volume up and put it on one of my “strategically chosen” playlists full of songs specifically selected to cheer me up, energize me, or make me want to kick some ass or rock out.

I did my climbing, I scampered down the inevitable downhill, then “one foot in front of the other” trudged my way back uphill. I kept popping electrolytes, slurping a chia seed gel, nibbling on some Clif blocks, and hydrating. Slow-n-steady, just getting it done.

And then I got to “quitter’s rock,” this innocuous-looking lump of granite sitting next to a creek, right at the base of the big climb up to Oro Belle. But it wasn’t calling my name this year. No, this year, I walked right by it, flipped it off, and out loud said, “Not this year, f*#@$er.” If anyone was around me, they probably thought I was crazy. But hey, it is an ultra.

Passing that rock felt like I just smashed through an enormous wall. I started up the climb to Oro Belle reinvigorated. I had seen Kaity further on ahead of me as I was approaching the climb; I figured she was maybe 3-4 minutes ahead and if I kept this up, I might be able to catch her again.

I just kept steadily moving upward; what appears to be an absolutely awful climb is more of an optical illusion, and the grade isn’t nearly as steep as earlier climbs.

At the aid station, I just topped off my soft bottle and nabbed a couple of dates and was out of there in under a minute. Home stretch of less than 5 miles to go, 2 of which were downhill…I really didn’t need to stop and regroup at this point.

Now, the climbing keeps going after Oro Belle…another 2+ miles of consistent, steady up. Up into the pine trees, up to the highest point on the course of about 6400′. I had been keeping a steady, consistent pace, but all of a sudden I wasn’t seeing Kaity anymore. Had she picked up the pace? Hit the top of the climb and blazed her way downhill?

It was sufficient motivation for me to keep going…maybe I would catch her on the downhill.

Hitting the top of the climb was the sweetest feeling. I got a wonderful adrenaline rush, and I could almost hear my quads saying “Yeah, let’s go, about time we got to do some work here.”

And the road is pretty smooth at this point, too. Earlier, a lot of the downhills were pretty rocky, so I would take my time navigating the more technical spots. But now? Smooth decomposed granite footing.


I seriously did not know I would have the legs and lungs to, at 30 miles into an ultra, actually hit a sub-10-min/mile pace several times. But I did.

I was running for that beer at the saloon, for competitiveness (still hadn’t seen Kaity ahead of me), and above all, I was running for my own personal vindication, validation, and victory.

I turned the last corner, crossed the bridge into town, and actually sprinted up the main road and under the finish line banner.

Finish time: 8:57:40.


My “really optimistic” timing pace had been 8 hours. My “just get through it” pace chart was for the 10-hour cutoff (with the early start). But my own personal goal had been “get through in under 9 hours and not have to tap into the early start buffer.”

Goal met.

I felt immensely satisfied. I had finished under my own physical and mental power, uninjured, and if they had cruelly moved the finish line out by another mile or two, I still had gas in the tank to keep going.

(Once I finished, I was looking all around the area for Kaity and not finding her until I made another pass back to the immediate finishing area and saw her where she had just snagged a table for us with a view of the finish line so she could watch for me to come in…as it turns out, she had to visit the bushes off to the side of the trail, so I passed her on the downhill in and ending up finishing 2 minutes ahead of her.)


Finishers. That hoodie is now one of my prize possessions.

Included with the race entry is a meal ticket for a delicious BBQ lunch, and we had a good hour and half to linger before we had to catch the shuttle back to Lake Pleasant.


The spoils of war success. BBQ lunch, finishers glass/stickers, victory beer.

The shuttle ride back was interesting…you really appreciate just how deep into the mountains Crown King really is when you’re rocketing along a dirt road in a 12-passenger van, wondering just how much experience said van driver really has in driving mountainous dirt roads. I think it also might have beat me up just as much as the run itself did. Glad it wasn’t the shocks and suspension on my vehicle.

Once back at Lake Pleasant, we took advantage of the campground shower facilities (very civilized campground) before making a run into nearby Carefree to grab dinner at Chili’s. I was fully expecting to be in a crazy, ravenous, “consume everything around me” mode, but after splitting an appetizer of hot wings, I only ended up eating about half my dinner and boxing up the leftovers for the next day. I guess that means I stayed well-fueled through the whole race, so my body wasn’t in this massive deprivation/starvation mode.

Since tent camping isn’t actually a quick-n-easy affair, and we didn’t know how late we would get back or how wiped out we would be, we were already planning to stay at the campground until Sunday morning, then pack up in daylight and head back home.

That worked out really well…we were able to leisurely pack up camp and get everything nicely organized, then head home late morning. The dogs were incredibly thrilled to see me…I’m pretty sure they are smart enough to pick up on patterns of where I’m going based on what I pack, and the last time I packed the camping gear, they got to go. So they were pretty bummed to be left behind. (Sofie was glued to my side for the next several days afterwards.)


Artemis already appropriated my beloved prize

As I wrap this up, it is 6 days post-race, and I cannot believe how good I feel. The sorest part of me was my hip flexors, and they didn’t even hurt so much as just felt stiff. The worst carnage was a blister, smaller than the size of my pinkie nail, on the side of my right big toe.

I’ve even felt good enough to engage in “active recovery” this week — my gym workouts Tues/Thurs morning, a group run at Papago Wednesday evening, and taking the dogs out every morning. Granted, I can feel that I’m not recovered yet, so all of those activities were done at about 50% of normal output effort, but it’s gratifying to feel this strong, and not have my body screaming “I hate you” at me, or second-guessing if what I did was “too much.”

Actually, it felt just right, and I’m not a “one and done” with ultras. I will be curious to see if it correlates at all to horse conditioning and bringing a horse up through distances, where once you hit that necessary fitness/conditioning level for a certain distance, if you just have to maintain it to be able to still compete at that distance, but staying at that level is way easier than initially getting to it.

I don’t know how much I’ll do this summer, since the races around here are all night races, and the longer distances all end up being repeat loops…that just doesn’t really float my boat in terms of what sounds like fun. So I might do some shorter-distance stuff through the summer, and then I’m eyeing a couple of point-to-point or single-loop 50k options for this fall/winter.

A more in-depth breakdown of what worked/what didn’t/what I would change/other misc thoughts post is still to come, so if you have any questions or if there’s something you want to see me address, ask away and I’ll cover it in that post!