As Hypo and I entered the airport last Friday night, the temperature in Duluth was -6 degrees F, making it a perfect time to fly to Arizona. So we boarded a plane at 7:30pm Duluth time and set off for Mesa where we would land at 10:30 Arizona time and be met by Clint to drive us to Fountain Hills. We would then try to quickly get some sleep before waking up at 4am driving for an hour to get to Goodyear, Arizona and the Estrella Regional Park for the Coldwater Rumble 50k.
Around 60 runners lined up at the starting line for the 50k. We started the race in partial darkness and cool temperatures in the 40s. I had high hopes of finishing well in this race, so when the gun went off, I started out quickly and joined the lead pack of about 6 runners, one of whom was Hypo.
With myself, Hypo, Deb and Marcus in the 50k and Clint in the 19k, we were going to make sure that Duluth was representing well down there. I had gone in to the race with a lot of confidence and a willingness to push myself to compete, something I haven't had for races in the past few years. Lately, as I've gotten older, I've been mostly competing with myself, with the course. But I'd like to make 2012 a year of trying to push myself beyond that and get as fast as I can, so I went into this race with that attitude.
I wasn't sure what running in Arizona would be like. I had seen pictures of the course online and I didn't think it looked too difficult. The hills weren't anything worse than what I run in all the time here in Duluth and the trail didn't appear to be too technical. Pictures can be deceiving, I soon found out. But before the trail had a chance to make an impact on me, the sunrise did. Never have I started a race in a more beautiful setting. The sun was rising over the mountains, there were a few clouds in the sky and there were colors everywhere. Cactus were silhouetted black against the painted sky. It was incredible.
We started out fast and held the pace for quite some time. Normally, I don't like to start out fast, but this time I did for a few reasons. One, as I mentioned, I wanted to push myself more than usual. Two, I wanted to run with Dave a bit and show well for Duluth Running Co. Three, it was a blast! We were racing along the single track trails, at mid 6 to low 7 minute pace and it was so much fun. I told myself at about 4 miles that I should really back off because I'd probably pay for this later but I decided not to because it was just so much fun to run like that.
So we kept rolling along and the pace settled down some as the terrain dictated us to. We ran through very technical and rocky single track, requiring constant attention on your feet. Though the scenery was stunning, you could only enjoy it for quick glances or you'd run the risk of tripping on any of the many sharp and loose rocks that littered the trails. For those who know the Rolling Stone NMTC race, it was a lot like the start of Rolling Stone but with sharper rocks and for about 30k of the race.
If the course wasn't extremely rocky, then we were usually running in old river beds which were sandy washes. They were like running on a beach and each foot fall would sink about 2-3 inches into the sand. While some of the washes were short, maybe 10-20 meters, others were quite long, 1/4 mile to over a mile at times.
We did have a few miles in the longer 31k loop that was straight and a slight downhill. This was an old jeep road and it was a welcome respite from the single track but like the dried river beds, this road was very sandy as well. By then we had hit mile 10 and I was running with a really cool guy from Flagstaff. We were chatting about stuff and cruising along nicely, sitting in 4th and 5th place, respectively. We were reeling in the 2nd and 3rd place guys, one of whom was Hypo and got in to the aid station just as Dave was leaving it. My confidence at that point was really high, as I was feeling great and was putting together a good race. That would soon change.
We hit the 13 mile mark in 1:41, I had fallen just a bit behind and dropped into 6th place by mile 15 but I was still running well and not far behind the others so I wasn't really worried, there was still plenty of running left. However, for me, there wasn't plenty of good running left.
At about mile 16 I started to really hit the wall. I was slowing considerably and was not having a good time. The fast pace, though fun, had burned me and I was having to regather myself. I hoped I would be able to relax for 2-3 miles and then get back into running quickly again and try to chase down a few people.
As I mentioned, the course was very rocky. By that I mean that there were loose rocks and protruding sharp rocks but even the trail itself was pretty much rock. These were not the soft, dirt packed trails we're used to in Northern Minnesota. No, these trails were pretty much like running on the road, and my legs were soon feeling like they were in a road race.
So I trudged on to the Start/Finish area where the 31k loop ended and the 19k loop began. As I neared the Start/Finish I contemplated dropping out. My legs were shot and my spirit was diminished. Never have I been that close to dropping out of a race but to be frank, by that time in the race I wasn't really having a lot of fun anymore. But no, by the time I got there, I knew that there was no way I was going to drop. Dropping out because I'm not having fun is lame and not something I ever want to do. So I went out for the 19k loop and struggled mightily, trying to slog on and run with a bit of pride.
And slog on I did. It's probably the best way to describe my form for the next 8 or so miles. I was shuffling along, my legs and my feet feeling a lot like they did at Sawtooth, simply beaten up. But as often happens in ultras, I came back to life. I don't know what happened or where it came from but at about 4:15 I started feeling pretty good again, and for the first time in over an hour, I was really running hard!
I was starting to feel good again and even caught a few people who had passed me during my bad stretch. I had no idea what place I was in and I didn't really care by that point but I was just really happy to be running and having fun again.
So I came into the finish area with a time of 5:08:42, good enough for 13th place overall. It was a disappointing finish given my expectations going in but it was still a great opportunity to be able to be in Arizona for the weekend and to run on those amazing trails. The day was made even better as Dave, aka Nacho, went on to win the race rather handily, despite falling down the side of a mountain and cutting up his knee pretty badly.
Hopefully we'll get a chance to get back there next year and Hypo can defend his title and I can do even better. And even if this race didn't quite go the way I had hoped, I still had a blast.