Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!


Monday, November 18, 2013

2013 Pass Mountain 50k: Another Great Aravaipa Adventure

I travel to Southern Arizona several times each year so I can run some of the amazing trail races that are put on by Aravaipa Running. They've developed a terrific race series and I always enjoy my experience when I run their events.

When a spot opened up on my race calendar, I immediately went to their website and found the Pass Mountain 50k. After a few keystrokes, I was in!

 The Pass Mountain Trail Runs feature a 12k, 26k and 50k events. All three races are run on the trail system at Usery Mountain Regional Park, in Mesa, Arizona. I was looking for a long run that I could use as a training run for an upcoming 100 miler, so I elected to sign up for the 50k.

I had every reason to believe I was going to have a great race. I was feeling good, my training runs had been fast and I was well rested and fully recovered from my last race. I was flying high and filled with optimism.

And then I suddenly wasn't.

During a training run in the Wasatch, one week before Pass Mountain, I took an epic tumble while making a fast descent in the last mile of my run. As my body made its bone jarring impact, I immediately knew I had done some serious damage. As I continued to skid and bounce off rocks, I began to quietly reflect on how this little incident was going to impact my upcoming race. Somewhere between the third and fourth bounce, I began to revise my expectations for success at the Pass Mountain 50k.

I suffered two broken ribs, several cuts, bruises and a fair amount of trail rash. I shuffled off the mountain and began my internal debate about how to handle the upcoming race. In the end, I decided to suck it up and go ahead and run the race with the understanding that I may have to drop out if the pain or damage got too bad.

 A Familiar and Comforting Site

My race stated at 7:00 AM. Jo was running the 26k, which would be starting an hour later. The weather was cool and overcast, which was a welcome site. The Sonoran Desert can be overwhelmingly hot, even in November.

Jo Hanging With Our Buddy, Chris Martinez

Yeah...Go That Way!

While I was waiting for the race to begin, I began to chat with Paulette Stevenson. She's a talented young runner that I keep bumping into at races. We continued to chat as the race started, but to do so, I had to run at her pace, which was much faster than what I had planned for the day. I let Paulette know that I enjoy her company but that pace wasn't going to be sustainable in my current condition. After a few fast miles, I backed off the pace, falling from 3rd place to 8th place, settling into an easy pace.

I found that maintaining shallow breaths made running tolerable. Running with fully expanded lungs made it extremely painful. I focused on shallow breaths and continued at whatever pace that allowed.

Running up Front with Paulette

Pretty soon, I was running alone. The fastest runners were up front, I was alone in the middle and a big group was somewhere far behind me. The trail was flat in the first several miles and I was enjoying a quiet run at sunrise.

Beautiful Arizona Morning

Miles and Miles of This!

For those that are unfamiliar, the cactus below is known as a Cholla cactus. It's also known as the Jumping Cholla because they seem to jump, or reach out to grab you.

Like This!

This particular park is well known for it's massive Cholla's and I had never seen so many anywhere else in the desert.

While making a pass on a runner, I scooted to my left and ended up with Cholla needles embedded deep into my flesh. At first glance, it seems easy enough to remove but that wasn't the case at all. It took me 15 minutes to pry this off me, using a stick I found on the desert floor. And it was very painful. And bloody. And hard to watch.

After several miles of flat, mellow running, we began the loop around Pass Mountain. This section of the course is a gradual uphill that continues for about 4 miles. Near the end, there's a sharp uphill climb before dropping over the pass.

I had to hike the last part of the climb due to technical footing...and it was pretty damn steep. Once over the top, the views were awesome and I began a gradual downhill run.

View on the Way Down

After a few miles, we ran back toward the finish line but we were still a long way from finished. The course takes us on a second tour of the big loop we had just finished. After a slow recon loop, I was ready to try to pick up the pace and shoot for a negative split.

Where The Hell Did THIS Come From!

The second loop went by quickly and I enjoyed revisiting the familiar terrain. I always run better when I have course knowledge and I think that's why I do well on loop courses.

The pain in my ribs was subsiding, so I pushed as hard as my pain threshold would allow. I was definitely running the second loop much faster and I began to pass a few depleted runners.

Then THIS Happened! What the Hell!?

As you can see from the photo above, the Cholla line this section of trail. I hugged the left side a little too much, I felt something brush against me and I didn't even have to look to know what had happened. This one was buried deeper than the first and did not want to come out. I thought about running to the finish with it attached to me but the needles were tearing at my flesh when I moved my arm. After a fair amount of pain, blood and cursing, I got it out and headed down the trail.

I was actually getting pretty good at this by now and I was able to deal with this one much faster. Just trying to look at the upside...

I was happy to get back onto the Pass Mountain trail so I could get started on the last big climb. I ran this section just like I did on the first lap and only walked the last steep climb at the pass.

Knowing I was getting close to the finish, I bombed down the back side of Pass Mountain and made the descent faster and smarter than the previous lap.

There are several washes that we cross near the end of the Pass Mountain loop. I found myself having to hike the steep climbs out of the washes but was able to continue running once I got to the top. This section has a lot of loose rock and sand, and I was cautious in this area because I was terrified of falling and hurting myself more than I already was.

 Curious Little Guy

 Two miles from the finish, I was catching glimpses of runners up ahead. I had no idea what position I was in, but I was focused on improving it if I could. I set out to hunt them down.

With one mile left, I passed my buddy, Michael Miller. We chatted for a brief moment before I sped up to renew my pursuit.

There were two men running and walking together up ahead of me. I caught them and they didn't offer any resistance.

Just ahead of them, there was a man and a woman walking and running together. I sped up slightly and caught them while they were walking. Once I made the pass, the male half of this duo started to run after me. I didn't look back but could hear his footsteps speeding up and getting closer. I saw the final turn and pushed as hard as I could. The footsteps began to fade so I backed off enough to ease the pain in my ribs.

Coasting to the Finish

 I passed five runners in the final mile. The score monitor showed a 5th place finish but was later revised to 6th (unsure why). My finish time was 5:14:10. Before my injury, I was planning for a sub 4:30 time and felt like I was capable of that on this course. My broken ribs cost me a lot of time but I managed to finish with a better time than I had prepared myself to accept.

Jo had a great race also and we both enjoyed another awesome event from Aravaipa Running. I can't say enough great things about these guys and their race management. I frequently point to them as the model to emulate in the race business. Nobody does it as well as these guys.

Immediately after the race, Jo and I realized we didn't pack a cooler of beer. A major oversight on our part. We lingered long enough to pass along our congratulations, share a few stories and shake a few hands. Then we loaded up for a couple of cold beers and a well deserved shower.

With Pass Mountain complete, I'm going to enjoy three weeks of leisurely running while I heal up and prepare for the Cajun Coyote 100 down in Louisiana. I have big plans for that race and need to be well rested and recovered.

Thanks for reading along. I hope to see many of you out on the trails sometime soon!


  1. Next time I will have a Leinenkugels waiting for you Kelly. Ballsy to run with even a bruised rib! Nice meeting you and and heal up.

    1. Ryan, I only drink Leinenkugels if they're accompanied by cheese curds. Just a heads up.