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!

Monday, November 4, 2013

2013 Moab Trail Marathon: Been There, Done That, Forgot How Hard it Was

 I ran the Moab Trail Marathon in 2012 and I really enjoyed the race, largely due to the beautiful scenery. Moab is definitely one of my favorite spots to run so I was excited to be getting back on the trail.

While I would be running the full marathon, Jo would be joining me for her own journey in the half marathon.

In great physical condition, this race would be tough. While recovering from back to back 100 milers, this race would be pure torture. Both mentally and physically.

 Moab Swag!

I had no illusions of grandeur regarding this race. I was tired, my legs weren't interested in running and my entire body needed a break from hard racing. My big plan was to get on the trail and jog my way through 26 miles of brutal, yet beautiful, scenery.

Some familiar faces were at the start line, and I was sure they were there for an entirely different race than I was planning. I saw Sage Canaday, Mike Foote and Anita Ortiz as we all filed into the coral for wave #1. Knowing my plans, I was wishing I had dropped to a later starting position. I certainly didn't need to be placed up front with the eventual race winners.

Our wave started promptly at 9:00 AM and the other waves would be sent to chase us in 7 minute increments.

I eased off the line and settled into a very pedestrian pace. It was a cool morning, so I was looking forward to the warming effects of the run. I knew we would be running in some heat later in the day, so I was dressed appropriately for that eventuality and didn't bother to wear layers.

The race starts in a sandy wash that meanders into a long winding canyon, eventually leading us to a series of inclines and descents on terraced slick rock. These are primarily technical Jeep trails and the footing is terrible. If your eyes break contact with the trail, you're definitely going to suffer.

Early Uphill

Some Runners are More Enthusiastic than Others

Early Downhill

After I warmed up, my legs felt loose and I was running well. I gave serious thought to picking up the pace and passing some runners to better my position. This urge was strong because I knew I was much further back in the pack than I normally am and this reality was eating away at me.

Ultimately, I had to engage in an impromptu battle with my ego and beat it into submission, reminding myself that not every race is REALLY a race. Sometimes, it's something much different. This was one of those times.

Don't Trip HERE!

Before getting to the aid station around mile 9, we're led down a "trail" that redefines the term "technical". This was a long descent that led us over boulders along steep drops with terrible footing. I was lowering myself from one narrow bench, down to another. This section required a lot of attention to detail and even more patience as runners began to bottleneck on the way down.

It was in this section that I caught up with Michelle Barton. Michelle was at the Javelina Jundred the previous weekend. While I ran the 100 miler, Michelle ran the 100k and was the overall winner. It's rare to see a woman beat the entire field and I was very impressed by her performance. This was the last place I expected to bump into her.

Michelle and I ran together for a while and chatted. I was happy to see another competitive runner this far back in the field. I decided we both had valid excuses for being slow today and I finally fully released myself from the burden of my perceived need to be racing.

Yeah...That Really IS the Trail

Shortly after the 9 mile mark, the half marathon runners split from us and head back toward the finish. I watched them leave and I have to admit that I was a little jealous. I have vivid memories of a long, relentless climb that was coming up quickly and I wasn't finding any humor in it.

My spirits were lifted when I was offered a cold beer at the mile 9 aid station. This race is now officially on my list of favorites!

Marathon Running, Beer Drinking Selfie!

Shortly after parting ways with the half marathoners, we take a detour onto a side trail for a short out and back through a narrow canyon. The vegetation was thick because of the active creek that we were running through, crossing, and running through some more. It was like bushwhacking with very wet feet. With traffic going both ways, this was a pretty slow section of the course for most of us.

Low Clearance!

After the bushwhacking out and back, we're treated to a nice stretch of gravel road before diving off the shoulder onto a narrow trail through more thick undergrowth.

I know where we're headed and I try to prepare myself for the longest and most relentless climb of the race. I hated it last year and unless there's been a serious bit of erosion since then, I fully expect to hate it again this year.

Starting the Ascent

By now, the heat of the day is playing a role in the race. It's not "hot" but for some reason, even 65 degrees in Moab always feels like 80.

A Bit Rocky on the Way Up

View of the La Sal Mountains During the Climb

For the time being, this race lost all its previous allure. My handheld was full of Heed when I started the ascent and it was empty before I got to the top.

I was a 1 bottle runner in a 2 bottle race.

Almost There! Just Turn Here and Climb More!

After finishing the climb, I walked for a couple of minutes and let my legs begin to feel normal before resuming my run. I had somehow convinced myself that there were no more climbs in the race and was temporarily filled with a bit of euphoria.

Top of the Mesa

And this is where the race totally fell apart for me.

Evidently, I didn't see a need to review the course information before coming to this race. Probably because I've run it before and didn't expect they would change the course. Naturally, they DID change the course and I was oblivious to it.

I was anticipating a brief run along the top of the mesa before bailing off and heading toward the river. Instead, I was greeted with an extra 3 miles of winding trail that forced me to meander all over this open section of slick rock and sand. When my frustration began to peak, I stopped and looked around. There were runners everywhere, going in every direction. We were literally running in tight serpentine trails that twisted and turned but never really seemed to go anywhere.

I expected to be AT the Colorado River by mile 20. When I was still on the mesa and saw the mile 20 trail marker, I lost my will to push.

And then...they started passing me. A few at first, then in large groups. And I really didn't care.

Yeah...Just Run Through That Crack!

Finally! The Trail Down!

I've made this descent a few times and it can be covered pretty quickly if you have some legs left and the desire to work. I had the legs but I was lacking the desire.

I made a moderately quick descent. No real sense of urgency.

This trail leads us right to the finish line but we're only at mile 23 (previously mile 20). We pass the turn to the finish and make a 3 mile loop before we're done.

Passing the Finish Line 

In the past, this loop had been littered with rope assisted ascents, ladders, and all sorts of unusual obstacles for a trail marathon. I was glad to see that hadn't changed much.

Through the Culvert!

I picked up my pace during these final miles. I wasn't doing it because I suddenly felt competitive. I was doing it because I had seen the finish line and I knew there would be beer there. I was ready to be done!

In the final half mile, I saw Michelle in front of me again and I pushed to catch up to her. I caught her at the base of the climb to the finish and we flew up the ascent together.

This was probably the fastest I had moved all day.

Me and Michelle Coming to the Finish

Ugh...That was Steep!


I was greeted at the finish by Jo and our friends from Ogden that had joined us in Moab for the weekend. Jo had a cold beer ready for me and it tasted perfect!

Me and Michelle Barton Post Race

As much as I whine and complain in this race report, the Moab Trail Marathon truly is one of my favorite races at this distance. It has an incredible course with world class scenery and great support. This race is no joke and is definitely the hardest 26.2 miles I've ever run.

Jo and I are taking a couple of weeks off before heading back to Arizona for the Pass Mountain 50k. This is another fine race that is a part of the Aravaipa portfolio of running events. That's all I need to know to be assured a great time.

Thanks for reading my report! I hope to see many of you on the trails soon.