"The desert, when the sun comes up...I couldn't tell where heaven stopped and Earth began."- Tom Hanks.
I've always enjoyed running in the desert and I have found that it has a calming, relaxing effect on me, even when I'm faced with the daunting task of running great distances.
I enjoy bearing witness to the living things that forge an existence in such a harsh environment. To survive in that landscape requires strength, intelligence and tenacity. The same qualities that can be found in any ultra runner. It's a natural connection.
Jo and I returned to the Sonoran Desert so I could run the inaugural Coldwater Rumble 100 mile trail race. Coldwater Rumble had existed previously, but the 100 mile distance was new and the course had been totally changed from previous years. After running the 50 mile race last year, I was intrigued by the idea of a 100 mile event on that trail network. I was the first person to jump on the chance to register.
Coldwater was being paired with the Javelina Jundred, and together, they became the Sonoran 200. A chance to run both desert 100's and compete for the best accumulative finish times. A very cool concept and something that I couldn't pass up.
CW100 Buckle and Sonoran 200 2nd Place Trophy
Like a lot of the Aravaipa races, Coldwater is run on a loop course and several race distances are available. The 100 miler consists of five 20 mile loops. The terrain and trail conditions have tremendous variability. There are several brand new trails that are smooth and flawless, but also sections of very loose sand, rocky scrabble, slick rock conditions and rutted, beat down, nastiness. There's something to appeal to every runner, even those with the most discerning tastes.
The elevation gain is mild but there are a lot of sharp, steep inclines that will take their toll, especially if you plan to run hard.
This Looks MUCH Worse Than it Really is
Time to Go!
The race started at 7:00, just as the sun was beginning to poke over the horizon. It was about 52 degrees with a promise of reaching 76 by midday. For a lot of Northern runners, this was going to prove to be a problem.
After a short stretch of asphalt, we turned onto some single track and began a steady climb. I was running somewhere in the top 10 and the competitive juices were flowing up front. No talking, no dirty jokes or laughing...nothing but business as we made the climb.
After finishing the ascent, we made a gradual descent into the valley. The pack was shuffling as we all fell into our groove. I passed a few runners, slowly catching them, settling in behind them for a while, then making my pass. Still, no talking.
These guys were taking this shit seriously. Or maybe they're not morning people.
I fell in behind Christian Rios, an Aravaipa Running Teammate. Christian is notoriously fast so I thought it would be useful to shadow him for the first loop. We came into the first aid station at mile 4.5 and Christian stopped for aid. I hadn't planned to stop that early but I was shadowing the dude, so I stopped too. I grabbed a piece of banana and waited for Christian to roll out. When he reluctantly left the aid station, I urged him to get back in front and he obliged.
We were making an ascent as we left the aid station and Christian just stopped and began to walk. I wasn't sure if he needed to hike or if he was pissed off that I was following him. Either way, it wasn't good, so I made my pass and found myself all alone for the first time during the race.
I had run this section of the trail in training during the winter and was familiar with it. It's fast, scenic and a lot of fun.
Until I hit the sandy wash...
Initially, I thought it was a short crossing and I would be out of the sand quickly. Then it drug on...and on...and on! I've decided that running in loose sand requires a certain technique. A technique that I DO NOT possess. I find it maddening and mentally exhausting. I plowed on as best I could.
The second aid station came at mile 11 and I was in and out without stopping.
This section of trail drops in and out of several washes, has long winding single track and a couple of steep climbs. This is my favorite section of the course and I was having a blast!
I passed through the final aid station at mile 16.7, grabbed a Coke and powered on.
First Loop Done!
I finished the first loop in 3:10 and I felt great. My race plan called for 3:15, which I felt was conservative. I was right on schedule.
When I got into the start/finish area, I dropped my hydration pack and Jo handed me another, fully loaded and ready to go. I strapped it on, got a kiss and headed back out for loop #2.
Yeah...we all go THAT WAY!
It was getting really warm on the second loop and my pace slowed significantly. I wasn't being passed, so I assumed it was the same for the rest of the runners. I was sweating heavily, so I paid close attention to hydration. As usual, I was using the Hammer Endurolyte Fizz tabs in my hydration pack, as well as drinking water and Coke at the aid stations. I was covered in salt, but seemed to be staying ahead of dehydration.
Finishing 40 Miles in 6:51:15
I was a bit off my mark for the second loop, but I wasn't worried. I hadn't expected the heat, so it was better to play it safe early on.
Taking a Minute to Hydrate at 40 Miles
Heading Out for Loop #3!
I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat and the rolling terrain on the third loop. I was running fast enough that I would still be under a beating a sun for several more hours, so I continued with a cautious but determined pace.
Most of the other race distances had finished and the trails were less crowded. While I enjoyed the freedom of empty trails, I also missed the camaraderie of the other runners.
I was walking more of the hills on this loop, taking more time to hydrate and fuel at the aid stations and also trying to soak in some of the warmth and beauty of the desert. The field was totally spread out now and I had a true sense of solitude. I was happy.
The sandy wash section was beginning to grate on my nerves at this point. I ran what I could but eventually relented to the madness of it all and walked some of this section. After hours of being beaten up by runners, the wash was in pretty miserable shape.
I finished the third loop much slower than my race plan had suggested. I was beginning to feel a bit deflated, but I was still in good spirits and having fun.
Heading out for my fourth loop meant that I needed to prepare for night running. I switched to my larger hydration pack and Jo had it loaded with all my essentials. I had a few extra clothing items, extra fuel and my headlamp.
As the sun began to set, the temperature dropped quickly and I had several miles of very comfortable running ahead.
At this point, I was walking all the hills. I also noticed an uptick in the number of rocks I was kicking and my lack of patience for the loose sand. I was beginning to lose my sense of humor about some things.
Yet...I continued to plod on....
The sun set and I donned my headlamp. I love running at night and I felt refreshed. The cool air helped reinvigorate me and I was looking forward to a strong finish.
At mile 77, I began to get really cold. I was wearing my OR waterproof jacket and it wasn't fighting off the cold as well as I had hoped. No matter how hard I ran, I was uncomfortably cold. I decided it wasn't the air temperature, but something wrong with my body. I routinely run in much colder weather without a problem. I pretended to not be concerned, but it weighed on my mind as I wrapped up my fourth loop.
When I came in to the start/finish area for the final time, I took some extra time and bundled up for cold weather running. I swapped my shorts for tights, added heavier gloves and swapped my OR rain shell for my heavier Patagonia soft shell with a hood.
All of this time came at a price and I was passed by another runner while I made my adjustments. I was regretful at first, but soon realized it didn't matter. I wasn't leading the race, so I had little to lose. Comfort is KING when it comes to running 100 miles.
My fifth and final loop took forever. Partly because I was slowing down to talk to the runners that I was lapping, and partly because my ass was thoroughly kicked by this point. I was probably just using the other runners as an excuse to slow down and walk. That fact just occurred to me as I was typing this...
I thanked all the volunteers at the aid stations as I passed through and said my goodbyes. I spent an unusual amount of time staring at the sky and finding wonderment in the stars.
I was tired and ready to end this.
I made the final descent toward the finish and was happy to be running well. I was grateful for the gift and I spent the remaining minutes of my run being grateful. It wasn't a great race but I had fun, felt good and was about to finish another amazing 100 mile adventure. I had no complaints.
My conservative race plan called for a 20:30:00 finish, but I had secretly been hoping for another sub 20 hour finish. That wasn't in the cards for this race, but I was still very satisfied.
Staying Warm and Telling My Tale to Nick Coury
Being Greeted by the #1 Crew Chief in the Business!
Bonus Swag for Finishing the Sonoran 200! A Tasty IPA!
2nd Overall for the Sonoran 200
After an appropriate amount of socializing, Jo and I headed back to the hotel for a shower and few hours of restless sleep before returning to the finish line.
I never miss an opportunity to watch the late finishers of any 100 mile race. It's the perfect display of guts and tenacity. I find far more inspiration in those athletes than I do in any finish by an elite runner. These people are digging deep to tough it out far longer than I ever could. It's an amazing spectacle of courage and strength.
I also got an opportunity to cheer on friends and provide support and encouragement to all kinds of runners. Despite being beaten, battered and exhausted, I found it to be an invigorating experience.
My Friend Matt Hagen, Always Happy and Encouraging
Matt's Lovely Bride, Betsy Rogers, Getting it DONE!
I've had an amazing winter running in Arizona while enjoying that time with my beautiful wife and amazing friends. It has been a blessing to have the time to devote to the things that bring me physical and mental health and having a chance to share that time with the people I love.
Coldwater Rumble was a great way to bring all those things together. I was able to run an amazing race, surrounded by great friends and we all shared the adventure together. It was a perfect weekend of running and camaraderie.
Coldwater Rumble is destined to become a popular race. Partially because of the course and the time of year, but mostly because it's an Aravaipa Running event. These guys do races better than anybody and they deserve all the success that is destined to come their way. The course was perfectly marked, the aid stations are quite literally the best in the world and the volunteers are amazing.
I'm thrilled to have been one of the first people to ever finish this race and I highly recommend it to anybody that wants to try a runnable, but challenging 100 miler. The beauty of the desert in the winter is a great way to reinvigorate yourself for the upcoming race season.
I want to thank the entire Coury family for the incredible experience and I want to thank my amazing wife for getting me through another 100 mile adventure.
After a short break, we'll be headed to Moab for the Red Hot 55k! I hope to see many of you on the slick rock!