"I should have worn a diaper on that last loop, because crapping my pants was a real possibility."- Kelly Agnew at the end of the Vertigo Night Run
That quote pretty much sums up my experience from the 2014 Vertigo Night Run. What started out as a casual 40 mile training run, turned into so much more. But without the possibility of adventure, this sport wouldn't be the same.
The Vertigo Night Run is an Aravaipa Running event and is held in the Arizona desert, outside of Phoenix. This race is part of the Insomniac Night Series, which makes sense, because who really wants to run the Arizona desert during the day, in July? Doesn't seem like a good idea to me.
The course is a 6.5 mile loop that twists and rolls through the rocky desert. They offer a 10k, 31k and 63k option. For me, it would be the 63k, which meant I would be running this loop six times.
The race starts at 7:00 PM and the desert gets dark at 8:00. I was pretty confident that I could leave the headlamp at the start/finish area for the first loop, because there was no way it would take me an hour to cover 6.5 miles. I only bother to mention this now, because I was absolutely wrong.
(Note Jamil Coury filming us. At one point, Jamil runs into me on accident, yells "CONTACT", laughs and runs away. I nearly pissed myself from laughing so hard.)
Oh yeah...it was 106 degrees at the race start.
When the race started, I went out at a slow pace because I was worried about overheating while the sun was still up. I felt pretty good for about the first 800 yards, but we were grinding up a gradual incline and it was hotter than Satan's sack out there. There was a gentle breeze blowing but I think a 106 degree wind probably hurts more than it helps.
I dropped to slower gear to fight off the heat. Then I slowed even more. By the 3rd mile, I was alternating walking and running just so I could try to get my body temp down.
I was embarrassed to be walking so early but I didn't see a choice. I was never going to make it if I tried to race this first loop. I know attrition is high in all these races, so I focused on keeping myself held together and promised myself that there would be some speedy miles after the temps dropped.
I chatted with a few runners, enjoyed the sunset in the desert and focused on staying hydrated.
I was carrying a single handheld bottle, filled with Hammer Endurolyte Fizz tabs. There's an aid station 4 miles in for refills, and then it's a short, 2.5 miles back to the start/finish. By the time I made it to the aid station, my bottle was bone dry. I loaded it with ice water and headed out.
I swear to Sweet Baby Jesus that water never tasted so good!
I decided I would run the rest of the loop, not because it was cooling off, but because it was getting dark and my headlamp was 2 miles down the trail still. I drank up and started my mad dash to the finish area.
It was pretty much pitch black when I finished my first lap. It was dark, I was slow and I felt a lot worse than I should have at that point. I loaded up on water and Fizz tabs, grabbed my headlamp, stripped off my shirt and headed right back out.
Lap 1 Complete
The second lap was a lot like the first, except there was a bit more running involved. The 10k and 31k had started while I was on my first lap, so the trails were considerably more crowded.
Once again, I drained my handheld well before the 4 mile aid station. When I arrived, I drank 3 large cups of ice water before filling my bottle. I estimated I was drinking about 10 ounces of fluid per mile, which has to be some kind of record for me. Even at that, my voice was beginning to crack from dehydration.
My second lap was faster than my first.
Finishing Lap 2
Heading out for the third lap, I was distracted by the storm in the distance. There was a steady stream of lightning pounding the hills across the valley. It was fun to watch the explosions in the desert sky. With the absence of the moon, it provided a brilliant backdrop for the race.
I silently hoped the storm would stay on that side of the valley because it looked unbelievably violent.
I was passing several runners on my third lap and enjoyed the brief conversations. The temperature had finally dipped below 100 degrees, but it was still oppressive. I wasn't feeling great, but I was getting a long far better than a lot of other runners. Attrition was high.
Finishing Lap 3
At the onset of lap 4, the storm across the valley had migrated closer to the race course. I could hear the deep roll of thunder that had been silent until now. The storm was wide and the lightning seemed to stretch across the entire horizon. It was clearly heading our way, but I was hoping to be finished before it reached us.
My legs were getting heavy from the rolling trail. The entire course is runnable, but not flat, so the exertion doesn't register like it does in mountain racing. I was moving pretty well, but not as fast I had hoped.
Near the end of the 4th lap, the storm was nearly on top of us. The lightning had surrounded the entire race course and was relentlessly pounding the hills and desert floor.
What had once been peaceful and entertaining at a distance, had become stressful and worrisome up close.
Finishing the 4th Lap
I knew I was in the top 10, but when I came in after 4 laps, I learned I was in 3rd place. I had just been in 4th, but another front runner had just dropped. I hadn't been preoccupied with my standing in the race, but it was pleasant news, nonetheless.
I didn't waste any time before heading back out. Jo filled my bottle, I grabbed a Hammer gel and started to head to the trail while talking to Jo. She followed me down the trail while I was giving her my update and expressing my concern about the storm. Just as I was getting ready to run off, a huge gust of wind came through and started toppling the tents at the finish line. I yelled for Jo to get back there where she would be safe and I headed back out on the course.
Things were starting to get biblical!
The storm had rolled in fast and was happily hovering over the race course. The lightning strikes were relentless and the thunder was deafening. I could feel the air blast from the nearby lightning strikes. It was getting pretty sporty now!
My mind was completely occupied with the thought of getting struck by lightning as I hurried down the trail. The rain had started, but it wasn't as torrential as I would have expected from a storm this size. The winds picked up and the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees. It would have been quite pleasant if the storm didn't bring with it, the fear of death from the sky.
I was definitely on track for my fastest lap of the night.
As I was flying down the trail, mesmerized by the storm, I almost didn't notice the large rattlesnake making its way across the trail.
I was midair when I looked down and saw it stretched out beneath me. There was a lot of information to process in a very short amount of time. First, I needed to confirm that this WAS a rattlesnake. A quick glance toward the butt end of the serpent verified that it was. As time slowed to a crawl, I probably could have counted each rattle on his tail.
Now that I knew it was, in fact, a poisonous snake, I needed a plan for not getting bit. As I hovered above the snake, I assessed my options for landing safely. After a quick review, it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to avoid landing directly ON the rattlesnake. Accepting that reality, I did the only thing I could to protect myself...
I landed on his FACE! As soon as my foot made contact with his head, the tail came up and whipped me in the leg. The rattles were buzzing loudly as I launched myself off his face. I took three strides down the trail before turning around to look. He was alive, but quite pissed off. He gathered himself up, dusted off and hurried away from the trail with his tail still buzzing.
My heart was pounding as I blurted out, "DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?!". Yes, Kelly...that DID just happen.
I headed back down the trail with the added fear that culminated into believing that every crooked line in the sand, or stick on the trail was a snake that had been dispatched to do me harm.
Between the lightning strikes and the snakes, I was getting a little jumpy.
I had to stop running entirely a few times because I was being blinded by the lightning. The strikes were so close that I was losing my night vision and was stumbling down the trail until it returned.
Shortly after the aid station, I got word the race was being stopped due to the weather. I was bummed at first, but relieved to be calling it a night.
I ran hard, finishing out the loop, stopping at 52K.
I officially finished in 3rd place overall with a time of 5:41. Not blazing fast, but fast enough for the conditions.
I really had a great time, despite the last several miles being a scene right out of Natural Born Killers. The storm would have been a highlight of the race if it hadn't been right on top of us. But like all Aravaipa races, this one was great.
The goal was to log some training miles for my upcoming 100's and that was achieved. Up next...we're running local before heading to Wyoming for the famous El Vaquero Loco!
Thanks for reading! We hope to see you on the trails sometime soon.