The decision to run the Black Canyon 100K Ultra in Arizona was a bit last-minute because I didn’t get into any of the other three events I had entered lotteries for. I knew about 12 weeks out that this would be the event I would have to aim for, my second time at the 100K (about 62 miles) distance. I needed Black Canyon, because I really wanted to run a Western States qualifier this year. I had missed out last year due to injury.
For those new to the ultra world, Western States is the Kona of ultra running or the Boston of marathons – you have to qualify, but that can be tricky. The catch is that you have to enter a lottery to run a qualifying event to qualify for the lottery to run the race. Got all that?
Arizona in February? Sure, this sounds like a dream to get away from cold and rainy Seattle, but of course it’s been almost impossible to prepare for heat. Race day will be what race day will be, and this was one of those things out of my control.
Fortunately, race day weather proved to be a good day! It started cold (30s) and temps rose to mid 70s with the sun. Arizona is a very dry heat that sucks the water out of you, so more water, more electrolytes, and more sunscreen! I thought I was set.
I had done several long runs, I had practiced several options for fueling, I had tried out the gear, but the biggest thing I was not prepared for was the state of the trails!
Rocks, rocks and rocks…..did I say rocks?
This was only the second 100K I have done, and I can say it was better than the first, but I still have a ways to go. The first 100K, I really crashed around 37 miles. This one, I felt good through 37 (there are even pictures of me smiling) and quite good until 46…. Which is great, except the race is 63 miles long.
At 30-ish, my legs were getting tired, a little more tired than I would have wanted by half way, but a little farther on, the real challenge of the day became my gut.
I’d practiced and prepared a variety of fuels (liquid and food) but found even early on I could not get anything I had practiced down. I made myself drink water and my carbopro and gatorade mix, and take in a few gels and salt while running. At the crew stops I drank chicken soup and apple juice. I knew I had to keep eating, so I resorted to the foods that the race provided as I continued to problem solve and figure out what would work.
It’s back to the drawing board on this one for sure! Frustrating, yes, but a great opportunity to continue to learn about and work on fueling.
Believe it or not, a race is not always about the running, biking, or swimming. Sure, this is a very important part of it. FYI, a 100K is a really long race!
“Mindfulness” and “being in the moment” have been the buzz for a while, and as the day unfolded, I was fortunate enough to have another opportunity to learn and be reminded that part of why I run is the connection with others and the beauty around me.
I had music with me (a special playlist my husband made for me) that I was listening to, but I ended up only using it the first 20 miles. As I was leaving the 20 mile crew stop, I met another woman who seemed about my pace. I took off the music, and we chatted all the way through the checkpoint at 37 and on to the aid station at 46.
This woman had done many more 100Ks and a couple of 100 milers too, so it was fun to hear her stories and also her ideas about fuel and training. I loved her approach to ultra running – she really was about balance much more than many ultra runners. She has a husband, a 5 year old, and a demanding job, so she run commutes or bike commutes, does Pilates, hikes or skis with family on the weekend, and really just fits things in as she can.
I was also lucky enough to be doing this ultra in the backyard of long-time client and friend Jeff. It was a wonderful surprise to have Jeff and his son Jack at the 20 mile crew stop, then again all the way through the 51.
By the second crew stop they knew the drill. Jack ran for chicken soup, and Jeff got the ginger ale while Jim worked to switch my packs and remind me to eat and grab anything else I needed.
It was fun to see them taking it all in, and as the day got longer and harder, I don’t think they realized what a relief it was to see them each time. Thanks for the nudging about sunscreen too!
What a good reminder that these crazy adventures are more fun shared with others. Here was an opportunity to take a minute and connect with friends, make new friends, thank my crew and other volunteers, and take it all in too. It was really amazing to see all the people giving to the runners and the runners giving back.
100K is a long way.
It was tough going after mile 46, and I worked very hard at mentally keeping in the game.
The mental skills, tips, and tricks are lessons I will be sharing with all my athletes, as I know what a game changer they are!
As long as I just kept moving, I knew I had time to make the first goal I had set for myself: to finish under the time needed for Western States lottery. But with my nutrition issues, I couldn’t help feeling disappointment too, and I had to find a way to keep this feeling at bay and stay on task: to finish.
I was disappointed as I did train hard and training runs had gone well. I had worked hard on fueling, and I felt I had solid strategies with fall-back plans that would work. I wanted this 100K to have a different end, one where I finished strong and felt good.
This was not that day. But I didn’t let the disappointment cloud the day, I just tucked it away under “still needs work,” and kept moving ahead.
Most runners had pacers join them after mile 37, someone to run with them and help them stay on track. This is something I really need to do next time!
It is not really about “pace” at that point as much as keeping company, creating distraction, giving reminders to eat or drink as one tends to get a little spacey after so many miles! And don’t underestimate the importance of just giving the runner the sense of not being alone. Some of those last miles in the dark by yourself are tough. You are tired, not sure what is hiding in the dark, and you’re just spent. It can feel very lonely.
Poles and lights! Very important! Some know the story of my first 100K and forgetting to pick up my light. If you don’t know the story, just let me say that running the last 7 miles in pitch-black, deep-wooded trails is pretty awful. This was not going to happen again!
So, I had two lights. I mention this for two reasons. One, I was able to help another runner by giving him my extra light, saving him from having to go through what I had to in my first 100K.
Two, the waist light I was given at Christmas was awesome, as it focused the light at the trail and gave a wide enough view that I really could see where I was going. Plus, it freed up my hands to use poles!
Speaking of poles, Jim gave me my poles at mile 51, and I really did need them. Note to self: practice more with poles!! My arms were killing me, although it became a good distraction from how badly my legs hurt.
So, my 60+ miles of mantras ….
Two miles out from the finish, there was Jim. Thank goodness. I needed the energy of someone else! I was struggling to keep moving, and Jim caught me more than a couple of times as I stumbled on these ***** rocks, and my legs buckled. He had to put up with more than a few of my irrational outbursts and accusations that the end was not really ever coming.
I am grateful to have finished.
I am grateful to have the ability to do amazing things like this.
I am grateful to my husband for his patience, help, encouragement and support that goes way beyond just crewing.
I am grateful to my friend Jeff and his son Jack for showing up spur of the moment.
I am grateful to all my friends and clients who I can run with and share a passion for this crazy sport in some way.
I am grateful for all the lessons I continue to learn and the chance to do it again, hopefully even better.