I’ve decided that this year I will attempt some longer races than I have been running. For several years now I have been racing distances around 50 kilometers. After what felt like a successful year of racing to me, I was left wondering if I could take my training, nutrition and hydration strategy to a longer distance and still be competitive. I looked at this race as a test to be experienced more than something I would try to be competitive at.
The Black Canyon 100k is put on by Aravaipa Running and takes place just north of Phoenix. The course itself did not have have any long climbs but also was never flat or straight. It reminded a lot of the Halo Trail here in Reno. It is very rocky and twisty. The race is also a “Golden Ticket” race, which means the 1st and 2nd place finishers get automatic entry into the Western States Endurance race. Getting the Golden ticket was not my goal. My goal was to simply experience the distance and finish.
Anyways, my family and I left two days before the race. We drove south, camped at the Alabama Hills (which is awesome) and then put in a 8+ hour drive down to Bumblebee ranch for the night. One lesson I learned was that cutting it this close was not an ideal way to arrive at a race. We arrived late at night. I ate a burger and fries (which I never eat) before going to bed.
On race morning we drove a half hour to get to the race start. When camping with a 3yr old and a 6yr old getting up early can be a challenge but they were troopers and with the help of my selfless wife we arrived at the race with 15min to spare. This was a bit stressful as I still need to pick up my race packet and find a bathroom. I pinned my number on my shorts, threw my complimentary shirt and buff into my pocket which I would later hand off to my wife at mile 20. The line to the porta potties was insanely long with only 5 minutes til the gun wen off. Dang! I commited to the fact that I would probably have to start the race and then find a spot to go to the bathroom in the desert. Not cool. Luckily the race started on the track at Mayer High School and at the 50 yard line I found a bathroom no one really knew about. Phew!
I stepped to the line and the gun went off. Do I run with the leaders? Do I go slower than what felt comfortable? These are the things I knew I would need to learn. I went for something in between. A group of about 20 runners took off and I could have run with them but I knew that wouldn’t be wise. I settled into an average pace around 7min miles. It felt comfortable but I knew it was probably not sustainable for 62 miles. I had fun chatting with some of the other runners in these early miles. One guy was from Wisconsin and had tons of energy and another guy and I talked about campers and campervans. It was great way to pass the time as the miles ticked by.
Generally hydration and nutrition are a huge focus for me. Staying up on both is in my opinion the most crucial part of racing ultras. I knew it was important, but somehow didn’t put much focus on it. I wasn’t eating gels as frequently as I should have been and I was drinking water, but I didn’t really have a quantity or interval timed out like I normally would. I think I mentally decided to run this race as a test and as such didn’t have that competitive drive to run a perfect race. I shouldn’t have been so lazy about it. I know better and I won’t make that mistake again.
At about mile 30 it was starting to heat up. My legs were still feeling fairly good but I could tell my pace was gradually dropping. I started to pass more people who were starting to bonk. As I continued on I started to get some strange stomach cramps that would bring me to a walk. Up until this point I had been running the climbs, flats and descents. The climbs were starting to get hard for me now. As my stomach continued to cramp my desire to eat and drink dropped, which is never good. Once you stop eating and drinking it is inevitable that the body will respond in a negative way.
As I kept running I continued to feel worse and my energy dropped more. I felt good walking the climbs and honestly didn’t feel to upset about not being able to run at the speed I previously was running. I was simply happy to be out there and felt like the whole thing was a test anyways. I really wanted to simply get to the finish line. I got passed by about a half dozen runners in the last twenty miles.
A few things that lifted my spirits were the canyon itself and the aid stations. The desert was amazing with huge saguaro cactus at every turn and amazingly diverse rocky canyons. The aid stations were really fun too. All the volunteers were having such a fun time and were so energetic that I felt a bit like a bummer to them as I drug my exhausted body into their party, but they were all really nice and helpful. I started eating chips and banana which I never eat in a race.
Finally after running for 10 1/2 hours I could see the finish line in the distance. The sky was just starting to turn pink and the sun set. I was happy to be achieving my goal of finishing. I came in 22nd place which would normally bother me but I was happy with that this time. It felt good to push my limits and get out of my comfort zone. And with that goal achieved I look forward to a long year of racing longer races.