Mesquite Canyon 50k Race Report | Posted: 2010-03-22 20:06:07 | 14238 hits | View in Hi-Fi Mode

If I had to describe the inaugural Mesquite Canyon 50k in a word, it'd be "treacherous."

... which isn't to say it wasn't an amazing run -- because it totally was -- but judging by the amount of blood at the finish line, there was a ton of potential for mishaps out on those trails.

Can't say they didn't warn us: "... a challenging but rewarding experience for all, from the beginning trail runner to the most experienced ultra marathoner," read the website. "The 50km & 25km courses are designed for EXPERIENCED TRAIL RUNNERS ONLY since they travel through a hazardous (but incredibly awesome) section of trail/wash down Ford Canyon."

... now, Nick and Jamil, the Race Directors for Aravaipa Running, totally know what they're talking about. I guess this race kinda sprang from the evil mind of Jamil after spending a ton of time out in the White Tanks with his Boy Scout troop as a kid. "If you're going to do a 50k race out here, you pretty much have to use all the trails in the park," he told me.

That lead to some pretty clever stringing together of the trail system to make a coherent race. I may have called him an some terrible names at some point, but he's looking at them map, he's totally right -- this path slinks all the way around with the park with just enough looping to make it relatively easy to support with enough variety to keep in interesting.

'Course, those guys do a great job with this stuff. The trail was well marked and easy to follow and totally made sense once you kinda got a feeling for where you were in the park.

This was only maybe my third time out in the White Tanks and it'd been awhile. Certainly, for me, out in Tempe, the western edge of the Valley seems almost impossibly far away. Of course, at 5:00 in the morning on a Saturday, jetting out there is no problem... but on any given day, I've been more likely to stick to my neck of the woods in the central / east side of town.

'Sides, the last time I was out there, if I remember right, I got caught up in a hike that was way more brutal than I was expecting on a relatively warm summer day. That was the day I learned that my dog will drink Gatorade if I run out of regular water for him. No permanent damage done, but it made me a lot more careful.

So... the race. It went well for me -- finished in 10th place in a time of 5:20. I'm totally comfortable with that time. I beat the folks I was hoping to beat out there, lost to the people I would've expected to whom I'd expect to lose... Pretty much a perfect day for a run.

We got underway at 7:00 am, just after sunrise. It wasn't cold, although I started with sleeves on just because I'm a wuss and wanted to be comfortable. This was my first time running a race with 'em and they worked out just fine -- they're light enough that I could just tuck them into my shorts until I had a time to conveniently mess with my Camelback.

The opening pace was pretty quick... the race begins with a pretty flat straight up trail run to the first aid station followed by a turn up towards the station at Mesquite. That's kind of where the climbing begins... and it's a mix of gradual, totally runnable inclines combined with a few stairs-y type portions. I pushed myself through here and up through the next aid station.

From there, it was just up and up. There's nothing too horrible in there, just a whole bunch of running uphill. Due to snafu with water delivery, the result of a last minute refusal of the park people to let the race organizers use a jeep road, there was no official aid station between Mesquite and the turn around at Goat Camp, so I knew it'd be a long haul to the turnaround, but there would be water out there if I absolutely needed it. It was nice and shady and cool, running out there felt really good, so I didn't stress about the 9 mile stretch between stops.

Although it wasn't obvious to me at the time, I'm thinking my problems began in here... I'll get to that later, but I don't think I really drank enough water early enough and paid a little bit of a price for it towards the end of the race.

Anyway, once you reach the top of whatever it is we climbed, there's a steep descent which is pretty technical. I kinda love that type of running and since it was a race, I gave myself the freedom to cut loose and just get through it as fast as possible. Within reason... I was careful... but running on Camelback totally prepared me for that type of debris. I passed a bunch of people during this chunk of the race and lengthened my lead on the folks I was trying to outrun...

Just as an aside -- there was one guy I passed out there who had his headphones up so loud he couldn't hear when I was trying to get his attention so I could slink by him. Dunno who he was or how he finished and I certainly don't have a problem with people listening to music while they run, but dude... that seems kinda dangerous. If nothing else, I bet he was surprised when I ran past him on that stuff...

I always like a good out and back just 'cuz you get to the see the entire field, and it wasn't long after I'd completed the descent and was making my way towards the turnaround that I started to see the leaders. Random hikers were telling me I was in 9th place... and they seemed a little mystified by the people running full tilt down the trails. The front-runners at that point all looked pretty tough and surprisingly comfortable.

I stopped for like 30 seconds at the turnaround and began my ascent back up the mountain. That's when the cramping began.

Now, I'm not sure exactly what the story was there, but during that first crazy climb back up the mountain, I really felt it. My calves just totally tightened up, they felt just hard and stiff. I popped a salt tablet, ate a gu, and started guzzling water and that seemed to help, but it had me a little worried at first. Definitely, it slowed my progress and I got passed by a number of guys during that climb.

I ran this race almost entirely alone. I chatted with a few people as we passed each other, but I never really synced up pace-wise with anyone. Which is fine... it's fun to just get out there and run your own race.

Not very much of this course is flat and that climb to the top seemed to take forever. From there, it was just a quick downhill run back to Mesquite where I could refill my Camelback. This time, I stopped a little longer... with about 7.5 miles to go, I was feeling a little beat up, but otherwise solid. My calves hadn't given out entirely, but my agility running downhill, even on those pretty smooth trails, was a little out of wack. Every little stumble hurt like hell.

Out of Mesquite, there's a bunch more uphill then more not particularly scree-y downhill until you end up at the wash. "You guys are doing what?" some hiker girl asked me as I awkwardly made my way through the smooth rocks. I'm sure she witnessed some pretty dubious feats of athleticism as she made her way up the trail and as we careened down. By that point, it was getting pretty dicey -- I took it relatively slow, gave up on the idea of totally staying out of the water. I ran into some other runner in more or less the same state as me, also carefully picking his way though. I was like, "Yeah... my calves are all locked up and I'm not sure what to do about it..." to which he replied, "All you can do is rest."

I dunno... maybe he's right about that? I figured I'd just keep going until something scary enough to make me stop happened, but nothing did. Although my feet got a little brutalized by all the rocks, the MT100s worked really well for this kind of stuff, if only because you can feel exactly what you're stepping on. (This is both a plus and a minus.) I stuck to the rocks just fine and made my way through better than one might expect after running 27 miles or whatever.

Although I took a particularly clumsy stumble coming in, I hit the final aid station feeling ok. From there, the trail opens up and you can just run. Drank some Gatorade and Coke, kept going. Somewhere in the last little bit, I ran across a large-ish crowd of people gathered, at a safe distance, around a rattlesnake. At first, I was like, "Whatever, jerks." but yeah, there it was, all coiled up and rattling at the side of the trail. Guess we're getting to that season...

'Sides the snake, smooth sailing into the end. I knew I wasn't going to catch up to anyone and was pretty confident that no one behind me at that point of the race was going to get through the wash much faster than I did, so I wasn't stressed. It's mostly downhill, so I got to feel like I was cruising... I'm glad splits don't get recorded on races like this, so there's no evidence to prove that I wasn't running really quickly.

The finish was nice and low key and comfortable. The winner completed the course in 4:01 and was long gone before I rolled up, but that's a heck of a time out there. Obviously, the Courys do a good job... soup and tortillas and mountain dew totally hit the spot and gave me enough energy to drive all the way back across the Valley.

All in all, a good day on a tough course. The aid station folks were amazing... lots of familiar faces out there, everyone seemed to have a good race. Gotta give a special shoutout to Sean for finishing his first ultra. He chose a heck of a race to begin with... sorry about the toenails! Casey powered through thing in 9 hours... ugh! Brutal!


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