2017 Mesquite Canyon 50m
This race began weeks before Sat, the 18th of March for me. Although I didn’t officially sign up for this race until March 2nd, I had been setting my sights on it for at least 3 years. The brutal climbing of the White Tanks, the heat and everything I’ve always head about Goat Camp and Ford Canyon piqued my interest. Historically, this Aravaipa Running Mesquite Canyon 50m race has had a pretty low entrant list.. Something also telling me it is one tough challenge!!
How would I prepare for this race? What would be different? Would I have enough time to do the recon I wanted? How would this elevation profile(+/-8k ft of Ascent)compare to my other 50 milers? Would I change my intake of protein or cross training to conquer this beast? All valid questions that ran through my mind leading up to this.
I will be honest though and say that nothing serious for me strategy wise changed nor started officially until Mar 1. Even though I was logging high miles (+/- 40-60) through Jan and Feb, my focus was on supporting my training partner for her big race in Feb.
Something felt different for me leading up to this race at that moment. The stress I had gone through during the holidays last year, the uncertainty about getting into San Diego 100, work, life.. all of it. It was different this time.. I had an increasing amount of strain along the upper portion of my back.. This lead to a deteriorating situation with my nerves and a huge flareup 6 days prior to this race. Back to the Doc for me since I have a history with bad disks (L4-L5 and L5-S1 laminectomies) years ago. I had to get in.. Especially after a tough day at work and a run left my right hand partially numb I knew something wasn’t right.
A few doc visits, some PT, deep tissue massage led me eventually to rush an MRI through. This revealed I had signs of Spinal Stenosis between L5-L7.. The pain was unbelievable! Radiating deep tissue and nerve pain into the right shoulder blade and down my arm into my hand had me really worried.
Two days prior to this race, I had serious doubts whether I would show up. I have NEVER had a DNS in over 35+ Ultras, other racing, events, nothing. I would be making this a 1st. I was relieved to finally get a confidence boost from my Sports and Spine specialist, Jerry Sobel. It was easy.. He asked me.. “Do you have pain when you Run”?j My answer, No! To that, he said “Then keep Running” 🙂
He was to monitor my post run situation and determine afterwards based on how I felt as to whether he would do epidural injections into the area the following Monday.. I am happy to say we can probably bypass that for now.
TO THE RACE WE GO!
Anyone that knows me by now, probably knows I am quite anal as to how I plan my races of any great distance.. I have an Excel Spreadsheet, (yep, I’m that guy), I have maps sometimes that point out crew points, estimated time of arrivals.. Yep, that’s me.
For this race, I did an abridged version. Normally, I even meet with my core crew(Meghan and Brian Slavin), pacers and wife to go over the strategy.. With the crazy schedule the week leading up to the race and the fact, I wasn’t even 100% sure I would enter this crazy race, we didn’t even talk as a group until Thursday evening on a quick con call(I wanted it to be a FaceTime or Skype call, but hey, I can’t have everything right?) We reviewed the last minute deets and for this race, logistics would be minimized since there were really only two points in which I would be crewed anyway.
Quick story about my awesome and completed dedicated wife to supporting me on these.. The day prior, without even asking, she stopped and got me a small crewing portable table to make things easier for me to get my goods when I came in. She also signed up to volunteer her time in the morning directing traffic and parking. She’s awesome like that!
The forecast for this race was looking HOT! The entire state of AZ had been deluged with abundant rain and cold weather during December, January.. Now it was time to get back to “AZ normal”.. 95 degrees forecasted for the day. The RD even pushed up the start times to allow for everyone to start earlier. Way to go Aravaipa Running!
6:15 Start Time.. Here we come rolling into the start area at literally 6:05.. My crew started helping me whilst driving there.. filling Tailwind Nutrition bottles. Quick chance to find the nearest bush to water it and back to the Hummer to prep and throw my gear on!
So walking up the start line, I gave Tara a quick kiss, a hug to the crew, a very quick “Hi” to friends who were there to race, etc.. I was the LAST one off the Start line.. Anyone that knows me by now, knows that’s how I roll “Christley Time”..
The strategy for the day.. POSTURE, FLUIDS, FASTIDIOUS BUT NOT OVERDOING IT.. Had a long and hard battle to fight. It was great chatting with the other folks in the early going.. I always like learning where people come from for these events, a quick story about them, etc.. It’s what makes this community.
I don’t know exactly what the temps were when we started but it still felt cool.. Once we got up the climb past Willow Canyon, I started feeling warm pockets.. Since I spent two days drinking Pedialyte prior, and as much water as possible, I wanted to start getting more down in anticipation of a hot and sweaty day ahead.
The field for the 50 milers was small. 22 registrants the day before.. It looked like that and a tad smaller when we took off. I was bummed I didn’t see Stephen Sinek(Painted Warrior) at the start since I knew this was a redemption race for him.. I thought either A. he was showing up a tad late or 2. He may have changed to the 50k. Still a tough race for the 50k’rs.
This would be a great race to see a lot of people in spite of the small 50m group.. The other distances (50k, 30k, Half, and 8k) all had well over 100 entrants.. I knew other AZ TraiLeggers of ours and friend would be scattered throughout.
As we got fairly close to the descent down Goat Canyon, around a corner comes Travis Swaim flying right at me, barely time to respond I gave him a “Hey” and a few words.. Man is that guy TEARING up the racing scene here in AZ.. Very proud of him!
My goal time for getting to the first crew point was 2:30 for this +/- 13mi distance.. I was on pace and a tad ahead of it. Another strategy I have been trying to implement is a quicker Aid Station turnaround for me. History for me was like 10-20 minutes sometimes which adds up during a race!!
I came in and the Squirrel’s Nut Butter group manning the station were there, Jamil and my crew.. It was so awesome. They refreshed me, lubed me up with sunscreen and I was off again.. They dawned my arms with these flashy yellow Moeben arm sleeves which would prove cooling and awesome later on! Dang, the Goat Climb(#1 lay ahead).. Susan Kramer(yet another beast and good friend) and I headed out and up together.. That was cool!
I gave my crew and Pacer, Meghan Slavin(dedicated and consistent training partner in crime) a heads up that 4hrs for the next 16mi was my goal. The heat was starting to show it’s ugly head.. Luckily Goat was mostly shaded during this climb.
Getting through that and over to Mesquite Canyon seemed to go by pretty quick actually.. There is a swift and sweeping downhill section from Goat Camp over to Mesquite which was great.. My heart rate was higher than I wanted up till this point and at times, I felt the quads getting a little thrashed and crampy.. Keeping ahead of the hydration game and taking in the Tailwind(Thanks for the mad mixing Brian!), I was confident, nothing major would happen. I had been averaging around 2-250 cal/hr.
On our way to Ford Canyon.. The canyon that most fear.. When we did recon a couple weeks ago, I felt it was a challenge but nothing major.. Rock hopping, sandy and not a fast section but I wasn’t fearing it.. I was actually fearing a rattle snake coming out more than Ford! Time wise, everything was looking great and I was to txt the crew when I got to the next aid station at mile 27ish. Was ahead of schedule by a tad and feeling like I had about a 30min lead time on where I should have been so I was stoked! The txt went out and on to the start finish area to meet the crew peeps and my pacer!
Coming across just after Susan Kramer smashed her 50k was awesome!! She is a beast and we shared a few miles on this day. I am super proud of her!
This crew point lifted me up BIG TIME!! Not only was my crew there and ready for me, my close friends, Nathan, Travis, Holli and others were there to lift my spirits and get me on my way.. We had about 20mi to go leaving this area. I was only here maybe 5, 10min max and wanted to talk over the next few miles with Meghan. Usually we do a quick check of where our heads are at, where do we have pain, what do we need and the like. This went on for a bit and the terrain for the next few miles wouldn’t be anything but rolling and fairly flat so we kept a good pace going..
Pacing is a job. The runner and pacer must be in sync. Did I HAVE to have a pacer for a 50 miler some would ask? To that, I say I prefer one! The physical anguish one experiences during these events is epic on so many fronts but the emotional ups and downs are real and can sometimes make many simply throw in the towel. We train together, we’ve raced together. Having a friend lift your spirit, tell funny jokes, be there making sure you’re taking in the right amount of fluids, nutrition and just simple reminders is hands down a huge value! I’m so grateful!
Along the way, seeing the others and hearing the cheers was so awesome! Coming into Bajada aid again was HUGE! I feared we would hit Goat Camp climb #2 during the hottest part of the day.. we arrived there around 1:15 ish which tends to be the hottest part of the day in AZ. I asked everyone to get me as “wet” as possible. We refreshed the pack, the crew plus friends were there.. This was the second time I saw the small table Tara, my wife got me for this event and others in the future.. Thank you again dear!! I think for some reason, the two things I saw that jumped out the most were two open cans of Sleepy Dog IPA Nathan and Travis were par taking in.. Hmmmmmmmm how tempting this was.. BUT I knew what lay ahead was going to be rough.
We started again out of Goat Camp. I love love love climbing!! Someone said earlier.. check those calves out! I’m not sure but maybe my Mom’s genetic makeup had something to do with this.. Not that she runs ultras or climbs mountains but she does have rather shapely calves. Thanks mom!!
Back to pacing.. I think there is a zone in which pacers and their runners stick together. Up till now, my pacer has paced many miles with me. Last year at Javelina Jundred, was the 1st year she had some rather farther distance in front of me.. It was a little different but I know now why and it works. She’s allowed me to push myself a little more during those climbs like back up Goat and other sections because she knows where we are time wise and knows mile by mile where we are, where we should be and what it will take to get to the Finish line. Again, grateful for that.
The heat was on!! Up till now, I had gone through all Tailwind in prescribed amounts(Naked, 2 scoops/20-24oz) but leaving here I started on the Raspberry Buzz caffeinated to get me through a little down feeling I had energy wise. This mile 30-40 is sometimes a rough spot for me.
Once in a while, I did a time check.. Was feeling super confident we could get in under my 11hr goal at this point. I was amazed to see at one point, we were in the 9hr range with only under 7miles to go.. I haven’t mentioned the scenery at all up to this point.. UNREAL! I am an Arizona native and I have never seen so much green and flowers blooming at one time. I thought the entire time, if I wasn’t going to encounter a snake, it would be BEES! Doesn’t help either that my clothes had a tad of Tailwind on them too! Oops.
We were approaching Mesquite Aid.. One of the last aid stations and on the downhill when I ran out of all water and Tailwind! Was starting to freak a tad because I had that feeling of de hydration.. Nothing I drank made it better.. Luckily we had a mile or two to go and we were averaging a nice 9min ish/ pace/mi.
We left Mesquite aid and headed down the final stretch. Was still feeling really good except the trail seemed more technical and rocky than I remembered.. It wasn’t a crushing descent but on tired legs, it felt pretty bad at this point.. I tried to keep a conversation going with Meghan to keep my mind off of the pain. My strategy was to blow past the final aid at Waddell and push it in to the finish.. Knowing we had passed the heat of Goat Camp, this section felt very warm again.. No air flow at all which was contrary to the mountain range.. At times we let our wings out and took in the breezes! That was awesome!!
Finish line cheers and tents were all within range now. I was overwhelmed when I looked down and realized I would be coming in around 10:”ish”.. Mind you, the other 50’s have been north of the 12:30 range, I was super happy. I was feeling like I was still in the top 5 at least at this point as we had not seen a sole for many miles.. The finish line was coming and even though most folks had cruised out, the important crew, my wife and a couple others were there! I finished well ahead of my goal of 11 hours. Unofficially as of last night I was told I had secured 4th overall but the final results show me at 5 at a time of 10:15″ish”. I’ll take it!!! For a guy that had great intentions of racing but also great fear about that pain coming back during my race that left me on the floor for hours 6 days earlier, I was very happy as to how the day unfolded. Congratulations to all races in all categories.. It was great to see you on the trails and catch up a little here and there during the day.
In summary… This is an individual sport. The community is hands down the BEST in my opinion. There was nothing individual about what took place on race day. I didn’t drive there alone. I didn’t show up without a crew. I had a TEAM behind me every step of the way. This team takes you places. Takes you when you are doubting yourself and lifts you. They support your every move and strategy. They let you make the calls but give you guidance along the way. FRIENDS to the end. Memories that will forever stick with you. Conversations you won’t forget. Smiles, the laughter, the surprise visits you get from family and friends at that finish line. The announcer calling your name because your recognized or respected. I will never myself think I’ve ever done one of these alone and not recognizing those around me who support me and my dreams.
Thank you for reading 🙂