I took a leap into the unknown last weekend. I raced 50 (51) miles at the Old Pueblo 50 mile Endurance Run. The race takes place annually in the beautiful Santa Rita Mountains about 1 hour southeast of Tucson. The hilly course consists of single track trails, graded dirt road, and most commonly double-wide quad trails. The one screwball in the course was the half dozen or so stream crossing over the last 10 miles.
The weather was as perfect. Conditions were overcast, crisp 40's at the start, and a slight increase of temperature during to the race to low 50's. This ideal weather seemed to dampen the misery of running 50 miles.
I prepared bottles to drop at different aid stations spread out throughout the course. I also utilized aid stations to top off my bottle. I carried one hand bottle at all times. I consumed 5 20oz bottles of Perpeteum, 20oz of h2o, 20 oz of Heed, and 1 Gu. I did not have any caffeine which may have been a mistake. I did not take sodium or electrolyte tablets which is another thing I would try for next time.
I bolted from work early on Friday arriving at my camp under cover of darkness. There were two things that surprised me as I rolled into my resting place for the evening. The first was the heavy border patrol presence. They had a check point right before I turned off the main highway onto the dirt road. And then as I turned down the dirt road a large sign read something like this, "Caution: Smugglers, Drug Runners, and Illegal immigrants…Enter at your own Risk." This certainly isn't something you want to see when you are camping alone the night before a big race. But it's a reality of being near the border. The second thing that surprised me was the number of runners camped out in the parking area before the race. There were probably a dozen or so vans, RV's, and tents grouped closely together. All fears concerning a smuggler waking me up at 3am, stripping me naked, and stealing my truck were dismissed because there were so many others camping there as well. Spoiled road marathoners or 10ker's would scoff at the idea of sleeping on the ground the night before a big race. However, in the subculture of ultra running (and trail running) it is common practice. I parked my truck about 300 yards away from the group, went for a 10 min shakeout jog under the stars, unraveled my sleeping setup, and plopped down for bed in the bed of my pickup truck at 9:55 pm.
I slept great. I awoke at 4:45 am naturally without an alarm clock as if my body knew what was to come. I quickly packaged all my sleeping gear and took care of all my pre-race business. Before long the race was underway. I contemplated warming up for this event by jogging 5-10 minutes but it just seemed silly. 50 miles is a long time to warm up.
I didn't feel great as the race started. Two guys (Todd and Josh) led immediately from the start and were just cavalier. They were talking and chit chatting like it was a Sunday long run with an old pal from college. I on the other hand was nervous, butterflies in my stomach, and just plain scared of what was to come which elevated my focus. I was content to just hang behind them and let them guide me through the maze of dirt roads and trails along the course.
I made the decision to just get the through the first hour with as little mental energy as possible. Heck, I peed 3 times and pooped once during that first hour. I figured why struggle through carrying this garbage in my body. It's a 50 miler not a 5k. Instead, I'll just take a few extra minutes now to get my body right for the meat and potatoes of the race during the middle 35 or so miles.
As we came through the 7 mile/ 1 hourish aid station, the two guys in front stopped talking to one another and appeared to get focused. The three of us pretty much ran together for the next 10ish miles. Todd seemed to take a hard fall while running downhill at around mile 16 (or 17 or 18?). He said he was OK at the time but later dropped out at Mile 29.
I took lead as we approached the mile 19 aid station. I decided to use the relatively flat, well graded dirt road to pick up the pace and use my, and I use the term loosely, "speed" to create a gap and use different muscles in my legs.
I came through the mile 25 aid station feeling good but the course quickly got hard. I think the 25 mile point was the low point on the course but a high point for me physically and emotionally. For the next 4 miles the course was all uphill. The second half of the course was much more difficult and I'm not just saying that because I already had 25 miles on my legs or maybe I am.
During these middle lonely miles, I tried to keep the run light hearted. I occasionally took a look around to take in the scenery, especially the snow capped mountains off in the distance. It was a beautiful course… for the first 30 or so miles. After the 30 mile point, I remained totally focused on the run and my body. Every step hurt a little bit all over with concentrations of pain shooting down from my hips and knees and it felt like a roofing nail was stuck in the ball of my right foot. The cumulative effect was downright miserable.
Survive and Advance. Like the March Madness college basketball tournament, you have to win one game at a time to move on. Just get to the next aid station, then the next one, then the next one.
I tip toed over the first couple stream crossing starting somewhere around mile 39. As I came upon more and more of these steam crossings over the last 10 miles, I just said screw it and ran right through them. The freezing cold water rejuvenated my legs and for a brief period of time numbed the pain in my joints. On one stream crossing, I stood in the water for 15 seconds before moving on.
Survive and Advance. I made it to the final aid station at Mile 46 (4.6 miles from the finish) at about 6:20. I knew I would have to hammer it home to break 7 hours as my pace had severely fallen apart during the previous 10 miles. I picked up the pace then slowed it down, then picked it up constantly torn between backing off and not feeling so awful or hammering it home. Did it really matter to break 7 hours, I mean 50 miles is an accomplishment in and of itself, right? Somewhere at around 6:40 the old "Pain is temporary, Pride is forever" slogan flashed in my head. I reasoned that I may never be in this situation again (or more like may never do this again) so just suck it up, finish as hard as possible, get the stupid time, and have no regrets.
I wasn't elated as I crossed the finish line. I was just completely spent and everything hurt. I managed to keep attention and take a few pictures with Lynda, the Race director, before konking out. I could hardly walk or stay awake let alone eat or drink anything. Fortunately, two nurses (pam and mary) who happened to be volunteering took good care of me and brought me drinks. I felt like a little baby.
Josh came in pretty soon after me. He seemed to be a veteran at this sort of sadistic endurance sport as he bounced back a little quicker than me after he finished. He is a nice guy. We talked a little after the race. I would have liked to talk more with him and pick his brain a little bit but I was just feeling awful. I finally lightened up and regained my strength after lying down for over two hours.It was an overall a great day and a big accomplishment for anyone who had the gumption to toe the starting line at Old Pueblo. I was in awe and inspired by many these warriors. Many of them had spouses and kids on hand. One guy had his wife and 8 month old daughter cheering him on. To me, it is just incredible for someone to balance some many different things in life, to dump the mindset that people can't run 50 miles much in a day, and rise up to the challenge. What an Event.