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Sweaty stinky armpits. Why does one produce such a thing when adjusting to a different time zone? It’s 0200 MST (US) time (0900 GMT) and I was wide awake drinking a morning coffee. I made the decision to stay on UK time when travelling to Phoenix, Arizona because I didn’t want jet lag to effect my race. My do or die (don’t) mission.
It was peaceful as everyone slept. Well, not everyone….the nearest highway hums all night. I was staying with Miguel. I got in contact with him via a Facebook group – the Aravaipa Trail running group- on which I asked for accommodation help. The response was really generous but Miguel and his offer of a room in The Ultrahouse was too good to be true. As I look through the visitors book I can see I follow in many other ultra runners footsteps who have also passed through Phoenix.
I arrive Thursday late afternoon. I have one day before the Black Canyon 100km.
The historic trail is of national significance, following a route used since the times of pre-historic Native American travelers and traders. The Department of the Interior officially established the route as a livestock driveway in 1919, when it was used by woolgrowers from the Phoenix area to herd sheep to and from their summer ranges in the Bradshaw and Mingus Mountains. Many segments of the trail roughly parallel the old Black Canyon stagecoach road between Phoenix and Prescott.
The Black Canyon 100km features a 55 mile stretch of this trail beginning at in Spring Valley and ending at the Emery Henderson Trailhead near New River.
Along the way we ran through Black Canyon and the Agua Fria river many times- so refreshing!
The day before I go for a 30min run to stretch out my legs. The sunrise is really beautiful.
We drive with Miguel to Black Canyon City so we can collect our bib number. I’m slightly unnerved to find it’s no 13!
I say we because Steph Austen, the Australia athlete, is also staying at The Ultrahouse.
The race starts at 0700 MST. I slept well and I felt ready. It takes just over an hour to get to the start. I was so nervous but felt positive. I had managed to arrange to meet a friend who said she would crew for me. I waited at the start for her- thank you Sarah in joining me for some of it. The logistics of the race seemed distortedly amplified way before race day. I was getting overly anxious about where I’d stay (until I found the Facebook group), how I’d manage the jet lag, how I’d get to the start etc. Obviously it all worked out perfectly thanks to the generosity of Miguel. Thank you so much! I did not feel it was detrimental in the end but not pleasant in the days preceding. I wonder if my anxiety was a byproduct of the pressure I was putting on myself for the race- win or lose essentially!
The race started in 1°C. I was freezing in my vest and shorts but knew I would warm up pretty quick when the sun rose. I had 100km to run with 1580m of height gain and 2150m of loss after all!
It was a fast start. The first 20miles to the first crewed aid station, Bumble Bee, was essentially all down hill. I purposely hung back from the front pack of woman but still got dragged along in order to remain competitive. It was single track the whole way: weaving up and down and side to side. Really well marked. I hated to admit it but at this aid station my legs were already feeling it. You need speed and agility to excel in this race. As I begin to analyse it I can see all the front runners had good fast recent marathon times- 2.40 something- a good cadence and fast leg turnover was essential.
My stomach was beginning to rumble (not in a good way!). I stopped at the Portaloos and got disconnected from the group of women I was with but I remained focused on trying to catch them back up.
I reached Black Canyon City aid station (mile 37.4) and got to see how far the other ladies were in front of me. It was only minutes but I really struggled in the climb out. I was thirsty- it was topping 31°C now. I had flasks of energy drink and craved ice cold water not sticky sweet fluids.
I began to trip more over the rocky single track. I was tiring but with 25miles to go I couldn’t let go of a possibility. I was 4th. I never stopped trying. I ran the whole day albeit some bits much slower than others. I didn’t look up much for fear of falling over. However, I never failed to be impressed by the height of the surrounding Saguaro cacti which can grow up to 12m tall.
But they could inflict serious skin wounds!
This was a result of running past a prickly pear cactus as I tried to overtake on the single track.
At Table Mesa aid station (mile 51) station I drank a lot of water which probably wasn’t the best idea as I set off again with my stomach completely overloaded. After this I struggled to eat/ consume my gels but I knew I’d had enough prior so wasn’t too worried. I sucked and crunched my way through ice cubes which felt amazingly refreshing. The aid stations were well stocked with encouraging volunteers.
The race went on and the horrible sinking feeling of failure crept in. I had a long time to think it through. I had come out to this race with the one goal of getting a golden ticket for a 100mile race in America called Western States. I had (and have over the previous years) failed to get in through the lottery and so rose to the challenge of seeing if I could enter one of their golden ticket races. Could I run faster? I kept asking myself and the answer confirmed I was working my hardest.
I was pleased to finish in 9hrs 49mins. 5th woman. I was pleased to finish full stop! My legs were sore, I felt sick, I had blisters on my feet from the greek crossings and my forehead was burnt! Time for a rest.
Better to have tried and failed then never have tried at all. Here’s to taking risks!