(This is me, post 50K, post 3 mile sprint to the finish)
I love this race. I love this trail. I love the Aravaipa family.
A family - People who share in successes, disappointments, go through ups and downs, and support each other regardless (i.e. my silly drop at Coldwater) - that's the vibe at Aravaipa events. After running and/or volunteering for nearly all of the DTR events, I sit here at the close of the series feeling kind of bittersweet. Once a month for the last 5 months, I got to share the trails with some phenomenal people - from the RDs Nick and Jamil to the fantastic volunteers and runners. I can honestly say I'm going to miss these monthly outings. I've got memories to last a lifetime from all the events, but here are some of the highlights:
- At Pass Mountain, I had such a fun time chatting with 3 of my biggest rivals Jon Roig, Kat, and Jeremy that I got us completely lost. Jon Roig and I would later do this AGAIN nearing the second loop.
- Waking up after a "nap" at Pass Mountain only to have James remark "you're still here." The nap re-energized me to help the boys clean up!
- Being greeted at the start with some crazy energy from Justin (re: McDowell Mountain Frenzy) always helped pep me up for a day of running.
- Hanging with Sabrina and Seth after a not-so-flattering race at Coldwater. Just when I was about to leave, James showed up, and I chatted with him for a couple of hours, going to show that even when you are down, the Aravaipa family's around to cheer you up!
- Seeing the husband and wife duo, Michael and Kimberly Miller huddled by the heaters (re: COLDwater Rumble!). Getting to see those two share their love of racing always makes me smile!
- After sweeping the course with my Jessie dog at San Tan, I hung out and watched the scene. As the last couple of runners finished, they were greeted warmly by Pati (Nick and Jamil's gracious mom) say, "what do you need," and responding swiftly to their needs. I should also mention that she also greeted me everyone race morning with a hug and a smile. Such a personal vibe to these races.
- Playing in Ford Caynon only to have a giant hissing rattlesnake remind me that I needed to hurry up!!
- Seeing Boone all smiles at aid stations (re: McDowell Mtn Frenzy & Mesquite Canyon).
- Sitting with Nick watching runners pass through the finish. At Mesquite, I watched countless people come in "wrecked", and respond to the question "How was it" with "amazing."
- Seeing old friends and making new friends.
- Watching Dan Brenden carry his wife over the finish never gets old. I nearly tear up everytime!
- Watching Mark Hellenthal finish races, thinking to myself, that man is amazing!
- Listening to teammate James Bonnett talk about the old days of Ultrarunning, hearing him plan his "conservative" comeback, and hearing that he dominated the men's 1/2 marathon at Mesquite Canyon! CONGRATS!!
- Scheming adventures with Jamil, James, and Nick.
- Seeing new places and revisiting old ones.
I stuck around at the end of Saturday's race for a LONG time. I didn't want this to end.
Back to Mesquite
As the culmination to the DTR series, Mesquite is certainly my favorite. It was my first ultra win ever, and I was kind of wondering if I should return. Afterall, how could I top last year? I mused on just volunteering or even running a shorter race, but in the end, I put my hat in (or should I say Nick did). This year's race proved to be tougher. Conditions were warmer, and the race was even more competitive. I had three women in mind that could have taken the title: Laura Encinas, Jody Chase (who didn't come...boo!), and Keira Henninger. Yes, Keira, last years AC100 first place female. I've been obsessing over that race for three years, and she won it last year! That was enough to freak me out about the race! Sure I wanted to win and defend my course record, but this was not going to be an easy task.
The first few miles, I spent nervously behind Keira. It's always going to be less stressful to be in second, but I wasn't patient enough to stay behind her. I also had to play to my strengths. I know I'm good at keeping a nice clip on the flats and running uphill, but it was the technical downhill I was fearing (re: Goat Camp). So, I thought I'd better get a head start, and away I went lightly jogging uphill.
These trails are amazing
Running on the side of a mountain excites me. Honestly, once I crested the first hill, I forgot this was a race (of course, I'd be reminded again a couple of times - fast forward to the last 3 mile sprint for more details of this). I chatted it up with "Grandpa Jim" for a while all while taking in the vast desert landscape. Keira was right behind me, and I was reminded of this on all the switchbacks. Alarmingly though, as I looked up ahead, I saw Ian & co, and I had to pause a couple of times to think "am I just going to blow up." I brooded over this subject for quite some time.
(ok, so I don't look nearly as "wobbly" here)
Descending Goat camp was fun, but I was fumbling over rocks. Not fluid and unaltering in my steps; rather, I was like a child clumsily searching for a toy. I tried to stay calm and confident, but physically, I knew those rocks were getting the best of me. It was kind of a reprieve when Jeremy caught me. I began to chat and follow him, staying on his rhythm. Once the rocks ended, I was reminded that people were behind me, trying to catch me - time to get my butt in gear! I pulled into the aid station, got my bottles refilled, and I was off. As I left the aid station (like RIGHT as I left the aid station), Keira and I passed each other - she going in and I coming out. Things were getting serious.
But I can run UPHILL??!!??
I hoped running up goat camp would widen the gap, so I put my head down and dug it out, looking up only to wave and say hi to people passing on the left. I wanted to run all of it, but I just knew I shouldn't. It was getting hott, I was worried that my legs would be too fatigued for later - so I resolved to walk some of the steeper parts. Getting uptop, winding around the mountains was too fun. The idea that someone was literally "chasing" me (I found out later that Keira was only like 5 minutes behind me at most aid stations) escaped my mind, and I just ran. I know the heat was getting to most everyone at this point, but I loved it. I felt great.
At the aid station that was roughly 9 miles from the finish, I refilled again (this would, unfortunately be my last refill). Boone was all smiles, looking like he was having a blast out there, and I got to tell you, I was too. 23 miles into a tough 50K, and I felt like it was play time. Crazy, right? I ran up the climb out of the aid station, and as I got around, I heard cheering...hmmm...duh! They could see me!! I gave a whoot back.
This isn't as bad as I remembered, actually it's fun...WAIT!! SNAKE!!!
Again, I ran without a care in the world, meandering on the trail, thinking about nothing. As I approached Ford Canyon, I resolved to just run as much as I could. The first part, I recall telling myself, "This isn't as bad as I remembered, actually it's fun." I jumped in the "suspect" puddles (don't judge, it was hott), crawled on the boulders, trotted from rock to rock. At one point, I chucked both of my bottles and leaped off a giant boulder, thinking to myself, next year they need to do a live webcam from here!! LOL!! As I was running around having too much fun in these canyons, I heard a faint hissing sound only to look three feet to my left and see a mad, yelling SNAKE!!! Yet another reminder that I need to hurry the freak up!!
Climbing up and out of Ford Canyon, I heard a jingling, and I started thinking, great, just what I need something like a mountain lion to REALLY remind me that I need to hurry up. Well, it I was lucky no mountain lion, only Keira. "Oh, shit," I exclaimed, and we exchanged some kind words. All the while, I was thinking, you've worked too hard now to loose this. At that point, I had two choices - quit and let her pass, sulking the last four miles to the finish, or fight to the finish, knowing that if she passed me I still gave it my all. Well, I couldn't quit, but this was not going to be easy. As I chatted with her, I assessed myself. It was hott. I was hungry. I was out of fluids and thirsty. I was unsure that I had "fight" left in me, but that didn't matter, I had to pull this energy from somewhere. The plan was to forgo the aid station and sprint to the finish. We passed the aid station, and I knew we were both in it to win it. Game on.
SNAKES!! ON A TRAIL.
As I was turning on the heat and focusing inward for the sprint, I curiously saw two hikers on the side of the trail pointing at something. I was clearly too focused; in fact, I would call myself oblivious. Another spitting, mad snake. Sorry buddy. I tip toed off trail, looking back only to be reminded that Keira was on my heels. I kept a fast turn over, knowing I couldn't go too fast - I needed to build up and get fast as I got closer to the finish. Winding around, I was mentally numb, wanting to finish, wanting to drink water and get rid of this stomach pain. As I approached the family campground, I thought this was it, I was finished. Silly, girl, this is the dessert - it's a mirage. When I realized this, I nearly threw up - literally, I had to choke it back down. Once I saw the finish in the distance, I kicked the speed up a notch - pretty much thinking I was going to projectile vomit at the finish. Beep. I was done. I stumbled my way over to the ramada and laid on the ground. That hurt. Sprinting like that after a tough 50K is for the birds. Keira would finish 2 minutes behind me. Much props to her! Thanks for giving me such a fun, tough, amazing race.
I am proud of myself for staying in the game. It's easier to quit, more comfortable to let someone go by, but I took on the challenge of racing an amazing, seasoned runner (thanks again, Keira). Even if she were to pass me, I would still be happy, knowing that I kept a level of intensity after such a long, grueling race.
Major props to Nick and Jamil for believing in me and making me part of such a wonderful team. I can't wait to race again!!
(proof that I was smiling the whole time! In jr. high, my cross country coach would get mad at me for smiling too much. Even when it hurts, I find a way to smile)