Race Recap: Ugly early—The Black Canyon 100K

Last weekend C and I took a mini-trip to Arizona so I could run my first race of the year, Aravaipa’s Black Canyon 100K.

We took Friday off and hit the road early, arriving at the packet pick up/expo by 4:30 p.m. From there we headed up to the cabin we were staying at for the night, which was just a few minutes from the start line.

Race Day

Staying close to the start really paid off. I was able to “sleep in” and get to the start with plenty of time to spare. The field was BIG, with more than 200 people starting the 100K—and another 60+ runners in the 60K, which would start an hour after the 100Kers.

As we were all waiting in the high school, I couldn’t help but comment on what a well-organized event this was already turning out to be! Not only were we able to wait in the school—we were treated to flushing toilets, coffee, cinnamon rolls, and more. I ran into a few local San Diego running friends, wished them well, and then headed out to the start.

Off and running

The race starts with a lap around the high school track before runners embark upon their 100K point-to-point journey on the Black Canyon National Recreation Trail. Temps were forecasted to be hot … and they didn’t disappoint.

In my usual fashion I settled in toward the rear and focused on finding that smooth, steady pace for the day. Before I knew it I was through mile 15, things were feeling great, and, for the first time I was well ahead of schedule.

Black Canyon 100K
Runners at the start 
Black Canyon 100K
The course is a Western States Qualifier that features a deceptively challenging elevation profile.
Black Canyon 100K
Out for a long day (somewhere around mile 6)

Getting ugly

There’s a saying in ultrarunning: “If you start to feel good during an ultra—don’t worry, you’ll get over it.” While I always thought I knew what that meant, it took on an entirely new meaning in this race, and it started around mile 17.

I’ll spare the details, but for the next 15 miles I had some of the worst G.I./stomach issues I had ever experienced while running. This slowed me to a crawl, and as temperatures continued to rise, my spirits began to sink.

Things had quickly turned into a hot, miserable day in the desert.

Despite the fact I was well off my goal pace, I kept moving forward, all the while trying to fix my issues on the move. Was it nutrition? There was a bug floating around my office all week that had taken a few people out—was that it? Maybe it was just the heat? I don’t really know, but, eventually—almost 15 miles later—I started to feel like myself again.

… I couldn’t believe it. I’d kept myself moving.

 

Black Canyon 100K
I take it back. There was one good thing during this time. The views.

If there was any benefit to shuffling along the first 30 miles, it would be that my legs were pretty “fresh” for the back half. I came into Black Canyon aid station, quickly refueled, and headed back out.

I’d heard a lot of people talk about the challenges of the back half of the course. I quickly found out their warnings were valid. There were several significant climbs and multiple stream crossings that felt GREAT given the heat, but were a bit much on my feet.

 

Black Canyon 100K
Giant saguaros lined the course most of the way

Back in the saddle

At mile 45, I was back and feeling great much better. Though my initial goal had gone out the window, I realized I still had a shot at finishing under 17 hours, which would give me a Western States qualifier, but I would have to push it. Hard.

This was a defining moment for me. I battled those thoughts that said just getting to the finish would be “good enough” and that I could justify my finish since the first half of my day went so terribly. I said no.

Instead, I decided to push it.

Bringing it home

The last 15-18 miles were a bit of a blur. I had my music going and a goal on my mind. Before I knew it I was crossing the finish in 16:33.

I’d beaten my stomach issues.

I’d beaten the heat.

But most importantly, I beaten the cruel voice of complacency that can sneak into your head when the day doesn’t go your way.

 

Black Canyon 100K
What just happened?
Black Canyon 100K
With my better half at the finish

 Post-race thoughts

Though I don’t know exactly what caused my stomach issues, I do have a few ideas that I’m looking into. Regardless, this still ranks as one of my more memorable races.

Ultras are such a journey. They’re a journey of the body, the mind, and even the soul. And just like any journey, there will be ups and downs, with the real test being how you manage them. For me, I could have given up and said “Meh, not my day. Stomach problems got the best of me.” But that’s not in my nature. Instead, I chose to stick it out—to stay in the fight. I’m glad I did, because I learned much more about myself by doing so.

Thoughts on the race: This was my first Aravaipa Running race and it was fantastic. Everything—from the packet pick up expo, to pre-race amenities, aid stations, course markings, and the finish line party were all top notch. I can’t wait to come back and run another one of their events.

Take care,

G

 

 

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