March 4, 2006
I was on the waiting list for Old Pueblo 50, held near Tucson, AZ. A couple weeks before the race I found out that my entrance had been accepted. I quickly made arrangements for the trip. I ran in Old Pueblo 50 in 2005 and had a great experience. This would be the first repeat 50-mile race of my relatively short ultra career. The first leg of my journey would be an 800-mile endurance drive from my home in Utah to Tucson. My wife and three of my six kids made the trip with me. We arrived at 2 a.m. Saturday morning and crashed in our motel room for a couple hours. There would be no sleep for me. I would have to run this race without good rest. With still another 75 minutes to drive, we hit the road again at 4:15 a.m., arriving at the start at 5:30 – a half hour to spare.
The start/finish line was at Kentucky Camp (historic mining camp) near Sonoita, Arizona, at 5,142 feet. I went through my pre-race preparations, said a few quick hellos to some friends and took a deep breath with three minutes before the start. I had made it!
Last year I ran the race in 12:16. I believed with a good race, I could post a sub-11-hour finish. That was my goal. At 6 a.m. we were off, climbing up to the ridges with our flashlights. The temperature was nice, about 40 degrees. It wasn’t long before I shed my long-sleeve shirt. As usual, I wore my coonskin hat and received many comments from people who remembered seeing it last year. One guy said, “I see you are wearing that stupid hat again.” Gee, fashion critics everywhere!
Me, feeling good as the sun rises
I felt wonderful during the first 3-mile leg to the Granite Mountain aid station. It felt like I was pushing the pace fast. I arrived at the 31-minute mark. I was surprised to see that I was only one minute ahead of last year. I guess I started pretty fast last year too. Next up was a portion of the Arizona Trail. I really loved the next leg. It was my favorite portion of the course. It consisted of nice single-track that climbed and descended along the high ridges of the Santa Rita Mountains. I completed this leg without anyone passing me, arriving at California Gulch (mile 7.3) at the 1:15 mark. I was right on my 2005 pace, running in 16th place. All day long I kept my aid-station stops short, usually only 1-2 minutes.
Next I ran down a dirt road, and then started a long 20-mile loop, which is the northern half of this big figure-8 course. The course emptied out into sandy washes through Barrel Canyon. Last year I struggled somewhat through this section, but this year I pushed through it fast and actually enjoyed the challenge. I felt fantastic and could tell that my recent speed training was helping immensely. I heard a few runners behind me but I picked up the pace to stay ahead. We made the turn for the uphill run through Wasp Canyon. Last year I walked much of this stretch, but this year I ran most of the way. Several runners passed me and I realized that they looked much stronger and faster than the group I usually see running near me. They were strongly running up the hill. I knew I was out of my league running with them but was pleased that I was doing pretty well so far. We cruised into Wasp Canyon aid station (mile 12.9) at the 2:10 mark, in 18th place. I was now 1 minutes ahead of my pace last year.
I knew what lay ahead next — the long uphill climb to Gunsight Pass. Last year many runners passed me along this stretch but this year I kept the pace up and I was surprised how quickly the pass arrived. Next up, a long downhill-run to the desert floor. A couple of my toes complained from the pounding downhill. I leapfrogged several runners along the way and as the road became less steep, I was able to get into a good rhythm. I passed the group arriving at Helvetia aid station (mile 19.4) at the 3:29 mark, 21 minutes ahead of last year, running in 28th place. I was very pleased with these first 20 miles.
Things started to unravel. The sun was now out and unfortunately I lost my baseball cap. There would be nothing to shade me from the sun. My pace for the next five miles was pathetic. I just could not kick it into gear and walked for much of it. The heat was really getting to me. I was passed by at least a dozen runners during this section. I was less than halfway through with the race and I felt terrible. “Why am I doing this to myself,” I asked. I looked at the skies and hoped that some clouds would arrive to cool things down some more. I knew we would climb up out of the desert soon, so I tried to be patient and keep the pace going on this shadeless section of the course. I arrived at Box Canyon (mile 24.3) at the 4:44 mark, running in 38th place. I was now only seven minutes ahead of my pace last year. I ran this stretch 14 minutes slower this time. “Pathetic” was the word running through my mind.
Next up was the long steady climb up the road through Box Canyon. The wind picked up a little to help cool things off. Last year a bad storm arrived while I was making the climb. This year I did my best to keep the power hiking going up the hill but I was still passed by about eight runners. I arrived back at California Gulch (mile 28.8) at the 5:58 mark, in 48th place, now 12 minutes ahead of last year.
I continued to struggle on my return trip along the single-track of the Arizona Trail. I just couldn’t kick it into gear. As runners passed me they would ask if I was OK. I stopped to assist one runner who had lost her e-caps. I gave up about half of mine and she went on her way. I crawled into Granite Mountain aid station (mile 33) at the 7:14 mark. I was now only six minutes ahead of last year and fading fast, running in 53rd place. At this aid station I took a few extra minutes to clean out a shoe, take care of business, and drink plenty. Last year I ran out of water on this next 7-mile leg.
On the next climb at the beginning of this leg, I started to feel much better. The temperature felt cooler and my stomach felt satisfied. The run through creek beds was easier this year because of the drought. Last year water was flowing and much of the trail was in poor shape because of heavy runoff. Three runners passed me. After the third passed me, I hung with him for a while and then it occurred to me that I had new energy. I kicked it into gear and passed him. “This is great,” I thought. I kicked it into even a higher gear on the uphill portions and soon passed by the other two runners who would never pass me again. I was cruising! No pain and plenty of energy. With the faster pace, I did make the mistake twice of tripping. This took me out of my rhythm, but I was pleased to see I could kick it back into gear. With a mile to go before Cave Canyon aid station there was a sign stating that there was only a mile to go until aid. I remember last year I was really dragging and that last mile took forever. This year I ran it very hard and before I knew it, I cruised into the checkpoint with bagpipes playing over a boom box. I arrived at Cave Canyon (mile 38.7) at the 8:56 mark. I ran that leg 15 minutes faster than last year and now was 19 minutes ahead of the pace., in 53rd place. With ten miles to go and two hours left, I knew it would be very unlikely that I would finish in less than 11 hours. I had lost that goal on the desert floor.
I could tell that a couple runners at the aid station were surprised that I had caught up to them and they quickly gathered their things and went ahead. I still felt great. Compared to last year at this point I felt super. The long uphill went by pretty fast and I was soon at the top of the ridge, looking forward to a nice steady downhill. Last year I found my second wind during the downhill section which included a fun single track. I covered this leg 12 minutes faster than last year, arriving at Gardner Canyon (mile 46.2) at the 10:42 mark, 57th place, 28 minutes ahead of my 2005 pace. I grabbed one Tums, didn’t need to refill and pushed ahead for the final climb. I cruised up it pretty fast and then tried my best to really kick it into gear for the final miles. I passed a runner (Sam Votaggio of Austin) who was walking slowly the rest of the way. From the ridge you can see the finish less than a mile away, but I knew the course would take me further along the ridge and then wind through some valleys for a couple extra miles. As I was descending fast down the ridge, I took a major face plant. Down I went. Oh well, I would finish with blood running down my arm and dirt covering me. I shook it off and kicked it back into gear. I was amazed how wonderful I felt. I really picked it up a notch for the final mile or so though beautiful single track winding through the high grasses.
Finally, Kentucky Camp arrived. I ran the last leg seven minutes faster than last year. I finished in 11:41, with lots of energy left. I didn’t reach my goal of 11 hours, but I did work through some tough times and improved on my 2005 time by 35 minutes. I came in 56th out of 110 starters. Old Pueblo 50 is a super race. Next year I will put my entry in on time!