Tuesday, May 6, 2014

54k TrailRace. In the Desert Heat. So Sinister.

"TrailRunnerGuy" Ramblings.
Arizona Trail-race Ingredients: Heat. Overtaper. Undertrain. Peer Pressure. Make it a challenge, right?  

Big picture:  When a whole bunch of your fellow trailrunning friends sign up for the Aravaipa Sinister 54k less than an hour from home, one does not simply sign up for the 27k instead.  My first thought: This was probably going to hurt. A lot. My second thought;  pretty much the same as the first.  Eventually pulled the trigger on the "submit registration" button through the AravaipaRunning.com site meant there was no going back now.  I sign up for a race, and I run it. Through sickness and in health. And heat. And aliens.

My concerns: I had missed a lot of training the prior 4-5 months. Was in bed sick for over a week at one point. Then strained my calf and hammy pretty bad on the very first run back on the road (duh). One more week+ of nearly zero running (or 11:00/mi swearing and walking a couple times, then retiring from running at one point. Then un-retiring.). Add another couple weeks of only 1 or 2 runs nursing these issues.  Finally, it was do or die time at the end of March: 4-5 weeks of approx 40-45 mi/week. Usually only on 3 total runs to get my 40 miles. Not a great approach, but much better than before. This upcoming 54k (roughly 34 miles on this course)...it'll be a good pain though. Right? Sucker.

My friends: Chris, Adam, and Kevin had already signed up for the long one, so after I did the same, I then decided to help spread the suffering.  Apparently I helped convince my San Diego fellow freak ultra-friend Leslie aka "Ms Ragnar", to join in on the fun.  I received a text screen shot of her confirmation page just a couple days before the race.  Very cool.  Gonna be a party in the desert. 
Proper Attire. For safety, of course.
Historically on this date, temps are usually no higher than 90* for a 7:00 p.m. start and quickly cools as the sun goes down around 8:00 p.m..  Pretty warm, but not a big deal.  But wait..., the forecast was increasing each day leading up to the actual event. First 92-ish, then 95, then 98...just super. Gonna be a pretty warm one.   

Random background: After some 20+ mile, mid-day, 5,000' climbing death-runs last Summer with Patrick and Jenn, I knew I had to manage my fluids much better than usual (a Moon Pie and a Cherry Coke in 100 degrees just don't cut it, trust me. I needed a special kind of therapy after that.).  Specifically, I wanted to avoid a return of the bulging alien-mating ritual that took place my legs. There could be nothing worse than a public, embarrassing feature of that circus freakshow.  Go ahead. Picture me rolling around the dirt. Mostly fetal position yet some arched-back, and doing a sort of kung-fu "stretch this calf, clinch that hammy, and don't shart my pants." All while in short shorts. It's actually quite hilarious to see it in person. Ask around.,  Only thing that could be worse, while all this is happening, try to feed me some mushrooms and watch me convulse in an Olympics-worthy rhythmic gagging.

John, Leslie, Chris.

Kevin, Adam, John
Finally, to race day.  It's friggen hot out. Nothing like the 110s/115s we eventually acclimate to during late-Summer, but we're just not really ready for that yet. At least I'm not.  Some thermometers were showing at or just over 100 degrees.  Leslie made it to town, possibly driving faster than recommended, but we met up at the Toby Jones residence in Queen Creek, got changed into our "Team Neon-short-shorts-wear", received our pep-talks from Toby, and were off to the San Tan Mountain Regional Park to get underway. 
Loops #1 and #2.  The 54k is a series of 6 loops over a 9km counter-clockwise loop. Passing through the finish line after each completion.  The entire course very runable, mostly flat, with a few hills and some rocky sections.  Maybe just 400' or so of climbing over each loop.  Pretty uneventful first couple loops. Started out way too fast with the top guys, and after 1/2 mile realized I'd be facing the kung-fu fighter/pants-crapping ritual if I didn't slow it up right away.  Settled back into a very comfortable and conservative pace. Chatted with a few guys who were 100k/100-mile veterans just out for a very long training run. Some ripped through it like an easy 5 miler, and some ended as victims of the heat.  Having said that, as the sun sets in April/May in the desert, it usually cools pretty fast. This day did not cool very fast...at all.  No worries though, just run smart and have fun. 
Loops #3 and #4:  After a couple more loops and running a bit on and off with Adam, I finished my 4th loop (23-ish miles) still feeling decent.  I then see Chris (and a few others) somewhere in the dropbag area, Chris sitting in a chair, head down, looking "not 100%." Uh oh.  His wife said he got pretty dizzy and wasn't feeling well. (He ran those first 4 loops pretty hard.) He eventually got himself set up with a head/hair thing full of ice cubes in hopes he'd cool down and recover.  Gave him a few extra minutes to regroup, get some add'l calories in him, and dragged him back out there. Look at me being all demanding and stuff! ;) (usually it's the other way around and full disclosure: for me, that short break was likely a blessing in disguise.). 
Before we depart I see Kevin. Looking "not super. Drunk-like." Turned out his eyesight went completely wacky and couldn't see 2 feet in front of him (pun intended). He wisely stopped after 24 miles and became the "Supportive Blind Man."  Felt bad for him as I knew he was totally capable of finishing the whole thing...  Okay, back to the race, let's go already, Chris - only 18k left! We've got this! For the early part of this 5th loop we were pretty much power-hiking most of the hills and slow-running the rest.  Adam had see-sawed back and forth a bit, both ahead and then behind us as he had some leg stuff going on. He would later bounce back - in a big way.    

Loop #5:  Surprising really. I'm actually feeling pretty good as all 3 of us were together, able to pick up the pace a little, still power-hiking some of the steeper stuff and making decent time running the flats and downhills.  Adam's legs recovered very well, and Chris apparently got his core temp lower so he was back in business too.  Knowing we were about to have just a single loop left soon, I was finally confident my body wasn't going to fall apart.  My plan of consuming: a 20-oz bottle of some sort of electrolyte fluids, plus 2 salt caps, and a Gu/gel almost every single loop worked just as planned.  I actually felt great - no hints of cramping or stomach issues.  I was definitely getting tired, but still felt solid and any worries of a possible disaster were now almost non-existent.  The only remaining drama was forcing myself to choke down that final raspberry Gu without some sort of side-show.  Really, I couldn't pick a more nasty-ass flavor? Did I miss choosing the Rootbeer-Salmon flavored one? Worst thing to consume ever? Felt like it.  Best thing for me. No doubt. Calories = energy. 

Loop #6:  With no more food needed, on the 6th and final loop, the 3 of us basically supported each other and the pace just kept gradually getting faster and faster (this is all relative - we weren't running 5 min miles!).  One thing I noticed - all the piles of puke around the course. Seriously, like 30-40 of them. Guess it was hot. 

We did eventually see Leslie on an uphill section during her 5th loop.  She gave me the look. THAT look. You know the one: "thank you, you smelly jerk-faced jerk, for inviting me to this special desert hell." (or something like that).   I felt kinda bad, said a few positive words, and caught back up to Chris and Adam.  Knowing she's a total trooper and would finish no matter what, I didn't worry too much. 

Finishing Up:  Finally, with about 1 mile left you can somewhat see the finish area and hear the occasional cowbells and cheering.  Time to finish this bad-boy up and get some pizza! That last section (1/2 mi or so) we were really moving (or so it felt like it).  Coming into the finish we were somewhere in the 7:00's/mi pace and all crossed the finish line together. 
High-fives all around. Smiles everywhere. Convincing myself I wasn't going to hurl. (For the record.  Didn't.).  We finished in around 6 hours 19 minutes.  Hardly the time we wanted, but given the heat and "excessive aid station loitering", it was more about having fun and pushing each other around the course. Leslie, as expected, didn't ever consider giving up (duh!).  Even though she told me she retired from running and was taking up soccer again with 1 loop to go.  That decision was soon reversed.   She gutted out that last 9k loop and came in with another guy. And of course, all smiles. What a blast.

Next race? TBD. Though probably an Aravaipa one. Adrenaline in mid-June?   :)   

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