Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Black Canyon 100k - 2017

Welcome to another edition of the rambling runner! I've included some personal stories in here - the middle section is a play-by-play of the course, and I included a quick'n'dirty terrain summary at the bottom.


Black Canyon 100k was my first race since San Diego 100 last summer. I had signed up for a couple events in between there, but with all of the big changes going on, I just couldn’t muster the energy to get my ass to the starting line. BC100 was a big celebration of everything I’ve been working towards the last few years, and it signaled a big change in mental perspective for me. Law school really tore me down. I felt out of my element and unsure about where I wanted to go (and whether I could even get there if I knew). But graduating, finishing a 100-miler, and pushing through the bar exam was cathartic. Getting engaged was another existentially affirming experience. With all of this, I've started to feel more centered. While I can't know what the future will bring, I know I'm tough, I'm smart, and I have people who love and support me. And that knowledge has allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and spread my wings the last few months, especially in training.

Course re-routing
A few days before the race, I got an email from an SFRC/Baybirds teammate, John, saying the RDs had changed the course. Instead of a point-to-point, we would now be turning around at the Soap Creek Aid Station around halfway.

Travel and getting around
Travel to the event was really easy. We flew into Phoenix and rented a car at the airport. From there, the race start is about 90 minutes (to Mayer). Packet pickup was in a little town called Anthem, which was basically a suburb of Phoenix. We got in really early and had to kill some time before I could get my bib, so we hit Whole Foods (there was one right on the way). Of course I slammed a big metal door into my right foot while we were there. I thought I broke my toe, it hurt so bad… But fuck it, if you’re going to run an ultra you may as well do it with a jammed toe.

We decided to stay up in Prescott Valley since it was closer to the start (25 minutes) and about a 45 minute drive from the finish. I’m not sure I would do that if the course were normal, just because it would be a long drive after a 100k – but it worked out perfect for us since the race had been re-routed to finish up at Mayer, too.

After Bumble Bee heading North towards the start/finish (PC: Stephen)
Every race I’ve done before this has been in the thick of law school (or bar exam studying). So I’ve never had the actual time (or emotional energy) to really prioritize running and running goals – other than just finishing. Racing has been more about survival than actually trying to push my pace and run strategically.

So my first goal for Black Canyon 100k was to push myself early on—to not be too cautious or too conservative starting out. I really wanted to run hard and see how long I could hang on. My second goal was to finish in 11 hours or less (basically sub 11 minute/mile pace average). My training runs were all low 10 min/miles, so this seemed reasonable (lol).


The race was one of the best organized I've seen. The course was marked incredibly well, and I didn't hear about anyone going off-course at all - even in the dark. The reflective markers were super helpful and really well-placed. The volunteers were fantastic - eager to help, funny, and out there in the freezing mud!

The start!  (PC: Stephen)

It was raining steadily the morning of the race. It wasn’t cold, but it was definitely wet. I was kind of enjoying it. Almost all of my training was at zero-dark-thirty in the rain, so I was in my comfort zone. I had my Oiselle Roga shorts on, a nike dry fit longsleeve, and my Northface rain breaker. I had Stance socks and Nike Wildhorses. I coated my hot spots in Squirrel’s Nut Butter, which, conveniently, was a sponsor of the event! At the end of the day, I couldn’t have picked better gear to run in.

I wore my Salomon S-Lab 5-set vest, with two softflasks in the front and GU in all of the pockets. After San Diego 100, I’ve been in the habit carrying a small stick of SNB during races – it makes for a much more pleasant shower after (haha). So I started with Tailwind, GU, and SNB. I picked up two of the new wide-mouth Salomon softflasks at SFRC the weekend before the race, and they were SO much better than the old ones – way easier to fill, and easier to handle in the vest.

A couple important things to know – there were no GU packets on course, and the drink was Gatorade. I had noticed no mention of calorie packs or electrolyte drink on the website, so I loaded up my Salomon pack with two soft flasks of Tailwind and enough GUs to last me through 20 miles or so. It was a good call. Also, drinking Gatorade made me feel like I was in 5th grade again, so that was fun.


The first couple miles are through a neighborhood (paved road) to the trailhead. I pushed myself out of my comfort pace – I could feel the altitude, and my heart rate was a little higher than usual. Once we turned left onto the (dirt) trailhead, a volunteer shouted “The next few miles are the worst of the mud – it gets better!”

The view from up on the Mesa looking West  (PC: Stephen)

The trail was pretty wide, but it was completely mucked up. My feet sunk a few inches with every step. The middle of the trail looked like pudding, but when I tried to run on the sides of the trail, the clay stuck to my shoes and created big heavy mud-pancakes. Everyone was cursing and joking they should’ve trained with ankle weights. I was getting a little disheartened – I had wanted to push myself early on and was stuck stumbling through deep mud. My shoes were barely hanging on – I was hoping to make it out without having to retie them, when… THUUUCK!

My right shoe was suddenly about 4 feet behind me, getting swallowed up in the hillside. The women next to me said, “OH GOD.” I hobbled down in my sock and dug out my shoe. By this time, my jacket’s hood had completely filled up with water, so when I bent over to dig, I also got a bath of freezing water all over my neck and head. Before jamming my now-mud-covered foot into my shoe, I tried to squeegee the chunks of mud off my foot, but just ended up spreading it all over like peanut butter (laughing quietly to myself how a couple hours earlier I had thought “Oh SHIT YEAH, these coral socks will look SO great when I finish”). I got the shoe on and tied them tight enough to stay on, but just loose enough that I didn’t cut off circulation to my toes.

Luckily, by Antelope Creek Aid (at 7.7 miles), the worst of the mud really was over. I didn’t stop at the aid station since I’d packed everything I’d need for at least the first 20. After the first aid station, the course reminded me of the San Diego 100 course. The trails were along the edge of a mountain range/ridge, and we ran a serpentine path in and out of the hills’ fingers, gently rolling up and down over each one. The mud did get better. It was still tacky at that point, so each step was sticky, but no longer shoe-sucking.

I blew through Hidden Treasure Mine Aid (12.5 miles) without stopping. Through the next stretch, we got nice views to the east and continued weaving in and out of the hillside, slowing heading downhill. The terrain was great, and I could see why this is a fast—but deceptively difficult—course. This stretch was really cold because the wind was whipping up the hillside and blowing rain into the runners’ faces. I was really glad I’d worn a longsleeve under my rain jacket. I also realized I was behind the pace I wanted and started to mentally readjust goals – and I figured I should grab a headlamp from Stephen at Bumble Bee, since I probably wouldn’t see him until late in the day.

Bumble Bee Aid (19.5 miles) was the first time I saw Stephen. With the course changes, crew was only allowed at the first three aid stations – but access seemed like an issue, especially in a little jelly-bean rental car. Bumble Bee seemed to be the easiest to access off Highway 17, so we stuck with that. At aid, I refilled my hydration with Gatorade and grabbed my headlamp and bootscooted out of there. I still had GU to get me through at least halfway, and my liquid calories were keeping my stomach happy (no solid food yet).

I passed through Gloriana Mine Aid (23.7) with a group of 2-3 people, and we fell into a nice rhythm cruising down the next stretch of trail, which was narrow single track—again, weaving in and out of the hillside. The trail was rocky and flanked by a lot of low cacti, and the hillside was steep here. Eventually a group of 4-5 mountain bikers came up behind us, so we tried to get off the trail, but there wasn’t much room. One biker took a turn hard and slid off the trail and down the hillside with a loud yell. She didn’t go far- and was ok, but it was scary.

Of course, in this same stretch of trail the men’s leaders came from the other direction… so we were trying to squeeze off a trail that was maybe 18” wide to let big mountain bikes careen past us from behind – and we were trying to squeeze against the other side of the trail to let the men’s leaders by. It was… interesting. Luckily, it wasn’t a long stretch before all the bikes had passed us, and the leaders were pretty stretched out. And, in my unbiased opinion, trail folks are pretty much the nicest human beings so there was a lot of “Oh, gee wilikers excuse me” and “Oh my bad, here you go first” and “Great job! You’re doing great!” This section was also nice because the rain stopped and I started to dry off and feel my fingers again.

Typical BC100 Terrain  (PC: Stephen)
Heading down to the Soap Creek Aid Station (31.2) was a long downhill stretch – maybe 3-4 miles. The trail transitioned from the serpentine rolling hills to a wide fire road. Leaving the foothills was downhill – where it intersected with the fire road was a steep but short uphill (maybe half a mile or so). Af
ter that initial climb, the fire road descended for a few miles, then had a couple little kicker climbs on scrappy rock trails right before the aid station. I was pretty sick of running downhill at this point, and I was really glad the course change had us running uphill.

Soap Creek was a great aid station – the volunteers were top notch. They quickly helped me refill my soft flasks, and they had these insane BEAN WRAPS (refried beans rolled up in tortillas). It was the best race food I have ever had. I grabbed a ton of food, put it in my pockets and figured I’d eat and hike back out of the scrabbley rock hills. Between the great food, being halfway, and starting to move uphill, I had a HUGE morale boost at this point. I was totally dry. I was feeling really good and really happy to be on the trails. Plus, I’d hooked up with a group of nice people – two guys from Georgia and a guy from Fernley (WTF how do Reno people always find each other??).

I climbed strong up the long hill back into the foothills. The wind was picking up, so even though I was dry, my skin was starting to get pretty cold. I popped my hood up to keep my head warm and focused on running to keep my temperature up. The sky was getting dark with clouds, so I figured I had limited time until the rain came. Along the stretch to Gloriana I saw the last few runners hustling through and we gave silent nods of encouragement.

I had one GU left, and like a true nerd I told myself, “And for you, Maggie Baggins, I give you the light of GU yumminess, our most beloved star. May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.” I actually held it up in the air and laughed as I thought of this… it’s the little things.

At Gloriana Mine Aid (39ish), I did my usual locust move and grabbed a handful of potatoes, pickles, and pringles. I sat down and stuffed food in my mouth while I shook out my socks, which had hardened like ceramic. Smart runners had packed clean and dry shoes and socks. I noticed that the backs of my legs looked like dinosaur scales from all of the mud that had caked on over the past few hours.

It was about 4.5 miles to Bumble Bee. Stephen had planned to pace me in the last 12.5, so I figured I had another 11.5 until I’d see him. I loved running the terrain in the other direction (up). It was still really gentle, and I was surprised at how much downhill there was on the way back. I could see how it would be really enjoyable on a warm day (or warm night). But the wind was starting to pick up even more, and it was spitting rain. My skin was a weird pink color and it was really cold. I was really glad I had a hat and my hood on my head – my main core was still warm.

Coming into Bumble Bee the first time  (PC: Stephen)
At Bumble Bee (42ish) I was super surprised—and really, really happy to see Stephen. He had hitched a ride with Zack Bitter (who was pacing Nicole Kaligaropolous, the winner – and a badass lady lawyer!) He had brought the rest of the GU, so I loaded up with those, grabbed some more of the magical bean wraps and potatoes, and we boogied out of Bumble Bee. The next stretch was about 7 miles. It was softly raining at this point and the wind was blowing.

My goal was to not use my headlamp until the very last aid station – just as a mental motivator. Stephen and I made short work from Bumble Bee to Hidden Treasure, leap frogging with a group of about 5 people almost the whole way. I get really quiet when I’m focusing, so it was quiet, and I just listened to the sound of raindrops hitting my hood and thought about when I was little and used to camp with my family.

We rolled into Hidden Treasure (mile 49ish), and I grabbed more potatoes and Bean Wraps. Someone here had the brilliant idea of making veggie bullion – so I chugged a cup of that and we moved out. People were dropping, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in the warm tent.

It was getting dark and cold at this point. We could still see, but it was that eerie diffused blue twilight when the sun is setting AND there are storm clouds. The 5 miles to Antelope Creek were where the race stopped being “fun.” Everyone on the trail was quiet and moving with a purpose – get to the finish.

Antelope Creek Aid (mile 54ish) was a shitshow. The tent was packed with cold, wet people. The volunteers were amazing and were triaging. I didn’t realize it, but there were also some 60k folks in there. The wind was whipping the tarps all over the place, and people were shouting back and forth to their pacers. Somehow I got a cup of warm veggie broth and Stephen and I left – I drank on the trail.

I turned on my headlamp. Stephen had forgotten his in his rush to get to the aid station. So he ran slightly behind me and we trudged through the last section of trail, which was mostly downhill. There was A LOT of water on the trail. Thankfully, most of the soft squishy mud had been washed off the surface – but it had been replaced by deep water. We basically ran 5 miles with our feet submerged in freezing water (my shoes are still soaked three days later).

On top of the mesa, there was no cover. It was pitch black. The wind was merciless, and my skin was frozen. Even under a rainproof windbreaker and longsleeve, I was fucking freezing. But—and maybe this has to do with my shift in perspective this past year—I was still grateful to be out there. I thought about how Mexico wasn’t that far from where we were, and immigrants had made tougher journeys than this. And I thought about how privileged I am to be able to do fun (maybe stupid) shit like this and how lucky I am to have “personal fitness goals,” when so many people just want security and basic necessities in their lives. So Stephen and I laughed and held hands as we stumbled through the dark and rain.

I was so happy to see the paved road, Stephen and I hustled the last two miles through the neighborhood and cruised across the finish. I apologize to whoever was in the parking lot as I stripped into my skivvies – but I had to get those wet freezing clothes off. We cranked the heater and jammed back to the hotel. Sadly, someone from the hotel cleared our craft beer selection out of our mini-fridge… so that sucked. But Stephen ran out and found a couple bottles of beer to celebrate (and I took a hot bath).

My feet looked pretty gross (like trenchfoot-y). But within a couple hours, the color had come back, and they looked good. No blisters. No black toenails. Legs were tired, but not immobile. All in all – a good day!


Typical BC100 Terrain  (PC: Stephen)
  • Starts on a couple miles of road. Transitions to dirt trail (3-4’ wide) on top of a mesa – rolling and gently climbing to Antelope Creek.
  • After Antelope Creek, rolling downhill on narrow (maybe 2’) single track – lots of hairpin/serpentine through the hills until Hidden Treasure.
  • Views open up after Hidden Treasure, but terrain is basically the same. The trails are rocky – but like, random rocks stuck in the dirt (not scree).
  • A couple larger, but still runnable hills, in and out of Bumble Bee. Same narrow single track all the way to Gloriana – but now bordered by more cacti and scrub brush. All gently downhill with rolling throughout.
  • The first section after Gloriana was the narrowest trail – and I saw a lot of bloody rocks where people had tripped and cut themselves. About 3-4 miles from Soap Canyon the trail hits a fire road and opens up – smooth and runnable. Steep, short climb (.5 mile) followed by a few miles of downhill to the aid (and rocky/scree crap for like .75 miles before the aid.

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