Black Canyon Ultras 60K
North of Phoenix, Arizona
When Browner and I started talking about a bike/hike/run/yoga vacation, I found this 60K trail race on Ultrasignup and thought it would be a fun way to finish our trip. We didn't have time to train properly but hey, the race course was net downhill with a generous 12-hr time limit so it must be possible, right? If we treated it as the grand finale of a big training week rather than a race, we'd just have to shuffle along at 5+ kph and we'd get to see some different scenery while someone else gave us water and snacks. Browner may or may not have rolled her eyes but she rarely turns down an adventure.
Approaching a race this way was out of my comfort zone. In the week leading up to an ultra, I've always taken it easy - gentle yoga, lots of rest, maybe one or two short runs, hikes or rides.
But that kind of attitude can totally ruin a vacation so Browner and I decided to just have fun in Tucson and not worry too much about the race. Mrs. Gally and Dee joined us for a couple of days of sun, and Cristina led us on the 27K Bear Canyon Loop, which was awesome and definitely *not* restful.
Browner and I decided to run/hike on Mon/Tues and bike on Wed/Thurs to use different muscles. We went a bit easier on Thursday's ride and on Friday, we drove to Phoenix to check in for the race. That was our taper. My legs felt tired just climbing stairs. Uh oh.
Before sunrise today, we took a shuttle bus north from the finish line at Black Canyon City to the start at the high school track in Mayer. Fellow Ontarians Diane Chesla (former Dirty Girls race director) and Henri Ragletie were there; Henri was racing and Diane was supporting. Denise McHale had registered but didn't start. (Update: she was sick and had to drop out at the last minute.)
I'd worried more about the desert heat later on but I had to add arm warmers and a light vest for our 8 a.m. start when it was sunny, cool and windy. We were on a plateau at an altitude of almost 1300 m, similar to Canmore.
This was going to be Browner's longest run ever!
It was my longest run since the Transgrancanaria 84K last February. Our longest training run leading up to this was 27K but each of us had done other things ranging from back-to-back runs to snowshoeing to boot camp to spin class, and we were hoping the cross-training would get us through.
After a lap of the high school track, we headed through Mayer and onto dirt roads that joined the Black Canyon Trail
. Strong road runners tried to gain time here before the rocks began. I planned to go harder in the first couple of hours because my body doesn't dissipate heat well, i.e. I melt in hot races. With no shade for 60K, I expected that I'd need to slow down to cool off even though my legs might still have energy.
I knew I'd enjoy the race course but didn't have super high expectations. Browner and I agreed that the Black Canyon Trail is a race director's dream. The 104 km trail ends at the edge of a metropolitan area with a population of 4.6 million. The north-south route roughly parallels a major highway just a few kms away so there is good access for aid stations and start/finish lines. Aravaipa Running (the organizers) offer 60K and 100K courses that both start at Mayer but finish at different places. When our shuttle bus arrived at Mayer High School, we noticed the school bus depot next door. You'd think the town had been designed to host point-to-point races!
However, a trail near a major highway and a city doesn't necessarily mean beautiful wilderness or interesting topography. It turned out to be gorgeous and varied - way beyond our expectations.
In general, the 60K race course started off easy and got more difficult. There was a mix of hard-packed sand and rocky trail throughout the race but it got rockier as we went with a few more climbs - although not nearly enough climbing for those of us who look forward to hiking the uphills. :)
The race course had 783 m of climb and a whopping 1381 m of descent, much of it in the first half of the race to guarantee that my quads were sore for the second half!
Much of the trail was single track along a hillside or canyon wall.
Here's Browner flying down the first descent. It was beautiful!
There were also some scenic dirt roads.
I kept expecting to overheat but it never happened. The temperature went up to the low 20s C but there was usually a breeze. There was virtually no shade so I did feel the sun and was careful about sunscreen.
Between the pleasant weather, the beautiful scenery and the downhill stretches, I felt energetic enough to run slowly most of the time, and a lot of people were hiking so I went by them. Some of them were in the 100K race, which started an hour before us so they were pacing themselves differently. There were also some 60K racers who may have started out too quickly; some of them appeared to be cramping or feeling the heat.
One racer wearing headphones moaned loudly at regular intervals. When I caught up and snuck by (difficult on a narrow, cactus-lined trail when she couldn't hear me), she glanced over, moaned again and farted loudly! Most people were friendly and it was fun to chat for a few seconds when we met. From the 12K aid station to the finish, I passed a quarter of the 60K racers. Browner did the same - not bad for the longest trail running race of her life!
About 4 km from the end, I noticed a woman glancing over at me on switchbacks and running steadily, not too far behind. At first I thought I'd step aside but then I decided to make her work for it. :)
There was a river crossing soon after - muddy and just a few inches deep except for a short log crossing. The woman ahead of me was working to keep her feet dry, which I didn't care about so late in the race. She asked me to wait while she crossed the log. With another racer breathing down my neck, I decided to cross on some rocks nearby. Dumb idea. They were slippery. I slipped. I caught my entire body weight on the fleshy part of the palm of my right hand. OW!!!! It's an interesting colour now a few days later. I even got mud in my mouth - blah.
The biggest climb of the race was next, followed by a descent to the finish line. The 100K racers were climbing back up to the trail from our finish line, which was an aid station for them. They were great and cheered us all on. I managed to stay ahead of my pursuer. ;)
I'd aimed to break 10 hrs so I was happy to finish in 8.5 hrs, 4th of 14 in my age group. I don't understand why I felt so energetic today after inadequate training in recent months and a heavy training week leading up to the race. Maybe my approach to races has been all wrong?!?
Browner had a great race too, even with some major foot care breaks.
There was post-race wood oven pizza at the finish line and a finisher mug. We'd also received a tech shirt and lightweight Buff at check-in so we were spoiled. Great job, Aravaipa Running! This is a terrific event.