A midwesterner's experience of a February desert race
Black Canyon 100k…Yikes. 😬😬😬 <- This is what my face looks like when people ask me, “So, how did the race go?” That was ROUGH! I will start off by saying that Black Canyon 100k was a lot of firsts for me.
1. First time running in the desert….in February…coming out of a really brutal MN winter
2. First time running a course with an insane amount of downhill
3. First time running a course with a lot of loose rocks and switchbacks
4. First time running a race that started at 4,000ft of elevation
5. First time running with some of the fastest people in the country
6. First time training for a long ultra over the winter
That’s a lot of firsts! Training for this race was super brutal. Trying to get a lot of miles in over a winter with consistent -20 to 0 degree temps felt impossible. Spending hours on end on the treadmill felt equally impossible. What I learned this winter is that I love training for ultras, but not during the winter. I just am not a winter person.
Driving out to AZ 10 days early to get acclimated was 100% a spot-on idea…but when we got here, the highs were consistently in the mid 50s and it didn’t get into the 70s up until like 3-4 days before the race 😂. So, getting acclimated to the heat was a bit tough since I felt cold even when I wore a ton of layers. I did my best to run during the hottest part of the day, sit in the sun with layers on, and do some hiking with a lot of layers on. I think it helped but not nearly as much as I needed to get through an 80-degree race.
The start of the race was so unreal. The music was pounding, the nervous energy was so thick, and the announcer was pumping everyone up. I took a deep breath and soaked it all in. It was so amazing to be lined up with some of the fastest people in the country. What an honor.
The first 5 miles start at around 4,000ft. Might not sound like much, but for a flatlander, it was enough. I took it easy so that I could control by breathing telling myself that I could speed up once I got lower. That was my only option. There is no sense in fighting my body…I just need to work with it.
As we got lower, I felt better pretty quickly which I was surprised by. Usually around 3,000ft is when I start breathing heavy. I ran off and on with some other runners and we were cruising at a good clip, but it felt effortless. I was in the zone. Running felt light. I felt focused and internally super stoked and ready to rock out this race.
I hit the 19.5 mile aid station in three hours where I saw my friend Jodee! So loved to see another Minnesotan. She helped me fill my bottles and get out of the aid station ASAP. By that point, I still felt on fire. We had descended 1,500ft and my legs were still holding up really well. I really wasn’t sure how they would do since most of my downhill training was on a 3% decline on the treadmill…not at all similar to the steep declines with rocks and crazy switchbacks on this course 😂.
I continued twisting and turning through the technical trails without any concern until around mile 22. I am not entirely sure on the miles with all of this since my watch wasn’t working. That’s right, I went the whole race without a functioning watch. I was able to see what time of day it was and that was it. That was ok with me since I never look at it during races anyways.
Anyways, by mile 22, I started to get REALLY hot. It seemed to just hit me out of nowhere. Then by mile 23, I ran out of water. I went through 1 liter of water in just 3ish miles…yikes. I started feeling mentally foggy pretty quickly and then BAM I was on the ground. “Shoot. I think I broke my finger.” I paused on the ground not able to move. “Ok, I need to get up.” I slowly raised off the ground and looked at my fingers. They didn’t look broken, so I kept going but I moved a lot slower. I did not want to fall again.
I got to the next aid station at mile 24 and filled up my two vest bottles and the extra handheld I had in my vest pocket. I grabbed some ice for my hand, took two electrolyte tablets and then trucked on. After this point, it REALLY got hot. The next aid station was 7.2 miles away and I made it maybe 4 miles before I drank all my fluids again. Three…miles…without…water…in the DESERT. Seriously can’t explain what that was like. I tried to ignore how thirsty I was and push on. No sense in dreading over it when there was nothing I could do about it in that moment. I didn’t get to the 50k point until 5.5 hours in. I had slowed down a lot which I was super bummed about. I was so thirsty. I filled all three bottles again, grabbed some more gels, and trucked on.
The next aid station was 6.2 miles away and you guessed it! I ran out of water within a few miles again. And I did it again before the aid station after that which was a 9-mile stretch. That 9-mile stretch is what did me under. There was a runner who I had been leap frogging a ton who asked me if I was ok since I had been moving so well and he didn’t think he would catch up to me again. “I keep running out of water!” I hung out with a few other guys who were also suffering during that 9-mile stretch. Once I got to the aid station, I was COOKED. I saw a chair and stumbled over to it. The volunteers were awesome. I drank 64oz of water while I was sitting there, pounded a bag of potato chips and pretzels, took 2 s-caps, and tried to regroup. One of the volunteers put ice in my hat and the minute I put it on my head, I got goose bumps all over my body and started shivering. “Get it together. I can’t get pulled from this race.” At that point, I was seriously worried for my health, but I wasn’t going to have a DNF on my record. “What else do I need to do to take care of myself?” I focused on hydrating and fueling, taking deep breathes and getting a blister taken care of.
I don’t know how long I was at that aid station, but a lot of runners came and went. One lady said to the volunteers, “You guys need to help the runners out there. Like it is REALLY bad even 4 miles back.” Most of the runners coming into that aid station did look really rough.
My new Colorado friend who had I done a lot of that 9-mile stretch with was sitting in the aid station the whole time I was there and I saw him still sitting in a chair when I started to walk. “Hey! Let’s get going! I need a friend to walk with me.” So, he got himself together and walked/trotted with me for a while before getting a second wind and took off! That was awesome to see!
By this point, my breathing was so heavy. I felt like no matter how much I drank, I just couldn’t get my breathing under control. I was SO HOT. It hit 80 degrees and the whole race was super exposed…there was no break from the intense sun. It was also from that aid station on that I felt SO anxious. I was nervous that some sort of medical emergency would happen or that I would have a crazy fall again due to being mentally foggy from the heat. I just wanted to get this thing done without any major damage being done to my body.
I didn’t run out of water for the rest of the race which was awesome, but I also REALLY slowed down. It felt like running was impossible. I would try to trot along a few steps and my body would be like, “NOPE! YOU ARE WALKING” and I would naturally slow down.
I met an awesome lady from Canada who I spent a lot of miles with starting at mile 51. It was great to have some company during those really slow miles. It got dark and cooled off pretty nicely but I still felt SO HOT. Then there was a NASTY technical downhill. I felt like I was slipping on loose rock the whole way down and the hill seemed to go on forever. “No way am I falling again.” My finger hurt so badly and was a constant reminder of the outcome from my last fall. I had to carry my handheld all weird because it hurt so badly.
People kept passing me like crazy. I felt really defeated. There is a time to push through pain and there is a time to be smart…yesterday I felt the need to be smart. So, I tried to focus on moving as best as I could.
FINALLY, I got to the last mile. And what happened next? I started dry having. I had like 2.5 bags of potato chips, a bag of pretzels, one slice of watermelon, and once slice of orange for real food during the whole race so there was NO WAY that I had any real food in my stomach to vomit out. But I still pulled off of the trail a couple of times hurling absolutely nothing out of my body.
Then, there was a half mile left. It was pretty peaceful being out in the desert at night. When I was about a half mile from the finish, I thought myself, “I am kind of sad that I am done. It’s nice hiking out here.” 🤷♀️ I have no idea where that thought came from considering the day I had.
I crossed the finish line not at all excited, so I am sure my finish photos reflect that 😂. Jodee pops out from behind the guy who handed me my buckle. “JAMIE!”
Me - “Oh…my…GOD. That was rough!!!”
My thoughts progressed as follows:
On the shuttle bus back to my car: “I suck at this. I will never be good at this and I should just give up.”
Back in my van: “I should just stop racing. I can’t race competitively anymore.”
When Brian called me during the last 5 miles of his race: “That race was a complete disaster. I can’t believe how poorly I did.”
Brian: “What time did you finish in?”
Me: “I have no idea and I don’t want to know.”
I still don’t know what time I finished in or where I placed and I honestly don’t want to know. I even had a coaching client send me a screen shot of my finish stats and time and congratulated me on finishing the race. I skipped over the screen shot so I wouldn’t see how I did.
There was a 70% finish rate for the 100k and only 5 people from the far north Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Illinois) beat me. I had Brian count for me 😂. This included my MN running friend Craig who started in a different wave than me, so I had no idea that our times were so close together! He finished just 1.5 minutes before me 😂. I couldn’t tell you how many people told me that I was doing really well, even compared to the people FROM AZ. That was great to hear but at the same time, I strive to do well.
So, what would I have needed to do differently?
Carry a 2L bladder and probably an extra handheld from mile 20 on.
Put WAY more ice on me starting at the 20-mile aid station. It was only 10am but after that is when it really got hot!
Spend way more time training on that trail. Being used to the heat is great but that trail is something else. It is so technical with all of the loose rocks and switchbacks. It was nothing like I had experienced before. Being able to spend more time on the trail would really help with moving more efficiently over that terrain and exert so much extra energy due to running like a wobbly Gumbee.
Yesterday I surveyed myself. I scratched up my arm, shoulder, knee, leg and Craig was nice enough to point out that my finger wasn’t sprained but rather dislocated. 😂
It took 24 hours but I have hit the point of, ”What do I need to do differently to do better next time?”
Thank you to my partner, Brian, for taking some awesome pictures while he was "casually running" the race!