Updated: Nov 4, 2022
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.