This Black Canyon 100k race report is about 6 months too late but hey, what else have you got going on right now? Plus, with the 2021 version coming up sooner than you might expect this is the perfect time to read this race report.
In December 2018, my name was pulled out of the Western States lottery barrel and I was going to race WSER in 2019. Knowing that I would have the lottery ticket for the 2020 WSER lottery from the 2019 finish I decided that I was not going to race Rocky Raccoon 100. I had raced that even 5 times and was looking for something else to race that had a bit more elevation (or more challenging elevation) and so the search for the 2020 qualifying event was on.
A bunch of athletes from DFW settled on Black Canyon 100k and then the strategizing and training started.
Training and Goal Setting:
After looking at the elevation map and seeing that the total elevation climbing was approximately 6,000 feet I went to my race results for Bandera 100k to compare the elevation in that race. As it turns out the elevation profiles are very similar. In 2015, I finished Bandera in 12:52 but that year was a muddy mess and I figured that with better nutrition / hydration practices and experience running trails that I could break 12 hours on the course.
I chatted with Greg about this goal and we agreed it was doable. We set the goal, then built our training plans to achieve that goal.
Race Day Execution:
Greg and I tend to be trail running nerds and want to know what we need to do to accomplish our time goals. We will have splits for getting to the various aid stations and different outcomes but for this race, we went with the laminated card that only showed what we needed to do to get to 12 hours.
Of course, when the split chart came out and the pace for the first 20 miles was 8:50/mi to keep us on pace I got nervous. Despite the course showing that it was flat to downhill for those first 20 miles, keeping that sub-9 pace for 20 miles on trails wasn’t going to be easy.
If you don’t know about Black Canyon, understand that it starts with a loop around the track before heading out toward the trail. If you don’t execute this well, you can end up blowing up later in the race and/or be stuck in a traffic jam once it gets to single track.
Greg and I decided to start together and as is our customary plan for racing together, if somebody isn’t feeling it the other person is not obligated to stay behind. We took our loop around the track and hit the road toward the trail. We saw friends along the way and smiled and laughed and were given a lot of positive support.
After about 4 miles, Greg had to stop to use the ‘restroom’ and I just kept going along. I didn’t expect us to be separated so early but we had our goals that we needed to achieve. I love racing and running in Arizona and the landscape and trail did not disappoint. The sun was rising and the crisp air felt great. The pace I need to keep, felt really easy. I made sure to stay on top of nutrition and hydration from the get go. I planned on drinking 2-3 flasks (40-60oz per hour) and taking in 1 Spring Energy per hour. I also had Skratch Labs chews on me in case I needed a calorie boost.
The race execution was going great. I was feeling good and was looking forward to seeing familiar faces at the Bumble Bee Ranch aid station which is at mile 19.4. The few miles prior to that were awesome as I was running with 4-5 other athletes and we were cruising through the course. When I ambled into the aid station I saw Amy Clark who was part of our posse at the race. I asked her where Karen was and she didn’t know so I got the necessities out of my drop bag and moved on ready to keep the progress that had been established.
The next 5 mile stretch to Gloriana Mine at me up as my pace dropped by nearly 2 minutes per mile. It was uphill but it just felt harder than it should have and I had the thought that I did go out to hard. I took a bit of time at this aid station to refill, drink, and refill again before heading on to the Soap Creek aid station at mile 31.2. The benefit of this stretch was that it was 7 miles and mostly downhill which I felt could help get me back on track.
Getting to this aid station was harder than the thoughts in my head allowed me to believe it would be. I remember looking at my watch at the marathon distance and reflecting on Ali’s words that she ran a 4 hour marathon here a few years prior and then blew up. I had hit the marathon distance faster than she ran it and the doubt started creeping in.
I started to leave Soap Creek and decided to take a moment to drink the entire flask and refill before heading out toward Black Canyon City. As I turned to head back, I saw Greg coming in and before I knew it he was heading out and I thought: Oh, we are going to race that way!!! Reality is that we both know the rules for racing together and I was happy to see him running strong.
Black Canyon City aid station comes up next and I felt good heading in. I was so surprised to see Michelle because she had previously told us she wouldn’t be able to make it. Seeing her smiling face and then Karen’s was a huge uplifting moment.
I asked how Greg was doing and they said he was doing ok. In the next breathe they said that Greg’s direction to me was: Hurry up and catch up. I made my way through that aid station as quickly as possible and headed out to see if catching Greg could actually be done. I felt really strong leaving that aid station despite the climbing immediately out of the aid station and then a couple of miles later.
I finally saw Greg during one of the switchback sections at around mile 42. At that point we looked at the pace chart and how we were moving and felt very good about breaking 12 hours. The weather was still cooperating with us and neither felt exhausted. Having a partner to tackle the last 20-ish miles together made a big difference. I would rattle off the mile splits to Greg and he would rattle off if we were on target or not. We strategized our hiking versus running and the miles seemed to click off rather quickly.
We were moving but not over-exerting ourselves. We pulled into Table Mesa (Mile 50.9) together and saw Karen and Amy again. Taking our drop bags, refilling, chatting, laughing and before we knew it we were off and running to get the last 10 miles in and break 12 hours.
I was starting to feel a bit sluggish and added pickle juice to one of my flasks. The extra sodium would help get me to the finish line, or so I thought. I drank about half of it before we reached Doe Spring aid station. There was only 4 miles to go at that point but I was tired of the pickle juice and poured it out and then added coke to my flask. Pickle Coke is a real deal helper.
Leaving Doe Spring we felt like we had the sub-12 hour goal in the bag but the course is flat at this point and we decided to run and run we did. We went from running 12-13 min/mi to 10-11 min/mi. We were getting close and the sun started to go down and Greg, who was in front, asked: Are you being stubborn like me and not turning on your headlamp? I originally thought yes, but then responded to him and told him I was turning it on. Being this close to breaking 12 hours, I did not want to risk a turned ankle or going off course to derail us.
As you are finishing you can see the lights of Emory Henderson and it seems pretty far off but with every step the lights shine brighter and the sounds of the finish line grow stronger. I remember feeling ecstatic and my legs decided that we couldn’t just skip in but had to run in. We went below 10:00/mi at that point and I yelled: We Fucking Did It! We broke 12 hours.
Setting the goal, Training for the goal, setting the strategy, executing the strategy and coming out ahead was awesome.
The smiles on our faces said it all. The pizza being shoved down our face holes said even more. We reminisced about the race, and waited on the rest of the DFW crew to finish. It was a job well done BUT it also sets the stage for 2021. The goal is to be across the finish line before sunset so we need to get across the finish line between 11 and 11.5 hours. VERY DOABLE.