The morning started for me at 2:30 am with an alarm clock. I managed to get more sleep the night before than I would have guessed considering what was looming for the day. 2 scrambled eggs, one Eggo and a bottle of Gatorade went down quickly and I was off to meet Jeremy Davis for the ride down to the start. We arrived more quickly than we expected and waited in the car for a while before heading down the hill to Kentucky Camp and the check in.
The weather would be the defining variable for everybody that day.
At 6:00 am, we had a rather informal start and the pack of runners headed up the hill and out onto what would be a truly challenging day. It was in the mid 40’s that morning and the wind was building quickly. By the time the sun came up, I was on the first high point of the course and the view was amazing to the east. Rich rose and orange colors, silhouetted mountains and low silvery clouds were everywhere. The wind was howling but the morning was great. I caught up to Jeremy and we were discussing if he should pick up his jacket at the next aid station or when we came back through at mile 29. We quickly came down the backside of the ridge and found the mile 7 aid station. Jeremy decided to grab the jacket, we topped off on water and snacks and headed off.
Somewhere after the aid station it became apparent that someone had removed the markers showing where to turn and if you were still on course. I was lucky to be running with a few people who had been on the training run a few weeks earlier on this section. It was (and still is) very hard for me to understand why somebody would remove the markers. Some runners thought it may have been some of the other people who were in the same area that day. Other runners thought it was just random people out to cause a little havoc. Either way, it was an awful thing to do and could have put runners in real danger if it had occurred later on the course.
Jeremy and I made our way to the next aid station (mile 19 I think) where we found two other Summit Hut runners. It was nice to see some familiar faces. We didn’t stick around though, there were too many miles to cover and I was feeling really good. We made our way up and over Gunsight Pass and started working our way back down the north side when the rain started. The forecasts were calling for steady rain starting around 11am, wind 20-30 mph gusting to around 45 with a total accumulation of around an inch. It was 9:55 when the first sheet of rain hit me. There was no gentle shower first, no light sprinkle build up. It went from dry and windy to sideways rain instantly. The rain was cold and unrelenting for the rest of the day. I had a very light sil-nylon jacket with me that went a long way until I got back to my drop bag at mile 33 for my real rain jacket. Jeremy and I got to the 25 mile aid without any real problems and celebrated the half way point. I had a really gross waterlogged PB&J and we started looping back toward the 7/29 mile aid station.
From here on out I actually don’t remember much. The weather dominated my thoughts as it continued to rain hard and steadily get colder. I tried to stay mindful of eating and drinking enough to stay warm and to get moving faster at the first sign of cold in my feet or hands but it was a losing battle. I made it to my drop bag at mile 33 and was able to pick up my rain jacket and refill some food. The jacket made a huge difference for a while. I was able to mostly dry out on top and got a lot warmer until the jacket was overwhelmed by the unrelenting rain. At some point at the aid station I had unknowingly hit the pause button on my Ambit. I covered almost 5 miles with it paused before I caught another runner who was asking how much farther the mile 40 aid station was. When I looked down and saw the time wasn’t moving I was crushed. Normally that kind of thing would be frustrating but no big deal but I was exhausted and cold and it was just enough to push me over the edge. My pace slowed and I got cold and hungry as I hit my mental low for the day. It took a few minutes but I pulled it together, ate a ProBar and got moving down the trail again. The ProBar was close to 400 calories and I think I really needed it.
The last few miles into the 40 mile aid station were tough. Stream crossings started to pop up everywhere as more and more rain was washing down the canyons. Most of the streams were swollen up to or beyond their banks. The water was ice cold and full of mud and was really taking a toll on my ability to stay warm. I came into the station and tried to eat some warm chicken chili but once I stopped moving I could feel the cold really setting in. Staying still was not an option if I wanted to finish. I topped off my water bottles for good measure and started shuffling down the road toward the aid station at mile 46. The volunteers at 40 let me know that it was closer to 7 miles to the next aid and about 11 to the finish. I really appreciated the honesty, the extra distance would have been a moral buster if I didn’t know about it.
It was starting to get dark as I came into 46. I grabbed a handful of M&M’s and kept moving. Still raining, getting colder and the trail kept getting worse. This section was on the Arizona Trail again and the trail is cut into the hill side above the road. The trouble is the trail was below the ground level of the slope of the hill so it just filled up with water like a trough. The choice was to slosh through more ice water or risk the high grass on either side. I knew there were prickly pears in the grass and rocks on the trail so I trusted my instincts and took each trough in stride, in the water sometimes and in the grass others. I had really wanted to finish the race without using my headlamp at the end but that was getting tough. I could occasionally see a runner in front of me as they went through gates with their headlamp but I was convinced I could get there without another stop to dig into my pack. I knew I was getting close to Kentucky camp and when I saw a light on one of the buildings I couldn’t believe it was almost over. I made my way up to cheers and smiles as I crossed the line at 12 hours 40 minutes. My girlfriend was waiting for me on the porch of the main building and I could barely keep it together as she congratulated me. Inside there was a fire and a place to sit and that was all I could have asked for. I got changed, ate a hamburger and started to try to process the day.
Since the race I’ve heard that there were around 140 people who started the race but only 61 finishers. Several people were found on the trail in bad shape from the cold wet weather and I can’t say thank you enough for the volunteers working this race. There was always somebody at each aid station, no matter how crowed it was, asking if I need anything, filling my water bottles and helping me get moving again. It was an amazing effort on their part, THANK YOU!!!!