I'm sitting, resting after completing the Elephant Mountain 22k, waiting for my girlfriend to come through the first lap of her first 50k enjoying the beautiful weather and recounting the past three races that have lead up to the Old Pueblo 50 mile race one week from today.
San Tan Scramble was my first 50k of the year and it was fantastic. Everything lined up that day for a fantastic race and PR. The morning was cold and dark as we huddled around the portable heaters waiting for the race to start.
The course was three laps of just over 10 miles of mostly flat and rolling hills with wide smooth trails. There was only one difficult climb and it was very steep. The first lap was run clockwise, the second counter clockwise and the third clockwise again. It was just enough to keep things interesting.
I’m in the gray jacket and hood under the heater
I started the race I the dark, feeling great and looking for a fast time. My previous best 50k time was 8:15 on a challenging course. I knew I would be faster that day if for no other reason other than there was much less climbing. I told myself to shoot for 6 hours but realistically I would be happy with anything under 7.
Starting in the dark
The first 10 miles went by fast. Really fast. I had committed a cardinal sin of running and was wearing a new pair of tights and by mile 6 I was having some "issues" with some of the seams. Up until this race I hadn’t used the small body glide stick I always carried my pack but today I was so thankful for it. A quick stop behind a bush and a liberal application of the stick and most of my issues were solved. The course started with rolling hills leading to a short climb to a ridge. From there the next few miles dropped away to the last aid station where the tough steep climb began. Over the top, it was a fast decent back down to the desert floor and a quick few minutes back to the start/finish line.
Great views southwest near the start
The first time over the high point
Lap 1 done
The second lap required more effort. I finished the first lap right at 2 hours and I really wanted to keep the 6 hour finishing time an option. The second lap started with the steep climb which was nice. I put my head down and hiked up as fast as I could. The back side was loose and rocky which wasn’t much of an issue on the way up but on the way down it was like running on big angry marbles that threatened to break your ankle with every step. I slipped and slid my way past a couple of people on the way down and started to focus on getting back to the start/finish line for the 3rd lap. I was running well. There was a great breeze most of the day and even in the full sun, it wasn’t too hot. A couple of rolling hills and an aid station later and I could see the finish line and the start of the third lap. I kicked the last quarter mile and made it in again just over the 2 hour mark. Below, finishing the second lap a little more focused on the effort.
Cool crested saguaro on the course
Lap 2 behind me
I was feeling great. I got out of the aid station quickly and starting running down the guy in front of me. As I caught up to him, he looked back and said "Did you see that guy?" "What guy?" I replied. The he told me that the winner had just finished. Now I know that I'm a middle of the pack runner on my best day but it really deflates me when I hear that the winner is 1.) Done running and 2.) Over 10 miles ahead. I think I ran about 3 more miles and I hit the wall. It took another 3 or 4 miles of walking and slow running to get out of my head and get caught up on fluids and nutrition before I could muster up a running pace again. By the time I reached the last climb of the day I was feeling good again and I caught two more people power hiking up the slope. One more fell behind on the way down (road shoes suck on trails!). I was on the last leg with one more runner in my sights and about half a mile to go. I told myself "go get him" just as he looked back and took off. We both pushed hard and I closed the gap but I couldn’t get there in time. I finished in 6:35 and it was great.